Photo of Jon Kvanvig

Jonathan Kvanvig

Professor of Philosophy
research interests:
  • Metaphysics
  • Epistemology
  • Philosophy of Religion
  • Philosophy of Logic
  • Philosophy of Language

contact info:

mailing address:

  • Washington University
  • Campus Box 1073
  • One Brookings Drive
  • St. Louis, MO 63130-4899
image of book cover

Professor Kvanvig has authored eight books and has edited numerous editions of the "Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion" series. 

Professor Kvanvig's current projects focus on the philosophy and theology of intellectual humility and the nature and value of faith.

recent courses

Introduction to Scientific Reasoning, Phil 102

This course focuses on the nature of scientific reasoning, both concerning individual hypothesis and involving theory testing.

    Advanced Epistemology, Phil 4141

    This class focuses on a careful investigation of skepticism as a major position in epistemology and the related fallibilistic efforts to avoid skepticism. We will begin with an investigation of fallibilism, followed by exploration of the nature of and prospects for a successful skepticism. We will focus some on the arguments for skepticism, but most of our focus will be on skepticism as a philosophical position and the demands thereby placed on it. Our investigation will culminate with a discussion of knowledge of the future, a kind of knowledge easily targeted by skeptical arguments but creating special difficulties for skepticism as a philosophical position.

      Symbolic Logic, Phil 301

      This course is a second course in formal logic, following up on a first course involving propositional and predicate logic. It is recommended for students who have already taken such a course, or for students who have a strong background in mathematics. It will introduce some of the proof techniques and formal apparatus that will be the focus of Phil 403: Mathematical Logic, but with less of a focus on the metatheory that is central to more advanced courses and more on the varieties of logical theories, including alternatives to classical logic as well as extensions of it through modal and other intensional logics. We will also learn about various conditionals that have different truth conditions from those studied in a first logic course.

        History of Analytic Philosophy, Phil 480

        This course will begin with the reaction of G.E. Moore to the dominant idealism of the 19th century, together with the advances in formal approaches launched by Gottlob Frege and Bertrand Russell. It will engage in the rise of ordinary language philosophy through the later work of Ludwig Wittgenstein, as well as the important influence of the Vienna Circle and the rise and fall of Logical Positivism/Empiricism, culminating in the resurgence of metaphysics with the work of Saul Kripke. The course will close with a look at philosophy that is still in the analytic tradition after analytic philosophy itself had been abandoned.

          Faith and Humility

          Faith and Humility

          This book is devoted to articulating the connections between the nature and value of faith and humility. The goal is to understand faith and humility in a way that does not discriminate between religious and mundane contexts, between sacred and secular. It arises from a conviction that these two character traits are important to a flourishing life, and intimately related to each other in such a way that the presence of one demands the presence of the other. In particular, the book defends the claim that each of these virtues provides a necessary, compensating balance to the potential downside of the other virtue. The result of such an inquiry, if that inquiry is successful, will require a re-orienting of discussions surrounding faith, including debates about the relationship between faith and reason.

          Rationality and Reflection: How to Think About What to Think

          Rationality and Reflection: How to Think About What to Think

          Jonathan L. Kvanvig presents a conception of rationality which answers to the need arising out of the egocentric predicament concerning what to do and what to believe. He does so in a way that avoids, on the one hand, reducing rationality to the level of beasts, and on the other hand, elevating it so that only the most reflective among us are capable of rational beliefs. Rationality and Reflection sets out a theory of rationality--a theory about how to determine what to think--which defends a significant degree of optionality in the story of what is reasonable for people to think, and thereby provides a framework for explaining what kinds of rational disagreement are possible. The theory is labelled Perspectivalism and it offers a unique account of rationality, one that cuts across the usual distinctions between Foundationalism and Coherentism and between Internalism and Externalism. It also differs significantly from Evidentialism, maintaining that, to the extent that rationality is connected to the notion of evidence, it is a function both of the evidence one has and what one makes of it.

