Against Knowledge-First Epistemology

In Gordon and Jarvis Carter (ed.), Knowledge-First Approaches in Epistemology and Mind. Oxford University Press. pp. 46-71 (2018)
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I begin by criticizing reductionist knowledge-first epistemology according to which knowledge can be used to reductively analyze other epistemic phenomena. My central concern is that proponents of such an approach commit a similar mistake to the one that they charge their opponents with. This is the mistake of seeking to reductively analyze basic epistemic phenomena in terms of other allegedly more fundamental phenomena. I then turn to non-reductionist brands of knowledge-first epistemology. Specifically, I consider the knowledge norms of assertion and contrast them with an alternative that I have developed elsewhere (Gerken 2011, 2012a, 2013b, 2014, 2015a, 2015c, MS). On the basis of the critical discussion, I question whether a knowledge-first program that is both plausible and distinctive has been identified. On a more positive note, I sketch the contours of an alternative that I label ‘equilibristic epistemology.’ According to this approach, there isn’t a single epistemic phenomenon or concept that is “first.” Rather, there are a number of basic epistemic phenomena that are not reductively analyzable although they may be co-elucidated in a non-reductive manner. This approach preserves some grains of truth in knowledge-first epistemology. For example, it preserves the idea that knowledge can be taken to be explanatorily basic and unanalyzable. However, since no single epistemic phenomenon is first, knowledge is not first.

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Mikkel Gerken
University of Southern Denmark


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