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**Heidi Howkins Lockwood
**

Yale University

May, 2008

“As we know,

there are known knowns.

There are things we know we know.

We also know there are known unknowns.

That is to say

we know there are some things

we do not know.

But there are also unknown unknowns,

the ones

we don‟t know we don‟t know.”

~ U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld

at a Feb. 12, 2002 Department of Defense news briefing

in response to questions about U.S. intelligence on

weapons of mass destruction in Iraq

Overview

I. Introduction

II. Proof of the Possibility of Believing an Impossibility

Part 1 – A conditional proof

Part 2 – Discharging the “Cartesian” premise

III. The Limits of Knowledge (and other operators):

A Löb-like incompleteness result

IV. Discussion

Diagonalizing on propositions

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

Introduction

It is generally accepted that it is impossible to know the

impossible. To hold otherwise would require radical

revisions to the logic of knowability.

What is impossible is always false, what is false is never

true, and knowledge presupposes truth. It is therefore

impossible to know p if p is impossible.

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

But what about operators that don‟t presuppose truth ÷

operators such as imagining, representing, and believing?

Mere belief ÷ as opposed to true belief ÷ is a case in point.

Is it possible to believe that 2+3=6, or that a triangle has 5

sides, or that there is a greatest even number, assuming full

comprehension of concepts such as addition, greatest, even,

and so forth?

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

Many philosophers have thought not.

Many theories of belief have presumed, either explicitly or

implicitly, that it is not possible to even merely believe a

logical or conceptual impossibility.

This would be true, for example, of Bob Stalnaker‟s

possible-worlds view of belief propositions, David Lewis‟

map-like representational account of belief, and Ruth

Barcan Marcus‟ traditional dispositionalism ÷ all of which

presuppose externalist theories of belief.

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

The thesis that it is impossible to believe an impossibility

also appears at many points in the history of philosophy.

Berkeley links belief to imagination and denies that we can

imagine impossibilities.

Logical positivists such as Schlick use the unthinkability of

contradictions to distinguish between empirical

impossibilities and logical impossibilities.

And so on.

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

Let‟s dub the generic view that impossibilities or contradictions

cannot possibly be the object of a possible belief possibilism.

In symbols:

~^-p (^Bp . ~^p)

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

As we will prove in a moment, this view is impossible.

That is, possibilism is provably false.

In symbols:

├ ^-p (^Bp . ~^p)

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

The proof proceeds in two parts.

The first part is a conditional proof of

the possibility of believing an impossibility

based on the “fixed point” premise

that it is possible to believe that it is

possible that it is possible to believe an impossibility.

In the second part of the proof,

we will discard the reliance on the fixed point.

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

Proof of the Possibility

of Believing an Impossibility

Part 1

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

Suppose that I assert, contrary to possibilism, that I believe that it

is in fact possible that it is possible to believe an impossibility.

In symbols:

B(^-p (^Bp . ~^p))

Let‟s call this the “fixed point” premise. As we will see in a

moment, it guarantees the truth of the proposition believed.

To make the proof more readable, let‟s use „c‟ to refer the formula

-p (^Bp . ~^p).

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

Apart from calling me cognitively impaired and perhaps in the

grip of a Kripkean referential delusion, the possibilist will no

doubt assert this: it is impossible that it is possible to believe an

impossibility.

And therein lies the catch.

For, if the is correct in asserting that the object of my belief ÷

the claim that it is possible to believe an impossibility ÷ is

impossible, then she is admitting that I have succeeded in

believing an impossibility, and thereby refuting her own claim.

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

Let‟s take a closer look at this argument in symbols.

Aside from the fixed point premise, the only assumptions are

those of classical logic and a standard S4 modal framework.

We will discard the fixed point premise in Part 2 of the proof.

