Alvin Goldman

Alvin Goldman

Alvin Ira Goldman (born 1938) is an American professor of Philosophy at Rutgers University in New Jersey. He previously taught at the University of Michigan and at the University of Arizona. He earned his PhD from Princeton University and is married to Holly Smith, a well known ethicist, former administrator, and current professor at Rutgers University. 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.

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.


Goldman is most well known for a series of naturalistic accounts of knowledge and justified belief. The first of these appeared in his paper "A Causal Theory of Knowing", according to which knowledge amounts to true belief appropriately caused by the fact that makes it true. Soon after, he replaced this account with a different one, according to which knowledge amounts to true belief that is produced by a reliable process. Various problems dogged this new account and others that Goldman published after it. Nonetheless, those accounts have been perhaps the most influential theories of knowledge and justified belief produced in the last half-century. They offer a new approach to their topics - an approach that appeals to naturalistic notions like causation and reliability as opposed to normative notions like permissibility and obligation. The use of such naturalistic notions in place of normative notions was fairly distinctive to Goldman's work when he wrote it, but has since come to be fairly common among analytic epistemologists. This trend is due in no small part to Goldman's own writings.

More recently, Goldman has focused his epistemological efforts to questions of social epistemology and has applied his approach to epistemology to such issues as the law (especially evidence), voting and media. 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".

Other Issues

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".

External links

* [ Alvin Goldman's home page]
* [ Rutgers bio page and list of publications]
* [ Article partly devoted to Goldman's epistemic views]
* [ Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Naturalised Epistemology, relevant to Goldman]


* "Action" (1965)
* "A Causal Theory of Knowing" in "The Journal of Philosophy" v. 64 (1967), pp. 335-372.
* "A Theory of Human Action" (1970)
* "Epistemics: The Regulative Theory of Cognition," "The Journal of Philosophy" 75 (1978) pp. 509-523.
* "What is Justified Belief?" in "Justification and Knowledge" (1979), pp. 1-23.
* "Epistemology and Cognition" (1986)
* "Liaisons: Philosophy Meets the Cognitive and Social Sciences" (1991)
* "Philosophical Applications of Cognitive Science" (1993)
* "Readings in Philosophy and Cognitive Science" (editor), (1993)
* "Knowledge in a Social World" (1999)
* "Pathways to Knowledge: Private and Public" (2004)
* "Simulating Minds" (2006)

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