Musings on Gettier and the definition of knowledge

knowledge3by Coel Hellier

Philosophers have traditionally defined knowledge as a belief that is both true and justified, a definition that sufficed until, 50 years ago, Edmund Gettier pointed out that the conditions could be fulfilled by accident, in ways that didn’t amount to what we would intuitively regard as knowledge.

Gettier pointed to scenarios such as:

“Smith has applied for a job, but, it is claimed, has a justified belief that ‘Jones will get the job.’ He also has a justified belief that ‘Jones has 10 coins in his pocket.’ Smith therefore (justifiably) concludes that ‘the man who will get the job has 10 coins in his pocket.’ In fact, Jones does not get the job. Instead, Smith does. However, as it happens, Smith (unknowingly and by sheer chance) also had 10 coins in his pocket. So his belief that ‘the man who will get the job has 10 coins in his pocket’ was justified and true. But it does not appear to be knowledge.”

Since Gettier’s paper, many attempts have been made to patch up the “justified true belief” concept of knowledge, often by adding extra conditions aimed at ruling out being right accidentally, though none of the proposed solutions has gained general acceptance and most have been shown not to work [1].

Analysis of Gettier problems usually focuses on the word “justified,” which is often taken to be a binary condition, either fulfilled or not fulfilled. In Gettier’s paper, for instance, beliefs are taken as justified if there is “strong evidence” for them, but the idea of justification is not examined further [2]. Yet, in most applications, knowledge, evidence and justifications for claims are always probabilistic.

If justification is taken to be infallible — justification so bullet proof that the belief cannot then be in error — then there are no Gettier problems (Smith cannot have a “justified” belief that Jones will get the job unless Jones does, in fact, get the job).

But, in the absence of human infallibility, justification (“the action of showing something to be right or reasonable” — Oxford Dictionaries) should mean sufficient justification, which we can take as justification that gives a greater than, say, 90 per cent chance of being correct (or whatever threshold we choose). Now, suppose that Smith is justified with 90 per cent reliability in believing that Jones will get the job, and also justified with 90 per cent reliability in believing that Jones has 10 coins in his pocket. Then he has (under these definitions) knowledge that Jones will get the job and knowledge that Jones has 10 coins in his pocket, but does not have knowledge that “the man who will get the job has 10 coins in his pocket,” since the reliability of that claim is 0.9 x 0.9 = 0.8, which falls below the threshold.

That in itself does not avoid Gettier problems, of course, because those probabilities could each have been 0.95, which does multiply to a number above the arbitrary threshold. But it does suggest that the threshold nature of justification is central to the issue.

If we accept that “Fred is 90 per cent justified in believing that X” counts as knowledge of X, then we are accepting that the justification could be faulty, and thus be unrelated to the truth of the matter. But, if so, the belief can always be true entirely by accident. Thus it follows that a justified belief can be true entirely by accident. There is no way round that, it is inevitable for any threshold for justification that is set at less than 100 per cent reliability [3].

In response, some have simply bit the bullet and acknowledge that, yes, belief that is both accidentally true, and accompanied by an irrelevant and erroneous justification, really is knowledge. But then we would be left with a counter-intuitive interpretation of knowledge that amounts only to being right, even if accidentally so. No-one would accept that someone knew what the winning lottery numbers would be, just because they happened to have bought the winning ticket.

For that reason, much discussion of Gettier has attempted to add a fourth condition, designed to prevent Gettier type problems, to the trinity of justification, truth and belief. These usually try to avoid being accidentally right by bolstering the concept of justification (for example, the justification must not rely on falsehoods; or it must derive from the truth) [4].

None of these proposals resolves the issue. To see this, consider the justification, J, together with the additional condition and call the combination J+. Now either J+ is fallible or it isn’t. If it is fallible then we still have Gettier problems, all we’ve done is re-label J as J+, since we didn’t specify what was necessary for J in the first place, and at most we’ve elucidated aspects of justification. Alternatively, if J+ is infallible then, fine, we’ve avoided Gettier problems, but we might just as well have declared J infallible from the start.

The above has been discussed at length and perhaps a consensus is emerging that there is no way round the Gettier problem, at least not without declaring justification to be infallible [5]. Yet, some are reluctant to accept that, which is perhaps strange since there is no reluctance to require the “truth” part of the definition to be absolute. Indeed, one can regard the extensive literature on Gettier as a search for a wording that stops short of adopting an infallible version of justification, while ensuring that the justification is never erroneous (because if it ever is, then in can leap Gettier).

And thus, it seems to me, that the really crucial part of the “justified true belief” concept of knowledge is that it is a belief that is true. This highlights a weird feature of the definition, that in order to know whether something is knowledge you first need to know whether it is true, and you can only know that if you already have that knowledge.

Thus the definition is not very useful: we can never use it to determine whether we have knowledge, because it relies on having a god’s eye view where one already knows the full facts of the matter, else it cannot be applied. But, if one does have that view, then one might as well go the whole hog and declare that only infallible justification counts as justification, and thus solve Gettier’s problem.

Alternatively, if we don’t adopt a god’s-eye view, then we need to accept that, not only will our justifications be fallible, but also that what we regard as true might turn out to be erroneous, and thus we need reliability thresholds on both the “justified” and the “true” components of the definition.

Of course scientists have long accepted that they can never attain absolute truth about the world, but only approach it with ever-increasing, though not-total, reliability. Philosophy, however, can be considered to be a discussion about a broader “conceptual space,” in which truth could indeed be conceived of as securely known [6].

So let’s declare this article to be about knowledge in and of the real world, and indeed discussion of Gettier is usually in terms of real-world examples (people with coins in their pocket, robotic dogs, red-painted barns, and so forth), however contrived.

On that point, and to keep this article to theme, let’s leave aside axiom-based systems such as mathematics and logic, where one might know something owing to it being entailed by axioms. It might be thought that within such systems one can have absolutely reliable knowledge, though even there one would be reliant on mathematicians and logicians having made correct deductions, and, without a proof of human infallibility, that is again not absolutely certain.

Might there be a more practical definition of knowledge? Oxford Dictionaries give us:

Knowledge: Facts, information, and skills acquired through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject.”

That is a bottom-up approach to defining knowledge, starting with information and building on it, rather than the top-down approach of starting with truth. As a scientist, the bottom-up approach seems to me in keeping with how we actually gain knowledge, by acquiring information about the world around us and interpreting it, and then building theories that best model the world. We don’t start with truth, instead we build towards truth — that’s the best we can do — and we acquire knowledge as we go.

To improve on the “justified true belief” definition we should thus omit the condition “true,” since without God’s eye we cannot know what is true, and can only evaluate the probability of truth based on the justifications we have. In a sense, the “true” condition is redundant with the “justification” condition.

That leaves us with knowledge as “justified belief.” We can then ask what counts as justification, for which the best answer — if we’re talking about knowledge about the real world — is provided by the methods adopted by science. After all, the methods of science have been developed and honed over the centuries as giving our surest path towards truth about the world around us (demonstrably so, given that the engineering and technology based on science does actually work, thus showing that scientific models are a pretty good match to reality).

Is this definition vulnerable to Gettier? Yes it is, since it accepts that our evidence and justifications are fallible, deriving as they do from only a very limited sampling of the world, and yet a claim might always be true entirely by chance. Indeed, the field of statistics helps us to evaluate what role chance plays in any particular instance. The answers it gives are not certain but they are often good enough.