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

First, using „c‟ to refer to -p (^Bp . ~^p),

we have the fixed point premise:

(1) B^c

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

First, using „c‟ to refer to -p (^Bp . ~^p),

we have the fixed point premise:

(1) B^c

From this and the principle that whatever is actual is possible

(p ÷ ^p), we get:

(2) ^B^c

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

(1) B^c

(2) ^B^c

Now let‟s suppose (ad reductio):

(3) ~^c

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

(1) B^c

(2) ^B^c

Now let‟s suppose (ad reductio):

(3) ~^c

From (3) and the principle that whatever is impossible is not

possibly possible (~^p ÷ ~^^p), we have:

(4) ~^^c

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

(1) B^c

(2) ^B^c

(3) ~^c

(4) ~^^c

The conjunction of (2) and (4) gives us:

(5) ^B^c . ~^^c

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

(1) B^c

(2) ^B^c

(3) ~^c

(4) ~^^c

The conjunction of (2) and (4) gives us:

(5) ^B^c . ~^^c

And existential generalization on (5) produces:

(6) -p(^Bp . ~^p)

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

(1) B^c

(2) ^B^c

(3) ~^c

(4) ~^^c

(5) ^B^c . ~^^c

(6) -p(^Bp . ~^p)

But (6), of course, is just:

(7) c

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

(1) B^c

(2) ^B^c

(3) ~^c

(4) ~^^c

(5) ^B^c . ~^^c

(6) -p(^Bp . ~^p)

(7) c

Another application of the principle that the actual is possible

gives us:

(8) ^c

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

(1) B^c

(2) ^B^c

(3) ~^c

(4) ~^^c

(5) ^B^c . ~^^c

(6) -p(^Bp . ~^p)

(7) c

(8) ^c

And (8) contradicts (3). So we have:

(9) ~~^c

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

(1) B^c

(2) ^B^c

(3) ~^c

(4) ~^^c

(5) ^B^c . ~^^c

(6) -p(^Bp . ~^p)

(7) c

(8) ^c

(9) ~~^c

Applying double negation to (9) of course gives us:

(10) ^c

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

(1) B^c

(2) ^B^c

(3) ~^c

(4) ~^^c

(5) ^B^c . ~^^c

(6) -p(^Bp . ~^p)

(7) c

(8) ^c

(9) ~~^c

(10) ^c

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

(1) B^c

(2) ^B^c

(3) ~^c

(4) ~^^c

(5) ^B^c . ~^^c

(6) -p(^Bp . ~^p)

(7) c

(8) ^c

(9) ~~^c

(10) ^c

This argument proves ^c assuming

the truth of the fixed point

premise, B^c.

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

(1) B^c

(2) ^B^c

(3) ~^c

(4) ~^^c

(5) ^B^c . ~^^c

(6) -p(^Bp . ~^p)

(7) c

(8) ^c

(9) ~~^c

(10) ^c

This argument proves ^c assuming

the truth of the fixed point

premise, B^c.

In other words, the affirmation of

belief in the possibility of

believing the impossible is

infallible because it is self-fulfilling.

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

(1) B^c

(2) ^B^c

(3) ~^c

(4) ~^^c

(5) ^B^c . ~^^c

(6) -p(^Bp . ~^p)

(7) c

(8) ^c

(9) ~~^c

(10) ^c

This argument proves ^c assuming

the truth of the fixed point

premise, B^c.

In other words, the affirmation of

belief in the possibility of

believing the impossible is

infallible because it is self-fulfilling.

If B^-p(^Bp . ~^p),

then in fact ^-p(^Bp . ~^p).

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

But the truth of B^c is not incontrovertible.

One might, for example, worry about the semantic stability

of the terms in question.

We turn now to the project of strengthening the proof by

eliminating the dependence on the fixed point premise.

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

Proof of the Possibility

of Believing an Impossibility

Part 2

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

Recall that „c‟ refers to -p (^Bp . ~^p). In Part 1 of the proof we

have shown that ├ (B^c ÷ ^c).

To improve the readability of the second half of the proof, let‟s

embed the redundant „^‟ in a new constant. In other words, let „c*‟

refer to

^-p (^Bp . ~^p)

So we have now shown that ├ (Bc* ÷ c*), or, alternatively

(weakening it slightly by disregarding the first line of the proof),

that ^Bc* ÷ c* is provable. This gives us:

(11) ^Bc* ÷ c*

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

(11) ^Bc* ÷ c*

For the remainder of the proof, it will be convenient to note

that believability, which we have been representing as „^B‟,

intuitively satisfies what are known as the Hilbert-Bernays-Löb

(HBL) conditions in provability logic.

