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Summary Primitivism about knowledge is the view that knowledge is an unanalyzable notion. Most primitivists argue that instead of being analysed, knowledge should be understood as the most fundamental mental state, and that knowledge should be deployed in the analysis or elucidation of other epistemological notions, such as belief, evidence, and justification. Many also argue that knowledge plays a normative role in action or practical reasoning. Recent research in this area has followed, or responded to, the influential work of Timothy Williamson's "Knowledge First" epistemology, according to which knowledge is a basic mental state, evidence is to be understood in terms of knowledge ("E=K"), knowledge is not a luminous condition, and that knowledge is the norm of assertion and of belief.
Key works See especially Williamson 2000, as well as Greenough et al 2009 for a collection of critical essays and Williamson's replies. Hawthorne 2004 and Millar 2007 develop aspects of the knowledge first program. Blome-Tillmann 2007 argues that knowledge is unanalyzable. Nagel 2012 and Nagel 2013 examine the idea that knowledge is a mental state. Millar 2011 discusses the value of knowledge. Hawthorne 2005 discusses the knowledge-first conception of evidence, and Sutton 2007 argues that justified beliefs are all and only knowledge. Hawthorne & Stanley 2008 and Fantl & McGrath 2009 argue that knowledge is normatively connected with action and practical rationality, and Jackson 2012 considers how best to understand knowledge norms. For thorough criticism of knowledge first epistemology, see McGlynn 2014. For background to the contemporary discussion, see Marion 2000 and Marion 2000
Introductions See the exchange between Williamson 2013/Williamson 2013 and Dougherty & Rysiew 2013
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  1. Michael Blome-Tillmann (2007). The Folly of Trying to Define Knowledge. Analysis 67 (3):214 - 219.
    The paper gives an a priori argument for the view that knowledge is unanalysable. To establish this conclusion I argue that warrant, i.e. the property, whatever precisely it is, which makes the difference between knowledge and mere true belief, entails both truth and belief and thus does not exist as a property distinct from knowledge: all and only knowledge can turn a true belief into knowledge. The paper concludes that the project of trying to find a condition distinct from knowledge (...)
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  2. John M. DePoe (2008). Williamson on the Evidence for Skepticism. Southwest Philosophical Studies 30:23-32.
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  3. Keith DeRose, Review of T. Williamson, Knowledge and its Limits.
    Though he’s perhaps best known for his work on vagueness, Timothy Williamson also produced a series of outstanding papers in epistemology in the late 1980's and the 1990's. Knowledge and its Limits brings this work together. The result is, in my opinion, the best book in epistemology to come out since 1975.
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  4. Trent Dougherty & Patrick Rysiew (2013). What Is Knowledge-First Epistemology? In Matthias Steup & John Turri (eds.), Contemporary Debates in Epistemology. Blackwell. 10.
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  5. Mikkel Gerken (2013). The Roles of Knowledge Ascriptions in Epistemic Assessment. European Journal of Philosophy 22 (3).
    Knowledge norms of action are sometimes said to be motivated by the fact that they align with natural assessments of action in ordinary language. Competent and rational speakers normally use ‘knowledge’ and its cognates when they assess action. In contrast, competing accounts in terms of evidence, warrant or reliability do not straightforwardly align with ordinary language assessments of action. In response to this line of reasoning, I argue that a warrant account of action may explain the prominence of ‘knowledge’ in (...)
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  6. Patrick Greenough, Duncan Pritchard & Timothy Williamson (eds.) (2009). Williamson on Knowledge. Oxford University Press.
    16 leading philosophers offer critical assessments of Timothy Williamson's ground-breaking work on knowledge and its impact on philosophy today.
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  7. John Hawthorne (2005). Knowledge and Evidence. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 70 (2):452–458.
    Most of us, tacitly or explicitly, embrace a more or less Cartesian conception of our epistemic condition. According to such a conception, "what we have to go on" in learning about the world is, on the one hand, that which is a priori accessible to us, and, on the other, the inner experiences - visual imagery, tactile sensations, recollective episodes and so on - that pop into our Carte- sian theaters. One of the central themes of Knowledge and its Limits (...)
