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Whitworth philosophy professor publishes article on knowledge of children

August 31, 2010
Whitworth University Assistant Professor of Philosophy Joshue Orozco has written a thought-provoking article, "I Can Trust You Now…But Not Later: An Explanation of Testimonial Knowledge in Children," in the June issue of Acta Analytica, a leading international philosophy journal.

In his article, Orozco argues that having knowledge of something typically requires that the believer is reliable at reaching the truth. Since children are unreliable recipients of testimony, or declarations of fact, it initially seems that they should not know what they believe on the basis of testimony. However, it seems incorrect to say that children don't know such things. Therefore, a theory is needed to explain why people claim that one needs to be reliable in order to have knowledge, as well as why children can still know despite being unreliable. Orozco provides such a theory in his article.

"Children gain knowledge via testimony, and since they are generally pretty gullible, they show what we might consider intellectually vicious behavior, such as close-mindedness and intellectual cowardice (i.e. not willing to look into an issue for fear of being wrong), among others," Orozco says.

Orozco says there is a hidden assumption that the standards for testimonial knowledge do not differ between children and cognitively mature adults. He proposes that in order to adequately explain how children acquire testimonial knowledge, one should reject this assumption. He argues that understanding knowledge in terms of intellectual skills gives one a plausible framework within which to do so.

Among those in the philosophical community, no one appears to claim that whether one has knowledge depends on one's cognitive development.

Orozco's understanding of intellectual skills draws heavily from virtue ethics and he thinks his theory may have significant implications for moral evaluations.

"If my analogy between epistemology and morality is right, then our moral duties or obligations turn out to be a bit more complicated than one might initially suppose," he says. "How we should be living is not a universal standard that applies to all people at all times in their lives. Rather, it is a much more individually relativized matter. In some sense we should all strive to be like Mother Teresa, but we should be realistic about what we can achieve given our actual stage in moral development."

Forrest Baird, professor of philosophy and chair of the philosophy department at Whitworth, says "I Can Trust You Now…But Not Later" is rare in that it deals with abstract issues in an accessible and interesting way.

One of the main concerns for epistemologists, Baird says, is asking what counts as authority-based knowledge -- a question they tend to answer without taking children into account.

"Dr. Orozco deals with two sets of authority-based knowledge criteria," Baird says. "One is so restrictive that we would have to conclude that children never have knowledge, while the other is so lax that, while it would include children as having knowledge, it would also include gullible, irresponsible adults. Dr. Orozco's solution is that we apply a different set of criteria to children than to adults. What a child may reliably accept as authority-based knowledge is different than what an adult may accept."

Orozco's article is available online and in print in Volume 25 Issue 2 of Acta Analytica. Another article he has recently written, "Epistemic Luck," will appear in Philosophy Compass in late 2010.

Orozco, who joined the Whitworth faculty in 2009, received a Ph.D. from Rutgers University, an M.A. from Biola University (Calif.), and a B.A. degree from the University of California, Los Angeles. His areas of expertise include epistemology and philosophy of religion.

Acta Analytica is an international journal for philosophy in the analytical tradition covering a variety of philosophical topics including philosophical logic, metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of science and philosophy of mind. Special attention is devoted to cognitive science. The journal aims to promote a rigorous, argumentative approach in philosophy.

Located in Spokane, Wash., Whitworth is a private liberal arts university affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA). The university, which has an enrollment of 2,900 students, offers 60 undergraduate and graduate degree programs.


Joshue Orozco, assistant professor of philosophy, Whitworth University, (509) 777-4443 or

Emily Proffitt, public information officer, Whitworth University, (509) 777-4703 or