Monday, November 16, 2009

Could there be Reductive Knowledge First?

Timothy Williamson has famously defended these two claims:

(1) Knowledge cannot be analyzed

(2) Knowledge can play lots of important explanatory roles all over the place

These two claims, if true, give us reason to think about the role of knowledge very differently; use it to explain things, instead, of as something we're trying to explain. Call this project -- the one recommended in the previous sentence -- 'knowledge first.' The question I'm wondering about right now is, what is the relationship between (1) and knowledge first? Does the case for knowledge first depend on the case for (1)?

(Cards on the table: I'm a guy who thinks that (1) and (2) are both true and that knowledge first is a good idea. So I'm engaging now in a fairly academic question about what depends on what.)

Surely (1) and (2) are consistent (modulo possible worries about whether it's possible to analyze anything). 'Prime number' can be analyzed if anything can, but this is no obstacle to our using the notion of a prime number to explain various phenomena in the world -- for example, in theorizing about encryption algorithms.

Suppose (2) is true. The case for (2) would presumably consist largely of examples -- cases in which we got good explanatory payoff by invoking knowledge. That's the sort of thing that makes up the latter two thirds of Knowledge and Its Limits. And suppose (1) were unestablished, or even known to be false. Wouldn't (2) all by itself make a strong case for knowledge first?

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