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Robert Nozick’s Conditions for Knowledge Essay

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Updated: May 13th, 2021


Robert Nozick is an American philosopher, widely known primarily as the researcher of the problems of political philosophy. A wide range of philosophical problems was included in the sphere of Nozick’s research interests. It is evidenced by the thematic perspective of the works published by him, in which the results of research in such fields as epistemology, metaphysics, the philosophy of consciousness, axiology, and ethics are presented.

The author paid special attention to the conditions of knowledge and considered this issue from different points of view. To determine the specifics of Nozick’s theories and compare his ideas with other trends, it is necessary to disclose the meaning of the conditions formulated by him and to highlight the main aspects.

Robert Nozick’s Reliabilist Account of Knowledge

Bernecker notes that that the knowledge of Nozick is real, i.e. it is the actualization of a certain epistemic state adequately expressed by the formula “S knows that p.” (15). Here, a number of several conditions must be observed, for example, p is true, S believes that p., etc. Moreover, Nozick finds rational arguments in favor of the fact that the condition of ways and methods can be leveled. He admits the possibility of weakening the principle of indicating ways and methods of forming beliefs. Also, the proceeds from the premise that the basic conditions of knowledge are intuitively understandable. These conditions are quite definite and sufficient in their original formulation, which allows managing without a methodological specification until a certain moment.

The author pays special attention to the Subjunctive Mood and gives various examples of how certain time frames affect the perception of specific situations relying on this grammatical definition. In his article, Bernecker notes that statements fixed by sentences having a conditional-subjunctive form can not be regarded as truth-functional entities (22). One of such examples is a controversial statement about Lee Harvey Oswald and the Kennedy assassination. Depending on the form in which the mood is viewed, it can be perceived in different ways, and different conclusions can be made. Therefore, this position has become widespread in the philosophical environment and remains the subject of research by scientists.

Nozick’s Variation Condition and Gettier Cases

One of the rather well-known philosophical theories is the problem of Gettier, or, as it is also called, the problem of neutralizing the positions of skepticism. Its essence is that in order to determine whether certain beliefs have the status of knowledge, a person should make sure of their truth. Bernecker cites Nozick’s theory, where the definition of knowledge as a true and well-founded belief turns out to be untenable in a number of cases (16). The introduction of the various condition provides a productive approach to the cases of Gettier, presenting the argumentative formula for its solution.

The problem of Gettier is that such factors as the existence of a particular belief, as well as the truth of the proposition, do not reach universality and concreteness as it encounters counterexamples demonstrating the inadequacy of the above-mentioned conditions. It means that situations in which a justified true belief does not form knowledge are possible. As Bernecker remarks, Nozick reproduces the model of the situation presented by Gettier as a counterexample, which can be invoked to demonstrate the lack of classical conditions of knowledge (16). According to the concept of Nozick, the condition gives only an abstract expression to the principle of changing the propositional content of beliefs after the facts (Bernecker 21). The author pays particular attention to the false proposition and to some extent criticizes Gettier’s cases.

One example that clearly describes the problem and approach to it is a typical situation known as “The Owner of the Ford Car.” Its approximate essence is the following: there are two people, and, relying on sufficient evidence, it is possible to assume that the first is the owner of the car brand “Ford.” Nevertheless, at the present time, it is not so; the other person (an unknown to the speaker) is the owner of such a car. The essence of the allegedly true and well-founded belief is that one of the two people owns a Ford car, but it does not constitute knowledge in this case. Bernecker describes this example and cites the words of Nozick, who states that in such a situation a true belief does not form knowledge because the condition of knowledge is not fulfilled (23).

Variation Condition and Adherence Condition

If recalling the previously mentioned variables p and S, it is worth noting one more significant fact. Nozick points to the week base of the approach, which does not take into account the need for a specific refinement related to the truth of p. Such approaches do not allow developing the definition of the necessary constituents of knowledge, which would work under certain conditions. Cases when the limitations and incompleteness of the classical definition of knowledge can not be revealed here as a justified true belief. Based on these considerations, Bernecker notes that Nozick formulates additional conditions for knowledge, where not only the variation condition of the variability of beliefs but also the adherence condition should be included (25).

These conditions must be observed when mentioning certain beliefs to emphasize not only their truth but also their ability to change, following the facts. The disposition, given by additional conditions, is generalized at the level of the principle of sensitivity to the truth. According to Bernecker, Nozick sees the necessary constituent of epistemic consistency of beliefs in this principle: the basis for certifying the status of knowledge (26). The author believes that these additional conditions (variation and adherence) should be considered as necessary as the conditions established in classical epistemology (Bernecker 26).

Consequently, it is quite true to say that a subject knows that p when this subject not only believes that p and this position is true. But this subject would not believe that p if p were not true and would assume that p if p were true. In this case, the expression of the various condition and adherence conditions take place (Bernecker 22). These terms have already quite densely entered modern epistemology and are often regarded as very important components of knowledge.


Thus, it can be said that Nozick does not close his concept into the framework of the causal-naturalistic approach. He extends the heuristic possibilities of such philosophical concepts as knowledge. The principles and approaches that the author support are innovative and unusual to some extent, but they are fully justified. The concept of Nozick is one of the key methodological trends of the development of modern analytical epistemology. Contemporary strategies of epistemological analysis are not confined to established norms but develop in a broader context.

Work Cited

Bernecker, Sven. Reading Epistemology: Selected Texts With Interactive Commentary. Blackwell, 2006.

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