Justified true belief: knowledge and the myth of propositions

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Peter Holmes
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Justified true belief: knowledge and the myth of propositions

Post by Peter Holmes » Wed Jul 26, 2017 2:13 pm

The Gettier problem is that some cases of justified true belief don't amount to knowledge, so the JTB definition is inadequate. But I suggest that Gettier-cases really demonstrate the muddle caused by the myth of propositions.

A Gettier-case is a story with dramatic irony. Given that the story is fictional, we Gettier-spectators know the complete situation, because we have, as it were, objective knowledge of the features of reality in the story. But the protagonist doesn't have this knowledge. Here is an example.

A woman sees a group of people and mistakes one of them, a stranger, for her friend. So she believes her friend is there. And as it happens, her friend really is there, but hidden. So what she believes is the case. But does she know her friend is there?

The point is, what happens in the story has nothing to do with propositions. The woman’s mistake does not come from a false premise. She just believes the stranger is her friend, which is not the case. And her belief that her friend is there is not propositional. Propositional belief is as muddled an idea as propositional knowledge. There are just beliefs and knowledge-claims expressed by means of propositions.

We want to say that what she believes is true, because her friend really is there. But that is the myth of propositions at work. What she mistakenly believes to be the case is a feature of reality, which is not a proposition. When we believe or know a feature of reality is the case, we do not believe or know a proposition. So we do not believe or know something that is true or false.

The woman does not know her friend is there because she lacks objective knowledge of that feature of reality. And afterwards, apprised of the situation and her mistake, she would not say she knew her friend was there. That is not how we use the word 'know'. She would say she believed the stranger was her friend, but was mistaken.

We say we know a feature of reality is the case only if it is, or we think it is, the case. And if it turns out not to be the case, we don’t say we have stopped knowing it. We just say we were mistaken. For example, we don’t say we stopped knowing the earth is flat.

Gettier-cases recycle the JTB definition's concentration on: subjective knowledge - what an individual knows - effectively ignoring objective knowledge and its justification; propositional knowledge - S knows that p - as though what we know is propositions rather than features of reality; and the truth condition - S knows that p only if p is true - which gets things back to front. Our knowing that p doesn't come from the truth of p. It comes from our knowing the feature of reality that p asserts.

There are features of reality; there is what we believe or know about them, such as that they are the case; and there is what we say about them, which may be true or false. To muddle these things up is a mistake.

But Gettier-cases also contain the solution to the Gettier problem. The protagonists believe things for reasons that don't objectively justify their beliefs, which is why their beliefs don't amount to knowledge. Objective knowledge of features of reality, which may be expressed by means of true factual assertions, frees us from subjective, epistemic isolation. It's the objective knowledge that we Gettier-spectators have.

If you're interested, there's a full discussion, under the same title as the post, at:

http://http://www.peasum.co.uk/435531068
Last edited by Peter Holmes on Mon Apr 16, 2018 3:12 pm, edited 18 times in total.

surreptitious57
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Re: Justified true belief: knowledge and the myth of propositions

Post by surreptitious57 » Wed Jul 26, 2017 7:27 pm

For a truth claim to be considered knowledge it has to be supported by evidence or proof or logic. However because evidence is
the remit of science which is primarily an inductive discipline then any knowledge may be partial so therefore less than reliable
Proof and logic are however more reliable. Because they are the remit of mathematics which is primarily a deductive discipline

Peter Holmes
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Re: Justified true belief: knowledge and the myth of propositions

Post by Peter Holmes » Wed Jul 26, 2017 8:29 pm

Okay, but I suggest a slightly different approach. In deductive inference, the premise(s) entail the conclusion, so that it's irrational to accept the premise(s) and reject the conclusion. But the truth of the premise(s) is not the business of logic to decide. Inferential validity and soundness are separate matters, as I understand it. The question then is the difference between logical and mathematical premises, such as 'a=a' and '2+2=4', and empirical premises such as 'the earth orbits the sun'.

As you say, we establish the truth of 'the earth orbits the sun' by means of evidence. And I think this is an objective truth, independent of any belief or knowledge-claim, which the JTB truth condition acknowledges: S knows that p only if p is true. But no evidence that I'm aware of can establish the truth of 'a=a' or '2+2=4'. They are tautologies, so only vacuously true - reliable only because they are unfalsifiably correct and tell us nothing about reality - though we use them to say falsifiable things about features of reality.

