Date of Award

Spring 2003

Document Type

Dissertation - Restricted

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




The Western philosophical tradition is one in which knowledge and knowers have been viewed primarily in atomistic terms. That is, the predominant focus of epistemologists has been on individual epistemic agents. This individualistic approach to thinking about knowledge was solidified in the 17th century by Rene Descartes, the father of modem philosophy, who, in his quest for a certain starting point of all knowledge and foundation for all science, doubted the existence of everything that could be doubted. The one thing which escaped this doubt was the doubting subject itself. That is, the one indubitable was, for Descartes, an individual consciousness-doubting/knowing/thinking. It is from this solipsistic starting point that Descartes hoped to found all knowledge and science. Since Descartes, despite the vast differences in the resulting theories of knowledge, the starting point has been, almost unanimously, atomistic. Limiting the scope of epistemology to isolated knowers without demonstrating that we are, in fact, isolated, individual epistemic agents, as so many have done, seems not only to stand on a significant and potentially dangerous presupposition, but also to make it impossible to provide a complete account of the nature of human knowledge. After all, the reason solipsism is so distasteful is that it does not appear that we are isolated beings, and thus isolated knowers, and any system of thought which suggests that we are without providing a convincing demonstration of that point does not seem to accurately portray our existence...



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