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Thread: Any certainty in the Theory of Justified True Belief?

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    Contributor Speakpigeon's Avatar
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    Any certainty in the Theory of Justified True Belief?

    I think that the theory of knowledge as justified true belief is typical of analytical philosophy, which is hegemonic in English-speaking countries, and in particular in the United States.

    Certainty, however, is a psychological condition and certainty that p doesn't imply p and therefore doesn't imply knowledge that p.

    As I understand it, Descartes' idea is that doubt disproves knowledge, an idea he put to very effective use to arrive at the Cogito. However, as a psychological condition, certainty itself seems immune to analysis and therefore of little interest in particular to analytically-minded philosophers.

    Is there an overlap?

    Certainty applies to beliefs. We have beliefs, and we are certain of some of our beliefs while uncertain of others. Some of the beliefs we are certain of may be actual knowledge. Uncertainty, i.e. doubt, disproves knowledge, according to Descartes, but certainty doesn't prove knowledge.

    So, there is perhaps an overlap.

    Let's assume p is true. Let's assume further that subject A believes that p, and that A is somehow justified in believing that p. The theory of justified true belief says that, under those assumptions, subject A knows that p. However, what if A has some doubts about believing that p. Descartes would say that therefore A doesn't know that p (the slightest doubt is enough to disprove knowledge).

    So, here it seems we have a clear contradiction between the two perspectives, one analytical philosophy, the other a typically "continental" philosophy.

    The two perspectives are clearly very different but there is nonetheless a striking similarity in the difference...

    According to the JTB theory, a justified true belief is equivalent to knowledge. However, it is unclear that we could ever know that we know p since there is no finite procedure to decide that we know that p is indeed true as required.

    So, JTB is logically inconclusive since we don't know how to ascertain the truth of at least one of the premises theorised as necessary to the conclusion.

    Descartes has also a problem, though. To disprove that you know p, you need to be able to doubt that p. However, how do you know that you doubt that p? Descartes doesn't offer any procedure to decide that you know something. His procedure is only effective in disproving that you know something. You can prove you don't know that p by being able to doubt that p is true. You cannot prove that you know that p. And, therefore, you cannot prove that it is true that you doubt that p is true.

    So, at least as described by Descartes, his view was also logically inconclusive.

    Perhaps Bertrand Russell bridged the gap. He made the distinction between propositional knowledge, i.e. subject A knows that p, and knowledge by acquaintance where subject A knows p.

    For example, subject A knows that subject B is in pain: This is propositional knowledge. However, subject B is experiencing the pain: Subject B knows pain. This is knowledge by acquaintance, although only so while pain is being experienced. Knowledge by acquaintance reduces to propositional knowledge after the event.

    Although I dispute the coherence of the theory of justified true belief, nonetheless it seems to me that its object is propositional knowledge, while Descartes' Cogito is typical of knowledge by acquaintance.

    And perhaps the twain shall never meet.
    EB

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    Contributor DBT's Avatar
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    Additional information;

    Two Analyses of Knowledge

    ''K-internalism and K-externalism, then, are supported by conflicting intuitions. On the one hand, there is the thought that in order to know, one must have justification in the form of having adequate evidence or reasons. On the other hand, there is the thought that knowledge, resulting from reliable cognitive faculties, is not reserved to humans only. Both of these thoughts are inherently plausible. However, if it is indeed true that animals are not the sort of beings that can have internally justified or unjustified beliefs,



    Why not say that knowledge is true belief? The standard answer is that to identify knowledge with true belief would be implausible because a belief that is true just because of luck does not qualify as knowledge. Beliefs that are lacking justification are false more often than not. However, on occasion, such beliefs happen to be true.


    The analysis of knowledge may be approached by asking the following question: What turns a true belief into knowledge? An uncontroversial answer to this question would be: the sort of thing that effectively prevents a belief from being true as a result of epistemic luck. Controversy begins as soon as this formula is turned into a substantive proposal. According to evidentialism, which endorses the JTB+ conception of knowledge, the combination of two things accomplishes this goal: evidentialist justification plus degettierization (a condition that prevents a true and justified belief from being "gettiered"). However, according to an alternative approach that has in the last three decades become increasingly popular, what stands in the way of epistemic luck — what turns a true belief into knowledge — is the reliability of the cognitive process that produced the belief. Consider how we acquire knowledge of our physical environment: we do so through sense experience. Sense experiential processes are, at least under normal conditions, highly reliable. There is nothing accidental about the truth of the beliefs these processes produce. Thus beliefs produced by sense experience, if true, should qualify as instances of knowledge. An analogous point could be made for other reliable cognitive processes, such as introspection, memory, and rational intuition. We might, therefore, say that what turns true belief into knowledge is the reliability of our cognitive processes.''

