10 Minutes on ‘Theory of Knowledge’ with A C Grayling



>> AC Grayling: One of the fundamental questions
in philosophy is "What is knowledge?" "What is it to know something?" Rather than just for example to believe it
or to have an opinion about it. But this is a question which is being central
to the philosophical quest since Plato. Plato discussed it extensively and in fact
shaped a good deal of his thinking about philosophy around the question of knowledge. Well, the debaters thrown up a suggestion
about what knowledge is. If you know something and notice that instead
of asking "what is knowledge?" we are asking "when is it the case that you
know something?" When you think you know something what you
take yourself to have done is to satisfy three conditions. Firstly, the condition that what you know
is true, really is the case. Secondly, that you believe it, you have that
right kind of mental attitude towards it, which is that you take it to be true. And the third is that you have a justification
for believing it. So justifiable believing something which is
true, that is taken to be a kind of baseline definition of knowledge. You can see immediately that each of the three
conditions needs to be examined. There is a great debate about the nature of
truth. What is truth? How do we know when things are true? What kinds of relationship between what we
think and believe and what the theories we can construct and something other than us,
the world or the realm of mathematics, what relationship must obtain for a belief or a
theory or a proposition to be true. And that is a something discussed extensively
in what's called philosophical logic. What is it to belief something? Now, obviously belief is a state of mind,
it's a psychological state and to belief something at very least is to think that what you belief
is the case, it's actually true. But we know that you can believe all sorts
of things that are false. You might believe that such and such horse
is going to win in the derby, put all your money on it and then lose all your money, because
it turns out that you've been mistaken in that belief. So, belief is a mental state, it is inside
somebodies head, it's connected of course to things outside that mental state, but not
in way which guarantees that belief is true. So the really key thing, once we've decided
what we mean by truth and once we've understood the nature of the psychology of belief, the really
key thing is to understand what justification is. For example, suppose you wake up one morning,
you decide that you belief there are little, green men on Mars and you tell this to your
neighbour. Your neighbour says: "why do you believe that?" and you say: "well, I dreamt it" or "I just
woke up thinking it". Now, just supposing it to be the case that
there are little, green men on Mars, well then your belief would be true, you would
believe it. But that is not sufficient for knowledge,
because the connection between your belief and the fact is not the right kind of connection. You need the connection to be a proper one,
a motivated one, there has to be a real reason why you believe it. And this is where this question of justification
comes in. So what is the justification for believing
something? Well, obviously it's the facts, the evidence
that you could accumulate in the simplest kind of case is: I believe that there is a
camera in front of me now. I can see, that is my justification. I could pick it up and feel it, touch it and
do other empirical things, other experiential things which supports my belief. Well, the sceptic will say: "well you might
be dreaming that there is a camera in front of you, dreaming that you are talking in this
way about the nature of knowledge and if you are going to claim that you know that there
is a camera in front of you, if you are going to say that seeing it is the sufficient justification
for believing that, then you must be able to exclude the possibility, 100% that you're
not dreaming or deluded that there's a camera in front of you." This illustrates the nature of sceptical challenges
to justification, to the kinds of things that we appeal to when we say "I know" rather than
just "I believe". And scepticism is quite interesting, of course
it wouldn't be interesting if the sceptic said "we don't know anything, we never know
anything" because of course that would be self-defeating. We wouldn't know that we don't ever know anything
so the sceptical opposition would be rather vacuous. But it's when the sceptic says "what is your
justification?" and doesn't this thought or that thought for
example the fact that you might be sleep dreaming or you might be deluded or the fact we sometimes
just make mistakes perceptually or in our reason. That these challenges that the sceptic issues
to us, show us that there is a job of work to be done when we explain justification in
our knowledge claims. Now obviously also it is the case that it
depends on the subject matter in which the knowledge claim is made. Supposing you claim to know something about
history. Well, what is the nature of historical enquiry? What is the nature of historical evidence? How can we be satisfied that certain kinds
of evidence really do support our claims that we make about the past? And this is a question in the philosophy of
history, but that's a part of the general problem in the theory of knowledge, about
how historical knowledge can ever be enquired? If you were talking about psychics let us
say, or about the nature of physical world around us, so you were doing investigation
in physics, in chemistry, in biology and the rest, well what would count as justification
there? Well, it would be the kind of evidence that
you get when you conduct a laboratory investigations. Public, repeatable, experiments carefully
controlled. Yielding data, that we used to support
a view about something, about some physical phenomenon. Observations in biology for example. If, very carefully made and carefully recorded
would when they accumulate perhaps and provide us with strong evidence for thinking something
in biology. So there we now the kind of things that would
count as evidence and which would justify us in making a knowledge claim. But you notice that it really does depend
on the subject matter. In the case of history, in the case of the
social sciences – psychology, sociology and the rest, in the case of physics, chemistry,
biology there are different sorts of evidence and different kinds of enquire, resting on
that evidence, which would help us to provide justification. But this still leaves the as it were, the
technical, philosophical problem about justification to be examined. Because, supposing I tell you the following
story. Supposing I have a colleague at work, who,
I think, owns a Ford motor car. And I say "one of my colleagues owns a Ford
motor car" and I am thinking of my colleague, Mr. Brown. And so, supposing it is true that Mr. Smith
owns a Ford motor car, but Mr. Brown doesn't, but yet I think it is Mr. Brown who owns it,
because I've seen Mr. Brown in a Ford motor car. Driving it about. I've seen him get in and out of it at work. What I didn't know was that he'd borrowed
it from Mr. Smith. So when I say "I know that a colleague of
mine owns a Ford, but I am thinking of Mr. Brown" then my justification for thinking
something that happens to be true and believing it, is actually the wrong justification. I have justification, it does justify me in
making that claim, but the connection that the justification, I think, makes for me between
my belief and the fact is the wrong connection. This was a point that was raised by a philosopher,
half a century ago, a man named Edmund Gettier, so it is known as the "Gettier counter example." You can struck a lot of counter examples where
somebody has justification for believing something true and yet the justification is not quite
the right kind of thing. So the general philosophical problem about
this analysis of knowledge is what kind of justification will really do the job? And there are a number of theories which have
been advanced by philosophers, theories which say for example that the justification you
have must very, very carefully be connected to the truth of things out there. Must as they say, track the truth. Sometimes a point is put by saying "you wouldn't
believe it unless it was true" and if it would be false you wouldn't believe it. So that is a kind of guarantee that whatever
reason you have for believing this thing that you claim to know is the right kind of reason,
that the justification is right. Well, that just gives you a sketch of the
general terrain and as you see it is rich and very discussible question.

