Is Knowing a State Of Mind?
Williamson (Timothy)
Source: Mind, New Series, Vol. 104, No. 415 (Jul., 1995), pp. 533-565
Paper - Abstract

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Philosophers Index Abstract

    The paper argues that knowing is a factive mental state, by an extension of externalism from the contents of propositional attitudes to the attitudes themselves. The claim that what knowledge adds to belief is psychologically irrelevant is refuted. The difference between knowing and believing is shown to be relevant to psychological explanation. The failure of attempts to analyze knowledge as true belief plus other factors is accounted for. The view is extended to other factive mental states, such as perceiving and remembering. Knowing may be the most general factive mental state. The inference from knowledge to belief is discussed.
Section I (Full Text)
  1. Let there be no vulgar suspense: the title will be answered in the affirmative. What takes longer is to clarify its meaning.
  2. Expected answers are dull. One might expect knowing to be a state of mind, simply because knowing that P involves the paradigmatic mental state of believing that P1. However, that ground implies only that there is a mental state being in which is necessary for knowing that P. The title, in contrast, is to be read as the question whether there is a mental state being in which is necessary and sufficient for knowing that P . In short, is knowing merely a state of mind? This is the question to which an affirmative answer may be unexpected.
  3. On a standard view, believing is merely a mental state but knowing is not, for knowing that P requires it to be true that P, which concerns the external environment (when the proposition that P does). Knowing, unlike believing, is factive; that is incontestable. However, the inference from that premise to the conclusion that knowing is not a mental state contestably assumes that no necessary condition for a mental state concerns the external environment. In current jargon, the argument assumes an internalist conception of mind (to be defined below). An externalist conception frees one to affirm that knowing is a mental state. Until now, few externalists have realized that they have this freedom. Many have accepted a traditional view of knowing on which it would not be a mental state, as understood here. Externalists will be advised to reject that traditional view.
  4. The issue ramifies. On the internalist conception, knowing is a metaphysical hybrid, a mixture of mental states together with mind-independent conditions on the external world. The internalist naturally tries to break the mixture down into its elements, to analyse knowing in terms of believing, truth and further factors. The failure of so many attempts to carry out this programme suggests that it may be misconceived. Even so-called externalist analyses of knowledge, whose further factors are causal or counterfactual, manifest the internalist assumption that believing is somehow more basic than knowing. A thoroughly externalist account of knowledge will dispense with this reductionist programme. An alternative becomes available on which knowledge is not a metaphysical hybrid, because it cannot be broken down into such elements. A modest externalist account is based on the notion of a factive mental state, a notion that also applies to seeing and remembering, for example. What will be proposed is that knowing is the most general kind of factive mental state.
  5. The paper is organized as follows. Section II orients the question with respect to some traditional issues about scepticism and self-knowledge. Section III explains an incompatibility between the view of knowing as a factive mental state and standard analyses of it as a conjunction of believing, truth and other factors, and blames the latter. Section IV considers the incompatibility between the view of knowing as a factive mental state and internalism, arguing that the former is simply the extension of a widespread externalism about the contents of thought to the attitudes taken in thought to those contents. Section V presents the positive account, distinguishes it from analyses of the traditional kind, and gestures towards the possibility of understanding epistemology in terms of the metaphysics of states. Section VI discusses the relation between knowing and believing, argues that the present view is neutral on whether believing is necessary for knowing, and insists that what matters is the rejection of a conjunctive account of knowing, not the acceptance of a disjunctive account of believing.


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In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1: Three clarifications:
  • (a) only propositional knowledge will be considered;
  • (b) the phrases "state of mind" and "mental state" will be used interchangeably;
  • (c ) the assumption that knowing entails believing will be examined in section VI.

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