          Destiny and Deliberation: Essays in Philosophical Theology

          Destiny and Deliberation: Essays in Philosophical Theology

          Jonathan Kvanvig presents a compelling new work in philosophical theology on the universe, creation, and the afterlife. Organised thematically by the endpoints of time, the volume begins by addressing eschatological matters--the doctrines of heaven and hell--and ends with an account of divine deliberation and creation. Kvanvig develops a coherent theistic outlook which reconciles a traditional, high conception of deity, with full providential control over all aspects of creation, with full providential control over all aspects of creation, with a conception of human beings as free and morally responsible. The resulting position and defense is labeled "Philosophical Arminianism," and deserves attention in a broad range of religious traditions.

          The Knowability Paradox

          The Knowability Paradox

          The paradox of knowability, derived from a proof by Frederic Fitch in 1963, is one of the deepest paradoxes concerning the nature of truth. Jonathan Kvanvig argues that the depth of the paradox has not been adequately appreciated. It has long been known that the paradox threatens antirealist conceptions of truth according to which truth is epistemic. If truth is epistemic, what better way to express that idea than to maintain that all truths are knowable? In the face of the paradox, however, such a characterization threatens to undermine antirealism. If Fitch's proof is valid, then one can be an antirealist of this sort only by endorsing the conclusion of the proof that all truths are known. 

          This book thus provides a thorough investigation of the literature on the paradox, and also proposes a solution to the deeper of the two problems raised by Fitch's proof. It provides a complete picture of the paradoxicality that results from Fitch's proof, and presents a solution to the paradox that claims to address both problems raised by the original proof.

           The Value of Knowledge and the Pursuit of Understanding

          The Value of Knowledge and the Pursuit of Understanding

          Jonathan Kvanvig argues that epistemology cannot ignore the question of the value of knowledge. He questions one of the most fundamental assumptions in epistemology--that knowledge is always more valuable than the value of its parts. Using Plato's Meno as a starting point, Kvanvig tackles the different arguments about the value of knowledge and comes to the conclusion that it is less valuable than generally assumed. The book will appeal to students and professional philosophers in epistemology.

          The Problem of Hell

          The Problem of Hell

          The doctrine of hell presents the most intractable version of the problem of evil, for though it might be argued that ordinary pain and evil can somehow be compensated for by the course of future experience, the pain and suffering of hell leads nowhere. This work develops an understanding of hell that is common to a broad variety of religious perspectives, and argues that the usual understandings of hell are incapable of solving the problem of hell. Kvanvig first argues that the traditional understanding of hell found in Christianity suffers from moral and epistemological inadequacies. Historically, these shortcomings lead to alternatives to the traditional doctrine of hell, such as universalism, annihilationism, or the second chance doctrine. Kvanvig shows, however, that the typical alternatives to the traditional understanding are inadequate as well. He argues that both the traditional understanding and the typical alternatives fail to solve the problem of hell because they share the common flaw of being constructed on a retributive model of hell. Kvanvig then develops a philosophical account of hell which does not depend on a retributive model and argues that it is adequate on both philosophical and theological grounds.

          The Intellectual Virtues and the Life of the Mind: On the Place of the Virtues in Epistemology

          The Intellectual Virtues and the Life of the Mind: On the Place of the Virtues in Epistemology

          In this book the author argues that the cognitive virtues have a fundamental place in epistemology, but not the place given them by most contemporary epistemologists attentive to the virtues. The cognitive virtues, according to this thesis, service as part of our cognitive ideal, and are not reducible to, or explainable by, the familiar epistemological notions of justification or knowledge. In Kvanvig's view, the cognitive virtues derive their epistemological importance from what they indicate about the person having them, rather than about the beliefs of that person. The prominent Cartesian approach to epistemology, Kvanvig believes, rests on an account of the mind that is overly intellectual and temporarily too atomistic.

          The Possibility of an All-Knowing God

          The Possibility of an All-Knowing God

          Classical philosophical concern regarding the doctrine of omniscience arises out of the worry that divine foreknowledge is incompatible with human freedom: if God knows what humans will do, how can they be free (in the sense of being able to do otherwise)? Recent discussion has raised other problems- for example, some work on self-awareness suggests that each of us knows ourselves in a way no one else (including God) can.

          These issues, as well as others, cast doubt both on the formulation of the doctrine of omniscience and the acceptibility of any formulation. This work argues that there can be an omniscient being, that a simple formulation of the doctrine in terms of knowing all truths is adequate, and that human beings can be free even if God foreknows what they will do.