Fatema Amijee (Texas at Austin)
"Knowledge by Acquaintance Revisited"
Abstract: In The Problems of Philosophy Russell draws a distinction between knowledge by acquaintance and knowledge of truths (i.e. knowledge-that). On Russell’s view, knowledge by acquaintance is logically independent of knowledge of truths:
"Knowledge of things, when it is of the kind we call knowledge by acquaintance, is essentially simpler than any knowledge of truths, and logically independent of knowledge of truths..." (The Problems of Philosophy, 46)
Let us call this ‘the independence claim’. In my paper I argue for a reading of the independence claim that commits Russell to an externalist conception of knowledge by acquaintance – a conception on which a subject can be acquainted with an object o and not know that she is acquainted with o. This reading departs from the standard reading of Russell on which knowledge by acquaintance is an internalist notion: if a subject is acquainted with o, she knows that she is acquainted with o. This internalist reading is held by, among others, David Pears, Sajahan Miah, and John McDowell.
The externalist and internalist conceptions of knowledge by acquaintance correspond to two distinct readings of the independence claim. On one reading of this claim, Russell is merely committed to the view that acquaintance with o does not entail knowledge of all truths about o, or alternately, is not sufficient for knowledge of all truths about o. The reading leaves open the possibility that acquaintance with o is sufficient for some knowledge of truths. This is consistent with an internalist conception of knowledge by acquaintance.
On my alternative reading of the independence claim, a subject’s acquaintance with o is not sufficient for any knowledge of truths about o. My reading commits Russell to anexternalist conception of knowledge by acquaintance. I execute my defense of this alternative reading of the independence claim as follows: In §1 I argue that Russell’s definitive stance against logical monism – the view that truth is ‘one’ – requires him to adopt a view on which acquaintance with an object is insufficient for knowledge of any truths about it, thus vindicating my reading of the independence claim. In §2 I demonstrate how the role played by attention in Russell’s theory of knowledge lends my reading of the independence claim further support. In §3, I respond to objections that stem from a standard reading of Russell, and address Russell’s motivations for his (seemingly internalist) claim that we do not have acquaintance with material objects.