Thus Gettier points to an inevitable limitation of real-world knowledge, deriving from the fact that evidence will never establish anything with absolute reliability.

_____

Coel Hellier is a Professor of Astrophysics at Keele University in the UK. In addition to teaching physics, astrophysics, and maths he searches for exoplanets. He currently runs the WASP-South transit search, finding planets by looking for small dips in the light of stars caused when a planet transits in front of the star. Earlier in his research career Coel studied binary stars that were exchanging material, leading up to his book about Cataclysmic Variable Stars.

[1] Here is the obligatory link to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on the topic.

[2] The original paper by Gettier is online here.

[3] This has been argued by several people, for example see Ian M. Church (2013), European Journal of Philosophy, 21(1):37-49, and citations therein.

[4] A bibliography of Gettier-problem papers is given here.

[5] See, for example, this article by Fred Dretske.

[6] For example our host, Massimo Pigliucci, explains that: “You can think of philosophy as an exploration of conceptual, as opposed to empirical, space …” where “conceptual space is much broader than its empirical counterpart.”

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89 replies

  1. stizostideon wrote:

    “I blame Plato for the notion that knowledge can be absolutely true. As several others note, the best we can hope for is a probabilistic account of truth. Aside of tautological statements and perhaps mathematics (which arguably is just a tautological exercise, anyway) pursuit of absolute certitude is a futile task”.

    This statement is, in my opinion, wrong. He just claimed the contrary; both Democritus and Plato claimed that our perception is mainly subjective, just opinions, in this sense knowledge is under perpetual change. Plato claimed that knowledge is neither absolute nor that knowledge is absolutely true, he argued that is plausible the existence of a realm full of ideas and forms. Then the subjective, empirical, changing knowledge may access to this realm full of ideas and forms. However, if the subjective knowledge doesn’t access to such realm it doesn’t lose its epistemic status, though, according to Plato, this status would be incomplete.

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  2. labnut,

    That is all great, but I never said that there are no serious problems, merely that “it must be a serious problem because lots of smart people consider it a serious problem” is, on its own, a fallacious argument, and that one would actually have to go through the trouble of explaining why it is. And that goes even for experts. If hundreds of fairy specialists agree that the question whether fairy wings are an extra set of limbs or instead more like the wings of insects is a serious problem that would still not impress me.

    —–

    The more I think about it, the more problematic (and, I might say, the more Po-Mo) appears the idea of dropping true from the definition of knowledge. How would you recognise a system of generating beliefs as a system that generates justified beliefs if not, again, by observing that it generates beliefs that can be assumed to be true? If you drop that, you would have to accept any system as justified that does not contain internal contradictions, and everything it produces as knowledge, even if one of its products is that the moon is made out of cheese.

    I guess that question does not arise for Coel because he thinks that there can only be one system, science broadly construed, and that is fine as far as empirical matters go but only because in the context of empirics we can consider “it works reproducibly” to be evidence of something most likely reflecting truth. It does nothing to address the question of whether a contradiction-free school of fairyology can provide us with knowledge of the nature of fairy wings.

    Coel would perhaps reply that fairies don’t exist, but well, why does that matter if you have dropped the requirement that knowledge must be true? Po-Mo, here we come!

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  3. All this fuss because of Coel’s proposal to ‘drop’ truth from the holy trinity. Some points:

    First, it’s evident that this is not a silly lapse of a non professional philosopher: a quick reading of his article dismisses this assumption.

    Second, it seems to me that the ‘drop’ was indeed over-emphatic and thus an expression of what not just him as a scientist, but every serious scientist around the world, might be experiencing from the over-expectations, particularly of the public, regarding scientific truth. A quick peruse of the answers here could constitute a fair case-study for this. 🙂

    Third, its evident that as a scientist his experience or daily confrontation with the knowledge paradox might be sufficient to show that his ‘drop’, in a text on a philosophy blog, should be ‘interpreted’ in a way like: we must review the way science is taught to the public, let’s say to the media that they are breeding a new kind of believers – and perhaps as dangerous as the traditional ones. He seems to be asking for help! (Well, sort freudian approach, you know!)

    Fourth, my experience with atheists’ communities and a recent visit to phys.org the day a group of researchers published their concerns about the existence of black holes tell all: in those places science is dealt not essentially differently from how religion is ministered in a church: no one knows for sure what it is all about, there are something like crazy fairy tales about physics, evolution, sociology etc and worst: the ‘morals’ derived from that ‘perfectly rational, true vision of the world’. All this combined with that ‘troll-tone’ directed to muslims, christians, mystics (even Massimo is thought to be anti-science by some of them! – believe). Well, nazis believed themselves highly ‘scientific’ too… 😦

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  4. “To improve on the “justified true belief” definition we should thus omit the condition “true,” since without God’s eye we cannot know what is true, and can only evaluate the probability of truth based on the justifications we have. In a sense, the “true” condition is redundant with the “justification” condition. That leaves us with knowledge as “justified belief.””

    This is a tempting response to the problem of Gettier-proofing knowledge, but it comes with a price that you may not want to pay. On the JTB account, ‘S knows that p’ includes both a subjective condition (the justification for the belief that p) and an objective or metaphysical condition (p is true). If we eliminate the truth condition, or as you say here, effectively subsume it into the justification for the belief that p, then we’ve also eliminated that connection with the external state of affairs.

    Knowledge no longer consists (partly) in some fact(s) ‘about the world’ but is, instead, a matter of coherence between subjective states of belief. This is a familiar problem in coherentist accounts of justification and knowledge, and it is not insurmountable, but it may be a big bullet to bite for a scientific realist, which means problems for this:

    “We can then ask what counts as justification, for which the best answer — if we’re talking about knowledge about the real world — is provided by the methods adopted by science.”

    This seems to move towards an externalist account of warrant, wherein justification (in the philosophical sense of some reason available to the subject, or to which the subject has access, or…the list of internalist versions of this story is long) is replaced by, for example, a reliable belief-forming process. As presented here, we have moved away from justification entirely — this is no longer a question of what reason S can give for the belief that p, but whether or not the belief that p results from the right kind of process or causal connection (or whatever) as a matter of fact.

    That looks fine, but in the end, it does not circumvent the previous objection about the lack of access to a third-party ‘view from nowhere’ as regards truth; if we cannot know what is true, then we also have no real way to say that the sciences are establishing themselves as a reliable belief-forming process either, which seems to defeat the purpose of saying that truth just is our best justification. Nor do I see that this problem is effectively handled by pointing to the ‘no miracles’ response, when what is in question is how we can establish some fact of the matter that is *not* dependent on beliefs of some subject.

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  5. (Another comment may hopefully follow. For now:)

    The present case lacks any temporal verification process we would expect in the real world. E.g., in the real world, at time X-1 (prior to hire), Smith would *not* know that ‘the man hired will have ten coins in his pocket,’ he’d only have a hypothesis that this will be the case. At X+1 (after hire), he knows that the man hired has 10 coins in his pocket, but he also knows that this had no dependence on his prior beliefs that Jones would get hired and Jones has 10 coins in his pocket.

    But the world of which Gettier writes is *not* the real world, it’s a logically possible world, governed by the rules of formal logic. Gettier doesn’t have to explain this in the context of his readership.

