Monday, October 14, 2013

What is Knowledge?

From guest blogger, Natalie.

On my first guest blog post someone responded with this comment:

"I like your verve. It is generally understood in epistemology that what is required for having knowledge of x is:

a. You must believe that x is true.
b. You must have reason to believe that x is true.
c. x must be true.

You deny a nor b yet you opine on the possibility of c? Jesse teaches you this?"

Professor Steinberg responded with this:
Most philosophers these days don't think that knowledge amounts to (a)-(c). Ed Gettier has a famous paper in which he provides some counterexamples to this analysis of knowledge. 
I don't follow your last remark. Do you mean to deny that there can be instances of justified false beliefs?"

This is in part a response to the anonymous comment, but I have also extended the post to include an introduction of an idea I have about the importance/role of the religious canon.  I chose to make it a blog post rather than a comment on the previous post because I would like feedback to help me develop the idea since I am considering it as a topic for my next paper. 

In the case of your requirements, I would say, is it not possible for something to be true although you don’t have knowledge of it in this sense?  X could be true (c) even though you don’t believe it is true (a) or reasonably/justifiably believe it is true (b). 

I think these accepted requirements for knowledge make more sense if put forth in this order/worded slightly differently, specifically taking out the word must because I believe it has implications that are not intended (at least if this is the knowledge as a justified true belief argument that I believe it is):
(a2) x is true(b2) You believe x is true.(c2) You reasonably and rationally believe x is true/You justifiably believe X is true.
The claim made is that these requirements must be met to have knowledge.  I would disagree and say that this is what is necessary to have a justifiably true belief.  A part of the argument to which I am responding is that justifiably false beliefs are not knowledge.  A justifiably false belief would be one that only meets requirements (a2) and (b2).  I don’t think (c2) is a necessary component of knowledge.  Ed Gettier, as Professor Steinberg mentioned, puts forth an argument that supports my belief called “Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?”

Jesse’s mention of justifiably false beliefs prompted me to explore an idea I have regarding the potential importance of the canon as a tool.  I don’t believe that all people have correct knowledge or proper ration, and since some things may be viewed as what “you must believe” is true, such as morality, they provide a different pathway towards reaching the truth with their portrayal of revelation.  In this way, what you have called (b) and what I have called (c2), do not hold to be true.  I do not broach the topic and begin a debate with this comment as to whether or not a given x, identified as anything put forth in the canon, is true.  However, I think I can show my argument with a very simple example from the canon (viewed in isolation from the rest of the canon).  In the Torah, in the telling of the travels of Abraham, it describes a city called Tel Gezer’s geographical location and population.  Its remnants have been the subject of an archeological excavation and study, and any person can visit the site today.  I concluded through study and by going there myself, which show that my beliefs about the city are reasonable and justifiable, that what the Torah said about this city is true.  However, prior to this study and travel I still believed that what the Torah said about it was true, and in reality, what the Torah said about the Torah was factual.  Therefore, prior to study and experience, my beliefs did not meet the (a)-(c) or (a2)-(c2) requirements for knowledge.  Since people don’t always have reason or ration, it may be necessary for things like the canon to provide another kind of justification for belief, and what could be more convincing to a person of faith than the word of God?  A justifiably false belief may not be based on the reason as required in your (b), what I call (c2), but does that mean that it isn’t knowledge?  I don’t think it’s absurd to call it knowledge if your (b), what I call (c2), requirement is not met.  I considered that when people talk about having faith, I understand them as saying that only the (a2) and (b2) requirements are met and that faith is what they put in place for the missing (c2) requirement.  Accepting justifiably false beliefs as knowledge seems to be a necessary component of faith-based conclusions.

I’m trying to work on the idea of what you’re justified in calling it and what it actually is.  I have considered making the concession that (a2)-(c2) might be necessary for a person to call their belief knowledge.  The next question should be posed in light of the concession that someone cannot call a belief knowledge if they don’t fulfill (c2), whether this concession is accepted as true or not.  It helps to simplify the question: If you believe something and it’s true, then what is, if not knowledge?  I’d love to hear some opinions on this question, whether the concession seems is true or false, and you think it’s necessary to make the concession.


Anonymous said...

What I think escapes notice in these enquiries is the nature of belief. Hume describes belief as the manner in which we conceive an idea. The idea that the Sun will rise tomorrow or that all men must die are two examples Hume gives of ideas that we FEEL certain about. To believe x, or to have reason to believe x, describes the manner in which we conceive the idea - not the idea itself - and that manner is sensitive. The idea itself is: x is true or false. Herein lies the "problem of knowledge". Short of a demonstration of logical truths, that imply contradictions, or truths that could not be otherwise, we can never know that we know anything. I can be absolutely certain that one is less than two; however, I can only feel certain that the Sun will rise tomorrow because it could, indeed, be otherwise. I can make the case that it is highly probable the Sun will rise tomorrow but I cannot make the negation inconceivable as I can do with logical truths. Therefore, with regard to mattters of fact, we ought to question why it is that we feel the way we do about these, rather than simply proceed as though our sensibilites imply the equivalent of logical contradictions.

Consider secularism and spirituality: A secular scenario is typically arrived at by convention, church and state are separated, the common currency is that of action, so responsibility, temperence, self-esteem, courtesy, sympathy, etc. are deemed in high regard, always with a view toward individuality. A spiritual scenario is arrived at through a belief that private emotions are known to, and may be inspired by, God. The common currency is that of authenticity, so love, devotion, compassion, conscience, etc. are deemed in high regard, always with a view toward one another.

Annalee Galston said...

For my next paper, I am asserting and clarifying Shapiro's claim that one is not justified in believing in miracles using an application of Steinbergs' article on disembodied minds. In doing so, I am asserting, as taken explicitly from Alan Steinberg in class, that in a rational belief of something rare and supernatural, there must exist a criteria that allows the object of that belief to be demonstrated as similar to like things and distinguished from unlike things.
In other words, to claim rational belief in certain religious phenomena one would have to know, beyond conception of the idea, that such phenomenona exists within and is distinct from other phenomena in this world. I think herein may lie some of the answers to your question.
As you say "It helps to simplify the question: If you believe something and it’s true, then what is, if not knowledge?",what one knows to be true for themselves is distinct from what is known to be true of the world. Namely, if one thinks something to be true and therein lies the justification, then that is not knowledge of the idea, something to be true if your definition of knowledge requires the believer to know, beyond conception, that such phenomenona exists within and is distinct from other phenomena in this world. In such a case, you might call this an irrationally justifiable belief based on notion not knowledge.

Aviva said...

Knowledge should be seen as largely affected by social context. I think knowledge ought to be defined as both validated and believed information. It seems that the debated aspect of knowledge is its social validity. One could have had the knowledge that the world was flat before it was discovered otherwise, even though it was not true, because there was no valid information leading otherwise. Once it was accepted that the world was in fact round, then one could have knowledge that the world was round, and not that it was flat. The only time where my idea does not work is in that interim time, when some people knew the world was round but most believed it to be flat. I think that this instance disproves (a)-(c), in that (c) is not met. This is validated by (a2)-(c2); however, if we uphold the "world is round/flat" situation to (a2)-(c2) we find that two people can have contradictory beliefs and still reasonably call both of those beliefs knowledge. I think this is acceptable, as knowledge has always been debated, and it doesn't seem unacceptable that two people believe contradictory information and deem both as knowledge, due to the social validity of both beliefs.

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