Knowledge, Agency, and Personhood

Dissertation, Brown University (2002)
Baron Reed
Northwestern University
Fallibilism is the philosophical view that reconciles our ability to have knowledge with our constant vulnerability to error: we know even though our basis for knowledge might have failed to be adequate. In the central chapter, I trace a parallel between fallibilism and compatibilism. Recent work in the philosophy of free agency has drawn attention to a connection between freedom and personhood . I suggest that a similar connection is crucial in epistemology: only persons can know, and knowledge must be connected with what constitutes a subject as a cognitive person. Fallibilism and compatibilism offer what I call world-involving theories of personhood: what constitutes one as a person essentially involves how one is connected to the world. These world-involving theories face difficulties in showing how a person can be properly related to the thing known or to an action . I argue that fallibilism and compatibilism are incapable of resolving these problems and, hence, that world-involving theories of personhood are fundamentally flawed. Other chapters develop closely related themes: the proper analysis of fallibilism, the importance of the intellectual virtues and their role in epistemic agency, the kinds of accidentality that may undermine knowledge, and disjunctivism as a response to skepticism. Disjunctivism is a view that attempts to combine fallibilism with the ability to have a direct awareness of the truth . I examine this view as it is developed both in current epistemology and by the ancient Stoics
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