Vincent F. Hendricks: Professor, Director | Center for Information and Bubble Studies | University of Copenhagen

Mainstream and Formal Epistemology

Mainstream and Formal Epistemology

Vincent F. Hendricks
New York: Cambridge University Press, January 2006-7
ISBN 0521857899





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Mainstream and Formal Epistemology, Cambridge University Press 2006, winner of Choice Magazine Outstanding Academic Title 2006, is now in paperback

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Mainstream and Formal Epistemology is a very timely tour de force, bringing together mainstream epistemology and the modern logico-computational tradition in knowledge, learning, and agency. Using the unifying concept of ‘forcing’, it presents a clear and impassioned analysis of both static and dynamic aspects of cognition. In dispelling the accumulated fog of ignorance between the two traditions, the author shows us a highway for new contacts between philosophy and its broader intellectual environment.
Johan van Benthem, University of Amsterdam and Stanford University


Contemporary epistemology is handicapped by a division into different and apparently unrelated research traditions. Besides the traditional discussions that often take the form of a search for a definition of knowledge, there are for instance approaches wielding epistemic logic as their main weapon. Other approaches bring the concepts and conceptualizations of learning theory to bear on epistemology. Vincent F. Hendricks has done the philosophical community a major service by bringing several such important lines of thought together and by trying to synthesize them.
Jaakko Hintikka, Boston University


Hendricks’ erudite writing but still original approach provides a challenging meeting point for the mainstream and the formal epistemologists. Moreover, with his infectious enthousiasm he forces skeptical epistemological theories convincingly out.
Wiebe van der Hoek, University of Liverpool


The key notion of Hendricks’ book is epistemological forcing – constraining within an appropriate range of situations/worlds. Hendricks deftly deploys this notion to focus a rich blend of philosophical deliberation and formal techniques. The result, in the shape of what he calls modal operator epistemology, is a powerful framework for the future pursuit of investigations in epistemology.
Graham Priest, University of Melbourne


In this intriguing and scholarly book Hendricks manages to do what many would have thought impossible: to bring together, in a readable and accessible fashion, both mainstream and formal epistemological proposals. This is a genuinely interesting and challenging work of philosophy, one that will both define and substantially further the debate between philosophers from these two very different sides of the epistemic spectrum for many years to come.
Duncan Pritchard, University of Stirling


This interesting and original book connects a diverse range of approaches to the theory of knowledge that are rarely considered together, from the traditional project of analyzing knowledge to epistemic logic, formal learning theory, and the “interactive epistemology” developed by game theorists. Whether or not he succeeds in his ambitious aim of defeating the skeptic, he illuminates the issues by finding some unifying themes, and by showing that these contrasting projects have something to say to each other.
Robert Stalnaker, MIT


Hendricks skillfully applies important work in logic and computability theory to fundamental epistemological questions. He is one of the few contemporary philosophers to have a clear understanding of both. Mainstream and Formal Epistemology will be essential reading for epistemologists.
John Symons, University of Texas, El Paso


It has often been maintained that epistemology is a heterogeneous field with little interaction or even interconnections between various co-existing informal and formal theories.
Mainstream and Formal Epistemology is a highly recommendable meta-epistemological study, presenting a unifying perspective on approaches like mainstream epistemology, epistemic logic, and computational theories of knowledge.
Heinrich Wansing, Dresden University of Technology


Forcing epistemology is a modern way of defeating the skeptics who since the days of old have cited prima facie possibilities of errors as some of the most virulent arguments against knowledge claims. The idea of forcing is to delimit the set of possibilities over which the inquiring agent has to succeed: If the agent can succeed over the relevant possibility set then the agent may still be said to have knowledge even if he commits grave and many errors in other but irrelevant possibilities. The heuristic principle of forcing is this:

Whenever knowledge claims are challenged by alleged possibilities of error, the strategy is to show that the possibilities of error fail to be genuine in the relevant sense

Contemporary epistemological studies are roughly either carried out in (1) a mainstream or informal way using largely common-sense considerations and concentrating on sometimes folksy and sometimes exorbitantly speculative examples / counter-examples, or (2) formal way by applying a variety of tools and methods from logic, computability theory or probability theory to the theory of knowledge. The two traditions have unfortunately proceeded largely in isolation from one another.

Many contemporary mainstream epistemologies (epistemic reliabilism (Goldman), counterfactual epistemology (Nozick), contextual epistemology (Lewis)) and formal epistemologies (epistemic logic (Hintikka, Halpern, Vardi…), computational epistemology (Kelly), modal operator epistemology (Hendricks)) pay homage to the forcing strategy.

The aim of this book is to systematically demonstrate that the two approaches have much in common both epistemologically and methodologically and may significantly benefit from one another paving the way for a new nifying program in ‘plethoric’ epistemology.


Chapter 1. Introduction
Chapter 2. Priming the Pump
Chapter 3. Mainstream Epistemology
Chapter 4. Counterfactual Epistemology
Chapter 5. Contextual Epistemology
Chapter 6. Logical Epistemology
Chapter 7. Computational Epistemology
Chapter 8. Modal Operator Epistemology
Chapter 9. ‘Plethoric’ Epistemology