5 thoughts on “10 Minutes on ‘Theory of Knowledge’ with A C Grayling”

  1. If you want to find out more about New College of the Humanities, where you can learn from Professors including Steven Pinker, Lawrence Krauss, Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins, visit our site here – https://www.nchlondon.ac.uk/

  2. I have tried to construct a theory of knowledge for myself and I'm open to questions and criticism. It goes as such.
    I begin with the JTB model but instead of asking what the Justification, Truth, and Belief are i ask myself, what relationships must they have to each other for me to sufficient to consider them knowledge? At the time of writing this these are the things i came up with:
    1. Is there enough data collected through my perceptions to justify my belief and is there no misunderstandings or hidden facts i can't know?
    2. Is the justification and Belief Logically coherent (as in no logical fallacies and such)?
    3. Are your beliefs in accordance with the truth?
    I find that if 1-3 are correct I myself can call that knowledge. In my philosophy class i got some criticism that i concede to Gettier by doing this as i try to make the definition infallibilistic as in if you have knowledge under my definition one could extract fact from my beliefs and thus i hold the same view as Descartes and that the definition of knowledge needs to be fallibilistic least everyone would go claiming their subjectively justified beliefs as fact and asked me scoffingly if i did not just want to change the model to simply Justified belief. This, however, i found kind of baseless as i clearly state that both the Belief and the Justification must be tightly linked with the truth. so much so in fact that i almost suggest a 'Truth-full Justification True Belief' model. On the other hand i found their efforts "to solve" the Gettier examples strongly contradictory as in my mind all Gettier points out is that a fallibilistic definition of knowledge is fallible. If you truly want a fallibilistic definition of knowledge you should find no problem with Gettier and been fully expecting it to fail sometimes and se it as part of the program and not a bug to be fixed. I say that if you do find the gettier examples to be a problem you actually seek a infallibilistic definition. My knowledge theory fixes the fallibility problem by making the ability to hold and gain knowledge falibilistic instead of knowledge itself. so instead of false dichotomy of "having knowledge" or "not having knowledge" i make an argument for a spectrum of 'having no knowledge' and having 'full knowledge (including the knowledge of having all knowledge)' and defining all possible points on that spectrum as partial knowledge. Thus one can brush of the Gettier cases as human fallibility, not go around arrogantly claiming full knowledge and also be happy you have enough partial knowledge to know what you are talking about. or at least most of the time.

  3. It's also worth noting that there are different kinds of truth/beliefs that can be contradictory. Is blue the best color? Or hockey the best sport? It's subjective/relative/etc, with no objective criteria for evaluation, contrary to people's biased thoughtless opinions. Or of memories between people, or the same person recalling at different times, under different influences.
    Individual perspectives can use different paradigms behind the scenes even though two people may use the same language and think they're communicating with face value, while they're actually referring to different things / evaluated differently. Additionally I don't think most people are very articulate nor able to ask for clarification/justification.
    Critical thinking is important but very lacking in society. See unfiltered points voiced directly by the current American president for more (such as: you're an ugly woman, no one should vote for you, said during the debates). This also alludes to an example of how scripted performances can delude people into having the cognitive bias known as confirmation bias where they only see what they want to see and ignore the bad.
    Cheers. Enlightenment now!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *