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Three Things that Might Help Us Think About What it Means "to Know Something"

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Sunstone, Jun 19, 2018.

  1. Sunstone

    Sunstone De Diablo Del Fora
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    It doesn't happen everyday, but now and then someone on the Forum says something that sounds like they might be confused or uncertain about the nature of knowledge. Not badly confused, but perhaps confused just enough for it have consequences for what they're trying to claim or assert. With that in mind, I'm posting this thread as a guide to the most traditional way of answering the question, "What is knowledge?"

    Just to be sure, I'm writing this mostly for beginners, so I'll try to keep things as simple and easy to understand as possible.

    For over 2000 years, the West has answered the question of "what is knowledge" mostly the same way: There are three things or conditions that must be present for something to called "knowledge", or for us to say, "We know something". Only one of those three things is a little bit tricky to understand, so this should all be easy to you.

    The first condition is the most obvious I think: A belief. Just as simple as that. It would sure seem hard for someone to say he or she "knew" there was snow on the ground if he or she didn't actually believe there was snow on the ground.

    The one thing to be careful about here is that your belief should be a clear belief. If it's too fuzzy or vague, how can you really be saying that you know what you believe in?

    Now, the second one is the tricky one: The belief must be true. That begs the question of "what makes something true", and that's the tricky part. First, so many of us like to say,. "What is true is what is real". But when you think about that, it doesn't actually explain anything. All it does is substitute the word "real" for the word "truth" and no more than that. So what makes something true?

    Just so you know, there are five major theories about what makes something true, but -- this is your lucky day -- the one theory that most people who are in the business of thinking about these things agree has the most merit is also the easiest theory to understand. Yay!

    Start by imagining a map. Now think about what makes the map "true" or "accurate". Yup, we say a map is true or accurate if it in someway or another matches up with a reality or "terrain". What makes something true works the same way as what makes a map accurate.

    First, you get a "map". That is you come up with a statement that you think might be true. "The roses outside of Steve's cottage are red." That will do nicely. Next, you check to see if that statement matches up with any real roses outside of Steve's cottage. They do? Excellent! You have just proved that the statement corresponds to a reality. Thus, the statement is true.

    Whenever a statement corresponds to its intended reality, it's true. When a statement does not correspond, it is false.

    That's called "The Correspondence Theory of Truth", by the way, and I didn't lie to you when I said it was easy to understand, did I?

    Now here's the last of the three things that must be present for something to be knowledge, or for us to be able to say, "We know something." Justification. Justification simply means either logical proof or enough reason and evidence to suppose that something is true.

    So there you have it. To know something is to have a "justified true belief" about it. That's been the traditional Western way of defining knowledge for over 2000 years now.

    One last thing. A few decades ago, a guy name Gettier figured out that there were certain situations in which a person could have a justified true belief, and no one would say he or she really knew what they were talking about. So nowadays, people who think about the nature of knowledge say there are actually four, rather than just three, things that must be present before someone can claim to know some fact. But that fourth thing so rarely applies to any situations that I've ignored it here. Just so you know.
     
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  2. lewisnotmiller

    lewisnotmiller Grand Hat
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    The Gettier proposition at least partially is around being correct, for the wrongs reasons I think?
    I read a book on philosophy dilemnas...suppose I was a farmer checking if my black and white cow is in the field.

    I head to the field, I see what I BELIEVE is the cow, but is in fact not (someone has put another cow in the yard overnight without telling me).

    I conclude my black and white cow (which is hidden behind the shed) is in the field.

    I now meet the JTB tricotomy, but in fact lacked knowledge, right?
     
    #2 lewisnotmiller, Jun 20, 2018
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  3. Sunstone

    Sunstone De Diablo Del Fora
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    Yup, I'd call that a Gettier problem. Those problems raise the question of how to deal with them, or "defeat" them, as folks say. In other words, for something to be knowledge, it must not only meet the conditions of being a justified true belief these days, but it must also meet the "new" condition of including a Gettier defeat. A handful of those have been proposed, but I don't think any single one of them is mostly accepted by everyone yet.
     
  4. lewisnotmiller

    lewisnotmiller Grand Hat
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    Cool. I have a couple of those 101 books at home (with other other being on moral dilemnas). They're a little simplistic, but that can be good as well as bad.
     
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