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Whaddya know?

  1. Mar 7, 2003 #1

    Tom Mattson

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    What do you know? How do you know that you know it?

    I found some really great lecture notes on epistemology online. Anyone want to go through them with me?

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  3. Mar 8, 2003 #2


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    What is epistemology? I looked up the definition, however, it seemed vague to me...
  4. Mar 9, 2003 #3


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    I skimmed through the introduction and I did not see a clear-cut definition of epistemology...

    My four lines take on it is basically this:

    As entites able to "know", we have two big problems:
    1. To know all ("the universe"), and
    2. To understand what it is to "know"

    The first one is science, the second one is epistemology.
  5. Mar 9, 2003 #4


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    From the introduction:

    I think this is the kind of statement that gets philosophers in trouble. The blue part is close to a definition of "cause" and "effect", while the second one tries to make a conclusion about the nature of *time* (or our interaction with it), as if it was an absolute concept (which is not), and disregarding the fact that it is a physical quantity that can only be studied experimentally.
  6. Mar 17, 2003 #5
  7. Mar 17, 2003 #6

    Les Sleeth

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    I love this subject, and have been influenced in my thinking by the conclusions some 19th century philosophers came to. After centuries of endless rationalistic philosophizing before them, this group decided two important things about knowing. First, merely “thinking” without being guided by facts does not often produce reliable knowledge; and second, experience is the basis of knowing, as expressed by John Locke, “Whence has it all the materials of reason and knowledge? To this I answer, in one word, from experience. In that all our knowledge is founded, and from that it ultimately derives itself.” Philosopher William James asserted, “Nothing shall be admitted as fact except what can be experienced at some definite time . . . everything real must be experienceable somewhere, and every kind of thing experienced must somewhere be real.”

    One would think this insight shouldn’t have been as hard as it was to figure out because all of us know, if only intuitively, that experience is linked with knowing; that is why, for instance, most people would not choose an inexperienced doctor to perform dangerous surgery, or want an inexperienced attorney to defend one against a serious charge.

    Anyway, based on the above ideas knowing might be defined as a certainty that becomes established with sufficient experience. Many people want to know finally, i.e., for things to be settled once and for all; but it seems that knowing for an individual can never be complete or absolute, but rather is relative to lesser-known things. If true, that would mean to grow in knowledge, one allows new experiences teach one and add to one’s knowledge bank, and then lets that experience constantly adjust one’s overall understanding of things.

    As I’ve written several times, I also think there are important questions about what is to be permitted as genuine experience. Some say sense, emotional and mental experience is all there is, others say there are inner experiences possible independent of the senses, emotions and mind. If there are such experiences, then we might expect those who’ve had them to “know” other sorts of things than those who strictly rely on sense, emotional and mental experience.

    An issue that confuses discussions about knowing is how one interprets what one experiences. Interpretation is actually a different subject altogether. For example, psychologists regularly help patients discover how their experiences might have taught them something they know, but which they misinterpret for reasons of avoidance, sublimation, denial, or a commitment to some philosophy that runs contrary to what they know. Being intimate with oneself, a thorough understanding of human psychology, a deep commitment to knowing the truth over all other considerations, and sound logic skills all seem necessary to be fully competent when interpreting experience.

    Finally, there is what degree one relates to what one knows. It is common to see people lost in speculation, doubt, worry, fantasy . . . they allow the imagining mind to predominate rather than staying grounded in what they know. There is real power in anchoring oneself to knowledge not just because it helps one be competent, but also because it seems to make one more vigilant for new knowledge.

    So, what do I know? That which I am experiencing.
  8. Mar 17, 2003 #7
    Oh, does that mean it's possible to experience God?

    Whereas for those who haven't yet experienced it, maybe it's just a matter of setting up the experiment in order to go through the experience ...
  9. Mar 17, 2003 #8
    "I close my eyes, only for a moment and the moment's gone ... from the song, Dust in the Wind, by Kansas.

    So what is it about the moment? Except that it stands outside of time and space? ... Or, does time and space stand within it? Ahh, could this be the origin of both eternity and infinity?

    Ahh, could this be the very connection to an Eternal Creator Who, stands outside of time an space? ... i.e., through the moment? So what is it about the moment that speaks to us about such things -- "our experience."

    Therefore it must be like they say, how can you experience God or, for that matter anything else, if you can't experience "It" for yourself?

    "Be still, and know [experience] that I am God ..." (Psalms 46:10)
    Last edited: Mar 17, 2003
  10. Mar 17, 2003 #9

    Les Sleeth

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    My head is spinning. I am not sure what you are saying. I am not prepared to list the varieties of things that can be experienced in this thread, though it is a great subject to ponder. My only claim is that I don't believe anything that I haven't personally experienced, and I don't believe others either who make claims about things they have not experienced. That doesn't mean I won't listen, and that I can't be moved by someone's clarity in "seeing" a certain direction which might be worth investigating. But in terms of saying I "know," I limit myself by experience.
  11. Mar 17, 2003 #10
    And I suppose you're very pragmatic about the whole thing too, or at least try to be.

    If God is Eternal, then where are we going to find Him but in the "present moment" which, exists beyond the future and the past and always is? ... Thus the moment must be Eternal too. And it's through our understanding -- in the moment -- that we are filled with insight from God. So, "Be still [in the moment] and know ..."
    Last edited: Mar 17, 2003
  12. Mar 18, 2003 #11

    Les Sleeth

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    Those two statements seem to me to be confrontational. Are you having a problem with my explanation of knowing? If you are, then I wish you'd be more clear about what your objections are; it is hard to interpret your intuitive way of writing.

    I would not necessarily disagree with that statement, except to say I don't think the past or future are "beyond" the present moment . . . I don't think they exist at all. The moment is always the present -- always has been and always will be.

    How can one say a "moment" stands outside of space, or similiarly, is the orgin of infinity? A moment might have some relationship to eternity, but infinity and space are a different catagory. Seems like you are mushing everything "profound" together and not thinking about each distinctly.

    That seems contradictory to me. The first part of your statement sounds doubting, and then it sounds like you are saying it is possible.

    As I said before, I don't want to get into discussing if it is possible to experience God because I don't think that is what this thread is about. But I can say that I would not believe in God or anything else unless I can personally experience it. Experience-less faith does not work for me.

    You say, "And it's through our understanding -- in the moment -- that we are filled with insight from God. So, 'Be still [in the moment] and know.'" Well, how do you know that? Are you speaking from having realized God in the moment, or from your fantasy of having done it? There is no way for me to tell when you speak like a prophet rather that using evidence and reason because I don't know you or your history. So yes, my approach to things is "very pragmatic about the whole thing" when it comes to discussions at a public philosophy forum.

    I've read the small amount of writings preserved of Brother Lawrence (a 17th century French Carmelite). I've been inspired by his insights on the "practice of the presence of God" which he says ". . . is an application of our soul to God, or a remembrance of God present . . . in the depth and center of the soul . . . the soul speaks to God heart to heart, and always in a great and profound peace that the soul enjoys in God."

    Brother Lawrence I feel I can trust some because he fits a pattern of people who undertake realization. He practiced in an inward way his entire life, living in a monastery for much of it, and his descriptions jive with what other Christian monastics described (such as Teresa of Avila, or some of the Greek Orthodox monks) who also spent years dedicated to an inner practice.

    But you I don't know, so I have to judge on what you say here. So far you've been leaning too far toward mystical statements for my tastes. I also visited the website you list in your signature, and find that far too speculative for me. Plus, even if it's true, I don't see what difference it makes to my personal experience.

    Say it is possible to experience what others have called "God." If so, I don't think one has to have a single concept or interpretation about what that experience is; i.e., if it is God or Truth or Bleep. The experience is the experience, and has nothing to do with interpretation. If I liked the experience, I'd keep doing it and let it teach me what it is; I'd keep my own mind out of it as much as possible.

    So, what do I know? I know what I am experiencing.
  13. Mar 18, 2003 #12

    Tom Mattson

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    Back to the topic...

    I would like to learn what epistemology is from scratch, and I thought the lecture notes in the first post were detailed enough to serve as a "book". Hopefully, our discussions will flesh out the details.

    Summary of Chapter 1: Introduction to Epistemology
    *On Philosophy, Tooley assigns it 4 basic tasks:

    1. Analysis of Fundamental Concepts (applied to epistemology in Ch. 2).
    2. Inquiry into the Justification of Basic Beliefs.
    3. Discovery of Necessary Truths--aka a priori facts that simply must hold true for the world to make any sense. I imagine this is a great source of controversy, as one person's "obviously necessary truth" is another's "unfounded assumption".
    4. Development of Systematic Overview of Reality as a Whole.

    [?] What would be an example of a "necessary truth"? Ahrkron already pointed out that he thinks the author's example is based on misunderstanding of a concept. Are there really any necessary truths, other than "thought exists"?

