This series of essays has been rewritten from a Master's thesis defended at Temple University in 1970.

The Philosophical Foundations of Human Cognition (Section I)

©2004 Edward G. Rozycki

Parts 1 : Conditions of Knowledge; and
Part 2: Epistemic Fundamentals

edited 12/16/17

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(Section I) --------------



knowa and knowe An ambiguity.

The Truth Condition Can it be known?

Enabling a Knowledge Claim
Where are the foundations?


Epistemically Fundamental Verbs for which knowing is not a question.

Direct Reference
Justifiable Presumptions

Epistemic Substitutes and Epistemic Sources

The Possibility of Illusion
Countering the Skeptic


Section Endnotes



(Section II) ------------


Contrasting 'recognize' and 'identify'

Two Senses of 'Recognize'

Recognition and Recall

The Primacy of Recognition

Conflicts of Recognition and Identification

Is Cognition Recognition?

(Section III) ------------


Confrontable Characteristics

Recognition Equivalence

Goodman's Identity Theory

Systematizing the r/e-class

Goodman's Theory Continued

Knowing What a Thing Looks Like


Dimension of Individuation

(Section IV) ------------

PART 4: Continued

Multi-leveled Individuation

NIE's and Classes

Physical Objects as NIE's

The Act as NIE

Following a Rule

Recognizing Reconsidered

Goodman's Theory -- Conclusion

The Application of Concepts

To Conclude


INTRODUCTION (How Do We Come to Know What Things Are?)

From the Prologue:

Research of all kinds rests on the assumption that we can distinguish between what we know and what we might just merely believe. How is this distinction to be practically understood? Why are some methods preferable for acquiring knowledge? On what basis do we justify our claims so as to develop and maintain a community of practice?

The scope of this essay is quite broad. Topics range from the roles presumption and memory must play in knowledge to an explication of what it means to follow a rule. This, not from garrulity, but from necessity: some parts may seem so counterintuitive that only in the context of the whole paper can they be justified. There is a level at which our intuitions must be satisfied. But philosophical intuition -- if I may name such a beast -- is not infrequently the result of tutored disposition to accept only a certain kind of explanation.

My concern in this essay is not with ontology, but with intelligent practice. I am not concerned that the ontological status of some of the entities I postulate may be problematic, e.g. object-non-individuated entities. The analysis here rests on generally non-technical, but educated, judgment: e.g. under what conditions would a reflective, self-correcting person use such terms as 'know', or 'recognize.'

I have chosen to treat a theory of identification found in Nelson Goodman's Languages of Art as a test of strength of my analysis. Goodman is a prestigiously competent philosopher with a theory that runs strongly and completely counter to my own. I have attempted to present his theory as strongly as his statement of it warrants and to acknowledge the points of its strength, for fighting straw men of one's own creation does not demonstrate competence. Just why Goodman's theory is wrong is important because, it derives from what I consider to be a mistaken presumption that is far from uncommon among philosophers and psychologists, i.e. that, even ignoring the contexts of practice and constructs developed by communities of users, intention is reducible to some complex of observable events.

The original title of this paper, "How We Come to Know What Things Are," was -- to some extent -- misleading. It is more appropriately the psychologist's role to investigate how exactly we come to know what things are. What is attempted here is an exposition of the assumptions crucial to any such investigation. -- E.G.R.

PART 1: THE CONDITIONS OF KNOWLEDGE (Why trying to define "know" doesn't work.)

Let us begin by examining a definition deriving from Plato, a form of which provides the basis for many philosophical investigations into the nature of knowledge, e.g. Scheffler's Conditions of Knowledge 1.

S knows that p iff (if and only if)

a. 'p' is true

b. S believes that p

c. S is justified in believing that p.2

Our concern is to explain how we know what things are. However, in the above definition, p is a proposition. So as to show the relevance of examining the definition, we can restate our concern thus: How do we know whether or not propositions of the form 'X is a Y' or 'X is Z' are true? X is here a phrase which can be used to refer to an individual, e.g. 'he', 'this man'; Y, a common noun, e.g. 'cat', 'man'; Z, a proper noun or some individuating expression, e.g. 'the Duke of York', or 'the last of the Mohicans'. So, following the conditions given above, we would say that we know that George W. Bush is President of the United States iff (if and only if):

a'. "George W. Bush is President of the United States" is true;

b'. We believe that George W. Bush is President of the United States; and

c'. We are justified in believing that George W. Bush is President of the United States.