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  8. John Hawthorne (2004). Knowledge and Lotteries. Oxford University Press.
    Knowledge and Lotteries is organized around an epistemological puzzle: in many cases, we seem consistently inclined to deny that we know a certain class of propositions, while crediting ourselves with knowledge of propositions that imply them. In its starkest form, the puzzle is this: we do not think we know that a given lottery ticket will be a loser, yet we normally count ourselves as knowing all sorts of ordinary things that entail that its holder will not suddenly acquire a (...)
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  9. Nick Hughes (2014). Consistency and Evidence. Philosophical Studies 169 (2):333-338.
    Williamson (2000) appeals to considerations about when it is natural to say that a hypothesis is consistent with one’s evidence in order to motivate the claim that all and only knowledge is evidence. It is argued here that the relevant considerations do not support this claim, and in fact conflict with it.
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  10. Alexander Jackson (2012). Two Ways to Put Knowledge First. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 90 (2):353 - 369.
    This paper distinguishes two ways to ?put knowledge first?. One way affirms a knowledge norm. For example, Williamson [2000] argues that one must only assert that which one knows. Hawthorne and Stanley [2008] argue that one must only treat as a reason for action that which one knows. Another way to put knowledge first affirms a determination thesis. For example, Williamson [2000] argues that what one knows determines what one is justified in believing. Hawthorne and Stanley [2008] argue that what (...)
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  11. Tim Kraft (2011). Warum Wissen nicht der allgemeinste faktive mentale Zustand ist. Grazer Philosophische Studien 83:33-65.
    In Knowledge and its Limits (2000) Williamson defends not only the negative claim that knowledge cannot be analysed, but also the positive claim that knowledge is the most general factive mental state. In this paper two objections to the positive claim are presented: First, knowledge is not more general than e. g. seeing. After discussing several alleged examples of seeing without knowing a new example is offered. Although both seeing and knowing are incompatible with luck, they are incompatible with different (...)
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  12. P. D. Magnus & Jonathan Cohen (2003). Williamson on Knowledge and Psychological Explanation. Philosophical Studies 116 (1):37-52.
    According to many philosophers, psychological explanation canlegitimately be given in terms of belief and desire, but not in termsof knowledge. To explain why someone does what they do (so the common wisdom holds) you can appeal to what they think or what they want, but not what they know. Timothy Williamson has recently argued against this view. Knowledge, Williamson insists, plays an essential role in ordinary psychological explanation.Williamson's argument works on two fronts.First, he argues against the claim that, unlike knowledge, (...)
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  13. Aidan McGlynn (2014). Knowledge FIrst? Palgrave Macmillian.
    According to a tradition reaching back to Plato, questions about the nature of knowledge are to be answered by offering an analysis in terms of truth, belief, justification, and other factors presumed to be in some sense more basic than knowledge itself. In light of the apparent failure of this approach, knowledge first philosophy instead takes knowledge as the starting point in epistemology and related areas of the philosophies of language and mind. Knowledge cannot be analyzed in the traditional sense, (...)
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  14. Aidan McGlynn (2013). Believing Things Unknown. Noûs 47 (2):385-407.
  15. Aidan McGlynn (2012). Interpretation and Knowledge Maximization. Philosophical Studies 160 (3):391-405.
    Timothy Williamson has proposed that we should give a ‘knowledge first’ twist to David Lewis’s account of content, maintaining that for P to be the content of one’s belief is for P to be the content that would be attributed by an idealized interpreter working under certain constraints, and that the fundamental constraint on interpretation is a principle of knowledge maximization. According to this principle, an interpretation is correct to the extent that it maximizes the number of knowledgeable judgments the (...)
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  16. Aidan McGlynn (2012). Justification as 'Would-Be' Knowledge. Episteme 9 (4):361-376.