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    Mazzie Daius fromderinside's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Speakpigeon View Post

    For example, subject A knows that subject B is in pain: This is propositional knowledge. However, subject B is experiencing the pain: Subject B knows pain. This is knowledge by acquaintance, although only so while pain is being experienced. Knowledge by acquaintance reduces to propositional knowledge after the event.

    EB
    Good example.

    Makes your position clear. All that is left is to systematically characterize propositional and acquaintance knowledge. I understand from your text that possession and time of pain experience are important in categorizing argument statements as acquaintance knowledge Also you put that argument of observation statements must fall elsewhere which you suggest is in propositional knowledge.

    So direct observations, being, and indirect observations, seeing hearing, are different propositions in form and substance.

    That poses a problem for me. Since the being observes, hears, feels, smells, senses, are not all propositions subsets of acquaintance?

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    First, there are two kinds of certainty that typically crops up in these discussions. One is the kind we associate with confidence. For instance, “he seemed certain about what he saw.” We can have different degrees of certainty (or confidence) in our beliefs. That is not the kind of certainty that is pertinent to the discussion, but it’s good to be mindful of it when it’s used that way and has the unfortunate effect of taking discussions down needless paths.

    It’s the other kind of certainty (sometimes referred to as Cartesian certainty) that seems to always be the main barrier to making headway. This kind of certainty is such that it’s impossible to be mistaken in one’s belief. A proponent of the JTB Theory of Knowledge denies that such certainty is a necessary condition of knowledge.

    It has always been attested to that the theory is lacking, but it is the best theory we have. What the analysis shows us is that we have not honed in on the sufficient conditions.

    The theory is poorly understood by many—even by educators. Disregarding Gettier-type counterexamples, it’s incredibly important that the issues of whether we have knowledge not be summarily dismisses because of issues that seek to address the completely different issue about how we know that we know—which that phrase itself has a couple different interpretations.

    One common misunderstanding that strikes at the heart of much confusion is between that of actuality and that of possibility. Consider a person who has a justified belief. In other words, consider that those two necessary conditions are in fact met. The issue then is not whether the person is possibly mistaken but rather actually mistaken. It’s almost always so that we’re possibly mistaken — and so — it’s almost never the case we have certainty—in that Cartesian sense mentioned earlier. But, that certainty is not (not, I say) a necessary condition of knowledge.

    If the person with a justified belief so happens to have a true belief (and recall, I’m not considering Gettier-type situations), then it’s not two (but rather three) conditions that have been met. We can argue for days and weeks—years even about how it’s not so that we know that we know or do not know that we know that we know or any number of other issues, but they’re all inevitably distractions.

    It is down right silly to think that we are actually mistaken about everything, and it’s equally absurd to raise the bar for knowledge such that it requires the impossibility of mistake. It already disallows the actuality of mistake; hence, if I claim to know but am mistaken, then the condition was never met, but surely there are many-a-times when it is met, and though that might not pave the road for the unachievable certainty so many seek, ... and on and on we go.

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    Mazzie Daius fromderinside's Avatar
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    Actually if philosophy is informed by science those who practice it should accept as the case that we can't know truth since we are limited in our ability to access information about whatever it is we consider. A probabilistic model, quantum theory, of that which is 'beyond' measure should suffice as the exemplar for that view. Another is found in neuroscience where psychophysics resorts to permitting 'chance' set the baseline for abilities to perceive and sense. In both there are operable systems and tools developed for the study of those realms. It's just that something is going to be missing in whatever is determined to be 'true' beyond a level we can verify.

    For instance time of decay event in quantum physics is replaced by averaged evidence from many events to produce decay functions in time which works well in macro analysis. We don't know what causes the event or whether it is the result of many events hidden from our observation. Uncertainty/indeterminacy.

    The above is but one example where our lack of access to information limits our ability to characterize logically.

    The fact that we are limited to the vicinity of earth where we recently found there may be billions of habitable planets in the universe capable of producing intelligent beings also signals that we know very little about what is knowable.