But don't we have to know a', b' and c' above? If so, does this portend a kind of circularity for a definition of "know"? And if not, what? Let's look into this more carefully.

'knowe' and. 'knowa' (An ambiguity.)

There is a sense of 'know' which means 'be aware of'. I will designate this with ' knowa '. A different sense is used however, in contrast with 'believe' in the question "Do you know that; or, merely believe it?" This sense, the epistemic sense, I will designate with 'knowe'.

We can contrast these two senses with the following considerations: A person may never have entertained the thought that he was born after Plato, although he may know when both he and Plato were born. He could thus be said not to knowa what he knowse. It is important for later developments to point out that we run into a problem if we ask whether one knowse what one knowse. Such a recursive use of ' knowe ' -- if allowed -- must be taken to be redundant or else it leads to problems of infinite regress. 3

The Truth Condition (Can it be known?)

By the above definition S knowse that p iff X believes -- justifiably -- what is true, i.e. 'p'. Now, the definition is not circular in form and we will not examine the conditions stated in the definiens for their necessity or sufficiency -- they are at least apparently sufficient.4 However, when we consider what it is to assert that condition a. obtains, i.e. claim that 'p' is true, the analysis of 'knowe ' offered by the definition exhibits a problematic aspect.

The trouble arises not so much in attributing knowledge to someone else as in claiming it for oneself. We judge whether someone else knows on the basis of our knowledge. But can we do this for ourselves? If I wish to assert that I knowe that p, I should be able to independently assert that 'p' is true and that I justifiably believe so. But on what grounds dare I assert that 'p' is true?

Urmson 5 claims that to assert is to implicitly make a knowledge claim. If that is the case, then claiming to knowe that 'p' is true is a logical precondition to asserting that 'p' is true. But "'p' is true" is a condition for knowinge that p. Thus I cannot assert that the conditions for my knowinge that p are fulfilled, without implicitly claiming to knowe that 'p' is true, i.e. implicitly claiming to knowe that p.6

If I knowe that p iff

a. 'p' is true;

b. I believe that p;

c. I am justified in believing that p.

then I am confronted with certain alternatives:

1. Accepting Urmson's theory, reject the definition on the grounds that it offers no elucidation of 'knowe' when change of speech act -- formulating the definition as opposed to asserting that the conditions of its definiens obtain -- is considered.

2. Allow that the mere making of a claim be sufficient together with b. and c. for knowinge that p. This leads to conceptual difficulties.7

3. Hypothesize that truth derives in some manner which does not presuppose knowledge on the part of one who possesses it. But this restricts the common usage of 'know' for the sole purpose of saving the definition. Normally the locution "S possesses the truth that p" is less cumbersomely rendered "S knows that p."


Enabling a Knowledge Claim (Where are the foundations?)

Consider the generalized definition, X iff Y, where X is the definiendum and Y a set of conditions constituting the definiens. Suppose we knowe that Y obtains. Then, by virtue of the definition we knowe that X. If we do not knowe that Y, then in terms of the definition we do not knowe that X.

The definition, in the context of claiming to know that Y provides us with justification for claiming to know that X. The definition, we will say, enables a knowledge claim. Looked at thus, it would seem that a definition of 'know' -- in terms of truth, at least -- is essentially unusable. If definitions enable knowledge claims on the basis of knowledge claims, then 'knowe ' is not definable, for we can hypothesize no basis on which to make the definition enabling.

Note also that a definition enables a statement of belief, given a statement of belief. One may justifiably believe that X, given one's belief that Y, by virtue of the definition. This does not help with 'knowe ' however, unless we are willing to concede that knowledge be analyzable in terms of belief, or something else.

