Monday, August 02, 2010

Knowing That P Without Believing That P

(with Blake Myers-Schulz) now available in draft here.


The standard view in contemporary epistemology is that knowledge entails belief. Proponents of this claim rarely offer a positive argument in support of it. Rather, they tend to treat the view as obvious, and if anything, support the view by arguing that there are no convincing counterexamples. We find this strategy to be problematic. In particular, we do not think the standard view is obvious, and moreover, we think there are cases in which a subject can know some proposition P without (or at least without determinately) believing that P. In accordance with this, we present four plausible examples of knowledge without belief, and we provide empirical evidence which suggests that our intuitions about these scenarios are by no means atypical.
Comments welcome, as always! (Either on this post or to my email address.)

This research was previously summarized in this post. The current version presents the issues and results in more detail and includes some new controls to address objections raised in the comments to the earlier post.


Maryann Spikes said...

We can know without knowing we know, because there are different levels of knowing. “Knowing that we know”–that sort of knowing does involve belief. Intuitive knowing does not involve belief, until it does, but then it is ‘reasoned’ knowing. Spiders know webs, but they don’t know they know webs. Birds know nests, but they don’t know they know nests. We know moral truth intuitively, but many of us do not know we know it.

CP said...

Hi Eric. When you list philosophers who have discussed knowledge without belief, you include a reference to a forthcoming paper by your good self. Can you reveal what will be in that paper yet, or is it secret?

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

CP: It's "Acting Contrary...", available on my website. Most of the relevant discussion is buried in a footnote, though.

Phil Goetz said...

I don't understand why this is supposed to be surprising. When one talks about knowledge as if people were predicate-logic processors with heads full of symbolic propositions, then it makes some sense to say knowledge implies belief. But that view is an over-simplified model that is useful only for particular purposes, like writing expert systems.

No one denies that people often act on unconscious knowledge; and the examples provided in the paper rely on that sort of unconscious action.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Phil: I'm glad you're not surprised! Those who think that knowing P implies believing P might respond to your thoughts by suggesting that whenever we act on the unconscious knowledge that P we are also acting on the unconscious belief that P.

Unknown said...

Hi Eric,

"...might respond to your thoughts by suggesting that whenever we act on the unconscious knowledge that P we are also acting on the unconscious belief that P" - Then this seems to imply that knowing and belief are synonymous by their definition, and hence not a useful distinction. Surely they are different.

How about people with blind sight. They believe they can't see at all, yet in tests when asked to just trust instinct and grab for an object they succeed - the links from the eyes -> visual cortex -> motor cortex being intact, but not being consciously aware of sight.

But then, once they have passed this test a few times do they then believe they can see even if they have no conscious knowing of seeing?

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Maybe so. The tricky issue, though, it seems to me, is whether they can know they see without believing it.

Unknown said...

Yes, the issue is, what is knowing?

Part of the brain believes they can't see, but at least part of the sub-concious knows they can.

But then my auditory cortex knows how to hear, but my visual cortex does not. This modular nature of brain function sort of screws up all the philosophy, don't you think?

Pat Churchland, AC Grayling and other philosophers keep saying philosophers need to catch up with brain science. What's your view?