Alvin Goldman argues that S knows that p, where p is an empirical proposition, if and only if the fact that p is causally connected in an “appropriate” way with S’s believing p.
Step 1: Goldman hypothesises that what goes wrong in Gettier examples—i.e., cases in which S allegedly has a justified true belief that p but does not know that p—is that there is a lack of a causal connection between S’s believing that p and the fact that p.
Argument: In Gettier’s second example, in which Smith comes to believe the disjunction “Either Jones owns a Ford or Brown is in Barcelona” based on the false belief that “Jones owns a Ford”, the fact that makes the disjunction true (viz., Brown is in Barcelona) is not causally connected to Smith’s believing the disjunction.
Upshot: We must add the requirement of causal connection between the fact that p and S’s believing that p to the traditional analysis to avoid Gettier’s objections.
Step 2: Goldman begins an examination of different cases of empirical knowledge with knowledge based on perception.
Argument: Suppose that there is a vase before S which is being obscured from S’s view by a laser photograph of a different vase and that S comes to believe that there is a vase before him based on the photograph. In such a case, according to Goldman, S does not count as seeing the vase since there is no causal connection between the real vase and S’s belief that there is a vase.
Upshot: Our ordinary concept of sight (i.e., knowledge acquired by sight) includes a causal requirement.
Step 3: Goldman continues his examination of different cases of empirical knowledge with knowledge based on memory.
Argument: Neither (i) believing (or knowing) a fact as some time t0 and then believing (or knowing) it at a later time t1, nor (ii) having the impression of remembering (e.g., having one’s brain artificially stimulated to produce a memory impression) are sufficient for remembering (or knowledge based on memory). We must add a causal connection between the earlier and later case of believing (or knowing) in order for it to count as a case or remembering.
Upshot: A causal connection between an earlier belief (or knowledge) that p and a later belief (or knowledge) that p is a necessary ingredient in memory.
Step 4: Goldman continues his examination of different cases of empirical knowledge with knowledge based on inference.
Argument: Goldman contrasts the case in which an eruption leaves lava on the countryside which remains in place until someone, S, perceives it and the case in which the lava is removed and then (centuries later) someone else (unaware of the real volcano) places lava on the country side to make it look as if there had been an eruption. If, in the latter case, S comes to perceive the latter, and then infers that there was an eruption, S would not count as knowing that there is an eruption. This is because the eruption is not causally connected to S’s belief that there was an eruption.
Upshot: A necessary condition of S having inferential knowledge that p is that his believing that p be connected with the fact that p by a causal chain.
Step 5: Goldman concludes his examination of different cases of empirical knowledge with knowledge based on testimony.
Argument: Cases of knowledge based on testimony begin with the fact that p causing a subject, T, to believe that p and subsequently assert that p, which eventually leads to another subject, S, believing that p based on T’s assertion. Here, as before, there must be a causal chain connecting the fact that p to S’s believing that p in order for the belief to count as knowledge.
Upshot: There is a causal requirement for knowledge based on testimony.
Step 6: Goldman concedes that the requirement that S knows that p only if the fact that p caused S’s belief that p is too strong.
Argument: Assuming that we can know facts about the future, and precluding the possibility of backward causation, S’s belief that p cannot always be caused by the fact that p in order for S to know that p. Moreover, I may come to know that there was smoke coming out of my chimney last night based on an inference from the fact that there was a fire in my fireplace last night, even though the smoke is not the cause of the fire in my fireplace.
Upshot: We must weaken the requirement that there be a causal connection between the fact that p and S’s belief that p to include cases in which the fact that p and S’s belief that p share a common cause.
Step 7: Goldman considers John Saunder’s and Narayan Champawat’s counterexample to Michael Clark’s analysis of knowledge.
Argument: Suppose that Smith forms the belief that “Jones owns a Ford” based on the testimony of Brown, who is generally reliable. However, (unknown to Brown or Smith) Jones actually sold his Ford the day before and bought a Volkswagon. Jones subsequently wins a Ford in raffle, making Smith’s belief true. Although Smith’s belief is true and fully grounded (i.e., all his grounds are true) he still does not know that Jones owns a Ford.
Upshot: Clark’s requirement that a belief be fully grounded fails to provide a sufficient condition for knowledge due to the lack of a causal connection between Smith’s belief and the fact believed.
Step 8: Goldman considers Keith Lehrer’s counterexample to Clark’s analysis of knowledge.
Argument: Suppose that Smith forms the belief that “Someone in the office owns a Ford” based on an inference from his belief that Jones owns a Ford and his belief that Brown owns a Ford, both of whom are in his office. However, since Brown does not own a Ford, one of Smith’s grounding beliefs is false. However, Smith still knows that someone in the office owns a Ford even though his grounds include a false belief.
Upshot: Clark’s requirement that a belief be fully grounded is not necessary for knowledge.
Step 9: Goldman maintains that “causal chains” may include, not only admixtures of causes and inferences, but also causes and logical connections.
Argument: Smith forms the belief that (p), “Someone in the office owns a Ford”, based on the conjunction of the belief that (q) “Jones owns a Ford” and (r) “Jones works in his office”. Given that (q) and (r) logically entail (p), and given that (q) and (r) combine to cause Smith’s belief that (p), it follows that there is a causal connection between the fact that (p) and Smith’s believing that (p).
Upshot: If X and Y are logically related, and Y is a cause of Z, then X also counts as a cause of Z.
Step 10: Goldman argues that since his causal analysis of knowledge does not require that a knower be able to justify or provide evidence in favour of the proposition known it is able to account for cases of knowledge that the traditional analysis excludes.
Argument: S may know that Abraham Lincoln was born in 1809 based on a warranted inference from an Encyclopaedia entry even after S has forgotten how he came to learn this fact, so long as there is a causal connection between S’s belief and the fact that Lincoln was born in 1809.
Upshot: The justification requirement of the traditional analysis is not necessary for knowledge.
Goldman concludes that S knows that p just in case the fact that p is casually connected in an “appropriate” way with S’s believing that p, where “appropriate” causal processes include: perception, memory, inferences (in which a proposition counts as warrant-providing only if it is true), or some combination of the aforementioned. Goldman concedes that the preceding causal analysis is not part of the meaning of the expression “S knows p”. However, he maintains that it specifies the necessary and sufficient conditions for knowledge.
1. Do you agree that the agent in Goldman’s volcano example does not have knowledge? Why or why not?
2. What does Goldman mean when he says that S knows that p only if S’s believing that p is causally connected to the fact that p? What are the implications of this view for knowledge about the future?
3. Do you agree that S knows that p only if S’s believing that p is causally connected (in Goldman’s sense) to the fact that p? Why or why not?
4. Does Goldman’s analysis of knowledge successfully avoid Gettier-style counterexamples? Why or why not?