Knowledge, Experiments, and Practical Interests

In Jessica Brown & Mikkel Gerken (eds.), Knowledge Ascriptions. Oxford University Press. pp. 192 (2012)
Recently, some philosophers have defended the idea that knowledge is an interest-relative notion. According to this thesis, whether an agent knows P may depend on the practical costs of her being wrong about P. This perspective marks a radical departure from traditional accounts that take knowledge to be a purely intellectual concept. I think there is much to say on behalf of the interest-relative notion. In this paper, I report on some new evidence which strongly suggests that ordinary people’s attributions of knowledge are in fact sensitive to practical interests. This is noteworthy because recent experiments have been interpreted by many to support the opposite conclusion. I also argue that the new results support an invariantist but interest-relativist account of knowledge, a thesis known as Interest Relative Invariantism (IRI). I do not make the case here that IRI gives us the very best explanation of the results presented here. Any such attempt would require an in-depth survey of the last few decades of work in epistemology. I only want to argue here that IRI gives us a simple and elegant explanation of the new data, and that the same cannot be said about traditional contextualism, a leading competitor to IRI.
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