Alvin Goldman

Last updated
Alvin I. Goldman
Born 1938
Era Contemporary philosophy
Region Western philosophy
School Analytic
Main interests
Epistemology, philosophy of action
Notable ideas
Causal theory of knowledge, social epistemology, externalist foundationalist theory of justification

Alvin Ira Goldman (born 1938) is an American philosopher who is Board of Governors Professor of Philosophy and Cognitive Science at Rutgers University in New Jersey and a leading figure in epistemology.

Philosophy intellectual and/or logical study of general and fundamental problems

Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems concerning matters such as existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. The term was probably coined by Pythagoras. Philosophical methods include questioning, critical discussion, rational argument, and systematic presentation. Classic philosophical questions include: Is it possible to know anything and to prove it? What is most real? Philosophers also pose more practical and concrete questions such as: Is there a best way to live? Is it better to be just or unjust? Do humans have free will?

Rutgers University multi-campus American public research university in New Jersey, United States

Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, commonly referred to as Rutgers University, Rutgers, or RU, is a public research university in New Jersey. It is the largest institution of higher education in New Jersey.

New Jersey State of the United States of America

New Jersey is a state in the Mid-Atlantic region of the Northeastern United States. It is a peninsula, bordered on the north and east by the state of New York, particularly along the extent of the length of New York City on its western edge; on the east, southeast, and south by the Atlantic Ocean; on the west by the Delaware River and Pennsylvania; and on the southwest by the Delaware Bay and Delaware. New Jersey is the fourth-smallest state by area but the 11th-most populous, with 9 million residents as of 2017, and the most densely populated of the 50 U.S. states; its biggest city is Newark. New Jersey lies completely within the combined statistical areas of New York City and Philadelphia and was the second-wealthiest U.S. state by median household income as of 2017.


Education and career

Goldman earned his BA from Columbia University and PhD from Princeton University, and previously taught at the University of Michigan (1963–1980), the University of Illinois, Chicago (1980–1983) and the University of Arizona (1983–1994). He joined the Rutgers faculty in 1994. [1] He has done influential work on a wide range of philosophical topics, but his principal areas of research are epistemology, philosophy of mind, and cognitive science.

Columbia University private Ivy League research university in New York City

Columbia University is a private Ivy League research university in Upper Manhattan, New York City. Established in 1754, Columbia is the oldest institution of higher education in New York and the fifth-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. It is one of nine colonial colleges founded prior to the Declaration of Independence, seven of which belong to the Ivy League. It has been ranked by numerous major education publications as among the top ten universities in the world.

Princeton University University in Princeton, New Jersey

Princeton University is a private Ivy League research university in Princeton, New Jersey. Founded in 1746 in Elizabeth as the College of New Jersey, Princeton is the fourth-oldest institution of higher education in the United States and one of the nine colonial colleges chartered before the American Revolution. The institution moved to Newark in 1747, then to the current site nine years later, and renamed itself Princeton University in 1896.

University of Michigan Public research university in Ann Arbor, Michigan, United States

The University of Michigan, often simply referred to as Michigan, is a public research university in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The university is Michigan's oldest; it was founded in 1817 in Detroit, as the Catholepistemiad, or University of Michigania, 20 years before the territory became a state. The school was moved to Ann Arbor in 1837 onto 40 acres (16 ha) of what is now known as Central Campus. Since its establishment in Ann Arbor, the university campus has expanded to include more than 584 major buildings with a combined area of more than 34 million gross square feet spread out over a Central Campus and North Campus, two regional campuses in Flint and Dearborn, and a Center in Detroit. The university is a founding member of the Association of American Universities.

He is married to the ethicist Holly Martin Smith.

Philosophical work

Action theory

Goldman's early book, A Theory of Human Action (a revised version of his Ph.D. thesis), presents a systematic way of classifying and relating the many actions we perform at any time. Its influence was broad and can be found in, among other writings, John Rawls' book A Theory of Justice . Goldman's early work in action theory soon gave way to work in other branches of philosophy, most influentially epistemology.

<i>A Theory of Justice</i> work of political philosophy and ethics by John Rawls

A Theory of Justice is a 1971 work of political philosophy and ethics by John Rawls, in which the author addresses the problem of distributive justice. The theory utilises an updated form of Kantian philosophy and a variant form of conventional social contract theory. Rawl's theory of justice is fully a political theory of justice as opposed to other forms of justice discussed in other disciplines and contexts.


