Close Error, Visual Perception, and Neural Phase: A Critique of the Modal Approach to Knowledge

Theoria 87 (5):1123-1152 (2021)
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The distinction between true belief and knowledge is one of the most fundamental in philosophy, and a remarkable effort has been dedicated to formulating the conditions on which true belief constitutes knowledge. For decades, much of this epistemological undertaking has been dominated by a single strategy, referred to here as the modal approach. Shared by many of the most widely influential constraints on knowledge, including the sensitivity, safety, and anti-luck/risk conditions, this approach rests on a key underlying assumption — the modal profiles available to known and unknown beliefs are in some way asymmetrical. The first aim of this paper is to deconstruct this assumption, identifying its plausibility with the way in which epistemologists frequently conceptualize human perceptual systems as excluding certain varieties of close error under conditions conducive to knowledge acquisition. The second aim of this paper is to then argue that a neural phase phenomenon indicates that this conceptualization is quite likely mistaken. This argument builds on the previous introduction of this neural phase to the context of epistemology, expanding the use of neural phase cases beyond relatively narrow questions about epistemic luck to a much more expansive critique of the modal approach as a whole.

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Adam Michael Bricker
University of Turku


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