PART 2: EPISTEMIC FUNDAMENTALS (Escaping the circularity of having to knowe the conditions of "knowe.")

Epistemically Fundamental Verbs (for which knowing is not a question)

I argued above that 'knowe' could not be used reflexively without redundancy. This conforms to our everyday notion that to ask whether someone knows is enough --one does not need to go on to ask whether someone knows that he knows. If we try to make room for the locution 'S knowse that S knowse that p' all sorts of undesirable consequences ensue (see endnote 3.). Also we concluded that defining 'knowe' engendered problems of a peculiar sort. 'Knowe' does not seem to be practically definable. But under what conditions can we claim to know? Can we assert that these conditions obtain without presuming a knowledge claim in the act of so asserting?

Consider the definition, X iff S knowse that p, where X is the definiendum and 'S knowse that p' the definiens. Clearly, if the condition stated in the definiens is asserted to hold, it cannot be offered in criticism that a knowledge claim is implicit in the assertion, since -- by the non-reflexivity of 'knowe'_ such a claim is unformulable. One cannot claim, implicitly or otherwise, that one knowse that one knowse that p. (The implicit claimant is always the assertor.)

Consider also the definition: S is a traitor iff

a. S knowse that p

b. S believes that m.

If I assert that conditions a. and b. hold. for myself, i.e. I knowe that p and believe that m, I cannot be claiming implicitly or otherwise that I knowe that I knowe that p and I knowe that I believe that m. Again, since 'knowe' is nonreflexive and it is absurd to ask if one knowse that one believes that m.8

I introduce a definition: A verb, V, is epistemically fundamental (abbreviated EF) iff , given the S's claim," I V...", e.g."I see...", the question "Does S knowe that S V--s...?", e.g. "Does S knowe that he sees...?", is redundant in the manner of the question,"Does S knowe that he knowse that p?"

Any of the following are under some interpretation -- in case there are different senses of the verb -- epistemically fundamental:

I know (that) X.

I believe (that) X.

I see X.

I hear X.

I taste X.

I feel (that) X.

I recognize (that) X.

I perceive (that) X.

I presume that X.

I notice (that) X.


One can ask whether S knowse that he sees X, but the question is directed at the identity of X, not at the seeing. It is in effect, "Does S knowe that he sees X?" rather than "Does S knowe that he sees X?" If it is established that S knows the identity of X, the redundancy of the formulated question shows up.

We might try to define 'know' in terms of some EF verbs 9, e.g. S knows that p iff a. S sees.., and/or b. S believes ... etc. Such a definition would not be open to the objection that asserting that the conditions of the definiens obtain presumes knowledge claims since such claims would be unformulable by the non-recursiveness of 'knowe '. But EF verbs take objects. One sees something, hears something, and so long as it remains open to whether the subject of the verb knows the identity of the object, questions like "Does S knowe that he sees X?" are formulable without redundancy.

Direct Reference (Justifiable Presumptions)

If S refers to X and X is in his immediate presence, the assertion, " I see X, " promises to be free of formulable implicit knowledge claims. If S must explicitly state what he is referring to, his assertion, "I am referring to X," is free of implicit knowledge claims, since 'refer to' is an EF verb. But doesn't S presume, when he asserts that he sees X, that he still has the capacity to see X. Doesn't S implicitly claim to know that this presumption is correct?

Our test for identifying EF verbs was to see if, given S's claim "I V...", the alleged EF verb, V, was redundant in the context "Does S knowe that S Vs ." This rather loose criterion does not allow us to distinguish between verbs like 'presume', 'believe', 'suppose' and the intuitively different 'see', 'hear' and 'recognize'. A presumption, belief or supposition is not a source of knowledge but a more or less justifiable substitute for it. One presumes just because one cannot or need not make a knowledge claim. If we claim to see something, we presume that we have not just been struck blind and are not in fact experiencing an hallucination.

But, as a matter of social practice, any proposition, p is justifiably presumed in the absence of justification for the claim that not-p. So, even if we might justifiably presume that p, we still would not want to claim to know that p. In this manner a presumption works somewhat like a definition. On the basis of a knowledge claim that the definiens obtains, a definition enables us an additional knowledge claim. But a presumption, like a definition, is enabling.

