Michael Daniel 9-13-2006 Sober – The Reliability Theory of Knowledge Theory: The following justification for knowledge has

issues with being relative to how the problem is stated: ‘S believes that p.’ ‘p is true.’ ‘In the circumstances that S occupies, if S believes that p, then p must be true.’ It is known as the reliability theory of knowledge. Sober begins with a quick review of Descartes. He says that Descartes believed that clear and distinct ideas are true. In Descartes argument there is a subjective premise, 2 linking premises and an objective conclusion. The subjective premise describes what is going on in the subject’s mind, ‘I believe that there is a page in front of me.’ The linking premises consist of the two statements after that. ‘My belief is clear and distinct,’ ‘Clear and distinct ideas are true.’ The objective conclusion is that, ‘There is a page in front of me.’ Descartes argument is that all knowledge is internally verifiable. The reliability theory of knowledge argues that knowledge is not internally verifiable. In this theory, knowledge requires a direct connection between the knower and their environment. The example used in the book deals with how we understand a thermometer. If a thermometer says that is 70 degrees in a room, the thermometer is correct given certain conditions. If the thermometer is broken, stuck or insulated in some manner then it would not be true. Given the circumstance that the thermometer is functional and not insulated then the thermometer is correct about the temperature. The argument for the reliability theory of knowledge is that, ‘S knows that p if and only if,’ ‘S believes that p,’ ‘p is true,’ ‘in the circumstances that S occupies, if S

believes that p then p must be true.’ The third condition can also be restated in two different ways. The first is, ‘in the circumstances that S occupies, S wouldn’t believe that p unless p were true.’ The second is, ‘In the circumstances that S occupies, it is impossible that S believe that p and p be false.’ The reliability theory of knowledge does not require that a knower recognize that they have knowledge. There are 3 types of impossibility described in the book. There are a priori logical impossibilities, such as, “Joe can’t be a married bachelor.” There are physical impossibilities, such as, “Joe can’t go faster than the speed of light.” The third type of impossibility requires that we know something about the circumstances of the statement. “Joe can’t tie his shoes now,” is either true or false depending on what we know about Joe’s circumstances. Maybe his arms are full of bags so he can’t tie his shoes. That would make the statement true. Maybe the statement is saying that even if he put down the bags he can’t tie his shoes. That would make the statement false. The reliability theory works with relative statements a great deal. Slightly different statements about the same fact will be either true or false depending on how they are stated. For example, “There is a barn in that field” is true if the circumstances are that the viewer of the barn is in some specified location known to be free of fools barns. A fools barn is a movie set barn. There are no fools barns in Madison, WI, so if the subject were in that area the statement would be true. There are many fools barns in Hollywood so if the subject is in Hollywood then the statement does not pass for knowledge, since the circumstance is such that the subject could be mistaken. If it is stated that the subject is in the USA then the statement is still false, since they could still be in Hollywood.