5.1 Introduction to Knowledge



so this week's topic is mainly knowledge with a little bit more to say to round off skepticism our four luminaries there we've got Freddy heir AJ heir who was professor at New College when I was an undergraduate Edmund Gettier famous for writing a three-page paper in the journal analysis in 1963 I'm not sure whether he's published anything since but it suffice to make him very famous then we've got Hilary Putnam who will come to at the very end and Tim Williamson on the right who is professor here a successor to aja ax Tim's work isn't actually going to feature in this lecture or indeed in the readings you have but he's one of the most prominent epistemologists in the world so it's as well to know that he's around if you find yourself giving up paper and you see him in the audience beware he's universally feared for the sharpness and precision of his questions okay so we've seen some skeptical arguments most famously those of Descartes and those sorts of arguments rather suggest that if we put a threshold for knowledge very high then we're quite likely to be driven to the conclusion that we don't know anything at all Descartes own answers don't seem to work very well other answers are all very controversial it's rather tempting to try to get round this problem by redefining the notion of knowledge to provide a useful distinction amongst the beliefs we have maybe none of them are only very very few like I exist will actually reach the highest threshold but surely it makes sense to try to define a more moderate more reasonable threshold because we do want to distinguish between things that we know in a perfectly ordinary cents and things that we don't know so we naturally get the question what is knowledge how should we understand the notion of knowledge now questions of the form what is X feature quite prominently in philosophy if you go back to Plato and look in his dialogues you'll see that Socrates is always asking this sort of question in fact it used to be the case I think that people thought of this sort of thing is absolutely paradigm Attic of what philosophers do philosophers searched for essences by trying to define things I don't think you'll find it's nearly as prominent these days but such questions still come up quite a lot in topics like personal identity or freedom what do we mean by freedom what is freedom now such questions if you think about it a rather puzzling because they could just be asking when do we apply the word X where X is freedom knowledge or whatever but that sort of question seems to be just about our use of language don't we want to go deeper than that to ask what is a genuine case of X if that question isn't just about our use of language then what is it it seems rather peculiar what could knowledge be other than what we refer to using the word knowledge so let me give you an example take the discipline of geography suppose that the study of geography started out as the study of places in terms of their location physical characteristics mineral resources the natural environment that sort of thing I'm not sure whether that was true but let's suppose that it was then over time people became interested in things like land use economic considerations maybe even culture and if you studied geography now you will find that culture is one of the things that get studied now you can imagine someone saying that's all very well you now study culture part of geography but his culture really part of geography does geography really include cultural things well if the word geography is now used to cover cultural matters amongst others then sure the discipline of geography includes culture how could it not so it might well look as though the kinds of questions we're asking when we ask what is X what is knowledge just come down to language and in the 1950s and 60s Oxford philosophy was famously identified with ordinary language philosophy as though the purpose of philosophy was just getting clear about how we use ordinary language if that were all there is to it then it would be rather an uninteresting kind of question but with most of the concepts that interest philosophers there is something deeper at stake take the case of freedom which we'll be looking at in a week or two there we're not just interested in how we use the word freedom we want to know what kinds of Acts we should describe as free because the notion of freedom is tied to moral responsibility we think it matters whether somebody is free it could turn out that we describe actions as free when really from a God's eye point of view they're not maybe we describe people as free in certain circumstances in ordinary life but actually if we knew about it there's no moral responsibility there no genuine freedom so there is a deeper metaphysical question underlying the linguistic question now likewise in the case of knowledge the concept of knowledge has a normative aspect when we say something's knowledge we're not just categorizing it as something that is called knowledge we're saying that it's reliable that it has a certain Authority so it is possible to ask of a particular belief well everyone says they know this but is it really knowledge do they really know it again a similar issue arises with strawsons response to the problem of a problem of induction on your induction reading list he famously says that inductive methods just are what we mean by reasonable when we describe an inference about the world as reasonable that just means it meets inductive standards but a very well-known answer to Strawson is to say hang on a minute no when we say that a method of inference is reasonable we're not just saying that this is the kind of inference that everybody calls reasonable we actually mean that it is reasonable that it has normative force that this kind of inference really does convey assurance to the conclusion the kind of conceptual analysis that we're doing on the concept of knowledge provides a nice example of this and it's that a good reason for having it in this general philosophy course from this example you can get an idea of the kinds of things that typically pop up in these sorts of discussions so one of the things that often comes up is appeal to linguistic intuitions now when people talk about intuition it's sometimes a bit sloppy as though they're saying oh well this is just something I think an intuition you've got to accept it but actually linguistic intuitions have a particular authority because if you're a native expert speaker of your language that then certain things do just come naturally to you to say and that does carry some Authority for the standard use of language now obviously that doesn't necessarily tell you anything about philosophical truth but it does keep you on the rails of using language correctly puzzle cases also feature a lot as we'll see in this lecture some people call these intuition pumps the idea of a puzzle cases that you sketch out some hypothetical scenario and then you ask well what would you say about that and clearly what you try to do is devise puzzle cases which steer your hearers intuitions in the way you want to take so often you'll find in philosophical debate each side is producing puzzle cases to favor their own particular point of view you'll find in personal identity for example puzzle cases feature quite highly then obviously we get argument and we get systematization we try to pull all these intuitions and thoughts together to make sense of them all together so let's now embark on a discussion of knowledge and its variants trying to employ some of these methods to straighten out what we want to say about it so first of all let's distinguish between three different kinds of knowledge acquaintances knowing how and knowing that what we're interested in here is propositional knowledge knowledge that P a strange phrase but you'll find philosophers use it quite a lot so P is a proposition could be any old proposition but notice knowing that P is the case is quite different from having acquaintance with somebody or something or having practical knowledge for example I know how to ride a bike I don't exactly know how I do it I'm ignorant of all sorts of propositions that would explain how I managed to remain upright on a bike but I have the practical knowledge that is I can actually do it that's irrelevant here we're talking about factual knowledge

9 thoughts on “5.1 Introduction to Knowledge”

  1. I have a problem when in philosophy qualifiers are inappropriately used to make actual distinction where no appreciable distinction should be drawn or implied.

    For example for the word 'truth', the only time, philosophically speaking, 'whole truth', 'real truth', 'absolute truth', and 'actual truth', should be used instead of 'truth' is to enhance the delivery of the message not to imply degrees of truth

  2. Sadly, it seems all great philosophers are language magicians in that they intellectually manipulate our perception of reality by changing or redefine its original meaning.

    Are we not smart enough to create a single meaning for each word?

  3. Great videos, but I wish they were more comprehensive. It's hard to do these subjects justice is such short sessions.

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