    The community of epistemologists for which Gettier is writing would understand that his cases are not problematic because of their ‘real world’ application, but because of their formal logic problems. We can see this when Gettier remarks that knowledge is understood as “someone’s knowing a given proposition.” What is known is not a thing, nor an idea, nor anything other than a statement. This means, what Smith ‘knows’ is *not* that the man hired has ten coins in his pocket; he asserts the proposition “the man hired has ten coins in his pocket,” which turns out to be true; but as derived from false inference, this cannot be considered knowledge (per JBT). (The truth is not logically dependent on the justified beliefs.)

    We can see this better in Gettier’s second example:

    “(f) Jones owns a Ford.
    (…)
    (Then) Smith selects three place names quite at random and constructs the following three propositions:
    (g) Either Jones owns a Ford, or Brown is in Boston.
    (h) Either Jones owns a Ford, or Brown is in Barcelona.
    (i) Either Jones owns a Ford, or Brown is in Brest-Litovsk.
    Each of these propositions is entailed by (f).”

    Here Gettier gives an empirical justification for (f); but the only justification for (g), (h), or (i) is the logical entailment made viable by its disjunctive truth-value:

    A B A \or B
    T T T
    T F T
    F T T
    F F F
    (As long as one statement is true, the proposition is true.)

    Thus Smith asserts the proposition “Jones owns a Ford OR Brown is in Barcelona,” which he believes (per Gettier), and which happens to be true, and is technically justifiable; but the verification of the second statement is unknown to him; so his assertion cannot constitute knowledge (per JBT). (True; justified; believed; but no knowledge claim.)

    This also has little real world applicability (why would a real world Smith be doing this?). The problem has to do with the formal structure of knowledge claims.

    So, pace Coel here, what gives epistemologists problems is not the truth of the concluding propositions, but logical relations between knowledge claims, beliefs, justification, and their true conclusions.

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  6. In grappling with the Gettier problem I have learned a lot. Epistemology is not my interest, and I haven’t read up on formal logic since I was an undergraduate.

    The issues raised here for me are difficult to explain, because they have to do with the history of philosophy and logic as it has developed in America – why, e.g., to answer another commentator’s query, Peirce, certainly a major figure in the formation of modern logic, is infrequently discussed within the study of it. But such a historical discussion would take far too long here.

    Being in the Pragmatist camp, and thus having understandings of the problems of ‘truth’ and ‘knowledge’ (Peirce, James, Dewey) somewhat different than that of the JBT criteria (e.g., what’s the cash value? what am I supposed to do with it?), I find myself somewhat in sympathy for Coel’s wish to derive a more empirically based understanding of knowledge (although I don’t buy that this would necessarily reduce to any scientism).

    To be honest it’s a mystery to me why the Analytic tradition (still informed largely by Logical Positivist projects) seems committed to preservation of Platonic problematics. (Although, as I’ve noted elsewhere, Logical Positivism, despite an asserted empiricism, always seemed to me to be a surreptitious linguistic idealism.) And it should be noted that, though the Analytic tradition of formal logic has contributed greatly to current usage (especially in the field of computer languages), obscure discussions like the Gettier problem have isolated it from the common interests of many ‘laymen,’ in much the same way as Lacanian hairsplitting over ‘mirror stages’ for ‘Selves’ and ‘Others’ distances many from current Continentalist theory. At what point does philosophy connect with the people that it is intended to inform?

    As to Coel’s scientism here: He admittedly depends on the dictionary definition:

    “Knowledge: Facts, information, and skills acquired through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject.”

    That’s a good definition. But here’s one small aspect of the larger problem:

    Knowledge of the rhetoric of romance has contributed greatly to the conception of millions of children in the West. This is a “skill acquired through experience.” But beyond statistics, science has nothing to say of it; it is an art. That it is a knowledge can’t be debated (not pragmatically): it works – that is its verification. (If it gets you into bed with your preferred partner, you know exactly what you’re doing.)

    I’m not being frivolous here. Indeed, this example also demonstrates the problem with JBT knowledge criteria. Does a proposition get me into bed with a preferred partner? “I have justified belief that you and I will experience orgasm tonight.” What an unsavory opening line! (“I will have an orgasm tonight, but my partner is at home, buster!” – Is that getting ‘gettierized’ – what a disappointment!)

    Scientism isn’t getting me into bed; and logical positivistic anaysis isn’t getting me into bed.

    Can Pragmatism get me into bed with a preferred partner? – but that’s another story.

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  7. Hi Thomas Jones,

    Yes, instrumentalism seems to me Coel’s position. The question then becomes whether his is also scientific anti-realism where a scientific model is viewed chiefly as a useful representation of reality.

    Yes, I think I qualify as an instrumentalist. I also do indeed see a scientific model as only a useful representation of reality. I think I’m also a scientific realist, though, in that I make the presumption that the scientific model is an approximation to a really existing external reality (with instrumentalism being the best we can do in that regard).

    Hi DM,

    I get around Gettier by saying “no false assumptions”.

    Thinking about this, perhaps you are saying the same as me. I’m saying that only infallibility in the justification gets round Gettier. Isn’t “no false assumptions” then saying the same thing, in that if the justification ever proves to be erronous, we can then ascribe the error to a false assumption in it. That means that we can never know that our belief is “justified” since only omniscience could tell us there were no false assumptions in it.

    Thus, again, either we treat “knowledge” as an aspiration, or we adopt a more pragmatic approach of accepting a confidence threshold and accept the resulting fallibility.

    Hi Alexander Schmidt-Lebuhn:

    Coel would perhaps reply that fairies don’t exist, but well, why does that matter if you have dropped the requirement that knowledge must be true? Po-Mo, here we come!

    But I have not dropped the requirement that knowledge must be “justified”, and justification is a lot more than the requirement for the belief system to be internally consistent. One also needs justification for the idea that fairies exist.

    Thus I have not dropped *aspiration* to truth from the concept of “knowledge”, I’ve just noted that we cannot attain absolutely certain truth, and thus, as a matter of pragmatics, we accept as “knowledge” beliefs that are adequately justified, while lacking the omniscience to know for sure.

    Hi Mario Roy,

    Coel, I don’t quite agree; Aristotle addressed this matter …

    Just to note that it was PeterJ that you were replying to there.

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  8. Hi Coel,

    “I’m saying that only infallibility in the justification gets round Gettier.”

    I see infallibility as a forward-looking property. An infallible person or process will never make a mistake in the future, or in any possible world. But what we’re talking about are justifications already made. We’re looking backward. Infallibility does not apply — rather what we’re looking for is correctness. It’s not that mistakes are not possible, it is that they happen not to have been made in this instance.

    “Isn’t “no false assumptions” then saying the same thing, in that if the justification ever proves to be erronous, we can then ascribe the error to a false assumption in it. ”

    If I predict that I will not win the lottery but I do, my inclination is not to say that the justification was erroneous or that I made a false assumption (that a freak occurrence would not happen). You could view it that way, but I prefer to regard the justification as sound and say that the reason it isn’t knowledge is simply because it is untrue. That feels more right to me. If I don’t win the lottery, I feel it is correct to say I knew I wouldn’t win the lottery even though my justification was not infallible. It is enough that it is quite reliable and happened not to fail in this instance.