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

The Hilbert-Bernays-Löb (HBL) conditions:

(i) if ├ p , then ├ ^Bp

(ii) ├ ^B(p ÷ q) ÷ (^Bp ÷ ^Bq)

(iii) ├ ^Bp ÷ ^B^Bp

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

(i) if ├ p , then ├ ^Bp

Condition (i) says that if p is a theorem (is provably true), then the

fact that it is possible to believe that p is also a theorem. Note that

this condition does not encounter the well-known troubles

associated with its counterpart for knowability, the problematic

knowability thesis or strong verificationist thesis. In particular, (i) is

not susceptible to the woes associated with the family of Fitch-

Church knowability paradoxes because belief and believability are

not factive.

It merely asserts that we can derive the believability of p from the

derivability of p.

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

(ii) ├ ^B(p ÷ q) ÷ (^Bp ÷ ^Bq)

Condition (ii) says that if it is possible to believe that p entails

q, then if it is possible to believe that p, it is possible to believe

that q. Worries can certainly be raised about the counterpart of

(ii) for belief (as opposed to believability). We might, for example,

argue that the belief that p entails q does not entail that the

belief that p entails the belief that q, on the grounds that a

certain sort of simultaneity of the belief that p entails q and the

belief that p is required for the formation of the belief that q.

But condition (ii) is a claim about the metaphysical or

conceptual landscape, not an assertion about epistemic

entailment. It merely asserts that if it is believable that p entails q,

then if it is believable that p, it is believable that q.

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

(iii) ├ ^Bp ÷ ^B^Bp

Condition (iii) says that if it is possible to believe

that p, then it is possible to believe that it is

possible to believe that p. Again, the modality takes

the bite out of this claim.

Exhibiting the derivability of the believability of p

suffices to show that the believability of p is

believable.

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

Now, given that we have proved:

(11) ^Bc* ÷ c*

The technique of diagonalization, introduced by Gödel [1931],

gives us a formula „a’ such that ├ a ÷ (^Ba ÷ c):

(12) a ÷ (^Ba ÷ c*)

Taking just the left-right direction of this biconditional gives us:

(13) a ÷ (^Ba ÷ c*)

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

(11) ^Bc* ÷ c*

(12) a ÷ (^Ba ÷ c*)

(13) a ÷ (^Ba ÷ c*)

Clause (i) of the HBL conditions together with (13) gives us:

(14) ^B(a ÷ (^Ba ÷ c*))

By clause (ii) of the HBL conditions, we know:

(15) ^B(a ÷ (^Ba ÷ c*)) ÷ (^Ba ÷ ^B(^Ba ÷ c*))

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

(11) ^Bc* ÷ c*

(12) a ÷ (^Ba ÷ c*)

(13) a ÷ (^Ba ÷ c*)

(14) ^B(a ÷ (^Ba ÷ c*))

(15) ^B(a ÷ (^Ba ÷ c*)) ÷ (^Ba ÷ ^B(^Ba ÷ c*))

And from (14) and (15) we get:

(16) ^Ba ÷ ^B(^Ba ÷ c*)

By clause (ii) again we know:

(17) ^B(^Ba ÷ c*) ÷ (^B^Ba ÷ ^Bc*)

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

(11) ^Bc* ÷ c*

(12) a ÷ (^Ba ÷ c*)

(13) a ÷ (^Ba ÷ c*)

(14) ^B(a ÷ (^Ba ÷ c*))

(15) ^B(a ÷ (^Ba ÷ c*)) ÷ (^Ba ÷ ^B(^Ba ÷ c*))

(16) ^Ba ÷ ^B(^Ba ÷ c*)

(17) ^B(^Ba ÷ c*) ÷ (^B^Ba ÷ ^Bc*)

So by (16) and (17) we can infer:

(18) ^Ba ÷ (^B^Ba ÷ ^Bc*)

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

(11) ^Bc* ÷ c*

(12) a ÷ (^Ba ÷ c*)

(13) a ÷ (^Ba ÷ c*)

(14) ^B(a ÷ (^Ba ÷ c*))

(15) ^B(a ÷ (^Ba ÷ c*)) ÷ (^Ba ÷ ^B(^Ba ÷ c*))

(16) ^Ba ÷ ^B(^Ba ÷ c*)