Goldman's accounts of knowledge and justified belief, using notions like causation and reliability instead of normative concepts like permissibility and obligation, contributed to a philosophical approach that came to be known in the 1970s as naturalized epistemology. (Unlike W.V.O. Quine's version of naturalized epistemology, however, Goldman's retains a traditional focus on questions of justification.) Goldman's view emerged initially as part of the efforts in the 1960s to find a "fourth" condition in response to the Gettier challenge to the account of knowledge as "justified true belief." In his 1967 paper, "A Causal Theory of Knowing", Goldman proposed that knowledge amounts to true belief appropriately caused by the fact that makes it true. Later, he claimed knowledge amounts to true belief that is produced by a reliable process. [2]

Naturalized epistemology, coined by W. V. O. Quine, is a collection of philosophic views concerned with the theory of knowledge that emphasize the role of natural scientific methods. This shared emphasis on scientific methods of studying knowledge shifts focus to the empirical processes of knowledge acquisition and away from many traditional philosophical questions. There are noteworthy distinctions within naturalized epistemology. Replacement naturalism maintains that traditional epistemology should be abandoned and replaced with the methodologies of the natural sciences. The general thesis of cooperative naturalism is that traditional epistemology can benefit in its inquiry by using the knowledge we have gained from the cognitive sciences. Substantive naturalism focuses on an asserted equality of facts of knowledge and natural facts.

"A Causal Theory of Knowing" is a philosophical essay written by Alvin Goldman in 1967, published in The Journal of Philosophy. It is based on existing theories of knowledge in the realm of epistemology, the study of philosophy through the scope of knowledge. The essay attempts to define knowledge by connecting facts, beliefs and knowledge through underlying and connective series called causal chains. It provides a causal theory of knowledge.

Goldman has described his "naturalistic" approach to epistemology as splitting "epistemology (individual epistemology, anyway) into two parts.... The first part is dedicated to the 'analytic' task of identifying the criteria, or satisfaction conditions, for various normative epistemic statuses. With respect to the normative status of justifiedness (of belief), the proposed criterion is the reliability of the belief-forming processes by which the belief is produced. Defense of this criterion of justifiedness was not based on scientific psychology, but rather a familiar form of armchair methodology. The second part is the task where science enters the picture. Psychological science is required to identify the kinds of operations or computations available to the human cognizer, how well they work when operating on certain inputs and under certain conditions." [3]

More recently, Goldman has focused his epistemological efforts on questions of social epistemology, of the different social mechanisms through which knowledge is transmitted in society. His work in social epistemology has dealt with the law (especially evidence), voting and media, among other topics. He attempts to provide (in his words) a less radical view of social epistemology than those suggested by cultural theorists and postmodernists under that name. His approach uses tools of analytic philosophy especially formal epistemology to analyze problems in social knowledge. Some of this work is summarized in his book Knowledge in a Social World.

Social epistemology

Social epistemology refers to a broad set of approaches that can be taken in the study of knowledge that construes human knowledge as a collective achievement. Another way of characterizing social epistemology is as the evaluation of the social dimensions of knowledge or information. It is sometimes simplified to mean a social justification of belief.

Culture theory is the branch of comparative anthropology and semiotics that seeks to define the heuristic concept of culture in operational and/or scientific terms.

Postmodernism is a broad movement that developed in the mid- to late 20th century across philosophy, the arts, architecture, and criticism and that marked a departure from modernism. The term has also more generally been applied to the historical era following modernity and the tendencies of this era.

Other work

Goldman has devoted significant time to showing how research in cognitive science is relevant to a variety of branches of philosophy including epistemology. Much of this work appears in his books Epistemology and Cognition, Philosophical Applications of Cognitive Science, and Simulating Minds.


See also

Related Research Articles

Epistemology A branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and scope of knowledge

Epistemology is the branch of philosophy concerned with the theory of knowledge.

Foundationalism concerns philosophical theories of knowledge resting upon justified belief, or some secure foundation of certainty such as a conclusion inferred from a basis of sound premises. The main rival of the foundationalist theory of justification is the coherence theory of justification, whereby a body of knowledge, not requiring a secure foundation, can be established by the interlocking strength of its components, like a puzzle solved without prior certainty that each small region was solved correctly.

Internalism and externalism are two opposing ways of explaining various subjects in several areas of philosophy. These include human motivation, knowledge, justification, meaning, and truth. The distinction arises in many areas of debate with similar but distinct meanings.

Reliabilism, a category of theories in the philosophical discipline of epistemology, has been advanced as a theory both of justification and of knowledge. Process reliabilism has been used as an argument against philosophical skepticism, such as the brain in a vat thought experiment. Process reliabilism is a form of epistemic externalism.

