Oxford Bibliographies Online (2020)

Authors
Guido Melchior
University of Graz
Abstract
Sensitivity is a modal epistemic principle. Modal knowledge accounts are externalist in nature and claim that the knowledge yielding connection between a true belief and the truthmaker must be spelled out in modal terms. The sensitivity condition was introduced by Robert Nozick. He suggests that if S knows that p, then S’s belief that p tracks truth. Nozick argues that this truth-tracking relation can be captured by subjunctive conditionals. As a first approximation, he provides the following modal analysis of knowledge: S knows that p iff (1) p is true; (2) S believes that p; (3) if p were false, S wouldn’t believe that p and (4) if p were true, S would believe that p. The dominant terminology in the literature, also adopted here, is to call condition (3) the sensitivity condition and condition (4) the adherence condition. The sensitivity condition is intuitively appealing since it states that a subject does not know that p if she would believe that p even if p were false. Nozick used the sensitivity condition to accomplish two major tasks. First, he provided a solution to the Gettier problem by arguing that in Gettier cases subjects do not know since the sensitivity condition is violated. Second, he presented a controversial solution to the skeptical problem according to which we have external world knowledge but do not know that the skeptical hypothesis is false. This solution is available because sensitivity is not closed under known entailment. Quickly, criticism of the sensitivity condition emerged. First, most epistemologists regarded the price of abandoning knowledge closure as a price too high to pay. Second, it was noted that sensitivity leads to the counterintuitive consequence of precluding us from inductive knowledge since induction typically yields insensitive beliefs. The most dominant reaction to these problems was to replace sensitivity by the modal principle of safety, nowadays the most popular modal principle. However, sensitivity is not only important as a starting point of modal epistemology. Because of its intuitive attractiveness, many authors aimed at refining the original sensitivity account in order to avoid well-known problems. This has led to a second wave of sensitivity accounts. As of today, various sensitivity-based theories are on the market, including accounts that avoid closure failure, probabilistic interpretations of sensitivity and adherence, and contextualist approaches. There is thus a vivid and ongoing debate about the sensitivity principle in epistemology.
Keywords Sensitivity  Modal Epistemology  Safety  Knowledge
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References found in this work BETA

Knowing and Checking: An Epistemological Investigation.Guido Melchior - 2019 - New York City, New York, USA: Routledge.
A Generality Problem for Bootstrapping and Sensitivity.Guido Melchior - 2014 - Croatian Journal of Philosophy 14 (1):31-47.

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