(17) ^B(^Ba ÷ c*) ÷ (^B^Ba ÷ ^Bc*)

(18) ^Ba ÷ (^B^Ba ÷ ^Bc*)

Clause (iii) of the HBL conditions gives us:

(19) ^Ba ÷ ^B^Ba

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

(11) ^Bc* ÷ c*

(12) a ÷ (^Ba ÷ c*)

(13) a ÷ (^Ba ÷ c*)

(14) ^B(a ÷ (^Ba ÷ c*))

(15) ^B(a ÷ (^Ba ÷ c*)) ÷ (^Ba ÷ ^B(^Ba ÷ c*))

(16) ^Ba ÷ ^B(^Ba ÷ c*)

(17) ^B(^Ba ÷ c*) ÷ (^B^Ba ÷ ^Bc*)

(18) ^Ba ÷ (^B^Ba ÷ ^Bc*)

(19) ^Ba ÷ ^B^Ba

From (18) and (19) we know:

(20) ^Ba ÷ ^Bc*

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

(11) ^Bc* ÷ c*

(12) a ÷ (^Ba ÷ c*)

(13) a ÷ (^Ba ÷ c*)

(14) ^B(a ÷ (^Ba ÷ c*))

(15) ^B(a ÷ (^Ba ÷ c*)) ÷ (^Ba ÷ ^B(^Ba ÷ c*))

(16) ^Ba ÷ ^B(^Ba ÷ c*)

(17) ^B(^Ba ÷ c*) ÷ (^B^Ba ÷ ^Bc*)

(18) ^Ba ÷ (^B^Ba ÷ ^Bc*)

(19) ^Ba ÷ ^B^Ba

(20) ^Ba ÷ ^Bc*

And (20), together with (11), gives us:

(21) ^Ba ÷ c*

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

(11) ^Bc* ÷ c*

(12) a ÷ (^Ba ÷ c*)

(13) a ÷ (^Ba ÷ c*)

(14) ^B(a ÷ (^Ba ÷ c*))

(15) ^B(a ÷ (^Ba ÷ c*)) ÷ (^Ba ÷ ^B(^Ba ÷ c*))

(16) ^Ba ÷ ^B(^Ba ÷ c*)

(17) ^B(^Ba ÷ c*) ÷ (^B^Ba ÷ ^Bc*)

(18) ^Ba ÷ (^B^Ba ÷ ^Bc*)

(19) ^Ba ÷ ^B^Ba

(20) ^Ba ÷ ^Bc*

(21) ^Ba ÷ c*

By (12) and (21) we can now derive:

(22) a

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

(11) ^Bc* ÷ c*

(12) a ÷ (^Ba ÷ c*)

(13) a ÷ (^Ba ÷ c*)

(14) ^B(a ÷ (^Ba ÷ c*))

(15) ^B(a ÷ (^Ba ÷ c*)) ÷ (^Ba ÷ ^B(^Ba ÷ c*))

(16) ^Ba ÷ ^B(^Ba ÷ c*)

(17) ^B(^Ba ÷ c*) ÷ (^B^Ba ÷ ^Bc*)

(18) ^Ba ÷ (^B^Ba ÷ ^Bc*)

(19) ^Ba ÷ ^B^Ba

(20) ^Ba ÷ ^Bc*

(21) ^Ba ÷ c*

(22) a

By virtue of (22) and clause (i), we get:

(23) ^Ba

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

(11) ^Bc* ÷ c*

(12) a ÷ (^Ba ÷ c*)

(13) a ÷ (^Ba ÷ c*)

(14) ^B(a ÷ (^Ba ÷ c*))

(15) ^B(a ÷ (^Ba ÷ c*)) ÷ (^Ba ÷ ^B(^Ba ÷ c*))

(16) ^Ba ÷ ^B(^Ba ÷ c*)

(17) ^B(^Ba ÷ c*) ÷ (^B^Ba ÷ ^Bc*)

(18) ^Ba ÷ (^B^Ba ÷ ^Bc*)

(19) ^Ba ÷ ^B^Ba

(20) ^Ba ÷ ^Bc*

(21) ^Ba ÷ c*

(22) a

(23) ^Ba

Finally, (23) together with (21) gives us:

(24) c*

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

(11) ^Bc* ÷ c*

(12) a ÷ (^Ba ÷ c*)

(13) a ÷ (^Ba ÷ c*)

(14) ^B(a ÷ (^Ba ÷ c*))

(15) ^B(a ÷ (^Ba ÷ c*)) ÷ (^Ba ÷ ^B(^Ba ÷ c*))

(16) ^Ba ÷ ^B(^Ba ÷ c*)

(17) ^B(^Ba ÷ c*) ÷ (^B^Ba ÷ ^Bc*)

(18) ^Ba ÷ (^B^Ba ÷ ^Bc*)

(19) ^Ba ÷ ^B^Ba

(20) ^Ba ÷ ^Bc*

(21) ^Ba ÷ c*

(22) a

(23) ^Ba

(24) c*

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

(11) ^Bc* ÷ c*

(12) a ÷ (^Ba ÷ c*)

(13) a ÷ (^Ba ÷ c*)

(14) ^B(a ÷ (^Ba ÷ c*))

(15) ^B(a ÷ (^Ba ÷ c*)) ÷ (^Ba ÷ ^B(^Ba ÷ c*))

(16) ^Ba ÷ ^B(^Ba ÷ c*)

(17) ^B(^Ba ÷ c*) ÷ (^B^Ba ÷ ^Bc*)

(18) ^Ba ÷ (^B^Ba ÷ ^Bc*)

(19) ^Ba ÷ ^B^Ba

(20) ^Ba ÷ ^Bc*

(21) ^Ba ÷ c*

(22) a

(23) ^Ba

(24) c*

Recall that „c*‟ is ^-p(^Bp . ~^p).

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

(11) ^Bc* ÷ c*

(12) a ÷ (^Ba ÷ c*)

(13) a ÷ (^Ba ÷ c*)

(14) ^B(a ÷ (^Ba ÷ c*))

(15) ^B(a ÷ (^Ba ÷ c*)) ÷ (^Ba ÷ ^B(^Ba ÷ c*))

(16) ^Ba ÷ ^B(^Ba ÷ c*)

(17) ^B(^Ba ÷ c*) ÷ (^B^Ba ÷ ^Bc*)

(18) ^Ba ÷ (^B^Ba ÷ ^Bc*)

(19) ^Ba ÷ ^B^Ba

(20) ^Ba ÷ ^Bc*

(21) ^Ba ÷ c*

(22) a

(23) ^Ba

(24) c*

Recall that „c*‟ is ^-p(^Bp . ~^p).

We have now eliminated the initial

dependence on the fixed point

premise, and proven that it is

possible to believe an impossibility.

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

(11) ^Bc* ÷ c*

(12) a ÷ (^Ba ÷ c*)

(13) a ÷ (^Ba ÷ c*)

(14) ^B(a ÷ (^Ba ÷ c*))

(15) ^B(a ÷ (^Ba ÷ c*)) ÷ (^Ba ÷ ^B(^Ba ÷ c*))

(16) ^Ba ÷ ^B(^Ba ÷ c*)

(17) ^B(^Ba ÷ c*) ÷ (^B^Ba ÷ ^Bc*)

(18) ^Ba ÷ (^B^Ba ÷ ^Bc*)

(19) ^Ba ÷ ^B^Ba

(20) ^Ba ÷ ^Bc*

(21) ^Ba ÷ c*

(22) a

(23) ^Ba

(24) c*

Recall that „c*‟ is ^-p(^Bp . ~^p).

Note that this argument is not restricted

to belief.

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

(11) ^Bc* ÷ c*

(12) a ÷ (^Ba ÷ c*)

(13) a ÷ (^Ba ÷ c*)

(14) ^B(a ÷ (^Ba ÷ c*))

(15) ^B(a ÷ (^Ba ÷ c*)) ÷ (^Ba ÷ ^B(^Ba ÷ c*))

(16) ^Ba ÷ ^B(^Ba ÷ c*)

(17) ^B(^Ba ÷ c*) ÷ (^B^Ba ÷ ^Bc*)

(18) ^Ba ÷ (^B^Ba ÷ ^Bc)

(19) ^Ba ÷ ^B^Ba

(20) ^Ba ÷ ^Bc*

(21) ^Ba ÷ c*

(22) a

(23) ^Ba

(24) c*

Recall that „c*‟ is ^-p(^Bp . ~^p).

