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An Introduction to the Theory of Knowledge

Nicholas Rescher

Publication Year: 2003

Guided by the founding ideas of American pragmatism, Epistemology provides a clear example of the basic concepts involved in knowledge acquisition and explains the principles at work in the development of rational inquiry. It examines how these principles analyze the course of scientific progress and how the development of scientific inquiry inevitably encounters certain natural disasters. At the center of the book’s deliberations there lies not only the potential for scientific progress but also the limit of science as well. This comprehensive introduction to the theory of knowledge addresses a myriad of topics, including the critique of skepticism, the nature of rationality, the possibility of science for extraterrestrial intelligences, and the prospect of insoluble issues in science.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Series: SUNY Series in Philosophy (discontinued)

Front Cover

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About the Series, Title Page, Copyright

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pp. xi

This book is based on work in epistemology extending over several decades. It combines into a systematic whole ideas, arguments, and doctrines evolved in various earlier investigations. The time has at last seemed right to combine these deliberations into a single systematic whole and this book is the...

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pp. xiii-xvii

The mission of epistemology, the theory of knowledge, is to clarify what the conception of knowledge involves, how it is applied, and to explain why it has the features it does. And the idea of knowledge at issue here must, in the first instance at least, be construed in its modest sense to include also belief, conjecture, and the like. For it is misleading to call cognitive theory at large...

Part 1: Knowledge and Its Problems

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1. Modes of Knowledge

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pp. 3-14

It is something of an oversimplification to say the knowledge involves belief. For one thing, believing is sometimes contrasted with knowing as a somewhat weaker cousin. (“I don’t just believe that, I know it.”) And there are other contrast locutions as well. (“I know we won the lottery, but still can’t quite get myself to believe it.”) Still in one of the prime senses of...

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2. Fallibilism and Truth Estimation

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pp. 15-36

The development of metaknowledge—of information about our knowledge itself—is a crucial component of the cognitive enterprise at large. Metaknowledge is higher-order knowledge regarding the facts that we know (or believe ourselves to know); the object of its concern is our own knowledge (or putative knowledge). The prospect of metaknowledge roots in the...

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3. Skepticism and Its Deficits

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pp. 37-59

A straightforward and plausible argument is at work here. If a contention is to be absolutely, secure relative to the grounds by which it is supported, then its content must not go beyond the content of those contentions that serve as grounds for the claim. But with factual statements there is always an “evidential gap,” because the data at our disposal were exhaust the content of our...

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4. Epistemic Justification in a Functionalistic and Naturalistic Perspective

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pp. 61-79

Once the idea of sensory certainty is called into question, the way is cleared to seeing sense-based knowledge in a practicalistic light. To gain a firm grip on the issue, it helps to draw a crucial distinction between cognitive experiences (which are always personal and subjective) and objective situations (which are not). “I take myself to be seeing a cat on that mat” is one sort of thing and...

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5. Plausibility and Presumption

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pp. 81-100

A presumption is something distinctive that is characteristically its own within the cognitive domain. What is at issue here is not knowledge, nor probability, nor postulation, nor assumption, but something quite different and destructive, namely a provisional gap-filler for an informational void. The key idea of presumption thus roots in an analogy with the legal principle: innocent until proven...

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6. Trust and Cooperation in Pragmatic Perspective

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pp. 101-110

The pragmatic aspect of knowledge is an unavoidable fact of life. In many ways, knowledge is power. Its possession facilitates efficacy and influence in the management of public affairs. It enables those who have “inside” information to make a killing in the marketplace. It opens doors to the corridors of power in corporations. It maintains experts in the style to which the present century has...

Part 2: Rational Inquiry and the Question for Truth

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7. Foundationalism versus Coherentism

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pp. 113-130

The model of knowledge canonized by Aristotle in the Posterior Analytics saw Euclidean geometry as the most fitting pattern for the organization of anything deserving the name of a science (to put it anachronistically, since Euclid himself postdates Aristotle). Such a conception of knowledge in terms of the geometric paradigm views the organization of knowledge in the...

