Externalism and "Knowing What" You Think

Abstract
Some worry that semantic externalism is incompatible with knowing by introspection what content your thoughts have. In this paper, I examine one primary argument for this incompatibilist worry, the slow-switch argument. Following Goldberg (2006), I construe the argument as attacking the conjunction of externalism and skeptic-proof knowledge of content, where such knowledge would be immune to skeptical doubt. Goldberg, following Burge (1988), attempts to reclaim such knowledge for the externalist; however, I contend that all Burge-style accounts (at best) vindicate that a subject can introspectively know that she is thinking that “water is wet.” They do not yet show how a subject can introspectively know what she is thinking—which is the distinctive type of knowing at issue in the slow-switch argument. Nonetheless, I subsequently amend the Burge-style view to illustrate how an externalist can introspectively “know what” content her thought has, and know it in a skeptic-proof manner, despite what the slow-switch argument may suggest. For one, I emphasize that “knowing what” is intensional (one can know what a water-thought is sans familiarity with H2O-thoughts). Second, I exploit the fact that such knowledge can be ontologically non-committal (so that knowing your thought is about water does not require knowing that water exists). Finally, following Boër and Lycan (1986), I point out that “knowing what” is purpose-relative—and for at least some purposes, I suggest it is possible for the externalist to “know what” content her thought has, even when skeptical hypotheses about XYZ are entertained.
Keywords Externalism  Anti-Individualism  Goldberg, Sanford  Brown, Jessica  Self-Knowledge  Knowledge of Content  Boër, Stephen  Lycan, William  Knowing What  Burge, Tyler
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