It will work for any operator ¢ for which

the HBL conditions hold and it is

provable that ¢c ÷ c.

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

Is there an analogous result for knowability?

For provability?

For ^T?

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

The first half of the proof relied only on an S4 modal framework

and classical logic.

So we can extend the results of the first half to:

├ (^Kc

K

÷ c

K

)

├ (Bew(c

Bew

) ÷ c

Bew

)

├ (^Tc

T

÷ c

T

)

where „c

¢

‟ is -p(^¢p . ~^p).

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

For the second half of the proof, we need the HBL conditions:

(i) if ├ p , then ├ ¢p

(ii) ├ ¢(p ÷ q) ÷ (¢p ÷ ¢q)

(iii) ├ ¢p ÷ ¢(¢p)

These are standardly assumed to hold in the case in which the modal

operator „¢‟ is taken to be provability (Bew).

They also seem to hold for possible truth (^T) and knowability (^K),

given an appropriate interpretation of „÷‟.

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

In other words, the proof we have just seen

can be used to show:

├ ^-p(^Kp . ~^p)

├ ^-p(Bew(p) . ~^p)

├ ^-p(^Tp . ~^p)

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

The Structural Limits of Knowledge

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

Let‟s suppose for a moment that the HBL conditions hold for

knowability – i.e., let‟s suppose, for a factive knowledge operator

„K‟, that ^K satisfies:

(i) if ├ p , then ├ ^Kp

(ii) ├ ^K(p ÷ q) ÷ (^Kp ÷ ^Kq)

(iii) ├ ^Kp ÷ ^K^Kp

(Notice that (i) is just the knowability principle.)

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

Given this assumption (that the HBL conditions

hold), then by Löb‟s Theorem [1955], we know:

├ ^K(^Kp ÷ p) ÷ ^Kp

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

It is worth pausing at this point to note that Gödel‟s second

incompleteness theorem is an immediate consequence of Löb‟s

Theorem. This is easiest to see when the theorem is expressed as:

├ (p ÷ p) ÷ p

for if we express the inconsistency of a theory using „±‟

then consistency is representable as:

~ ±

which is equivalent to:

± ÷ ±

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

In other words, with p = ±, Löb‟s Theorem says that the consistency

of the theory is provable only if the theory is inconsistent:

├ (± ÷ ±) ÷ ±

― which is of course just the second incompleteness theorem.

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

Similarly, in the case of knowability, if we use the symbol „±‟ to

represent a contradiction or impossibility – perhaps the proposition

expressed by ^-p(^Kp . ~^p) – then the knowability of the

possibility of knowing an impossibility is representable as ^K± and

the unknowability of the possibility of knowing an impossibility is

representable as ~^K±, which is equivalent to ^K± ÷ ±.

So, by Löb‟s Theorem, we have:

├ ^K(^K± ÷ ±) ÷ ^K±

And this tells us that either it is possible to know an impossibility, or

it is not possible to know that it is not possible to know an

impossibility.

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

So we now know that if the HBL conditions hold for knowability –

in particular, if the knowability thesis expressed by condition (i)

holds – then either it is possible to know a contradiction (knowledge

is inconsistent), or knowledge is incomplete.

In other words, either the knowability thesis doesn‟t hold, in which

case there are unknowable truths (knowledge is incomplete), or the

knowability thesis does hold, in which case knowledge is either

inconsistent or incomplete.

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

Those familiar with the family of Fitch-Church knowability paradox

may detect a whiff of the knowability paradox in this result.

The Fitch-Church result is a surprising refutation of the thesis that

all truths are knowable based on three assumptions: (1) knowledge is

factive, (2) knowledge distributes across conjunction, and (3) there is

at least one unknown truth.

It is easy to misinterpret the knowability paradox as a generalization

of Gödel‟s first incompleteness theorem, which demonstrates that,

for any consistent, sufficiently strong theory T in the language of

arithmetic, there are truths unprovable in T. The problem with doing

this is that the Fitch-Church result rests on the existence of an

unknown truth, which is arguably a contingent fact.