    If I see a dog in the park, and it really is a dog, then I know there is a dog in the park. If I think I see a dog in the park, but it’s really a robot, then I don’t know there is a dog in the park. The process producing the justification is the same in both cases, it gets it right in one case and it gets it wrong in another, so the process itself is not infallible. What matters is not infallibility or fallibility but whether the assumptions made in the course of the justification happen to be correct.

    “That means that we can never know that our belief is “justified” since only omniscience could tell us there were no false assumptions in it.”

    We can indeed *know* our beliefs are justified by the definition of *knowledge* I’m working with. If our justifications do not have to be infallible, then we can have (fallibly) justified true beliefs that our beliefs are justified and true, meaning according to JTB that we know that we have knowledge. What you should say is that we can never be 100% certain that our beliefs are justified, and there I would agree with you because 100% certainty about anything is irrational.

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  9. Coel,

    “In Gettier’s paper, for instance, beliefs are taken as justified if there is “strong evidence” for them, but the idea of justification is not examined further [2]. Yet, in most applications, knowledge, evidence and justifications for claims are always probabilistic.”

    It seem to me that Gettier’s use of the words “strong evidence” includes the sense of “strongly reliable evidence”.

    “Yet, some are reluctant to accept that, which is perhaps strange since there is no reluctance to require the “truth” part of the definition to be absolute.”

    Some? Could you be more precise, I’m having problems seeing the relation between the idea of ‘absolute truths’ and the way the word true is used in the ‘justified true belief’ definition of knowledge.

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  10. It should be noted that without the concept of truth, one also loses the concept of justification, if one intends that concept with its epistemic connotation. A justification for P just *is* a good reason for believing P, where “good” is understood as truth-reliable. Why is empirical evidence a good reason for believing P, while reading tea leaves is not? Because the acquisition of empirical evidence constitutes a truth-reliable means of acquiring beliefs, while reading tea leaves is not, presuming, of course, that one conceives of the *point* of belief as the arriving at truths.

    Why not just skip trying to define ‘knowledge’ in any formal sense? Then, the fact that one can imagine a few perverse cases, in which good reasons and true beliefs don’t connect has no substantial consequence.

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  11. I tend to agree with Aravis here. We can’t really do without a concept of truth. But a concept is more fuzzy and pliable than a definition. The problem with Gettier cases is that they all fall into a couple of pretty narrow categories (which, as I mentioned above, can actually be resolved if one thinks in terms of successful vs unsuccessful reference), and that they assume a classical “necessary and jointly sufficient” type of definition. But we have gotten away from those types of rigid definition in most fields, both in science and in philosophy, and I don’t see why we need to get stuck in this particular one. None of the above, of course, has anything to do with a requirement for omniscience — contra Coel.

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  12. I’d also like to address the comment above about why I publish “amateurish” pieces at Scientia Salon. To begin with, this is not a technical forum. More importantly, however, I envision SciSal as a gymnasium where both professionals and interested / knowledgeable lay people can engage in a constant dialogue. That dialogue doesn’t have to see the pros as writing essays and everyone else as commenting. It is very nice to do it the other way around too, at the least from time to time.

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  13. Coel, I am using scientific anti-realism in the sense that an instrumentalist like Pierce or James might, in the sense that the goal of science is not truth but rather prediction of outcomes and explanation of data as opposed to saying that the goal of science is some “approximation” of the truth. Remember, it was you who suggested that we drop the truth condition from the definition of knowledge for a more “practical” instrumentalist definition. But then you smuggle truth back in when you write, “We don’t start with truth, instead we build towards truth . . .” But the map is not the landscape, and a model of reality is not reality.

    For purposes of your article, I can understand your dropping “true” as a condition of knowledge, but I think you may be unwittingly substituting another condition without recognizing it. Let’s call it “trustworthiness” for the sake of discussion. Thus, instead of “justified true belief,” you might say “justified trustworthy belief.” If a parachutist is about to jump from a plane at x elevation and you say to him, “If your parachute fails to open, you will be killed.” And in fact it fails to open, but he lives, in what way does your revision enhance our notion of the nature of knowledge that “justified true belief” does not?

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  14. Hi Coel,

    You are right, I made a mistake, it was PeterJ´s comment. But I hope that my comment clarifies the topic regarding the distinction made by Aristotle.

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  15. Hi Coel, I liked the essay. It reminded me of the wrestling matches I had with epistemology as an undergrad. I don’t have as much problem with removing “true” (as others do), if the idea is to build a pragmatic definition of knowledge. Since such a state (“true”) will never be identified outside of hypotheticals, it seems plausible to set it aside. Indeed “justifed” (to me) has the idea of “true” built in, since it indicates a method trusted to move one toward or obtain “truth”. As such “true” may be redundant.

    Back in the day I took a different approach. I bit the bullet and removed “justified”. So, knowledge is a belief which is true about the world. The cases raised by Gettier (or others) merely helped build categories or grades of knowledge. Why can’t we speak of “coincidental” knowledge, as opposed to “experiential” knowledge, or “educational” knowledge? I had no problem of calling something knowledge as long as I could qualify the term.

    Then I was freed to address the problem, which I would argue is the most important task for epistemology, of what criteria we should use to determine when we can “say” that we “know”. This basically runs backwards, assuming something were true about the world, what signs would be accessible to individuals? Therefore what kinds and levels of evidence should we set for making a claim. This is similar to determining what is “justified.”

    The difference between coincidental and experiential knowledge would become explicit here. Sufficient evidence for claiming coincidental knowledge (I know I will win the lottery) will always come after the fact, making it not very useful. Sufficient evidence for other forms of knowledge (I know I will win the lottery because I rigged the machine) will fulfill criteria before the fact.

    Of course, while the criteria for claiming knowledge are not wholly arbitrary there is no level of perfection (especially if we want to balance it with practicality) that would exclude errors.

    It seems to me that while taking different routes we ended at nearly the same place regarding a practical definition of “knowing”. The only advantage of my method was to preserve theoretical forms of knowledge, with qualifiers.

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  16. Massimo,

    This is just to keep things as clear as possible (and I admit I have some difficulties with this, specially while writing in a foreign language):

    When you wrote, above,

    “I’d also like to address the comment above about why I publish “amateurish” pieces at Scientia Salon.”,

    I felt I could have forgotten some ‘details’ in my phrasing on my last comment, like quotation marks. So, my intention was that the first point I mentioned should be read as in the following:

    “it’s evident that this is not ‘a silly lapse of a non professional philosopher’: a quick reading of his article dismisses this assumption.”

    So, the assumption dismissed is the one between the single quote marks. Insisting: I didn’t and don’t agree with previous suggestions that Coel’s text could be amateurish.

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  17. Hi Thomas,

    Remember, it was you who suggested that we drop the truth condition from the definition of knowledge for a more “practical” instrumentalist definition. But then you smuggle truth back in when you write, “We don’t start with truth, instead we build towards truth . . .”

    Agreed. I am not dispensing with “truth” in the definition altogether, what I am doing is pointing out that the only handle we have on truth is the evidence that provides the justification for the belief, and thus adding a “truth” condition *in* *addition* to the justification condition is not all that practical since it is no help in deciding which bits of our current thinking are “knowledge”.

