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Mind Research Fellows

Maria Rosa Antognazza (King’s College London)

Thinking with Assent: Renewing a Traditional Account of Knowledge and Belief.
My aim is to propose an original account of cognition by renewing some insights deriving from the history of epistemology. Epistemology is currently in ferment. What was recently regarded as the ‘standard account’ of knowledge (namely, Justified True Belief plus some additional condition) is no longer consensual. A leading contender amongst alternative accounts is the ‘knowledge-first epistemology’ advocated by Timothy Williamson, although a new consensus has not emerged. The core of my project will propose an account of cognition according to which knowledge and belief are irreducibly distinct kinds of ‘thinking with assent’ that cannot be analysed or characterized in terms of one another. The project will: 1) rediscover an historically well-attested account of cognition significantly different from twentieth-century mainstream views; 2) employ a version of this rediscovered tradition in a fresh restatement of the relationship between knowledge and belief; 3) apply this reconceived relationship to religious belief in particular. These three sections will coincide with sections in a monograph currently under contract with Oxford University Press.

Craig Bourne (Hertfordshire)

Truth in Fiction: A Contextualist Account
Some fictional truths are determined by what is explicitly stated in a book or shown on a screen, such as the fictional truth that Harry Potter wears glasses. One central concern in the philosophy of fiction is accounting for fictional truths which aren’t explicitly stated or shown (such as that Harry Potter has the same internal organs as we have). My project develops a new way of understanding how such fictional truths are determined, proposing an account of the dynamics of truth in fiction which explains why certain things can legitimately be assumed to be fictionally true, and how these assumptions can sometimes be revised. This will also involve giving an account of how decisions to cast particular actors in particular roles affect the mechanics of determining what is true in a fiction.

Unfortunately, Craig Bourne’s contribution to the conference could not be transferred to the online version of the conference.

Graeme A Forbes (Kent)

A Defence of the Growing-Block
The fellowship provides time to work on a larger project – a monograph – that sets out to answer three questions:

1. ‘does time (objectively) pass?’;

2. ‘Is there an objective difference between past and future?’;

3. ‘If we answer yes to questions 1 and 2, what account of time should we hold?’.

In doing so, the project aims to unify perhaps the most fundamental divide between science and the humanities. Science tends to view the passage of time as variation over a dimension of space-time, and to be understood by analogue with variation over space. The humanities tend to emphasise how humans are inescapably time-bound creatures, and treat time as passing in a way that has no spatial analogue. By adopting a pragmatist approach, wherein the world science investigates and the world in which humans live are one and the same, I will synthesise these contrasting perspectives.

The supplementary volume for the conference will be available from 3-13 July.


  • Hans Maes

    10th July 2020 at 9:11 pm

    Many thanks for your wonderful report, Graeme. So interesting, both in form and content. Definitely worth a rewatch! (My favourite moment: when you refer to the Platonic Heaven. :-))

    1. Graeme A Forbes (Kent)

      10th July 2020 at 9:17 pm

      Thanks Hans. I’ve no idea why Platonic Heaven is located in the flat above mine, but apparently it is.

  • Bill Brewer

    11th July 2020 at 12:07 pm

    Wonderful presentation of a great project, Rosa, thank you.

    1. Maria Rosa Antognazza

      11th July 2020 at 4:41 pm

      Thank you so much, Bill!

  • Daniel Whiting

    11th July 2020 at 1:06 pm

    Thanks both for such engaging introductions to your fascinating projects.
    I have some questions for Maria Rosa Antognazza. If you get the chance to reply, I’d be interested to hear more.
    First, I wonder how much of the ‘Knowledge First’ programme you want to commit it. Famously, Williamson defends the view that a person’s evidence is their knowledge (E=K). Does that fit with the view you are developing?
    On that view, knowledge involves an irreducible acquaintance-like relationship between object and subject, one that is not mediated by evidence and the like, and one which is explained by (derived from) the presence of the object. It is tempting to think that, on this view, it will turn out that we don’t have much knowledge, or at least that the scope of knowledge is more limited than we might have thought, and you seem to confirm this in the presentation.
    That might be fine, since for those matters beyond the scope of knowledge, we have belief. However, given E=K, our evidence is as limited as our knowledge. So, I wonder if, as the view is developed, the evidence base will be too slim to justify many (most) beliefs.
    Of course, you might reject E=K. Hence my question about how much of the programme you take on.
    Second, I’m curious what you say about Goldman/Ginet fake-barn cases. According to orthodoxy, though there are dissenters, subjects in such cases lack knowledge. However, it is often noted that, in such cases, the person’s belief that the structure is a barn, and indeed the truth of that belief, is explained by the presence of the barn. So, does the view you are developing, drawing on earlier traditions, predict knowledge in such cases? If not, why not?
    Thanks again for such an interesting talk.

