Not Knowing a Cat is a Cat: Analyticity and Knowledge Ascriptions

J. Adam Carter, Martin Peterson, Bart van Bezooijen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

It is a natural assumption in mainstream epistemological theory that ascriptions of knowledge of a proposition p track strength of epistemic position vis-à-vis p. It is equally natural to assume that the strength of one’s epistemic position is maximally high in cases where p concerns a simple analytic truth (as opposed to an empirical truth). For instance, it seems reasonable to suppose that one's epistemic position vis-à-vis “a cat is a cat” is harder to improve than one's position vis-à-vis “a cat is on the mat”, and consequently, that the former is at least as unambiguous a case of knowledge as the latter. The current paper, however, presents empirical evidence which challenges this intuitive line of reasoning. Our study on the epistemic intuitions of hundreds of academic philosophers supports the idea that simple and uncontroversial analytic propositions are less likely to qualify as knowledge than empirical ones. We show that our results, though at odds with orthodox theories of knowledge in mainstream epistemology, can be explained in a way consistent with Wittgenstein's remarks on 'hinge propositions' or with Stalnaker's pragmatics of assertion. We then present and evaluate a number of lines of response mainstream theories of knowledge could appeal to in accommodating our results. Finally, we show how each line of response runs into some prima facie difficulties. Thus, our observed asymmetry between knowing “a cat is a cat” and knowing “a cat is on the mat” presents a puzzle which mainstream epistemology needs to resolve.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-18
JournalReview of Philosophy and Psychology
Early online date8 Aug 2015
Publication statusPublished - 2015

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • knowledge
  • experimental philosophy
  • analyticity
  • knowledge ascriptions
  • self-knowledge ascriptions


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