May 26, 2004

Background Assumptions

I was rereading Edward Craig's Knowledge and the State of Nature for the paper I'm writing,* and I was struck by a way in which Craig's presuppositions seem to be different from mine. Namely: Craig refers to Colin Radford's "Knowledge--By Examples" successively by:

(1) Stating Radford's thesis (that knowledge doesn't require belief) (p. 12)

(2) Asking "What is it, for example, that gives Radford's examples some purchase?" (pp. 15-16)

(3) Mentioning "Colin Radford's French Canadian" (p. 31)

(4) "Radford's French Canadian, Jean. Jean comes out with the right answers to questions about British history, and someone who knows the background to this surprising fact can certainly find out about British history by accepting what Jean says." (p. 37)

On p. 41 he then spends a paragraph giving a nice summary of Alvin Goldman's fake barn example (which Goldman apparently credits to Carl Ginet).

So Craig doesn't give any details about Radford's example until the third time he mentions it ((1) doesn't count), and even then he doesn't tell you how it works. Then he does tell you how Goldman's example works. I can only conclude that Craig is willing to assume that the reader is familiar with Jean but not with the fake barns. And that seems like it must reflect a big difference between US and UK philosophical culture (or, it has been suggested to me, Scots philosophical culture, though Radford was in England). Craig's book was written in 1990, when I was still a math major, but I'd be astonished if an American epistemologist hadn't heard of the fake barns, and I'd be surprised if that example wasn't part of the folklore in 1990. Radford's example, on the other hand, just isn't one I'd assume people knew (for instance: I do not know it). In 1990 at least, Radford's example must have been much more famous relative to Goldman's in the UK.

And that leads up to the important question: Is there a bunch of Scottish grad students with a group blog called Jean the Librarian?**

*What is this paper I keep talking about? In homage to Hector-Neri Castaneda's "The Paradoxes of Deontic Logic: The Simplest Solution to all of them in One Fell Swoop," I'm thinking of calling it "The Theory of Knowledge: Every Single Account Objected to One by Freaking One." Or, to lift from one of Craig's delightful Three Men in a Boat-style chapter titles, "All Analyses Insufficient." The basic thesis is the same as that of Mark Kaplan's "It's Not What You Know that Counts," or (what I think is the moral of) Weatherson's line on "Taking Knowledge Frivolously," that the concept of knowledge as people are always on about it is not one that is very important--or that its importance is as a convenient shorthand for a bunch of other important things, and so fine analyses of the details of knowledge aren't nearly as important as they look. Much attention is paid to to the practical environment view in Hawthorne's Knowledge and Lotteries, though the hope is that I will wind up with many self-standing sections that can be recombined easily to meet various word limits.

**Should that have been "Are there a bunch," which is what I had first?

Posted by Matt Weiner at May 26, 2004 09:51 PM