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8. The Pursuit of Truth: Coherentist Criteriology

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pp. 131-150

A coherentist epistemology thus views the extraction of knowledge from the plausible data by means of an analysis of best-fit considerations. Its approach is fundamentally holistic in judging the acceptability of every purported item of information by its capacity to contribute toward a well-ordered, systemic whole...

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9. Cognitive Relativism and Contextualism

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pp. 151-172

The fact that our knowledge, and especially our scientific knowledge, rests on the continually growing database of ever-expanding observational horizons means that our present claims to truth in scientific matters—where precision and generality are paramount—involve an element of speculative hope. No doubt “the real truth” is the aim of the cognitive enterprise, but in this real...

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10. The Pragmatic Rationale of Cognitive Objectivity

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pp. 173-185

Consider the following contention: “There are no objective facts—or at least none that we can formulate by the use of language. For the man-made character of all our human contrivances means that everything that we can manage to produce is a cultural artifact within the course of human history in the setting of a particular place and time. And this is also emphatically the case...

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11. Rationality

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pp. 187-206

Man is a rational animal, and presumably the only one here on earth, though there is no reason of principle why extraterrestrial rational beings could not exist. But beings capable of an intuitive understanding of the likes and dislikes, attractions and aversions of others could in theory come to view one another as rational...

Part 3: Cognitive Progress

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12. Scientific Progress

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pp. 209-228

A theoretical prospect of unending scientific progress lies before us. But its practical realization is something else again. One of the most striking and important facts about scientific research is that the ongoing resolution of significant new questions faces increasingly high demands for the generation and cognitive exploitation of data. And in developing natural science, we humans began...

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13. The Law of Logarithmic Returns and the Complexification of Natural Science

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pp. 229-256

An eminent philosopher of science has maintained that “in cases of inductive simplicity it is not economy which determines our choice. . . .We make the assumption that the simplest theory furnishes the best predictions. This assumption cannot be justified by convenience; it has a truth character and demands a justification within the theory of probability and...

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14. The Imperfectability of Knowledge (Knowledge as Boundless)

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pp. 257-275

What would perfected science be like? What sort of standards would it have to meet? Clearly, it would have to complete in full the discharge of natural science’s mandate or mission. Now, the goal-structure of scientific inquiry covers a good deal of ground. It is diversified and complex, spreading across both the cognitive/theoretical and active/practical sectors. It encompasses...

Part 4: Cognitive Limits and the Quest for Truth

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15. The Rational Intelligibility of Nature

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pp. 279-291

How is natural science—and, in particular, physics—possible at all? How is it that we insignificant humans, inhabitants of a minor satelite of a minor star in one of the worlds myriad galaxies, can manage to unlock nature’s secrets and gain access to her laws? And how can our mathematics—seemingly a free creative invention of the human imagination—be used to...

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16. Human Science as Characteristically Human

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pp. 293-313

To what extent does the involvement of our specifically human effort and action condition the character of our natural science? Does our science as a product reflect our particular modus operandi? It is instructive to consider this issue through the perspective of the questions whether an astronomically remote...

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17. On Ignorance, Insolubilia, and the Limits of Knowledge

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pp. 315-331

One of the most critical but yet problematic areas of inquiry relates to knowledge regarding our own cognitive shortcomings. It is next to impossible to get a clear fix on our own ignorance, because in order to know that there is a certain fact that we do not know, we would have to know the item at issue to be a fact, and just this is, by hypothesis, something we do not...

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18. Cognitive Realism

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pp. 333-367

To exist (in the broadest sense of this term) is to function as a constituent of a realm, to play a role in a domain of identifiable items of some sort. In principle there are thus as many modes of existence as there are types of interrelated items, and to exist is to exist as an item of the correlative kind. There is physical existence in space and time, mathematical existence in the realm...


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pp. 369-401


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pp. 403-406

E-ISBN-13: 9780791486375
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791458112
Print-ISBN-10: 0791458113

Page Count: 424
Illustrations: 9 tables, 2 figures
Publication Year: 2003

Series Title: SUNY Series in Philosophy (discontinued)