Externalism and Self-Knowledge

How many papers on
externalism and self-knowledge can we possibly be expected to read? I just opened
three recent journals at random, Analysis,
AJP and Synthese, and every one of
had one of these. Michael McKinsey
has a lot to answer for. It’s almost enough to stop me thinking about anything
to do with the subject. But not quite.


The Synthese paper (“McKinsey Paradoxes,
Radical Scepticism, and the Transmission of Knowledge across Known Entailments”
by Duncan
, Feb 2002) was all about the Wright-Davies line of blocking
McKinsey’s argument by sort-of-denying closure for reflective knowledge. The
line is that you aren’t meant to be able to infer
(3) from (1) and (2) because it would be question-begging.


(1) A hand is here.

(2) If a hand is here, then the external world

(3) The external world exists.


It turns out that on
their view though, you can properly deduce (4) from (1) and (2). (This is definitely
true for Davies, I think it is true for Wright as well.)


(4) The external world exists and a hand is


If Moore had just
tried to prove that, rather than
taking the risky step of inferring the truth of one of the conjuncts, nothing
would be wrong with his argument. Somehow this doesn’t feel like it gets to the
heart of what’s wrong with Moore. So I refuse to read anything more on that
line of work until I see a reason for thinking that the problematic step here
is from (4) to (3), rather than from (1) and (2) to (4). Now at least I have a
principled reason for not reading all
the McKinsey papers.

One Reply to “Externalism and Self-Knowledge”

  1. Well, I must confess, I gave it up much earlier to read some of these externalism-self-knowledge papers.

    In 1988 Burge presented his strategy for the compatibility-thesis. In 1989, at the latest,we realized (together with Boghossian) that Burge’s strategy is much less plausible, then the one or the other first thought.
    But then, in 1994, Falvey & Owen write:
    “In discussing these questions, it is important to distinguish between the following two versions of the idea the one’s self-knowledge is authoritative and direct:
    (1) An individual knows the contents of his occurrent thoughts and beliefs authoritatively and directly… Call this kind of knowledge introspetive knowledge of ontent.
    (2) With respect to any two of his thoughts or beliefs, an individual can know authoritatively and directly … whether or not they have the same content. Call this kind of knowledge introspective knowledge of comparative content. (Falvey & Owens 1994: 109f)”

    “Does it follow that if Susan were on Twin-Earth thinking that twater is liquid, she would still believe that she was thinking that water is liquid? Certainly not – because the contents of a Twin-Earthian’s second-order beliefs are determined by the environment just as the contents of her first-order beliefs are. (ibd.)”

    I mean, are these thesis something new or exciting? Perhaps I just miss it.


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