    If a parachutist is about to jump from a plane at x elevation and you say to him, “If your parachute fails to open, you will be killed.” And in fact it fails to open, but he lives, in what way does your revision enhance our notion of the nature of knowledge that “justified true belief” does not?

    I guess that a strict application of “JTB” would say that the statement was not knowledge since it was not true. My revision would say that it was “knowledge” since it was an amply justified belief, and would interpret the claim as a shorthand for “… there is a high probability that you will be killed”.

    I am using scientific anti-realism in the sense that an instrumentalist like Pierce or James might, in the sense that the goal of science is not truth but rather prediction of outcomes and explanation of data as opposed to saying that the goal of science is some “approximation” of the truth.

    I don’t see much of a difference between those in practical effect. The best approximation of truth that we can achieve is indeed a model that predicts outcomes and explains data. There might *be* a closer approximation to the truth than the instrumentalist one, but we cannot achieve it.

    Hi Aravis,

    It should be noted that without the concept of truth, one also loses the concept of justification, […] Why not just skip trying to define ‘knowledge’ in any formal sense?

    Agreed. In suggesting a “justified belief” definition my intent was not to ditch the concept of truth, but to retain it wrapped up the concept of justification. It also is indeed a less formal and more fuzzy concept that JTB, since what counts as “justification” is fuzzy, probabilistic and fallible.

    Hi DM,

    I see infallibility as a forward-looking property. An infallible person or process will never make a mistake in the future, or in any possible world. But what we’re talking about are justifications already made. We’re looking backward.

    I think we’re pretty much in agreement, though wording things a bit differently. Note that in my article I was mostly considering the issue of how we assess *now* whether a *current* belief is “knowledge” (as oppose to either a forward or backward look). It’s from that perspective that I suggested that “justified belief” is the best we can do.

    Hi marclevesque,

    If knowledge is redefined as scientifically justified belief then how do you refer to and characterize “facts, information, and skills acquired through experience or education; and the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject” that are not scientifically justified?

    By “scientifically” justified I meant as justified by the methods of science. The methods of science actually work fine much more generally than just in the fields traditionally labelled “science”. Afterall, science is very pragmatic, and if a method works and is useful then science will adopt it. Thus I did not intend anything very restrictive.

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  18. ejwinner, you wrote: “To be honest it’s a mystery to me why the Analytic tradition (still informed largely by Logical Positivist projects) seems committed to preservation of Platonic problematics”.

    This is a complex matter that hasn’t been resolved, though the heroic attempt made by I. Kant to describe how our knowledge operates is interesting. Contra Hume he was skeptical about his extreme empiricism and went backward to the Aristotelian categories. He claimed that there’s an aprioristic limit regarding our episteme as long as space and time are printed in our perception in an aprioristic manner. Then, the inquiry about reality shows at the same time the way we proceed to achieve any consistent conclusion about reality. Hume, Kant and Carl Jung were skeptical about the knowledge’s acuity to get solid statements about reality, though I think that the Kantian approach to this topic is interesting.

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  19. Coel,

    After those past few comments – “my intent was not to ditch the concept of truth, but to retain it wrapped up the concept of justification” etc. – I find it increasingly had to understand how your approach differs from the current one. It seems to reduce to pointing out that we aren’t omniscient, and that inductive truth claims are always tentative, but I am fairly sure that that is widely known.

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  20. Definition of knowledge:

    What we are looking for here is a definition of knowledge. A definition of knowledge in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions. This is different from questions of method or how to acquire knowledge. What the definition allows us to do is to judge whether or not someone has knowledge.

    Definition: S knows P IFF S has believes P, P is true and S has non- accidentally but successfully obtained truth through a reliable belief forming procedure.

    The reliable belief forming procedure (Justification) necessary for knowledge requires two components:
    1: That such a reliable procedure or method exists for obtaining truth. (here I assume this exists.)
    2: The agent obtains, gains, acquires the truth through a successful application of 1.

    I believe this definition is immune to gettier cases because it builds in a necessary non accidental success component.

    Gettier cases all have truth beliefs that are accidentally acquired and not acquired through the successful application of a method or they have a false belief arising from a justified method but it is not knowledge because the agent is not successful in obtaining truth.

    Summary: in order to claim knowledge for ourselves and judge it of others the claim to knowledge must be based on a reliable method that has successfully lead to the truth and not truth that has been obtained accidentally.

    Best Mike.

    Like

  21. Hi Alexander,

    I find it increasingly had to understand how your approach differs from the current one. […] It seems to reduce to pointing out that we aren’t omniscient, and that inductive truth claims are always tentative, but I am fairly sure that that is widely known.

    Well my approach wasn’t supposed to be anything radically novel! You’re right, those things are well known. Given that, what is the JTB model of “knowledge” supposed to be? Is it supposed to be a prescription for deciding whether some current belief is indeed “knowledge”? If so, it doesn’t work, owing to our lack of omniscience. Thus for that purpose we need a far more pragmatic prescription, in which we can’t presume that we know what is “true” (which is what I gave).

    Or is JTB an aspiration, an ideal of knowledge to aim for, even if we can’t attain it? In which case, the sensible approach is to take the “justification” to be infallible just as one does with the “truth” condition, thus solving Gettier problems. (Doing so for one condition but not the other seems weird.)

    If, though, the JTB account is not intended to be either of those, then what is it intended to be, and what is the fairly extensive literature about JTB and Gettier actually about?

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  22. Like EJ, epistemology is not my highest priority within philosophy, but I would separate logic from that. That said, per his references to Pierce, and perhaps riffing off my earlier reference to Bayesian probability, a bit of a reference to abductive reasoning is needed: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abductive_reasoning. I think this also gets at Massimo’s idea of concepts vs. definitions, at least indirectly, since abductive reasoning is (very informal, personal definition) in part an attempt to split the difference between induction and deduction. Another nice, basic comparison of abduction, induction and deduction here: https://www.butte.edu/departments/cas/tipsheets/thinking/reasoning.html

    Per EJ again, perhaps we need an “ordinary language logical positivism”? Take 3 shots “Philosophical Investigations,” one shot “Tractatus” and mix thoroughly. Add two pinches of bitters of Gödel and shake thoroughly over crushed ice. Serve with a garnish of Hume!

    That said, as I have blogged, it’s kind of unfair to called “Bayesian probability” by that name, when the man who is “the reason for the season” in late December arguably had more to do with its development than Bayes: http://socraticgadfly.blogspot.com/2012/12/laplace-is-reason-for-season.html

    Otherwise, science itself is not omniscient. Scientists, especially in debate/discussion with IDers, creationists, etc., emphasize its provisional nature. Just this week, we had news that a deep-space telescope that apparently had recorded a “signature” of the Big Band hadn’t adequately accounted for interstellar and intergalactic dust.

    Ergo, the idea of omniscience in general intruding into epistemology … to invent a word to deliberately riff on Coel (and I’m an editor, I get to invent them on occasion) is … “philosophism.”

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  23. >>If, though, the JTB account is not intended to be either of those, then what is it intended to be, and what is the fairly extensive literature about JTB and Gettier actually about?

    The JTB account is an “analysis” (or “conceptual analysis” of knowledge.) There is some disagreement over what that amounts to. On more deflationary views, you could consider it an attempt to articulate what people “mean” by the concept of knowledge. Alternatively, you could phrase it in terms of answering the question, “What IS knowledge?” This is all explained in the SEP article that you linked to.