My point is that inductive inference - where the premise(s) give us more or less convincing reasons to accept the conclusion, but don't entail the conclusion - is not the best that we can hope for when it comes to our empirical knowledge of reality. We can have objective knowledge of reality, expressed by factual assertions such as 'the earth orbits the sun', which can then be true premises in valid deductions with entailed conclusions. We aren't stuck with always insecure knowledge of reality. The problem of induction - that the future need not be like the past - doesn't affect the way things are now: the earth does orbit the sun - from which we can deduce true conclusions.

Feeling my way here. If I'm going awry, please straighten me out.

uwot
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Re: Justified true belief: knowledge and the myth of propositions

Post by uwot » Wed Jul 26, 2017 9:09 pm

Peter Holmes wrote:
Wed Jul 26, 2017 8:29 pm
Feeling my way here. If I'm going awry, please straighten me out.
You're really talking about the tension between empiricism and rationalism. As it stands, the dialogue is generally couched in terms of the anti-realism of Bas Van Fraasen, and the inference to best explanation of Peter Lipton. The problem of induction has not been solved, propositions are still analytic or synthetic. It is still the case, as Descartes pointed out, that the only thing which is certain, is that there are experiences. And as Hume added, every interpretation of those experiences is theory laden.

Peter Holmes
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Re: Justified true belief: knowledge and the myth of propositions

Post by Peter Holmes » Wed Jul 26, 2017 9:33 pm

Thanks. There are several things here I'd like to spend more time on. But one immediate question: if the problem of induction remains unsolved, why are experiences certain?

Impenitent
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Re: Justified true belief: knowledge and the myth of propositions

Post by Impenitent » Wed Jul 26, 2017 9:43 pm

Peter Holmes wrote:
Wed Jul 26, 2017 9:33 pm
Thanks. There are several things here I'd like to spend more time on. But one immediate question: if the problem of induction remains unsolved, why are experiences certain?
I think therefore I am...

I (verb) therefore I exists as that which (verbs)

experiences are only as certain as ones belief in language

-Imp

Peter Holmes
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Re: Justified true belief: knowledge and the myth of propositions

Post by Peter Holmes » Mon Jul 31, 2017 5:16 pm

Thanks. I'm afraid I don't understand what you mean.

Impenitent
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Re: Justified true belief: knowledge and the myth of propositions

Post by Impenitent » Mon Jul 31, 2017 7:28 pm

certainty is incompletely expressed in approximate language...

language systems and the things that are experienced are different/separate entities...

in the rules of language: if an action (that which is done) occurs there must be a cause (doer - that which does) of said action

experiences are not certain, nor are they fully describable ...

furthermore, by the time you get around to describing the experience, it is a memory...

-Imp

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Harbal
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Re: Justified true belief: knowledge and the myth of propositions

Post by Harbal » Mon Jul 31, 2017 9:11 pm

Impenitent wrote:
Mon Jul 31, 2017 7:28 pm

furthermore, by the time you get around to describing the experience, it is a memory...

-Imp
One would hope so, it would be awfully difficult to describe an experience if you couldn't remember it.

Peter Holmes
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Re: Justified true belief: knowledge and the myth of propositions

Post by Peter Holmes » Mon Jul 31, 2017 9:27 pm

Thanks. What I don't understand is how what you're saying relates to my OP. Unless you construct a cogent argument addressing mine, I can't respond coherently. And that's fine.

Impenitent
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Re: Justified true belief: knowledge and the myth of propositions

Post by Impenitent » Mon Jul 31, 2017 10:38 pm

Peter Holmes wrote:
Mon Jul 31, 2017 9:27 pm
Thanks. What I don't understand is how what you're saying relates to my OP. Unless you construct a cogent argument addressing mine, I can't respond coherently. And that's fine.
you asked: "one immediate question: if the problem of induction remains unsolved, why are experiences certain?"

coherence ... another circle...

-Imp

Peter Holmes
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Re: Justified true belief: knowledge and the myth of propositions

Post by Peter Holmes » Mon Jul 31, 2017 11:11 pm

[/quote]You're really talking about the tension between empiricism and rationalism. As it stands, the dialogue is generally couched in terms of the anti-realism of Bas Van Fraasen, and the inference to best explanation of Peter Lipton. The problem of induction has not been solved, propositions are still analytic or synthetic. It is still the case, as Descartes pointed out, that the only thing which is certain, is that there are experiences. And as Hume added, every interpretation of those experiences is theory laden.
[/quote]

Empiricism and rationalism are theories of knowledge - attempts to explain what knowledge is and where it comes from. They assume that knowledge is the kind of thing whose nature and origin can be explained, without providing any evidence that that is the case. So, like all metaphysical explanations, they are tendentious, especially when dressed up as 'conceptual analysis'. What is a concept, and how do you analyse it?

