Epistemology is the theory of knowledge. It is concerned with the mind’s relation to reality. What is it for this relation to be one of knowledge? Do we know things? And if we do, how and when do we know things? These questions, and so the field of epistemology, is as old as philosophy itself. Answering these questions requires considering the relationship between knowledge, truth, belief, reason, evidence and reliability. It requires considering the different psychological routes to knowledge, including different processes of reasoning – logical and scientific – introspection, perception, memory, testimony and intuition. And it requires considering the nature of the known reality: How we know our own minds differs from how we know the minds of others; social realities are differently known to mental ones; the route to scientific knowledge is different to the route to mathematical knowledge; and moral knowledge is not merely factual. And throughout these debates there is the constant undercurrent of scepticism, which suggests that we can never know the reality behind appearances.
The field of epistemology is thus now a vast one with numerous research areas and issues. Sheffield has an established excellence in a wide range of these areas. We received research grants to work on the epistemology of testimony, the value, rationality, and normativity of trust, the education and the civic significance of intellectual virtues. We have received grants to put on conferences on the philosophy of trust and transcendental responses to scepticism. We have a particularly keen interest in the more social dimensions of epistemology, and in the interconnections between the moral and the epistemic.
Both James Lenman and Max Khan Hayward have worked on moral epistemology, the relationship between moral and epistemic values and the way in which epistemic constraints impact on moral theory. The question of whether you can have moral or practical reasons for belief, and how moral or practical and epistemic reason interact is also a theme that emerges in Paul Faulkner’s work, which has focused on the knowledge we acquire from testimony and the role of trust in this process. Paul has a book on this Knowledge on Trust, which had a special journal symposium dedicated to discussing it. This focus has led Faulkner to write extensively on social epistemology. What is the place of friendship in epistemology? Can we communicate moral knowledge, aesthetic knowledge and our knowledge of what our experiences are like? What should we say about the more collective dimensions of knowledge, such as collaborative science? How should we respond to disagreement? What should we make of other ways of thinking that seem alien or plain wrong? Is there any epistemic rationality to conversion?
One response here is to think that any confidence must be based on epistemic virtues, where virtue epistemology is something that figures prominently in Ryan Byerly’s work, given his interest in the intellectual virtues and their social cultivation. Ryan is currently writing a book Intellectual Dependability: A Virtue Theory of the Epistemic and Educational Ideal. Related to disagreement, Rosanna Keefe has written on what is involved in the suspension of belief. Her approach to this takes a more formal direction and involves an investigation to degrees of belief and the vagueness that infect belief.
This avenue connects with Dominic Gregory’s interest in modal epistemology or the study of our knowledge of the necessary and possible. He is also interested in the role our imagination can play in grounding this knowledge. The sceptical undercurrent in epistemology is then represented in the work of Bob Stern whose book Transcendental Arguments and Scepticism discusses the efficacy of transcendental arguments in responding to scepticism and sceptical doubt.
- Byerly, T. R. (forthcoming). Intellectual Dependability: A Virtue Theory of the Epistemic and Educational Ideal. Routledge.
- Faulkner, P. (2011). Knowledge on Trust. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Faulkner, P. and Simpson, T. (eds) (2017). The Philosophy of Trust. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Faulkner, P. (2018). “Collective testimony and collective knowledge”. Ergo.
- Gregory, D. (2011), “Iterated modalities, meaning, and a priori knowledge”. Philosophers Imprint.
- Gregory, D. (2017), “Counterfactual reasoning and knowledge of possibilities”. Philosophical Studies.
- Gregory, D. (2019). “Imagery and possibility’. Noûs.
- Hayward, M. K. (2018). “Non-naturalist moral realism and the limits of rational reflection”. Australasian Journal of Philosophy.
- Lenman, J. (2007). “What is moral inquiry?” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society.
- Stern, R. (2000). Transcendental Arguments and Scepticism. Oxford University Press.
- Stern, R. (2019). “Transcendental arguments”, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
The University’s four flagship institutes bring together our key strengths to tackle global issues, turning interdisciplinary and translational research into real-world solutions.