    1. Maria Rosa Antognazza

      11th July 2020 at 6:41 pm

      Dear Daniel (if I may)

      Thank you very much for your insightful questions.

      My ‘Knowledge First’ view agrees with some aspects of Williamson’s position but disagrees with others. I agree that knowledge involves an irreducible acquaintance-like relationship between object and subject, one that is not mediated by reasons, arguments and the like. On my account, knowledge is a primitive perception or an irreducible mental ‘grasping’ or ‘seeing’ the object of cognition which is present to the knower. As you note, a consequence of this view is that the bar for what counts, strictly speaking, as knowledge is high. On my view, what we can know is limited because assent to the object of cognition which is primitively moved by the presence and perception of ‘what is’ is possible only in limited cases. Most of our cognitive activity relies on assent given for reasons external to the object itself. No amount of reasons or justification supporting such belief will turn this other mode of cognition into knowledge. On the other hand, justified belief is mostly very reliable in tracking truth, and constitutes an essential and distinctive mode of our successful cognition, with enormous power of extending our cognitive grip beyond what (strictly speaking) can be known.

      There are, on the other hand, important differences between the position I am developing and Williamson’s position. On my account, knowing and believing are two cognitive modes distinct in kind in the strong sense that knowing does not entail believing. In turn, believing is not some sort of botched knowing but a mental state fundamentally different from knowing, with its own distinctive and complementary role in our cognitive life. Moreover, for me, knowledge is first in the sense that, ontologically, knowing is the most primitive mode of our cognition, without which there would be no successful cognition. It is not first, however, in the sense that believing has a non-reciprocal, conceptual dependence on knowing: although believing can be understood in terms of not knowing, knowing can likewise be understood in terms of not being in a state of believing. Furthermore, on my account, the object of knowledge are not primarily propositions, and knowing and believing are not primarily attitudes to propositions. Knowledge’s primitive mode is a non-discursive, non-propositional perception; on this primitive perception of ‘what is’ are based discursive modes of knowledge. Finally, on my account, ‘evidence’ is not primarily propositional either. Rather, I take ‘evidence’ in its primary, traditional sense — derived from the Latin ex (from) + videre (to see) — of ‘visibility’ or ‘seeableness’ which allows something to be immediately apprehended by a cognitive subject. There is a sense in which also on my account E=K – ultimately, what we see, grasp, perceive in sense-perception and/or intellectually is what we know – but this sense is quite different from Williamson’s account.

      Regarding your more specific question — whether the evidence base will be too slim to justify many (most) beliefs — on my account belief is ultimately justified by what we know but there can be many intermediate stages in which some beliefs are justified by other justified beliefs and so on.

      Regarding your second question — what I say about Goldman/Ginet fake-barn cases – you are right in suspecting that, on my view, the subject’s perception of an actually barn qualifies as knowledge of there being a barn, that is, as having made cognitive contact with ‘what is’; had she been looking at fake-barn façades and formed the view that there were barns, she would have had a justified but false belief. Is this making knowledge the result of chance? I don’t think so. It is to take on board that knowing is a sui generis presence of ‘what is’ to a subject. However, since we are fallible cognitive subjects, it is easy for us to misjudge what is really present and what is not. But we do have ways of confirming whether we know or merely justifiably but falsely believe something (and in this case, it would be easy enough to find out).

      Thank you very much for your interest and for pressing me on these points!

      1. Daniel Whiting

        12th July 2020 at 9:50 am

        Thanks for such a detailed and helpful response.

  • Michael

    11th July 2020 at 1:40 pm

    Many thanks for your presentation, Prof Antognazza. I’d be very interested to hear more of your thoughts on the claim that knowledge entails belief. Do you agree that knowledge entails belief, and, if so, how do you think this entailment should be explained, given that knowledge and belief are distinct kinds?

    1. Maria Rosa Antognazza

      11th July 2020 at 4:39 pm

      Dear Michael

      Thank you for listening and for your comment! On my account knowledge does *not* entail belief. As you noted, knowledge and belief are, in my view, distinct kinds. As I have written in a recent paper for the Aristotelian Society, “according to a persistent traditional strand of thought which should be recovered, they are two fundamentally distinct modes of cognition which can be roughly identified by a contrast between seeing and not-seeing. A remarkably clear formulation of this contrast is found in Aquinas:

      the reason why the same thing cannot simultaneously and in the same respect be known and believed, is that what is known is seen whereas what is believed is not seen [scitum est visum et creditum est non visum]. (ST IIa IIae, q.1, a.5 ad 4)