    In either case, an analysis of X is neither a method for recognizing whether something is an X (e.g., whether a given belief is an instance of knowledge), nor is it a description of some theoretical ideal (unless you think that knowledge itself is only a theoretical ideal, which most philosophers don’t.)

    To use a trivial example, consider the question, “What is a bachelor?” The typical answer (at least in philosophy) is “A bachelor is an unmarried male.” Now, is this a *method for identifying* whether a randomly selected man on the street is a bachelor? No. The definition tells me that a bachelor is a married man, but it doesn’t tell me how to tell whether a person is married (or a man!) There are, of course, more-or-less reliable ways of figuring these things out – you could *ask* a man if he’s married, or track down his friends and ask *them* if he’s married, or see if he’s wearing a wedding band, or follow him home and see who he’s living with. But you don’t want to conflate *methods for figuring out* if a man is a bachelor with *what it means* to be a bachelor. For example, you wouldn’t want to say, “A bachelor is a man who wears a wedding band”, since that would leave incoherent the notion of a bachelor who doesn’t wear a wedding band. Additionally, it’s not like being “an unmarried male” is some kind of theoretical ideal. There are lots and lots of people who are bona fide, unmarried men.

    Now, just as you can ask, “What does it mean for someone to be a bachelor?” You can ask, “What does it mean for S to know that P?” The JTB account says, “It means that S believes that P, P is true, and S is justified in believing that P.” Just as knowing what it means to be a bachelor doesn’t automatically give you a procedure for recognizing bachelors, knowing what knowledge is doesn’t automatically give you a procedure for recognizing it. And just as being an “unmarried male” isn’t some theoretical ideal, having a “justified true belief” needn’t be some theoretical, unreachable ideal (unless you are a radical skeptic.) After all, ordinary people seem to have justified, true beliefs all the time – for example, my belief that I ate a muffin today, or that Barack Obama is the president of the USA.

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  24. Coel,
    Or is JTB an aspiration, an ideal of knowledge to aim for, even if we can’t attain it?

    Yes, in a certain sense. The truth part of the knowledge triad is a metaphysical commitment to the existence of a truth behind the justified belief. K = (JB => T)

    We all have a deeply held assumption that behind the world of appearances is a deeper truth. It is a metaphysical commitment that underlies all Western thought. This metaphysical commitment is what powered the Western scientific renaissance. It has three parts, the underlying truth is rational, orderly and ascertainable. These three metaphysical assumptions about truth made science possible.

    The source of our metaphysical commitment is twofold. One source can be traced back to Plato, with his theory of Forms. His allegory of the cave vividly illustrates this idea where our observation are the shadows but the shadows represent the deeper world of forms. This deeper world of forms is the Truth.

    The other source of our metaphysical commitment can be traced back to the Hebrew concept of God, an invisible force that regulates the world rationally. The marriage of these two sources, Greek and Hebrew, resulted in a deep belief in an ordered, rational, predictable world of truth behind the disordered world we experienced. This belief made science possible.

    What Plato then called the theory of Forms, we today call the Laws of Nature. Today we debate whether the Laws of Nature are descriptive or prescriptive. The Descriptive view of the Laws of Nature we derived from Plato’s theory of Forms and the Prescriptive view of the Laws of Nature we derived from the Hebrew concept of God.

    So yes, the Truth part of JTB must remain because we are committed to the belief that there is a real world of truth that is only approximated by the world of appearances.

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  25. Given my previous comments, you might ask, “Why do philosophers care about the analysis of knowledge, and the Gettier problem in particular?” You might think it’s just some kind of verbal or definitional dispute.

    Well, I’ll just speak for myself: I care a lot about knowledge, so it’s only natural for me to try to articulate to myself – as clearly as I can – what it is about knowledge that I care about. Some of these things are obvious – I want my beliefs be true, and I want my beliefs to be well-reasoned and supported by evidence. What the Gettier cases show is that there is something else that I care about too – in addition to my beliefs being true and justified, I also care about them being “connected to the world in the right way” (instead of by some kind of fluke.) Thus, the Gettier counterexamples have revealed something to me that *I already implicitly cared about*, but wasn’t fully aware of. I think that in itself is pretty cool – it is a little piece of self-discovery.

    However, what that “extra something” is that I care about is still kind of vague (my remark about being “connected to the world” was rather metaphorical). The project of extending the JTB analysis of knowledge to accommodate Gettier cases is simply an attempt to more clearly articulate to myself what I care about.

    >>the sensible approach is to take the “justification” to be infallible just as one does with the “truth” condition, thus solving Gettier problems

    This is an example of the kind of conceptual sloppiness that philosophy is supposed to avoid. To say that justification can be ‘fallible’ is typically to say that it’s possible for a belief to be justified but false (for example, a belief can be justified by perception, even though perception is sometimes misleading.) But what would it even mean to say that the truth condition is “fallible?” That a belief can be true without…being true? It’s not at all clear what kind of concept of “infallibility” you are employing that applies both to truth and justification.

    >>in order to claim knowledge for ourselves and judge it of others the claim to knowledge must be based on a reliable method that has successfully lead to the truth and not truth that has been obtained accidentally.

    So if a man accidentally walks in on his wife in bed with another man (perhaps he was given the wrong hotel room key or something), does he not count as “knowing” that his wife is cheating on his, because the truth was obtained accidentally?

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  26. Coel,

    I agree we can’t have a “god’s eye view” or a “view from nowhere”, or as you say absolute truth, and I think most scientists would agree, but I don’t think a lot (most?) scientists would describe what they are doing, or science in general, as “going in that direction”.

    In the “justified true belief” definition of knowledge, I think one of the reasons the word true is there is to exclude ‘justified but false beliefs’ from the definition, and adding science into the mix doesn’t fix it.

    “By ‘scientifically’ justified I meant as justified by the methods of science. The methods of science actually work fine much more generally than just in the fields traditionally labelled ‘science’. After all, science is very pragmatic, and if a method works and is useful then science will adopt it. Thus I did not intend anything very restrictive.”

    But deciding what counts as scientific and what does not makes the definition more restrictive and inevitably leads to “taking the word away” from some people, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it also led to less productive or more conflictual discussions, and more backlash against science in general.

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  27. Couple of brief final thoughts, because I know commenting will close soon.

    Re Peter/Labnut: Well, um, no, I don’t consider Plato’s Theory of Forms to be today’s laws of nature, or any predecessor. Nor am I part of any “we all” that:

    We all have a deeply held assumption that behind the world of appearances is a deeper truth. It is a metaphysical commitment that underlies all Western thought. This metaphysical commitment is what powered the Western scientific renaissance. It has three parts, the underlying truth is rational, orderly and ascertainable. These three metaphysical assumptions about truth made science possible.

    Obviously, quantum mechanics has at least put a partial ding on the “ascertainable”; hence Einstein’s “old ones” quote, which he may have meant more literally than some secularists like to accept. After all, the man apparently believed in psychics.

    QM plus relativity put a ding on the first and second, as well, at least defining humans’ “meso” level point of view versus “micro” and “macro” levels.

    I know that Newton believed in alchemy, astrology, etc., so he may have made a Plato-like equivalence. I doubt Galileo did.

