Sensitivity and Deductive Closure

This is the term paper that I wrote for my class PH2243 Epistemology. Only the introduction, the conclusion, and the list of works cited are posted here. If you wish to read the full paper (around 1500 words), please kindly request via email. Criticisms are always welcome. Thank you.

Essay Question:

Consider any analysis of knowledge that we’ve gone through in class or that is discussed in the assigned reading. Evaluate the analysis. (If you think the analysis is correct, consider at least one potential objection to it.) 

In his book Philosophical Explanations, Robert Nozick enhances the sensitivity-based analysis of knowledge by relativizing the sensitivity argument to one’s belief-forming method (Nozick 179). Some scholars argue that this modification makes it possible for the sensitivity argument to incorporate the principle of deductive closure (Baumann 16; Millar et al. 444). In other words, this modification is potentially able to address one major criticism against the sensitivity theory: it rejects the highly intuitive closure principle in favour of truth-tracking conditions (Baumann 11; Becker 52; Ichikawa). This essay illustrates how the original sensitivity argument denies the closure principle, shows how Nozick’s modification seems to help the sensitivity argument attain closure, and argues that his modification is still problematic and unable to incorporate the principle in general.


In conclusion, I do not deny that the sensitivity argument seems appealing because it stresses on tracking the truth and contributes to the analysis of knowledge with sophisticated subjunctive conditionals (Becker 40; Shope 29). Moreover, the modification that relativizes sensitivity to the belief-forming method does enhance the theory by emphasising the belief-forming process and partially incorporating the sensitivity argument with the closure principle, as exhibited by the example about typing my term paper. However, as seen in the fake barn country example, even with Nozick’s modification, sensitivity argument can still deny the closure principle if the differences between the belief-forming methods are too subtle. The root problem about Nozick’s modification is that it is still unclear about how to identify a different belief-forming method. Essentially, the sensitivity argument values truth over the closure principle. Nozick also admits that his sensitivity theory is incompatible with closure (Nozick 204-11). Some even argue that Nozick is in fact defending a more sophisticated and complex version of the closure principle (Baumann 12). More research needs to be done to either modify the sensitivity argument so that it aligns with closure, or prove that the closure principle is not so intuitive as most people expect, and a meaningful analysis of knowledge can afford to leave out closure.


Works Cited

Baumann, Peter. “Nozick’s Defense of Closure.” The Sensitivity Principle in Epistemology. Eds. Becker, Kelly and Tim Black: Cambridge University Press, 2012. 11–27. Print.

Becker, Kelly. Epistemology Modalized. Vol. 4. New York;London;: Routledge, 2007. Print.

Ichikawa, Jonathan Jenkins and Steup, Matthias,. “The Analysis of Knowledge.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.Spring 2014 (2014). Print.

Kripke, Saul A. Philosophical Troubles: Collected Papers. Volume 1. Oxford;New York;: Oxford University Press, 2011. Print.

Millar, Alan, et al. “Sensitivity, Safety, and Antiluck Epistemology.” Vol. 1: Oxford University Press, 2008. 437-56. Print.

Nozick, Robert. Philosophical Explanations. Oxford: Clarendon, 1981. Print.

Shope, Robert K. “Cognitive Abilities, Conditionals, and Knowledge: A Response to Nozick.” The Journal of Philosophy 81.1 (1984): 29-48. Print.

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