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An Introduction to the Theory of Knowledge

An Introduction to the Theory of Knowledge

Dan O'Brien

ISBN: 978-0-745-69884-7

Jun 2015, Polity

224 pages


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An Introduction to the Theory of Knowledge guides the reader through the key issues and debates in contemporary epistemology. Lucid, comprehensive and accessible, it is an ideal textbook for students who are new to the subject and for university undergraduates.

The book is divided into five parts. Part I discusses the concept of knowledge and distinguishes between different types of knowledge. Part II surveys the sources of knowledge, considering both a priori and a posteriori knowledge. Parts III and IV provide an in-depth discussion of justification and scepticism. The final part of the book examines our alleged knowledge of the past, other minds, morality and God.

O'Brien uses engaging examples throughout the book, taking many from literature and the cinema. He explains complex issues, such as those concerning the private language argument, non-conceptual content, and the new riddle of induction, in a clear and accessible way. This textbook is an invaluable guide to contemporary epistemology.

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Part I: Introduction to Knowledge

Chapter 1: The Theory of Knowledge

1. Epistemology

2. The Structure of the Book

2. 1 Part I: Introduction to Knowledge

2. 2 Part II: Sources of Knowledge

2. 3 Part III: Justification

2. 4 Part IV: Scepticism

2. 5 Part V: Areas of Knowledge

3. Further Reading and Study

Chapter 2: What is Knowledge?

1. Philosophical Analysis

2. The Tripartite Definition of Knowledge

3. Are Justification and Belief Necessary for Knowledge?

4. Gettier Cases

5. Richer Notions of Justification

5. 1 Infallibility

5. 2 No False Beliefs

6. Knowledge as Basic

7. Family Resemblance


Further Reading

Part Ii: Sources of Knowledge

Chapter 3: A Priori Knowledge

1. Knowledge, Reason and Experience

2. Rationalism and Empiricism

3. The Synthetic A Priori

4. Self-Evidence and Certainty

5. Innate Knowledge


Further Reading

Chapter 4: Perception

1. Direct Realism

2. Indirect Realism

2. 1 The Argument From Illusion

2. 2 Dualism

3. Rejecting Realism

3. 1 Idealism

3. 2 Phenomenalism

3. 3 Problems for Phenomenalism

4. The Intentionalist Theory of Perception

4. 1 Adverbialism

4. 2 Intentionalism

4. 3 Phenomenology

5. Seeing That, Seeing As, and Raw Seeing


Further Reading

Chapter 5: Testimony

1. The Individualistic Approach to Knowledge

2. Testimony

3. Hume’s Account of Testimony

3. 1 The Problem of Circularity

3. 2 The Martian Argument

4. Reid’s Account of Testimony


Further Reading


Chapter 6: Foundationalism

1. The Regress Argument for Traditional Foundationalism

2. Sellars and the Myth of the Given

3. Conceptual and Non-Conceptual Content

4. Wittgenstein’s Private Language Argument

5. Experience and Thought

6. Modest Foundationalism


Further Reading

Chapter 7: Coherentism

1. A Holistic Conception of Justification

2. The Concept of Coherence

3. Problems for Coherentism

3. 1 The Isolation Problem

3. 2 Alternative Coherent Belief Systems

4. Coherence Theories of Truth

5. A Coherentist Account of Perception

6. A Thinker’s Access to Her Own Belief System


Further Reading

Chapter 8: Internalism and Externalism

1. Internalism

2. Externalism

2. 1 The Basic Reliabilist Picture

2. 2 Causal Accounts of Knowledge

2. 3 Tracking Accounts of Knowledge

3. Arguments for Externalism

3. 1 Non-Reflective Knowledge

3. 2 An Epistemological Cure-All

4. Arguments Against Externalism

4. 1 Knowledge and Rationally Motivated Action

4. 2 Lucky Yet Reliable Beliefs

5. Two Kinds of Knowledge


Further Reading


Chapter 9: Scepticism

1. Cartesian Scepticism

1. 1 Dreams and the Demon

1. 2 Descartes Goes to the Movies

2. Accepting Cartesian Scepticism

2. 1 Withholding Belief

2. 2 Dinner, Backgammon and Conversation

3. Contextualism

4. Cognitive Externalism

5. The Epistemological Externalist Response to Scepticism


Further Reading

Chapter 10: The Problem of Induction

1. Inductive Inference

2. Hume’s Inductive Scepticism

3. Responses to Inductive Scepticism

3. 1 Popper’s Deductive Conception of Science

3. 2 Probability

3. 3 The Reliabilist Response

3. 4 The Coherentist Response

4. The New Riddle of Induction

5. Responses to the New Riddle of Induction

5. 1 Simplicity

5. 2 Grue is Not a Colour


Further Reading

Chapter 11: Naturalized Epistemology

1. Quine and Epistemology

1. 1 The Failure of Traditional Epistemology

1. 2 Quine and Scepticism

1. 3 Quine and the A Priori

2. The Normative Nature of Epistemology

3. Less Radical Forms of Naturalism


Further Reading


Chapter 12: Memory

1. Memory, Belief and Knowledge

2. Memory Images

3. The Causal Theory of Memory

4. Scepticism and the Reality of the Past

5. The Relation Between Perception, Testimony and Memory


Further Reading

Chapter 13: Other Minds

1. First Person Authority

2. The Problem of Other Minds and Solipsism

3. The Argument From Analogy

4. Seeing Minds

5. The Private Language Argument Revisited

6. Behaviourism

7. Theoretical Knowledge of the Mind


Further Reading

Chapter 14: Moral Knowledge

1. An Empirical Approach to Morality

1. 1 Utilitarianism

1. 2 Problems for Utilitarianism

2. An A Priori Approach to Morality

2. 1 Kant and the Categorical Imperative

2. 2 Problems for Kant’s Moral Theory

3. Moral Testimony

4. Moral Scepticism

4. 1 Relativism

4. 2 Emotivism


Further Reading

Chapter 15: God

1. An A Priori Proof for the Existence of God: The Ontological Argument

2. Empirical Justification for Religious Belief

2. 1 The Argument From Design

2. 2 The Argument From Miracles

2. 3 Hume on Miracles

3. Perceiving God

4. Pascal’s Wager

5. Scepticism, Atheism and Agnosticism


Further Reading




  • A clear and concise introduction to contemporary debates in epistemology
  • Covers current hot topics such as testimony, the internalism / externalism debate, and naturalized epistemology
  • Divided into five sections which clearly map on to courses in theory of knowledge
  • Illustrated with lively contemporary examples, including many taken from film, TV and popular culture
  • Ideal for undergraduate or A level students new to this area