    Prior to Hubble we had no idea the universe was more than the milky way. Now we're confused as to whether the universe is speeding up or slowing down it's expansion.

    etc.

    my opinion only.

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    Quote Originally Posted by fromderinside View Post
    Actually if philosophy is informed by science those who practice it should accept as the case that we can't know truth since we are limited in our ability to access information about whatever it is we consider.
    And there is an example of certainty creeping it’s way in. Here “know” is used as a substitute for certainty. Others are sometimes more obvious and would say things like “we don’t really Know the things we think we do.” We do in fact really know many of the things we think we do, but true, we are possibly mistaken, and of course, if we are mistaken, then the truth condition hasn’t been met.

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    There are things that are so certain that very few, if any, question these things or argue over them. They have become articles of 'common knowledge'

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    What exactly is meant by "....calling a spade a spade"?*



    *Ronalraygun example.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DBT View Post
    There are things that are so certain that very few, if any, question these things or argue over them. They have become articles of 'common knowledge'
    And that’s how the non-philosophizing populace uses the term, “knowledge”—in such a way that does not hold it to a practically unachievable bar. When the conditions are met, we do know, and when the conditions are not met, we do not; that’s why when we learn that what we thought was the truth but isn’t, we (most of us anyway) refrain from saying we actually knew what we thought we did.

    When we overthink is sometimes where we question what was so obvious before us. When we recognize that we don’t ‘know that we know’ or become cognizantly aware that we might possibly be mistaken about what we take for granted as common knowledge, the seeds of doubt manifest and what stares us in the face is that we cannot guarentee that what we think is true is in fact so; we easily conjure scenarios that demonstrate the ease in which we can be in error. That’s the underpinning slope that takes us over the embankment and we begin to twist our everyday understanding of knowledge into something it is not.

    Knowledge isn’t where the conditions are provably met; it’s when they are met. I know my social security number. Many know there’s. Sure, among us, there’s gonna be a small fraction who will have gone thinking they are error free and will claim to know just as surely as the rest of us, but while those scant few don’t know what they think they do, the rest of us (per the JTB theory) do know just what we think we do despite that lingering possibility the truth is otherwise.

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    Assumes a reliable beliefs system. The same kind of fact produces the same kind of belief. Is that enough?

    No.

    Because, suppose two real objects: O1 and O2. The reliable beliefs system produces two corresponding beliefs: B1 and B2. To say that the system is reliable is to say that whenever O1 is similar to O2, B1 will be similar to B2. Like a map.

    However, with this kind of system, which is like, apparently, our own, what the subject knows are B1 and B2, not O1 and O2. All his experience will be built from things like B1 and B2, never things like O1 and O2. The map, not the territory.

    Such a system will be effective in keeping us alive and finding our way in the world. Yet, we won't ever even have a clue what O1 and O2 are or what the territory really is.

    Science is merely the process of substituting more detailed beliefs to the basic B1 and B2. A more detailed map. 10.000th instead of 1,000,000th scale. Perhaps.

    And what do you know of O1 and O2 when all you have are B1 and B2. All you know are B1 and B2 and the relation between B1 and B2. You know the map, not the territory.

    The situation can be modelled to that of knowing only words. Words have a similar relation to things as beliefs have to objects. And what would you know of the world from only knowing the words even precisely describing the world?

    Think also of a computer. We are like a computer with only 0's and 1's to represent the world without the ability to verify that the world is really made of 0's and 1's.

    Reliability is good. We survive. But we survive without the need to know the world. We only need to know whatever contents in our minds that may be representing the world to us.

    We know our mind. That's consciousness. But it's really our brain that makes sure we survive. However, even our brain is part of the world, not part of our consciousness so we don't even know our brain, or indeed we don't know that we even have something like a brain to begin with, or what kind of thing a brain is, let alone what may be the properties of an actual brain.

    And that's assuming the system is reliable. But, how could you possibly know it is? Even being alive doesn't tell you that because being alive in the world is itself is really the belief that you are alive in the world, which may well have nothing to do with the reality of it.

    In any case, it is enough, presumably, to believe and trust your beliefs, including your naive realism belief that you know the world.

    And if it's not enough, what else could we possibly do?!

    Well, at least it might be worth to give it a thought and stop pretending you know things you don't.
    EB

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