Knowledge, provenance and psychological explanation

Philosophy 79 (3):421-433 (2004)
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Analytic theories of knowledge have traditionally maintained that the provenance of a true belief is critically important to deciding whether it is knowledge. However, a comparably widespread view is that it is our beliefs alone, regardless of their (potentially dubious) provenance which feature in psychological explanation, including the explanation of action: thus, that knowledge itself and as such is irrelevant in psychological explanation. The paper gives initial reasons why the ‘beliefs alone’ view of explanation should be resisted—arguments deriving ultimately from the Meno indicate that the provenance of a true belief may be relevant to the explanation of action. However, closer scrutiny of these arguments shows that they are incapable of according provenance anything like as central a role in action explanation as provenance has traditionally been given in the theory of knowledge. A consideration of the history of science suggests anyway that all knowledge has a compromised provenance if one looks back any significant distance. It is concluded that the importance of the provenance of our beliefs is something that has been seriously over-emphasised in epistemology.

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