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

The proofs we have just completed

free the Fitch-Church result from the

arguably contingent assumption of the

existence of an unknown truth.

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

Discussion

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

We now know, for any modal operator ¢ which satisfies the

HBL conditions, that:

├ ^-p(¢p . ~^p)

and

├ ¢(¢± ÷ ±) ÷ ¢±

(i.e., either contradictions are ¢-able, or the fact that

contradictions are not ¢-able is not ¢-able)

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

One way to understand the underlying tension between

consistency and completeness is as a symptom of a

cardinality mismatch.

A cardinality mismatch, that is, between the expressible and

therefore at most denumerably infinite number of ¢-ables and

the non-denumerable number of potenial ¢-ables that is

generated through the iteration of ¢.

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

These thoughts raise a natural question:

What are we taking the

objects of knowledge (or belief) to be?

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

These thoughts raise a natural question:

What are we taking the

objects of knowledge (or belief) to be?

Do the results presuppose any limits on the

objects of knowledge or belief ?

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

These thoughts raise a natural question:

What are we taking the

objects of knowledge (or belief) to be?

Do the results presuppose any limits on the

objects of knowledge or belief ?

The quick answer to this is:

yes, the results presuppose that

the objects of knowledge or belief are expressible.

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

This presupposition enters the proof at

the point at which we diagonalized on the

objects of belief or knowledge.

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

Propositions are (on most accounts) mind-independent extra-

linguistic abstract entities. So how does diagonalization on

propositions work?

Well, briefly and without entering into the fray on propositions, let‟s

suppose that the objects of knowledge are propositions, and that a

proposition is knowable only if it is expressible. (Propositions which

are ineffable, inexpressible, or otherwise non-assertable and non-

communicable are not knowable, and therefore would not be

suitable candidates for objects of knowledge.)

We know how to diagonalize on sentences and formulae. So in

order to diagonalize on propositions, it suffices to come up with a

systematic method for mapping (via an injective function)

expressible propositions onto sentences.

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

Each proposition may in theory be expressed by many different –

in fact, possibly infinitely many – different sentences.

In other words, for sentences S

1

and S

2

such that S

1

= S

2 ,

given a

meaning relation M which takes sentences to propositions, it may

be the case that M(S

1

) = M(S

2

).

So we can‟t rely on an expression function to take propositions to

sentences.

We can, however, rely on an expression relation, Ex, which takes

propositions to equivalence classes of sentences:

Ex(p) = {S| S expresses p}

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

Here‟s the key: since each equivalence class is a set of sentences,

each of which has finite length, each equivalence class has a well-

ordering and can be put into one-to-one correspondence with the

natural numbers.

In particular, since each member of each equivalence class is a

sentence of finite length, it can be assigned a unique Gödel

number, call it g(S). We can then well-order the members of Ex(p)

by simply using the standard „<‟ relation on {g(S) | S e Ex(p)}.

And, once we have the well-ordering of Ex(p), we can uniquely

encode p by using the least element of the well-ordering.

Diagonalization then proceeds as usual (in this particular proof

using Curry‟s paradox rather than the Liar).

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

One final note:

The result we have discussed does not assume that propositions are

the objects of knowledge, but it does assume that it makes sense

to assert that something is known or is knowable – so at some level

it does assume that there are “objects” of knowledge. These

objects, however, are not restricted to potential truth-bearers such

as sentences or propositions. They could, for example, be some

entity or feature of a possible world that is either a truth maker or a

constituent of a truth maker.

In the case of objects viewed as truth makers in the actual world,

the knowledge could be knowledge by direct acquaintance, i.e.,

knowledge that involves an unmediated relation between the

subject and the truth maker.

Introduction - Proof of Possibility of Believing an Impossibility: Part 1, Part 2 - Structural Limits of Knowledge - Discussion

In other words, the result is not restricted to

knowledge that involves characterizing, representing,

or conceptualizing the objects of knowledge. It does,

however, assume that those objects are what I will call

“discretely graspable”, i.e., either finite or effectively finite

(expressible through a recursively or effectively

enumerable string of symbols, or in principle

observable via deterministic effects).

I am grateful to the participants in the

Yale spring 2008 works in progress seminar for helpful

comments and questions.

heidi.lockwood@yale.edu

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