Dretske, Fred

Mario Pérez-Montoro 
 Incorporated contributions
Pérez-Montoro (11/2009)
Philosophy, epistemology, philosophy of mind

[Understandable but with some grammatical missteps]

American philosopher (born 1932) that, from externalism, has made significant contributions in the field of information theory, epistemology and philosophy of mind. Throughout his entire academic career, he has taught at the universities of Wisconsin, Stanford and Duke. Within his scientific works are: Seeing and Knowing (1969), Explaining behavior: Reasons in a world of causes (1988), Naturalizing the Mind (1995), Perception, Knowledge and Belief (2000).

But among all of his works there is one that stands out, published in 1981 under the title Knowledge and the Flow of Information. At that time he was still a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and it was before his collaboration at the prestigious CSLI (Center for the Study of Language and Information) of Stanford University as a lecturer and researcher. At that time, this work attracted the attention of the specialized literature and later was the backbone of a significant amount of the subsequent philosophical production. The main objective of Dretske is this book was to carry out a conceptual journey through the mental territory, trying to develop a semantic theory of information that was useful for later analysis of principal processes, such as knowledge or belief involved in our cognitive behavior.

And to achieve this objective, it seems that the work is divided into three distinct parts. The first part begins with the attempt to present a semantic theory of information, or a theory of propositional content of a sign. Then he recovers the notion of average amount of information contained in the Mathematical Theory of Communication (Shannon and Weaver, 1949), and from there he offers a definition for informative content. In particular, a sign informs about an occurrence in the world when there is a law or regularity between them that prevents a sign from occurring without the occurrence taking place (or expressed in probabilistic terms: when the probability of causing the occurrence, once the signal has occurred, is equal to 1). Within this conceptual proposal there is no place for false information. False information can not be regarded as authentic information.

In the second part he presents his alternative definition of knowledge: belief caused by information. Here Dretske replaces the need for the justification of belief in the causality of information. By this change he tries to overcome the problems (the counter examples of Gettier and the paradox of the lottery) that the classical epistemological theories usually presented and also enfores a suitable argument against the thesis of radical skepticism.

In the third and final part of the work, the author's purpose is to offer a definition of the content of belief, explanatorily compatible with its characterists: its intentional character, the possibility of possessing a false content and its determined role in the conduct. The objective is fulfilled when it identifies the content of the belief with fully digitized information. In the same way, the concepts are considered as internal structures that are distinguished by their semantic content, and when they are exemplified, they apply a control over the outputs (conducts) of the cognitive system.


  • Dretske, Fred I. (1969). Seeing and Knowing. University of Chicago Press, Chicago. 
  • Dretske, Fred I. (1981). Knowledge and the Flow of Information. The MIT Press/Bradford. Books. Cambridge, Massachusetts. 
  • Dretske, Fred I. (1988). Explaining Behavior: Reasons in a World of Causes. The MIT Press/Bradford Books. Cambridge, Massachusetts. 
  • Dretske, Fred I. (1995). Naturalizing the Mind. Cambridge: The MIT Press/Bradford Books. 
  • Dretske, Fred I. (2000). Perception, Knowledge and Belief. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 
  • Pérez-Montoro Gutiérrez, Mario (2007). The Phenomenon of Information. Lanham (Maryland): Scarecrow Press. 
  • Pérez-Montoro Gutiérrez, Mario (2005). “La semántica de la información en Dretske”. Garrido, M.; Valdés, L. y Arenas, L. (eds.) (2005). El Legado filosófico y científico del siglo XX. Madrid: Cátedra. ISBN 84-376-2272-7.

How to quote this article:

Pérez-Montoro Gutiérrez, Mario (ed.) y Golkhosravi, Mehrad (2010). “Fred Dretske”. Díaz Nafría, José María; Pérez-Montoro, Mario y Salto Alemany, Francisco (eds.) (2010). Glossary of concepts, metaphors, theories and problems concerning information. León: Universidad de León.
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Mario Pérez-Montoro (18/11/2009)
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