The bifurcated conception of perceptual knowledge: a new solution to the basis problem for epistemological disjunctivism

Synthese 196 (7):2871-2884 (2019)
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Epistemological disjunctivism says that one can know that p on the rational basis of one’s seeing that p. The basis problem for disjunctivism says that that can’t be since seeing that p entails knowing that p on account of simply being the way in which one knows that p. In defense of their view disjunctivists have rejected the idea that seeing that p is just a way of knowing that p (the SwK thesis). That manoeuvre is familiar. In this paper I explore the prospects for rejecting instead the thought that if the SwK thesis is true then seeing that p can’t be one’s rational basis for perceptual knowledge. I explore two strategies. The first situates disjunctivism within the context of a ‘knowledge-first’ approach that seeks to reverse the traditional understanding of the relationship between perceptual knowledge and justification (or rational support). But I argue that a more interesting strategy situates disjunctivism within a context that accepts a more nuanced understanding of perceptual beliefs. The proposal that I introduce reimagines disjunctivism in light of a bifurcated conception of perceptual knowledge that would see it cleaved along two dimensions. On the picture that results perceptual knowledge at the judgemental level is rationally supported by perceptual knowledge at the merely functional or ‘animal’ level. This supports a form of disjunctivism that I think is currently off the radar: one that’s consistent both with the SwK thesis and a commitment to a traditional reductive account of perceptual knowledge.

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Kegan Shaw
University of Edinburgh


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