    In light of the failure of attempts to analyse knowledge as a species of justified belief, a number of epistemologists have suggested that we should instead understand justification in terms of knowledge. This paper focuses on accounts of justification as a kind of knowledge. According to such accounts a belief is justified just in case any failure to know is due to uncooperative external circumstances. I argue against two recent accounts of this sort due to Alexander Bird and Martin Smith. (...)
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  17. Adam Morton, Accomplishment.
    The concepts of knowledge and of accomplishment have many similarities. In fact they are duals, in a sense that I explain. Similar issues arise about both of them, deriving from the functions they serve in everyday evaluation of inquiry and action.
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  18. Jennifer Nagel (forthcoming). Knowledge and Reliability. In Hilary Kornblith & Brian McLaughlin (eds.), Alvin Goldman and his Critics. Blackwell.
    Internalists have criticised reliabilism for overlooking the importance of the subject's point of view in the generation of knowledge. This paper argues that there is a troubling ambiguity in the intuitive examples that internalists have used to make their case, and on either way of resolving this ambiguity, reliabilism is untouched. However, the argument used to defend reliabilism against the internalist cases could also be used to defend a more radical form of externalism in epistemology.
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  19. Jennifer Nagel (2014). Intuition, Reflection, and the Command of Knowledge. Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 88 (1):219-241.
    Action is not always guided by conscious deliberation; in many circumstances, we act intuitively rather than reflectively. Tamar Gendler (2014) contends that because intuitively guided action can lead us away from our reflective commitments, it limits the power of knowledge to guide action. While I agree that intuition can diverge from reflection, I argue that this divergence does not constitute a restriction on the power of knowledge. After explaining my view of the contrast between intuitive and reflective thinking, this paper (...)
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  20. Jennifer Nagel (2013). Knowledge as a Mental State. Oxford Studies in Epistemology 4:275-310.
    In the philosophical literature on mental states, the paradigmatic examples of mental states are beliefs, desires, intentions, and phenomenal states such as being in pain. The corresponding list in the psychological literature on mental state attribution includes one further member: the state of knowledge. This article examines the reasons why developmental, comparative and social psychologists have classified knowledge as a mental state, while most recent philosophers--with the notable exception of Timothy Williamson-- have not. The disagreement is traced back to a (...)
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  21. Asbjørn Steglich-Petersen (2005). Williamson on Knowledge, Action, and Causation. SATS: Northern European Journal of Philosophy 6 (1):15-28.
    In his Knowledge and its Limits (2000) Timothy Williamson argues that knowledge can be causally efficacious and as such figure in psychological explanation. His argument for this claim figures as a response to a key objection to his overall thesis that knowing is a mental state. In this paper I argue that although Williamson succeeds in establishing that knowledge in some cases is essential to the power of certain causal explanations of actions, he fails to do this in a way (...)
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  22. Ralph Wedgwood (2012). The Nature and Value of Knowledge: Three Investigations, by Duncan Pritchard, Alan Millar, and Adrian Haddock. [REVIEW] Analysis 72 (1):187-189.
    This is a review of "The nature and value of knowlege: Three investigations", by Duncan Pritchard, Alan Millar, and Adrian Haddock (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2011).
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  23. Timothy Williamson (2013). Knowledge Still First. In Matthias Steup & John Turri (eds.), Contemporary Debates in Epistemology. Blackwell. 22.
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  24. Timothy Williamson (2013). Knowledge First. In Matthias Steup John Turri (ed.), Contemporary Debates in Epistemology. Blackwell. 1-10.
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  25. Timothy Williamson (2000). Knowledge and its Limits. Oxford University Press.
    Knowledge and its Limits presents a systematic new conception of knowledge as a kind of mental stage sensitive to the knower's environment. It makes a major contribution to the debate between externalist and internalist philosophies of mind, and breaks radically with the epistemological tradition of analyzing knowledge in terms of true belief. The theory casts new light on such philosophical problems as scepticism, evidence, probability and assertion, realism and anti-realism, and the limits of what can be known. The arguments are (...)
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