Introduction to Philosophy

WHAT IS KNOWLEDGE?
(AND DO WE HAVE ANY?)

Professor Duncan Pritchard FRSE
duncan.pritchard@ed.ac.uk www.ppls.ed.ac.uk/people/view/duncan-pritchard-frse

René Descartes (1596-1650)
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The field of philosophy which explores the nature of knowledge, and related questions (such as the nature of truth, the nature of evidence, the nature of rationality etc.,) is known as epistemology.

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Structure of the Lecture
Part One: The Basic Constituents of Knowledge Part Two: The Gettier Problem Part Three: Do We Have any Knowledge?

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Part One: The Basic Constituents of Knowledge 4 .

• That’s why knowledge is so important. 5 . information is widely available to us (most of us.Knowledge in the Information Age • More than ever. • But lots of information by itself is little use unless one can sift the good information from the bad. anyway).

Matthew knows how to fly an aeroplane. Allan knows so-and-so from that TV show. Suilin knows where the secret compartment is.‘Knowledge’ in Everyday Usage • • • • • • David knows that the kettle has boiled. 6 . Alasdair knows why the house burned down. Michela knows which route to take.

Propositional Knowledge We are going to focus on a particular kind of knowledge. This is knowledge of a proposition (i. knowledge-that something is the case)..e. 7 . called propositional knowledge.

•Your dinner is in the oven. which is a sentence that declares that something is the case. •The moon is made of cheese. Some sentences that express propositions: •The cat is on the mat. A proposition is either true or false.What is a Proposition? A proposition is what is expressed by a declarative sentence. •Yes please. Some sentences that don’t express propositions: •Shut that door. •How can I help you? 8 .

• Knowing how to play piano. Knowledge-how: • Knowing how to drive. • Knowing that one has toothache. • Knowing that the earth orbits the sun.Propositional versus Ability Knowledge Knowledge-that: • Knowing that Paris is the capital of France. 9 . • Knowing how to beat the stock market.

10 . (ii) One believes that proposition.Two Conditions for Propositional Knowledge One can know a proposition only if: (i) That proposition is true.

e. 11 . does it rule out any possibility of error)? Answer: No. then does it also entail certainty or infallibility (i.Knowledge and Certainty Question: If knowledge entails truth. The truth can be known in a fallible way. That knowledge entails truth only means that you can’t know a falsehood..

Knowledge and Certainty: An Example Do you know what you had for breakfast this morning? But are you certain about this? Isn’t it possible that you have made a mistake? The moral: while knowledge demands truth. 12 . it doesn’t require certainty (any more than it requires infallibility).

Compare: • I know that human beings have been to the moon. The second claim is not equivalent to the first but much weaker (it implies doubt about whether human beings have been to the moon).Knowledge and Probability Knowing that a proposition is true is not the same as knowing that this proposition is probable. 13 . • I know that it is likely/probable that human beings have been to the moon.

Example: A juror believes the defendant is guilty purely out of prejudice. But clearly he does not know that the defendant is guilty. he is right.Knowing versus Getting it Right There is more to knowledge than mere true belief. One can get it right in lots of ways which wouldn’t suffice for knowledge. 14 . As it happens.

Two Intuitions About Knowledge The Ability Intuition Knowledge requires getting it right through one’s ability The Anti-Luck Intuition Knowledge requires getting it right in a nonlucky way 15 .

knowledge-that). 16 . • But there is more to knowledge than mere true belief.Part One Conclusions • One core usage of ‘knowledge’ is propositional knowledge (i..e. • Two basic conditions for propositional knowledge are that one believes the proposition. and that the proposition must be true.

Part Two: The Gettier Problem 17 .

only if: (i) That proposition is true. (ii) One believes that proposition. (iii) One’s belief is justified.The Classical Account of Knowledge Plato (427-347 BC) One can know a proposition if. 18 .

Gettier Counterexamples Edmund Gettier (b. 1927) Examples of justified true belief where the true belief in question is just too lucky to count as knowledge 19 .

A stopped clock.28am. 20 .A Gettier-Style Case The Stopped Clock You believe that the time is 7. yesterday. unbeknownst to you. It is true that it is 7.28am.28am because. You are justified in believing that the time is 7. what you are looking at is a stopped clock. But you don’t know that it’s 7.28am.

But you don’t know that there is a sheep in the field because. 21 . It is true that there is a sheep in the field. what you are looking at is a big sheep-shaped rock which is obscuring from view a sheep hidden behind. You are justified in believing that there is a sheep in the field. unbeknownst to you.Another Gettier-Style Case The Sheep You believe that there is a sheep in the field.

22 . Step Two Make the belief true. but which is justified nonetheless.A Formula for Inventing Gettier-Style Cases Step One Take a belief that is formed in such a way that it would usually result in a false belief. albeit for reasons that have nothing to do with the subject’s justification.

23 . (iii) One’s belief is justified. (iv) One’s belief is not based on any false assumptions (or ‘lemmas’). (ii) One believes that proposition. only if: (i) That proposition is true. 1936) One can know a proposition if.Patching up the Classical Account: No False Lemmas Keith Lehrer (b.

Problems for the No False Lemmas Proposal The no false lemmas proposal needs to offer a principled account of what constitutes a lemma such that: •It is not so broad as to exclude bona fide cases of knowledge. This is easier said than done! 24 . •It is broad enough to explain why Gettier cases aren’t case of knowledge.

Two Questions Raised by Gettier-Style Cases (1) Is justification even necessary for knowledge? (2) How does one go about eliminating knowledge-undermining luck? 25 .

• But Gettier cases demonstrate that knowledge is not justified true belief.Part Two Conclusions • The classical account of knowledge holds that knowledge is justified true belief. • Nor is knowledge justified true belief plus some obvious extra condition. • So what is knowledge? 26 .

Part Three Do We Have any Knowledge? 27 .

scenarios where everything is as it usually appears to be. Sceptics make use of sceptical hypotheses.Radical Scepticism Radical scepticism is the view that knowledge (at least of the world around us) is impossible. 28 . but where we are being radically deceived. René Descartes (1596-1650) The sceptic says that we cannot rule-out sceptical hypotheses. and thus argues that we are unable to know anything about the world around us.

So. 2. 29 . If I don’t know that I’m not a brain-in-avat.The Brain-in-a-Vat Sceptical Argument 1. C. then I don’t know very much. I don’t know that I’m not a brain-in-a-vat. I don’t know very much.

Brains-in-Vats Question: Why don’t we know that we’re not brains-in-vats? Answer: Because we can’t tell the difference! 30 .

So how do you know that you have hands?(And if you don’t know this. so what? But if you were a brain-in-a-vat.Brains-in-Vats and ‘Everyday’ Knowledge So even if we don’t know that we’re not brains-in-vats. what do you know?) 31 . then you wouldn’t have hands (since brains-in-vats are handless by definition).

32 . once we reflect on the matter (and thus reflectively ‘ascend’). But perhaps. Maybe we simply don’t know as much as we typically suppose. we realise that there is more than just fallibility at issue here.Epistemic Vertigo It is certainly part of the human condition that we are fallible creatures.

about the world around us. • Radical scepticism makes use of sceptical hypotheses. which are scenarios indistinguishable from ordinary life but where we are radically in error.Part Three Conclusions • Radical scepticism is the view that we know very little. • It seems that if we cannot rule-out these hypotheses. then much of what we think we know is under threat. 33 . if anything.

What is This Thing Called Knowledge? (Routledge). 34 . See especially parts 1 & 3.Further Reading I explore these issues about the nature and extent of knowledge in my introductory textbook.

Thank You For Listening! 35 .

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