Tracking, epistemic dispositions and the conditional analysis

Erkenntnis 72 (3):353 - 364 (2010)
Abstract
According to Nozick’s tracking theory of knowledge, an agent a knows that p just in case her belief that p is true and also satisfies the two tracking conditionals that had p been false, she would not have believed that p , and had p been true under slightly different circumstances, she would still have believed that p . In this paper I wish to highlight an interesting but generally ignored feature of this theory: namely that it is reminiscent of a dispositional account of knowledge: it invites us to think of knowledge as a manifestation of a cognitive disposition to form true beliefs. Indeed, given a general account of dispositions in terms of subjunctive conditionals, the two tracking conditionals are satisfied just in case the belief in question results from some cognitive disposition to form true beliefs. Recently, such a conditional account of dispositions has, however, been criticised for its vulnerability to so-called ‘masked’, ‘mimicked’ and ‘finkish’ counterexamples. I show how the classical counterexamples to Nozick’s theory divide smoothly into four corresponding categories of counterexamples from epistemic masking, mimicking and finkishness. This provides strong evidence for the thesis that satisfaction of the two tracking conditionals is symptomatic of knowledge and that knowledge is instead constituted by a dispositional capability to form true beliefs. The attempt to capture such a cognitive, dispositional capability in terms of the tracking conditionals, although providing a good approximation in a wide variety of cases, still comes apart from the real thing whenever the epistemic layout is characterised by masking-, mimicking- and finkish mechanisms. In the last part of the paper I explore the prospect of improving the tracking theory in the light of these findings.
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References found in this work BETA
Alexander Bird (1998). Dispositions and Antidotes. Philosophical Quarterly 48 (191):227-234.
Fred Dretske (1971). Conclusive Reasons. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 49 (1):1 – 22.

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