Epistemic substitutes and epistemic sources

Let us distinguish among EF verbs, setting apart epistemic substitutes, e.g. 'suppose', 'presume', 'believe', from epistemic sources e.g. 'see', 'hear', 'recognize'. We can shore up our intuition as to the validity of this distinction by considering that episternic source verbs can be used per se to justify knowledge claims, On the other hand we would not accept a supposition, presumption or belief per se as a justification for a knowledge claim10. One could not justifiably claim, "I know that p because I presume (suppose, believe) that m."11


The Possibility of Illusion (Countering the Skeptic)

In light of our previous discussion we can easily handle a certain traditional problem: How can one know that p, without knowing that not-q, for any of a possible infinite number of q's which would invalidate the claim to know that p? How can you know that you are in fact seeing X and not merely hallucinating consequent to the onset of momentary blindness? Are you really seeing X or an illusion? Considering the possibility of hallucination or illusion, how can you really claim to be seeing X?

In most circumstances it is presumed that hallucination or illusion is not present when a person asserts that he sees something. We may -- according to custom and on pain of never being able to venture an opinion -- presume anything lacking justification for claiming its contrary. If we lack justification for claiming that illusion is present, the presumption that illusion is not present is enabling of the claim, "I see X."

It might be contested that the offered solution rests on the conflation of 'S knowse that p' with 'S justifiably claims to knowe that p'. In the context of making claims about what one knows, the conflation is justifiable, since anything which would establish that S knows that p would also establish the justifiability of S's claim to know that p. This is not to say that in general knowing that p means claiming to know that p.

Conversely, in the context of making claims, "S justifiably claims to know that p" entails "S knows that p", since anything which disestablished the latter would disestablish the former. In general there is a difference here which it is important to preserve. It is that we might want to say that, in light of what was known at a particular time in the past, S's claim to know that p was justifiable. However, because of present knowledge we know that S could not have 'known' that p. S could not now make a justifiable claim to know that p.

"S justifiably claims to know that p" plainly exhibits what "S knows that p" obscures, i.e. the role of justification in knowledge. The old argument to the effect that one can "really" never know anything supposes that knowledge claims are justified solely by knowledge claims. The infinite regress consequent to this supposition makes "real knowledge" impossible. The problem ignores the role of presumptions in cutting off the regress and enabling a knowledge claim.

If one wants to claim "I knowe ..." in any circumstances, one must presume that invalidating conditions do not obtain. Other considerations taken care of one may then justifiably claim to know. ( Consider that knowledge claims are often attacked by asserting that the claimant ought not to presume such--and--such.) That the locution "I know that p" is the more usual points up the fact that consideration of justifications for the claim and exposition of the presumptions underlying it is not normally done. 12


If S can justifiably claim to know the identity of X in his assertion, "I see X", he could not be asked, "How do you know that you see X?" S could establish the identity of X by direct reference. But what other ways are there than by direct reference? Also, what about the problem that arises if S should refer to X as 'this' or 'that' and the reference doesn't carry to the listener?13 Surely if we know what something looks like we can identify it on different occasions and if we know what it is called, identify it for others.

In his analysis of 'seeing' Soltis14 takes the notion 'knowing what an X looks like' as a primitive, i.e. not subject to analysis. (We will analyze it later.) Now, if a person knows what an X looks like it must be the case that he can in some circumstances recognize an X by its appearance. Equally primitive --if primitive -- must be 'knowing what an X sounds (smells, feels, tastes, hefts) like.'

But 'knowing what an X looks like' does not imply 'knowing that an X looks like a Y'. That a person knows what an X looks, smells, feels, tastes like 15 manifests itself in his ability to recognize an X via different modes, e.g. by the appearance, smell, touch, feel of the particular X. To say that a person recognizes something is not to say how he recognizes it. Likewise to say that he can recognize it is not to say that he knows how he does 16 Since 'recognize' is epistemically fundamental we cannot ask if he knows that he recognizes a particular. Recognition thus seems to play a major role in knowing what a thing is. 17 In the next section we discuss the relation of recognition to identification and knowing.