The Gettier problem, in the field of epistemology, is a landmark philosophical problem concerning our understanding of descriptive knowledge. Attributed to American philosopher Edmund Gettier, Gettier-type counterexamples challenge the long-held justified true belief (JTB) account of knowledge. The JTB account holds that knowledge is equivalent to justified true belief; if all three conditions are met of a given claim, then we have knowledge of that claim. In his 1963 three-page paper titled "Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?", Gettier attempts to illustrate by means of two counterexamples that there are cases where individuals can have a justified, true belief regarding a claim but still fail to know it because the reasons for the belief, while justified, turn out to be false. Thus, Gettier claims to have shown that the JTB account is inadequate; that it does not account for all of the necessary and sufficient conditions for knowledge.

Evidentialism is a thesis in epistemology which states that one is justified to believe something if and only if that person has evidence which supports his or her belief. Evidentialism is therefore a thesis about which beliefs are justified and which are not.

Virtue epistemology is a contemporary philosophical approach to epistemology that stresses the importance of intellectual, and specifically epistemic virtues. A distinguishing factor of virtue theories is that they use for the evaluation of knowledge the properties of the persons who hold beliefs in addition to or instead of the properties of propositions and beliefs. Some advocates of virtue epistemology claim to more closely follow theories of virtue ethics, while others see only a looser analogy between virtue in ethics and virtue in epistemology.

Reformed epistemology

In the philosophy of religion, Reformed epistemology is a school of philosophical thought concerning the nature of knowledge (epistemology) as it applies to religious beliefs. The central proposition of Reformed epistemology is that beliefs can be justified by more than evidence alone, contrary to the positions of evidentialism, which argues that while belief other than through evidence may be beneficial, it violates some epistemic duty. Central to Reformed epistemology is the proposition that belief in God may be "properly basic" and not need to be inferred from other truths to be rationally warranted. William Lane Craig describes Reformed epistemology as "One of the most significant developments in contemporary Religious Epistemology ... which directly assaults the evidentialist construal of rationality."

The argument from a proper basis is an ontological argument for the existence of God related to fideism. Alvin Plantinga argued that belief in God is a properly basic belief, and so no basis for belief in God is necessary.

Epistemics is a term coined in 1969 by the University of Edinburgh with the foundation of its School of Epistemics.

Stephen Stich American philosopher

Stephen P. Stich is a professor of Philosophy and Cognitive Science at Rutgers University, as well as an Honorary Professor in Philosophy at the University of Sheffield. Stich's main philosophical interests are in the philosophy of mind, epistemology, and moral psychology. His 1983 book, From Folk Psychology to Cognitive Science: The Case Against Belief, received much attention as he argued for a form of eliminative materialism about the mind. He changed his mind, in later years, as indicated in his 1996 book Deconstructing the Mind.

Outline of epistemology

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to epistemology:

Epistemology or theory of knowledge is the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and scope (limitations) of knowledge. It addresses the questions "What is knowledge?", "How is knowledge acquired?", "What do people know?", "How do we know what we know?", and "Why do we know what we know?". Much of the debate in this field has focused on analyzing the nature of knowledge and how it relates to similar notions such as truth, belief, and justification. It also deals with the means of production of knowledge, as well as skepticism about different knowledge claims.

John Greco is an American philosopher. He is the Leonard and Elizabeth Eslick Chair in Philosophy at Saint Louis University. Greco received his Ph.D. from Brown University in 1989, where he studied under Ernest Sosa, and his AB from Georgetown University in 1983. His research interests are in epistemology and metaphysics and he has published widely on virtue epistemology, epistemic normativity, skepticism, and Thomas Reid. He is the Editor of American Philosophical Quarterly. For 2013-15, together with Eleonore Stump, he holds a $3.3 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation for a project on intellectual humility.

John L. Pollock (1940–2009) was an American philosopher known for influential work in epistemology, philosophical logic, cognitive science, and artificial intelligence.

Formative epistemology is a collection of philosophic views concerned with the theory of knowledge that emphasize the role of natural scientific methods. According to formative epistemology, knowledge is gained through the imputation of thoughts from one human being to another in the societal setting. Humans are born without intrinsic knowledge and through their evolutionary and developmental processes gain knowledge from other human beings. Thus, according to formative epistemology, all knowledge is completely subjective and truth does not exist.

Jennifer Nagel is a Canadian philosopher in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Toronto. Her research focuses on epistemology, philosophy of mind, and metacognition. She has also written on 17th century (Western) philosophy, including on John Locke and René Descartes.


  2. Goldman, Alvin I. Liaisons: Philosophy meets the cognitive and social sciences. Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 1992. (Chapter 5, 85-103)