    That said, we can go back to antiquity. Archimedes gives no indication of such metaphysical beliefs, for one. Democritus and Leucippus, certainly now. So, not all of the classical Greek tradition held such metaphysical beliefs. Nor did Confucius, at about the same time. Nor did the Carvaka skeptical culture in India about the same time.

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  28. Iqrvy

    You wrote:

    “So if a man accidentally walks in on his wife in bed with another man (perhaps he was given the wrong hotel room key or something), does he not count as “knowing” that his wife is cheating on his, because the truth was obtained accidentally?”

    You have misunderstood what is meant by accidentally. Perhaps, I did not explain it well enough. The reason is that in order for knowledge to obtain the agent must acquire the true belief using a reliable belief forming process or method AND that the use of such a method is what ACTUALLY leads to the true belief. This overcomes gettier problems because with gettier cases the truth is gained accidentally and NOT through the successful application of the reliable belief forming process.

    You example of the cheating wife fails I’m afraid. He of course knows his wife is cheating! Why? Because the belief is true, and the belief is a result of reliable belief forming faculties (perception) and also (reason) (inference warrant – if you wife is in bed with a strange man then she is “probably” having an affair.) The warrant has solid backing from experience (people, especially married people in bed with strangers are almost certaintly romantically involved.) Therefore it is a justified truth belief.

    You have confused the concept of discovery (which was an accident in the case of the cheating wife) with the concept of justification (which was the result of reliable belief forming faculties.)

    Best

    Mike.

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  29. @Coel, not sure if you will have time to answer before the window closes, but I was wondering if you were amenable to the alternate route I mentioned up thread (removing J rather than T from JTB, and then qualifying K)? Or if not, what problems you see with that?

    @Michael Faulkner, your response to Irqvy on the equivocation between kinds of accidents (discovery v. justification) was clear. This is the kind of thing that drove my own process (see above) of qualifying types of knowledge (experienced/educational v. coincidental or “accidental”). The case of walking in on a cheating wife with the wrong key would be “experiential”, the other “coincidental”.

    Of course the husband may have had a nagging belief that his wife was cheating. Very strong in fact, but had no evidence. As such he he no right to claim knowledge she was cheating. Once he (by chance) walked in on the act, he had the evidence justifying such claims. He could (and should) be able to say “I knew it all along!” because of course he did know, though traditional JTB would discount this.

    With a simply TB theory of K then his statement is correct, he did know all along… he simply could not make the claim until after the fact (of getting sufficient evidence). Thus showing why “coincidental” or “accidental” K is basically the poorest form of K.

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  30. Socratic,
    Nor did Confucius, at about the same time. Nor did the Carvaka skeptical culture in India about the same time

    Your statement about Chinese or Indian thought is irrelevant. I was talking about Western thought. This is what I said “a metaphysical commitment that underlies all Western thought

    Newton believed in alchemy, astrology, etc

    No, he did not believe in astrology, see http://bit.ly/1rVk59L
    He did work in alchemy, which was the forerunner of chemistry. Chemistry only came into being as a science during his lifetime. Alchemy”… is recognized as a protoscience that contributed to the development of modern chemistry and medicine.” (http://bit.ly/1qY21cm). Once again, judging Newton by the standards of today is just more presentism. He has to be understood in his milieu. He was the product of a transitional age that gave birth to the age of science. His achievements, despite the milieu, attest to his genius.

    No, relativity has not put a ‘ding’, as you call it, in our belief in a rational, orderly ascertainable world. It is indeed all of rational, orderly and ascertainable. Quantum mechanics has an exact and well tested mathematical definition, which makes it both rational and ascertainable.

    Your objections make no sense to me. I am saying in effect that there is a truth behind the world of appearances and that science is the way of discovering that truth. The pursuit of that truth(science) requires a prior commitment to the existence of an underlying truth. I am saying that the twin strands of Greek and Hebrew thought imbued our Western society with a belief in an underlying truth. This belief in turn enabled our scientific renaissance. Which is why it happened in the Western world and not elsewhere and this makes your references to Confucius and Cervaka incomprehensible.

    I am not claiming there was no progress elsewhere but it was a limited, halting progress compared to the full scale flouring of science that took place in the Western world. Nor am I saying it was the only factor. I can think of several other factors whose confluence at that time were important, but a belief in an underlying truth was the foundational factor. I am also not saying that Plato’s theory of Forms is the exact equivalent of our laws of nature. That would be strange. I am saying it is that style of thinking which has shaped the way we think. The allegory of Plato’s cave illustrates this nicely.

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  31. Labnut:

    There is no “Western thought”. It exists nowhere, and nobody has claimed to be its advocate. This is an abstraction created in your brain and supported by a phrase to give it the appearance of substantiality.
    There is no “metaphysical commitment” to whatever anywhere. This is another shibboleth that exists only in your brain and to which you again only give support with a phrase.
    Ditto for ” a prior commitment to the existence of an underlying truth.” “Prior” to what? “Commitment” by whom, in whose brain? “underlying” to what? “Existence of an underlying truth”? What does that mean? Where does this thing exist? In what form? In which brain?
    All this seems to me speculative games with abstract words that can be bandied back and forth, downward and upward, like a game of mental badmington.

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  32. Brand holm 

    Thanks for the reply.

    From my own perspective, I am not sure what you would call coincidental knowledge is what I would call knowledge. I would just call that true belief. Maybe he had an intution and maybe the intution was strong…. But still I think to claim knowledge requires something a bit stronger. Maybe there is a weaker claim that would go under “plausible presumption” but I am not sure it would apply to the cuckhold husband. 

    In the end, I think knowledge requires some kind of justification – the justification gives us a rightful claim to knowledge. True belief, though true, does not by itself gives us this right to claim that we know.  

    Best

    Mike. 

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  33. I think Aravis has a point

    “Why not just skip trying to define ‘knowledge’ in any formal sense? Then, the fact that one can imagine a few perverse cases, in which good reasons and true beliefs don’t connect has no substantial consequence.”

    And the definition, what kind of belief one is having, can involve questions of authority and power. And questions related to self-knowledge can have strong emotional facets. It’s messy.

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  34. Coel, I’ve got some time to kill here before I begin watching some really good college football (American) match-ups. I felt you were being non-responsive when you wrote: “I guess that a strict application of ‘JTB’ would say that the statement was not knowledge since it was not true. My revision would say that it was “knowledge” since it was an amply justified belief, and would interpret the claim as a shorthand for ‘… there is a high probability that you will be killed’”.

    This doesn’t help. I could change the statement to “If your parachute doesn’t open, it’s highly probable that you will be killed.” In fact, this only bolsters my claim that “you may be unwittingly substituting another condition without recognizing it,” even though you now appear to hedge on the “true” condition that you suggested should be dropped. As I stated, the real question here is whether you have succeeded in *improving on* justified true belief by dropping the “true” condition. I don’t think you have. This is not to say that you, like Gettier, haven’t raised significant issues regarding JTB, only that what we mean by knowledge remains open. Or as Socrates asks Thaetetus: “. . . have you brought all that you have to say about knowledge to the birth?”

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  35. @Labnut: To the point of the matter, you are saying that the truth behind appearances is ultimately metaphysical, and I (and others) are saying that it is not.

