Goldman, Alvin (1938–)

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Alvin Goldman, an American philosopher, is best known for his contributions to epistemology, philosophy of mind, and related fields. His first paper, "A Causal Theory of Knowing," (1967, reprinted in Liaisons 1992), defends the view that an individual S knows a proposition p just in case p is causally related in the right sort of way to the individual's belief that p. Thus, for example, Sam knows that there is a cat on the mat because Sam is looking at the cat, and the fact that the cat is on the mat caused Sam to have that belief. This kind of account of knowledge breaks with the tradition that identifies knowledge with some sort of justified, true belief. While Goldman's account requires that a belief be true if it is to count as knowledge, the requirement of justification is replaced with a requirement that highlights the importance of the causal ancestry of the belief. Goldman further develops this view in "Discrimination and Perceptual Knowledge" (1976) and "What Is Justified Belief?" (1979) (both reprinted in Liaisons ), coming to hold, in the latter paper, that knowledge does indeed require justification, where justification is to be identified with reliably produced belief rather than with any kind of ability to produce an argument, as traditional accounts require. This style of account has come to be known as "externalist" (because the factors in virtue of which a belief is justified may be external to the knower's mind), and is opposed to the more traditional "internalist" accounts on which the features in virtue of which a belief is justified are ones to which the knower inevitably has cognitive access. Goldman develops this view in tremendous detail in a series of papers, and ultimately in Epistemology and Cognition (1986).

Whereas Goldman's account of knowledge is offered as an analysis of the concept of knowledge, the substance of his account places a great deal of stress on the relevance of empirical work to epistemological issues. Thus, Goldman's approach prompts him to investigate the various psychological mechanisms by which belief is produced because it is upon the reliability of these mechanisms that people's status as knowers depends. This concern with the ways in which empirical workand especially work in the cognitive sciencesmay be brought to bear in advancing human understanding of traditional philosophical issues is characteristic of Goldman's work generally; his work in this area constitutes the most sustained development of naturalistic epistemology available.

Although his early work was concerned with the philosophy and psychology of individual cognition, Goldman has gone on to make seminal contributions to social epistemology. The mechanisms by which beliefs are produced and sustained include not only those inside the knower's head, but features of the social organization of the knower's epistemic community. In Knowledge in a Social World (1999), Goldman investigates the ways in which social structures may either contribute to, or interfere with, the discovery and dissemination of truths. This project includes work on the epistemology of testimony and argumentation, the social structure of scientific investigation, and the epistemology of education. Additionally, Goldman addresses questions about democracy, government regulation of speech, the role of truth in legal proceedings, and the economics of communicationall topics illuminated by his epistemological approach.

Goldman has also made important contributions to the philosophy of mind, especially in his elaboration and development of the "simulation" account of mental state attribution. A standard approach to mental state attribution, now known as the "theory-theory," sees human attribution of mental states to others as the product of theory construction. On this view, when one forms the belief that Jack will want the university president to resign, that person's belief about Jack's desire is derived from beliefs held about Jack's other mental states, together with theories the person holds about the laws governing interactions among mental states. On the simulation view, however, attribution of mental states does not derive from theory construction and need not involve any beliefs about psychological laws or regularities. Instead, the processes by which one's own mental states interact are brought to bear on the task of mental state attribution, being used to simulate the workings of the process by which the target mental state was produced. Goldman's Simulating Minds: The Philosophy of Psychology, and Neuroscience of Mindreading (forthcoming) develops this view in detail. He assembles evidence from psychology and especially neuroscience of low-level, automatic processes that mimic, mirror, or resonate with those of an observed other. Such processes play a crucial role in the facial mind-reading of emotions, for example. On the topic of the self-attribution of mental states, Goldman defends an introspectionist approachin contrast with other simulationists. Elsewhere, he defends introspection as the basis for relying on subjects' verbal reports in the science of consciousness.

In his first book, A Theory of Human Action (1970), Goldman defended a fine-grained approach to the ontology of action and illuminated the relationship between determinism and fatalism. He has also explored the interface between metaphysics and cognitive science.

See also Epistemology, History of; Philosophy of Mind.


works by goldman

A Theory of Human Action. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1970.

Epistemology and Cognition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1986.

Liaisons: Philosophy Meets the Cognitive and Social Sciences. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1992.

Philosophical Applications of Cognitive Science. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1993.

Knowledge in a Social World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Pathways to Knowledge. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Simulating Minds: The Philosophy of Psychology, and Neuroscience of Mindreading. Oxford: Oxford University Press, forthcoming.

secondary references

"The Philosophy of Alvin Goldman." Philosophical Topics 29 (1, 2) (2001).

Hilary Kornblith (2005)