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Modal Epistemology

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-P078-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 2018
Retrieved June 24, 2024, from

Article Summary

Modal epistemologies maintain that a belief counts as knowledge only if there is an appropriate modal connection between that belief and the facts of the matter that make that belief true: a belief counts as knowledge only if it is actually true – true, as we might say, in the actual world, the world as it actually is – and true throughout a specified range of nonactual possible worlds: the world as it might have been. Modal epistemologies were developed primarily as a response to the problem of epistemic luck, where beliefs fail to count as knowledge because, although they are in fact true, the reasons that make them true are different from our reasons for holding those beliefs. Three main modal epistemologies are on the market today: those that include a sensitivity condition on knowledge, those that include a safety condition on knowledge, and anti-risk epistemologies. Sensitivity theories suggest that one’s beliefs count as knowledge only if one’s beliefs are sensitive to the truth, that is, only if one would not hold those beliefs if they were false. Safety theories suggest that one’s beliefs count as knowledge only if they could not easily have been false. Put more precisely, safety theories suggest that one’s beliefs count as knowledge only if one would hold those beliefs only if they were true. Safety theories and sensitivity theories are meant to respond to the problem of epistemic luck by specifying conditions that, when satisfied, ensure that our beliefs are not true accidentally, coincidentally or simply as a matter of luck. Anti-risk theories are being developed as an alternative to anti-luck modal epistemologies. According to anti-risk theories, our beliefs cannot count as knowledge if our holding them is too epistemically risky, that is, when the possibility of our beliefs’ being false rather than true is too close. Knowledge as a concept seems to anti-risk theorists to be incompatible with high degrees of epistemic risk but easier to come by as the epistemic risks move farther away.

Citing this article:
Black, Tim. Modal Epistemology, 2018, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-P078-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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