    Newton’s quote to Halley has been added to both sides on arguments whether he dabbled in astrology or not. Given his other extensive work in what Wikipedia notes as “occult studies,” I think the burden of proof is on the side opposite mine. And, per Wiki, on alchemy, Newton’s work was more extensive, and far more beyond just an extension of chemistry, than you might want to put forth. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaac_Newton's_occult_studies

    If you don’t think relativity and quantum mechanics has put a ding in your triad, well, among other things, you have a much different understanding of Einstein’s “old one playing dice” quote than I and many, many, other people do. When Heisenberg articulated his uncertainty theorem, the question was, was that about human measurement only, or a fundamental, unmeasureable-past-that-point, “graininess” to the universe. Einstein obviously understood it as the latter, which it is generally understood to be today. QM shows a universe full of weirdness, with “chained” electron pairs, tunneling photons, photo slit experiments and much more. How you can claim any of that is rational or orderly? Or, on things like virtual particles, ascertainable? Sorry, but I see things like that as anything but.

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  36. @michael faulkner, just to be clear I do agree with this statement…

    “the justification gives us a rightful claim to knowledge.”

    My point is there is a difference (epistemologically) with the question of what knowledge is, and when one is justified in making a personal claim to knowledge.

    In trying to make the theoretical definition of knowledge fit the criteria we might use (in a practical sense) for claiming we know, the theoretical definition starts running into problems raised by Gettier scenarios. This encumbers the simple definition of K=TB with more and more levels of justification (or the KK problem).

    I actually would not mind calling the suspicious cuckold’s beliefs a presumption before sufficient evidence is in. But the fact is once it was in, it is clear that his beliefs were true all along. And that does not matter if he had any “plausible” suspicions. Maybe he is just a suspicious guy. But his beliefs did in fact match with the world. It was “coincidental”.

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  37. Hi Thomas,

    In fact, this only bolsters my claim that “you may be unwittingly substituting another condition without recognizing it,” even though you now appear to hedge on the “true” condition that you suggested should be dropped.

    I’m only guessing at what you’re getting at here, since you don’t actually say what this extra condition is, but to reiterate again:

    I am not at all suggesting dropping the *concept* of truth from the definition of “knowledge”. The concept of being “true” is right there in the concept “justification” (Oxford Dictionaries: “justification”: “The action of showing something to be right …”).

    What I did say is that *if* you take justification as fallible (it attempts to give truth, but might fail), then adding “truth” as a criterion *in* *addition* doesn’t give a practically useful definition since your best attempt at fulfilling it is already there in the “justification”.

    As I stated, the real question here is whether you have succeeded in *improving on* justified true belief by dropping the “true” condition.

    I essentially gave two alternatives: (1) have a 100%-solid Gettier-proof definition of “knowledge” by requiring the “justification” to be 100% reliable, just as the “truth” criterion is taken to mean certain truth. This is bullet-proof but unattainable (at least we can never know we’ve attained it).

    Or, (2) accept that we can’t actually produce 100%-reliable justifications and thus go for a more practical definition as “justified belief”, which is fallible but at least attainable.

    Most of the Gettier literature seems to be half way between these (taking the “truth” condition as 100% certain but treating the “justification” as fallible). My comment was that that seems a peculiar half-way.

    Hi Brandholm,

    I was wondering if you were amenable to the alternate route I mentioned up thread (removing J rather than T from JTB, and then qualifying K)?

    I guess I’m ok with it, given the qualified-K wordings.

    Hi SocraticGadfly,

    QM shows a universe full of weirdness, with “chained” electron pairs, tunneling photons, photo slit experiments and much more. How you can claim any of that is rational or orderly?

    Easy: all of those things are rational and orderly (as shown by the fact that they can be described mathematically). Being counter-intuitive is not the same as being irrational or disorderly.

    (By the way, I think we need better evidence that Einstein really did believe in psychics than second-hand reports of what he said.)

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  38. Tosh, Coel, on being able to precisely measure individual quantum events mathematically. You can measure a probability of a QM structure, but no more. You can’t measure whether Schroedinger’s cat is alive or not; you have to make an observation. You can’t tell in advance which slit a single photon will go through. You can’t tell the exact location of an electron within a probability wave. Again, this is all what Einstein was addressing with his dice. It’s all what Bohr et al were addressing with their “weirdness” of QM.

    That said, I don’t believe in Schroedeinger’s own, Hinduism and mysticism influenced understanding of “eigenstates” and their collapse. http://socraticgadfly.blogspot.com/2009/03/why-schroedinger-was-wrong-about-his.html

    As for Einstein and psychics? Well, if one wants to be hyper-stringent, anything but autobiography is “secondhand.” But, since the incident described at the link was a public event, I don’t think it was secondhand. If you have any evidence that Einstein at some later point backed off this or repudiated it, please feel free to post a link: http://www.newrepublic.com/article/119292/controversy-einsteins-endorsement-psychic-upton-sinclair-defends

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  39. 497 words

    SocraticGadfly:

    You write: “you are saying that the truth behind appearances is ultimately metaphysical”.
    Now this reads easily and smoothly, with no need to comment for comprehension, and you swiftly plunge into your demonstration that it is not.
    However, if you care to pause for a moment and reflect on what that means, I have to confess that it is to me unclear.

    “Truth behind appearances”? How do we ever get beyond our perception of “appearances”. Husserl spent his life demonstrating that all we get is “appearances? We express our “truths” through language, symbols, and now, much more than ever, through images. All our observations, quotidian or scientific, come to us through appearances, either measurements or images on our instruments, translated into meaningful language. How can we ever get “behind appearances”? It is simply glib language, using imagination to allude to vague and obscure meaning.

    Kahneman, who’s devoted all his life to observing how the real human mind works, proposes that we use only two basic functions of the brain to produce all our knowledge, be it communicated through language, symbols, or images. Our System 1 spontaneously produces all our immediate, spontaneous perceptions, judgments, memories, our System 2 reviews the material and evaluates it in a methodical examination for coherence, meaning, probability, rationality, etc. Again, both systems use the primary material of immediate impressions, including the readings of our most advanced instruments and telescopes.

    “Ultimately”? Again, this reads smoothly and quickly, and does not seem to require any pause for comprehension.
    But what does it mean? Does it mean that our process of acquiring knowledge is an ever-forward progression, or a continual increase of our basic material obliging system 2 to continually revise and readjust its previous conclusions?
    Probably that is the idea implied in this language. But it also implies that this “progress” or “increase” eventually reaches a limit. And here we are introducing another idea, “eventually”, that also calls for a full explanation of its meaning.
    So is this imaginary limit something equivalent to our ordinary concept of limit, like the arithmetic deployment of the value of pi, or a large number climbing towards infinity? A limit that some day will be reached through our deciphering of the “progress” or “increase” in our immediate stock of material derived from our “appearances”.

    But no, this limit is not going to be reached in this gradual manner of infinite progress, it is “metaphysical”. Which means what? That is is a concept of our imagination. But in our mind, in what form can this imagination be expressed to be identified as that “truth”, ultimately approachable?

    So what we are doing here is describing empirical methods of collecting our “appearances” and jumping to an assumption of an imaginary idea.
    All this seems extra clear when we read your line quickly, but if we care to pause and let our System 2 examine what meanings are actually involved, the whole sentence looks incongruous and a play between perception and imagination.

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