Monday, October 8, 2012

what is knowledge?

A few more thoughts on what we are doing when we do philosophy, particularly in the context of trying to describe/understand/define propositional knowledge.

There seem to be two key questions about knowledge:
1. What is knowledge?
2. What can we know (and conversely what can't we know)?

Question 2 gets into the realm of scepticism, which is coming up later in the course so I will hold my fire for now.

On question 1, so far in the discussion we have tried to define which characteristics of knowledge are both necessary and sufficient. We largely agree that for a proposition about the world to be counted as knowledge it has to be true belief. We then added the requirement for justification. We then saw that perhaps we can have justified true belief that does not count as knowledge and considered what else is necessary beyond JTB.

The justification arm of the definition seemed to me to be the most interesting at first. There are lots of theories about what counts as justification, I for one am reluctant to rule any of them out.
Discussions on epistemology are interesting because the very act of trying to define knowledge by necessity involves assessing and deploying the very concepts we are trying to define. We say things such as "knowledge requires justification for it to count as knowledge" but then someone could quite reasonably say "justify why knowledge requires justification". We seem to be trapped in some kind of loop. We are then struck with the is/ought reversal.

There are two main threads which I am beginning to see emerge from the conversations. My initial reaction to the question 'what is knowledge?' was that to be counted as knowledge, a proposition had to describe or somehow match something that is true about the world. This might tend us towards a foundationalist account. If knowledge is "fixed" then the role of the philosopher is not only to be very clear about the definition but to explain how it is fixed.

But we saw that what counts as knowledge changes over time. For me this tends us towards a coherentist account (which allows us to fix the leaks in the ship as we proceed) and also brings in normative considerations. We still need to be very clear about the definition, but we also need to consider what we ought to count as knowledge under different circumstances.

In laying down the rules we need to be logically consistent. An argument is not a proper argument if it's logically flawed. But what are the truths of logic truths of? Why is knowledge only knowledge if it is based on logically sound arguments? Is it just a question of being meaningful and playing by the rules (i.e. our language has to make sense) or is there some kind of transcendental truth which, amongst other things, makes logic logical.

So I have come back full circle and am now back considering what we mean by truth....

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