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A Study in the Theory of Knowledge

Joseph L. Camp, Jr.

ISBN 9780674029170

Publication date: 07/01/2009

Everyone has mistaken one thing for another, such as a stranger for an acquaintance. A person who has mistaken two things, Joseph L. Camp argues, even on a massive scale, is still capable of logical thought. In order to make that idea precise, one needs a logic of confused thought that is blind to the distinction between the objects that have been confused. Confused thought and language cannot be characterized as true or false even though reasoning conducted in such language can be classified as valid or invalid.

To the extent that philosophers have addressed this issue at all, they take it for granted that confusion is a kind of ambiguity. Camp rejects this notion; his fundamental claim is that confusion is not a mental state. To attribute confusion to someone is to take up a paternalistic stance in evaluating his reasoning. Camp proposes a novel characterization of confusion, and then demonstrates its fruitfulness with several applications in the history of philosophy and the history of science.


  • Imagine that you think you see your car in the lot at Dodger Stadium, but your key won’t work. You think to yourself, ‘I owe $500 on this car.’ Then you see a stuffed Panda in the backseat and decide that it’s a different car. When you thought about ‘this car,’ were you thinking of the car you couldn’t unlock or the car that you owned? Camp says neither. You were thinking about something like both but you did not succeed in referring to either. Camp…has not just produced a brain twister. His problem can be found in Descartes and Locke, who worried that we seem not to perceive actual things but to confront only ideas of them. If we can’t refer without unique objects of reference, our claims to truth may be in trouble. There are alternatives to his theory of reference, but Camp’s book…will provoke thought.

    —Leslie Armour, Library Journal


  • Joseph L. Camp, Jr., was Professor of Philosophy and Fellow of the Center for Philosophy of Science at the University of Pittsburgh.

Book Details

  • Harvard University Press