      In this tradition, the state of ‘seeing’ (or ‘grasping’) is regarded as the most fundamental, primitive cognitive mode. I use the term ‘knowledge’ as shorthand for a family of cognate states which are usually indicated by terms such as epistēmē, nous, noesis, katalēpsis; scientia, scire, intellectus, intelligere (with their derivatives in Romance languages); Wissen, wissen, begreifen; knowledge, knowing, understanding. For this tradition, knowledge derives directly from its object which is present in a primitive and irreducible way to the mind of the knower. That is, knowledge is a primitive perception or an irreducible mental ‘grasping’ or ‘seeing’ the object of cognition with no gap between knower and known.
      This mental state is contrasted with another mode of cognition in which the object of cognition is not directly seen or grasped. I use ‘belief’ as shorthand for a family of cognate states usually indicated by terms such as doxa, pistis; opinio, opinari, fides, credere (with their derivatives in Romance languages); Glaube, glauben, Meinung, meinen; belief, believing, opinion, opining, credence, faith. For this tradition, belief is a mental state or a cognitive mode in which the perception or presence of the object which characterizes knowledge is lacking. Given this distinction of kind, belief cannot be turned into knowledge without ceasing to be belief for the simple reason that the state of not-seeing cannot be turned into the state of seeing without ceasing to be not-seeing. More succinctly, ‘seeing’ cannot be a species of ‘not seeing’. Aquinas is again remarkably clear on the mutual exclusivity of these two mental states. They cannot both be held by the same person at the same time and in the same respect:

      all knowledge [scientia] is acquired through some self-evident, and therefore ‘seen’, principles [principia per se nota, et per consequens visa]. And for that reason it is necessary that whatsoever is known is, in some way, seen [quaecumque sunt scita aliquo modo esse visa]. Now, as stated above, it is not possible that the same thing should be believed and seen by the same person. Hence it is indeed impossible that the same thing be known and believed [scitum et creditum] by the same person. Nevertheless it may happen that what is seen or known [visum vel scitum] by one, is believed by another. (ST IIa IIae, q.1, a.5)

      It is crucial to note that the grounds for believing may be very strong, and belief can be true and strongly justified – and still, on this genuinely traditional account, such belief would not be knowledge but a different mental state or cognitive mode. Much traditional epistemology would certainly have agreed that justified true belief is not sufficient for knowledge – not because something else should be added to true justified beliefs, but because knowledge is something fundamentally different from belief.”
      If you are interested in reading more, the draft paper is available here: https://www.aristoteliansociety.org.uk/pdf/maria_antognazza.pdf
      The final paper will be published in Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Issue No. 3, Volume CXX (2020).
      Thanks again!
      Maria Rosa Antognazza

  • Dave Lucas

    12th July 2020 at 9:34 am

    Maria, loved your lecture. Comments:
    Isn’t understanding also its own ontological category.
    I think it is also important to distinguish between referenced and unreferenced beluef. Where a reference belief is justified by evidence and an unreference belief is not.
    Example: unreferenced – the Earth is flat. referenced – the earth is spherical.

    We also need to consider beliefs about the future and about the potential of something. We can call these beliefs hypothetical.

    And they can be referenced. E.g Hypethetical Referenced – Based on polls candidate A will win the election.
    Hyperthetical Unreferenced – My son will become a doctor. I just believe it.

    This comes back to religious belief where for instance we need to examine the refetencing of religious belief. For instance, I believe in God because religious text A says he exists vs. I believe in God because of the research into DNA and I cannot accept that knowledge happens by accident vs. I belive in God due to my own personal near death experience where I went to heaven.

    I think there is a quality of evidence factor that also plays out in justifying religious belief.

    I also think there is a social knowledge which justifies religious belief.
    We could discuss for hours.

    Thx great lecture

    1. Maria Rosa Antognazza

      12th July 2020 at 3:56 pm

      Dear Dave (if I may)

      Thank you very much for your comments and suggestions. Yes, it is important to distinguish between ‘referenced’ and ‘unreferenced’ belief, justified and unjustified belief, as it is crucial to take into account the quality of the evidence in support of a belief. I also agree that social knowledge can contribute in significant ways to the justification of religious belief. Finally, regarding understanding: I agree that understanding is its own cognitive mode, with its own distinctive features, although I suggest that it is part of the broader family of mental states which qualify as knowing.

      Thank you for your interest and positive feedback! Much appreciated.

  • David Devalle

    12th July 2020 at 3:54 pm

    I really enjoyed this,
    I need to watch again to formulate a question.
    I hope I will.

    1. Maria Rosa Antognazza

      12th July 2020 at 4:05 pm

      Thank you very much, David, for taking the time to listen. Much appreciated. I am glad you enjoyed the talk! Feel free to send a question later on if you wish.

    2. David Devalle

      12th July 2020 at 8:07 pm

      Sorry I didn’t make my comment specific: I was referring to the presentation of Graeme