Acta Cogitata: An Undergraduate Journal in Philosophy


In this paper, I apply the necessary conditions for knowledge to three different theories within the philosophy of language and argue that only one of the three stands up to a problem of knowledge involving nonexistent entities. I begin by briefly covering three commonly held necessary conditions for knowledge of which I focus mostly on the condition that a proposition must be true in order to know it. Then I consider theories of language given by Russell, Strawson, and Salmon. To each theory, I test whether the theory can make sense of a person knowing a proposition such as “Sherlock Holmes is a detective,” which includes a nonexistent entity as the subject. Based on their theories of language, I show that neither Russell nor Strawson are able to make sense of such sentences without either a concession in their respective theories or in their epistemology. Of the theories considered, only Salmon’s is able to adequately analyze sentences that have nonexistent entities as their subject. By doing this I show a relationship between the philosophy of language and epistemology, and I show how holding to a theory in one may force one to claim that a theory in the other is false.

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