Current Specific Research Projects

Knowledge, Action, and Factive Mental States

Pr. Fabrice Teroni - FNS encouragement de projets

The present project draws light on the significant but understudied tensions between a prominent approach in contemporary epistemology and the orthodoxy in philosophy of action and philosophy of emotions. The results of our envisioned investigation are expected to lead to surprising conclusions: either we will have to reject some traditional views in epistemology (along with a recently prominent account of knowledge) or we will have to give up some of the orthodox assumptions concerning the place of knowledge in explanation of action and of emotions.


According to a prominent and simple view in contemporary epistemology, knowledge is a genus of specific mental states that can only be held towards truth (e.g. seeing that something is the case, hearing that something is the case, remembering that something is the case and so on). More specifically, the claim is that knowledge is the most general factive mental state. Few contemporary epistemologists would wholeheartedly accept the simple account of knowledge (for instance, because they think that more illuminating accounts of knowledge are available). Yet, most epistemologists would agree that the simple account has noteworthy qualities. For one thing, it has the merit of being immune to problems that more complex accounts of knowledge meet. Furthermore, it is simple and unified, which is ceteris paribus good reason to prefer it to more complex accounts. Finally, the simple view about knowledge respects the traditional and intuitively plausible assumption that if one sees, hears, remembers etc. that p, then one knows that p.


What is surprising, though, is that despite fitting well with some traditional assumptions in epistemology, the simple account of knowledge fits poorly with the orthodoxy of neighbouring fields. In particular, it seems to be hardly compatible with the mainstream views in philosophy of action and philosophy of emotions (and philosophy of mind more generally). More specifically, it seems to be incompatible with a traditional combination of views in philosophy of action according to which (i.) genuine mental states are not dispensible in causal explanation of action and (ii.) knowledge is dispensible in explanation of action. It also seems to be incompatible with the orthodoxy in philosophy of emotions, according to which factive emotions (for example, regret and embarrassment), do not qualify as knowledge, since emotions are not states of knowing.


What is more, while the simple view of knowledge fits well with the orthodoxy in epistemology, recent attacks on the orthodoxy in epistemology might change the overall dialectical situation. Recently, there have been a number of arguments challenging the view that paradigmatic factive mental states, e.g. propositional perception and propositional memory, are states of knowing. If these arguments are successful, then the simple view falls, along with the present state orthodoxy.


This project aims to explore these theoretical tensions in a systematic way. The results will be important in one way or another. Either we will manage to show that the simple account holds, and (a) that the orthodoxy in epistemology of perception and memory can be maintained, but (b) that some traditional views in philosophy of action and philosophy of emotions have to be reconsidered in order to avoid overall inconsistency. Or we will have to conclude that the simple view fails and that, while (c) the orthodoxy about action explanation and philosophy of emotions stands unchallenged, (d) it is unclear whether the orthodoxy about perception and memory can be maintained.


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