1 Scheffler works up to the definition given by Ayer in Problems of Knowledge . In that book condition c. is formulated

"S has the right to be sure that p is true."

2 This definition is from Gettier. It is more general than Ayer's; however, the variance is inconsequential here since I will examine the truth condition, a., which both Gettier and Ayer presume necessary.

3 Consider the following propositions:


p1, (i.e. S knowse that p)

p2, (i.e. S knowse that p1)

p3, (i.e. S knowse that p2)

Suppose that for p, S knowse that p iff condition X obtains, i.e. S knowse that p iff X. Does S knowe that p1 ?

We have these alternatives:

a. If X is a general condition for knowing, then since by supposition X, S knowse that p1. Thus any recursive use of 'knowe' reduces to "S knows that p", i.e. "S knowse that S knowse that ...that S knowse that p" reduces to "S knowse that p."

b. If we demand that a different condition, Y, obtain for S to know that p, then Y entails X -- since in general if S knowse that q, q. (Thus if S knowse that p1, p1 and X) The problem now is to decide -- if we wish to disregard common practice-- whether we can allow for the possibility that p1 be true but p2 not. Allowing that we can, we find that either the falsity or indeterminacy of p2 has no effect on the truth of p1-- obviating the analysis -- or, p2's falsity or indeterminacy entails the falsity of p1-- which leads to infinite regress, since for any pn, p n+1 must be decided.

4 One might argue that belief that p is not necessary for knowing that p. One may irrationally believe what is inconsistent with what one knows e and knows.

5 Parenthetical Verbs Caton p. 224

6 1 am using here what Tarski call the "semantic theory" of truth, i.e. 'P' is true, iff P. "John is bald" is true iff John is bald. Thus to claim that 'p' is true is to claim that p.

7 We might want to differentiate between asserting that p, surmising that p, guessing that p, opining that p, and merely uttering "p" in terms of a knowledge claim that p. But if merely claiming that p --given that the claimant justifiably believes that p -- is sufficient for knowing that p, such a differentiation is frustrated ab initio.

8 But it is not absurd to ask if one knows that one believes that m in the case where one avowedly believes that s and that r; and s and r entail m.

9 It is tempting to say "epistemically fundamental activities"; but believing, seeing, hearing, etc., not being episodic, are not activities.

10 This does not contradict what I suggested earlier, i.e. that belief, suppositions and presumptions enable knowledge claims. That they enable need not mean that justify. One does not justify by saying "In terms of definition A, we can claim that ... " if definition A is irrelevant or if there is no claim that the conditions or the definiens obtain.

11 One could well justify a belief in terms of a presumption; however, not in terms of a supposition, since one can suppose conditions contrary to fact, which are not presumable. This is just ordinary English usage but quite involved and interesting. However, exploration into this area is somewhat tangential to the main thrust of this paper.

12 The possibility of a regress arises here. Does one's claim to have a justifiable claim to know that p have to be justified? Do we then have a;justifiable claim to have a justifiable claim to know that p?

No -- to both questions. One could not justifiably claim to know that p, if one could raise questions as to the justifiability of one's claim to know that p. You, doubting, may say of me that I claim my claim is justified, were I -- suffering logorrhea -- to say,"I can justifiably claim to know that p". But I cannot say of myself," I claim to justifiably claim to know that p" because the locution "I claim" raises doubts, which invalidates justifiability.

13 Knowing what 'this' is being used to refer to depends on one's knowing what possible category substitutions can be made for 'this' and, specifically, which one could be made appropriately at the moment of reference.

14Seeing, Knowing and Believing p.78

15 We usually do call this knowledge although it is obvious that it may be in part or in full incommunicable. Exaggerating this leads to mysticism.

16 This seems to be a case where a person cannot knowe how he recognizes something until he knowsa how he does. A pedagogically important case.

17 Price holds recognition to be the most fundamental of intellectual processes. H.H. Price Thinking and Experience (Cambridge, Harvard--U. Press 1953) quoted in Soltis, p.48