The concept of knowledge is an ancient part of our primate heritage.

The concept of knowledge is an ancient part of our primate heritage.

Primate Social Cognition and the Core Human Knowledge Concept

Turri, J. (2018). Primate social cognition and the core human knowledge concept. In M. Mizumoto, S. Stich, & E. McCready (Eds.), Epistemology for the rest of the world: linguistic and cultural diversity and epistemology (pp. 279–290). Oxford University Press.



I review recent work from armchair and cross-cultural epistemology on whether humans possess a knowledge concept as part of a universal “folk epistemology.” The work from armchair epistemology fails because it mischaracterizes ordinary knowledge judgments. The work from cross-cultural epistemology provides some defeasible evidence for a universal folk epistemology. I argue that recent findings from comparative psychology establish that humans possess a species-typical knowledge concept. More specifically, recent work shows that knowledge attributions are a central part of primate social cognition, used to predict others’ behavior and guide decision-making. The core primate knowledge concept is that of truth detection (across different sensory modalities) and retention (through memory) and may also include rudimentary forms of indirect truth discovery through inference. In virtue of their evolutionary heritage, humans inherited the primate social-cognitive system and thus share this core knowledge concept.


John Turri