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Epistemic Principles

A Primer for the Theory of Knowledge


Nicholas Rescher

Epistemic Principles: A Primer of the Theory of Knowledge presents a compact account of the basic principles of the theory of knowledge. In doing this, Nicholas Rescher aims to fill the current gap in contemporary philosophical theory of knowledge with a comprehensive analysis of epistemological fundamentals. The book is not a mere inventory of such rules and principles, but rather interweaves them into a continuous exposition of basic issues. Written at a user-friendly and accessible level, Epistemic Principles is an essential addition for both advanced undergraduate and graduate courses in epistemology.
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Chapter 24. Ignorance and Limits of Knowledge


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Of course here are different sorts of knowledge: on particular performatory (how to) knowledge and propositional or factual knowledge-that. It is the second alone that will concern us here.

Self-knowledge is not necessarily one of our human strong points. We cannot but admit that we often deceive ourselves about our motives, our abilities, our affinities. But our knowledge, we like to think, is something else again. Philosophers debate but generally seem to accept the thesis that when we know something we know it. And then this will hold for our ignorance as well—if we don’t know something, we will realize tact because, after all, if we knew it we’d know about it.

All the same, the matter is not quite so conveniently straightforward. The inescapable fact is that we are lamentably ill-informed about the limits of our knowledge and the range of our ignorance.

In thinking about what I know with regard to matters of fact I am invariably brought face-to-face with my ignorance—with what I do not know. For here the range is vast—the questions I cannot answer bring home to me that vast extent of things I do not know.

Ironically, however, despite the vast multitude of facts that I do not know I cannot give any example of them. There is, to be sure, no difficulty about questions I cannot answer. But the...

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