Erkenntnis 82 (3):451-472 (2017)

Cedric Paternotte
Université Paris-Sorbonne
Ordinary common knowledge is formally expressed by strong probabilistic common belief. How strong exactly? The question can be answered by drawing from the similar equivalence, recently explored, between plain and probabilistic individual beliefs. I argue that such a move entails that common knowledge displays a double fragility: as a description of a collective state and as a phenomenon, because it can respectively disappear as group size increases, or more worryingly as the epistemic context changes. I argue that despite this latter fragility, the effects of common knowledge on action are robust. Unfortunately, this in turn leads to a third fragility, that of the concept of common knowledge, which threatens to collapse on probabilistic common belief. This also reveals a disanalogy between the individual and the collective cases. I finally pinpoint the subtle difference entailed by the two concepts, expressed in terms of the attitude towards contrary evidence or of the agents’ awareness. As a result, common knowledge can be defended as a concept, which refers to a fragile yet distinct collective attitude.
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DOI 10.1007/s10670-016-9828-4
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