Volume 97, Issue 4, October 2020
Is Knowledge of Essence the Basis of Modal Knowledge?
E. J. Lowe offers an account of modal knowledge that involves two primary theses. First, the basis of modal knowledge is essential knowledge, and the source of essential knowledge is grasp of essence. Second, all empirical knowledge ultimately depends on some modal knowledge. This article assesses Lowe’s account and defends four conclusions. First, there is a tension in Lowe’s account of grasp of essence; it wavers between an undemanding version, which holds that grasp of essence requires no more than our ordinary understanding of propositions, and a more demanding version, which holds that it requires rational insight into necessary relationships between essences. Second, both versions face serious challenges. Third, Lowe’s account of knowledge of essence does not provide a basis for modal knowledge. Fourth, Lowe’s supporting argument for his second thesis contains two significant gaps and the principles necessary to close the gaps reveal further tensions in his epistemological views.