[hist-analytic] Chapter 1 of Aune's An Empiricist Theory of Knowledge

Bruce Aune aune at philos.umass.edu
Thu Oct 8 10:10:47 EDT 2009

I I want to thank Steve for taking the time to read through my chapter  
and prepare comments. I really appreciate what he has done, but I  
think my remarks in the chapter were much more carefully considered  
than his comments suggest, and I therefore offer the following  

  1.  Steve says, “For Russell knowldege by acquaintance is not  
"knowledge of" in Aune's sense. In Aune's sense we have knowledge of  
such things as buildings, streets and parks. However, for the early  
positivists acquaintance was not knowledge of objects, it was  
knowledge of sense-data.”

I think Steve misunderstands me here.  Knowledge by acquaintance is  
knowledge of an object, even though the objects we would recognize  
today as objects of our aquaintance are not the objects Russell  
recognized as objects of his acquaintance.  Also, knowledge of sense  
data is clearly knowledge of objects, objects being distinct from  
anything propositional. I have a lot to say about objects so  
understood in my book, Metaphysics: the Elements.  But my remarks  
about them in my first chapter should be clear enough.

2.  Steve says my account of knowledge is a "dual account," one in  
which a concept of knowing for certain is distinguished from a minimal  
concept that does not require rational certainty." This is right.  But  
Steve adds, “The idea of 'certainty' as, merely, psychological must  
be made distinct from the philosophically relevant sense. Bruce's  
Humeanism may militate against making this a clear distinction. I'm  
not sure.”

But I make the distinction quite clearly, I think. S is rationally  
certain that P when S’s confidence that P “is owing to S’s  
awareness of evidence E that is conclusive for P: the evidential  
probability of P on E is maximal, or 1.” My alternative explanation  
of conclusive evidence is that E is conclusive for P just when E  
insures P, or E and not-P is impossible.

3.    Steve says, “The strongest point Bruce makes in this chapter on  
Gettier is this: "the truth of the proposition embodying the  
information must not be ‘accidental’ so far as that evidence is  
concerned" (p. 27).

This was a rough, intuitive statement, which I immediately proceed to  
improve upon.  My claim was that S has (imperfect) knowledge that P  
only when S has evidential access to the truth-maker for P.  I explain  
what I mean by “evidential access” and I give a recursive  
characterization of a truth-maker for a variable formula P. Steve  
implies that my explanation is less “careful” that that given by  
Skyrms in paper published in 1967. Skyrm’s paper was important in its  
day (40 years ago!), but mine is more explicit in view of my recursive  
characterization, it is equally careful and, all things considered, it  
is much more satisfactory (see my next paragraph).  I wouldn’t have  
written it if I didn’t think it marked an advance in the subject.

4.    “Bruce˙s example (p. 32) of the Gettier example of the clock  
which is right once a day comes from Russell. I believe from the  
Problems of Philosophy. So Russell had an idea along Gettier˙s lines  
but didn’t put it to use as far back as about 1910.”

As I explain toward the end of my chapter, Russell’s example does not  
actually conform to the pattern of a Gettier example, though it is  
often thought to do so. In Gettier’s examples, the subject has  
adequate evidence for what he thinks he knows, but he lacks evidence  
for the fact that makes what he believes true.  In Russell’s example,  
as in Ginet’s example of the phony barns, the subject’s evidence is  
not adequate for what he believes because it is undermined by evidence  
he is unaware of. As I emphasize in my chapter, these two classes of  
examples require different treatment, which I supply.  Skyrms, in his  
1967 paper, did not recognize the difference between these examples,  
and his “solution” did not accommodate examples of both kinds.

5.  Steve raises some questions about how there could be no "fact of  
the matter" to adjudicate between various versions of conventionalism  
and alternatives to it.  I discuss this matter quite thoroughly in the  
chapter.  My main point, perhaps, is that there can be different  
knowledge concepts, but although one concept may have various  
advantages over some alternative, concepts themselves are not  
themselves correct or incorrect if they are internally consistent.   
Everyday speech contains a lot of indeterminacy, and it can be  
"rationally reconsructed" in more than one way.

Again, many thanks to Steve,

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