    Tooley gives as examples two of the biggies that appear in undergraduate philosophy courses, and which will appear in the Metaphysics book:

    1. Mind/Body Dualism.
    2. Free Will

    We can get to these in turn as they pop up in the metaphysics thread, or even in separate threads if you like.

    *On Epistemology

    How does epistemology tackle the tasks of philosophy where knowledge is concerned?

    1. Analysis: Both of the concept of knowledge and of the concept of justification of knowledge. There is also analysis of statements (formal logic? we'll see...).

    2. Justification: There is first the task of establishing that one can have knowledge ("What do you know?"). Second, there is the task of answering skeptical claims, that is, providing an account of how it is one has knowledge ("How do you know that you know it?").

    It is with these two tasks of philosophy that epistemology is most concerned.
  14. Mar 18, 2003 #13

    Tom Mattson

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    You guys are hijacking my thread. If you want to talk about something other than the lecture notes, then please start a topic. I don't know epistemology, and would like to learn it from scratch.

  15. Mar 18, 2003 #14
    It's a new "word" to me? ... and yet it would seem to follow along the lines of what I already know? ... which, I normally don't discuss with other people.

    I'm afraid I can't help then because I don't understand its meaning in the "formal sense" (although it seems to imply what is understood "informally").

    EDIT: For anyone who wants to know, my last reply to LW Sleeth has been transferred (voluntarily) to the new thread, What is it about "the moment?"
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2003
  16. Mar 19, 2003 #15


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    I dont know much of the jargon but I had spent some time (not too much) a while back reading up on this and browsing the web.

    If my memory doesn't fail me, epistemology is the study about the validity of knowledge. It deals with stuff like how we acquire knowledge and how we validate it and whether we can validate it at all. This would, in extreme cases (do I make it sound like a disease ?!), result in questions like
    "If a tree fell in the forest and there was no observer, would it make a sound ?" ... or worse,
    "If there was no observer would the tree and the forest exist at all ?"
    The nature of objective reality is, definitely, an important topic of epistemology. Is there some external reality outside our brains or is it all some big time virtual reality show ? To what end ?

    I'm sure it is a very interesting and thought provoking subject .
    But someone (was it ahrkron ?) once said, on this very forum, that it doesn't really matter since we may never know for sure. All that matters is if there are any consistencies in this perceived realities. And any patterns. Science attempts to study and codify that (and of course test and correct it continuously)

    There are some good epistemological essays from some of the big time philosophers at
    < http://www.friesian.com/epistem.htm > and
    < http://www.ucs.louisiana.edu/~kak7409/EpistemologicalResearch.htm >

    Not much help ? Sorry, thats all I have. :smile:

    - S.
  17. Mar 19, 2003 #16

    Les Sleeth

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    Sorry. Based on your opening questions I thought it was a general discussion about "what do you know . . . how do you know you know it?" rather than a formal study of epistomology.
  18. Mar 31, 2003 #17

    Tom Mattson

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    Chapter 2: The Problem of Analyzing the Concept of Knowledge
    The chapter starts with the traditional "justified true belief" (JTB) account of knowledge, which says that:

    Person A knows that p means the same as the conjunction of the following three statements:

    (1)A believes that p. (the "belief" requirement)
    (2)It is true that p. (the "true" requirement)
    (3)A is justified in believing that p. (the "justified" requirement)

    What I want to talk about here is the first of the two Gettier counterexamples, to make sure I understand exactly why it invalidates JTB.

    The Conjunctive Counterexample
    This is the "Smith, Jones, and man with 10 coins" example. I will present it here, highlighting the logical form. My presentation is not complete, so you will want to read the notes if you are not already familiar with Gettier's counterexamples.

    p=Jones will get the job.
    q=Jones has 10 coins in his pocket.
    r=The man who will get the job has 10 coins in his pocket.

    r is actually the conclusion of the syllogism with premises p and q.

    So, back to JTB:

    Smith knows that r.

    (1)Smith believes that (p.q), which is r.
    (2)It is true that r.
    (3)Smith is justified (via "strong evidence") in believing that (p.q), which again, is r.

    So, even though all 3 requirements are met, Smith cannot be said to "have knowledge" of r. (because it is he who actually gets the job).

    Does anyone disagree that this actually invalidates JTB?

    I'll get to the second counterexample next (the disjunctive counterexample), but only after I have finished getting my head around this one.
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