Kant's distinction between analytic and synthetic propositions rests on the metaphor of a predicate's conceptual containment in the subject, which rests on an unjustified assumption that there are concepts which can be contained in something else. Quine's objection is pertinent. But my argument is that the myth of propositions - that they are central to any discussion of knowledge - is the original, unjustified assumption in epistemology: S knows that p only if p is true. Why does 'knowing' have anything to do with propositions?

As I understand the 'cogito', it explicitly rejects experience as always corruptible by the malicious demon, which is why the thinking self is Descartes' epistemological foundation. Why do you say experiences are the only certain thing in his view? Sorry if I've misunderstood this all along.

The claim that every interpretation of an experience is theory-laden - what that means and what Hume may have meant by it - I need more time to mull over. Thanks for the heads up.
Last edited by Peter Holmes on Tue Aug 01, 2017 12:19 am, edited 1 time in total.

Londoner
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Re: Justified true belief: knowledge and the myth of propositions

Post by Londoner » Wed Aug 02, 2017 5:47 pm

Peter Holmes wrote:
Mon Jul 31, 2017 11:11 pm

As I understand the 'cogito', it explicitly rejects experience as always corruptible by the malicious demon, which is why the thinking self is Descartes' epistemological foundation. Why do you say experiences are the only certain thing in his view? Sorry if I've misunderstood this all along.
The 'cogito' bit only tells us a subject exists, not that any particular sense experiences are valid in the sense of being true representations of the world. That sense experiences are reliable is the consequence of a seperate argument - that our knowledge of God is not derived from sense experience but is an idea that is already present within the mind. The idea of God is of something perfect, therefore it must originate from something perfect, i.e. the idea of God must come from God and not be a creation of our own fallible mind. And a perfect God would not be a deceiver (like the malicious demon), so we can trust our sense experiences...at least to the extent of believing that an external world exists..

Peter Holmes
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Re: Justified true belief: knowledge and the myth of propositions

Post by Peter Holmes » Wed Aug 02, 2017 8:19 pm

[/quote]The 'cogito' bit only tells us a subject exists, not that any particular sense experiences are valid in the sense of being true representations of the world. That sense experiences are reliable is the consequence of a seperate argument - that our knowledge of God is not derived from sense experience but is an idea that is already present within the mind. The idea of God is of something perfect, therefore it must originate from something perfect, i.e. the idea of God must come from God and not be a creation of our own fallible mind. And a perfect God would not be a deceiver (like the malicious demon), so we can trust our sense experiences...at least to the extent of believing that an external world exists..
[/quote]
Thanks. I'm afraid I disagree with all of this, partly for the reasons in my OP, which you don't address. You're explaining Descartes' theological motivation, but only by repeating his unjustified assertions. An argument is not evidence, and there is no evidence for an idea of a god 'that is already present in the mind'. This is reminiscent of the 'sensus divinitatis' that Plantinga falls back on - or of the ontological argument - or even of presuppositionalism. My position is that theism is irrational, so I don't suppose we can pursue this discussion to much purpose. But again, thanks.

uwot
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Re: Justified true belief: knowledge and the myth of propositions

Post by uwot » Thu Aug 03, 2017 12:55 am

Peter Holmes wrote:
Mon Jul 31, 2017 11:11 pm
Empiricism and rationalism are theories of knowledge - attempts to explain what knowledge is and where it comes from. They assume that knowledge is the kind of thing whose nature and origin can be explained, without providing any evidence that that is the case. So, like all metaphysical explanations, they are tendentious, especially when dressed up as 'conceptual analysis'. What is a concept, and how do you analyse it?
I think it is viable to think of rationalism and empiricism primarily as methodologies, which various philosophers have advocated. A potted history of philosophy starts with the Milesians, inspired by Thales, who decided that the best way to understand the world, was to look at it, rather than refer to mythology. The proliferation of cosmological, and more broadly, scientific hypotheses, demolished absolute faith in any propositions. Nobody 'knew' anything. Along comes Parmenides to rescue certainty with his observation that 'Being is'. Skip forward 2000 years, Galileo proves you can't believe everything in the bible, and René Descartes pulls the same stunt, with cogito. Both Parmenides and Descartes try to build an edifice on these insights, neither of which gets more than a few steps before descending into nonsense.
Peter Holmes wrote:
Mon Jul 31, 2017 11:11 pm
Kant's distinction between analytic and synthetic propositions rests on the metaphor of a predicate's conceptual containment in the subject, which rests on an unjustified assumption that there are concepts which can be contained in something else. Quine's objection is pertinent. But my argument is that the myth of propositions - that they are central to any discussion of knowledge - is the original, unjustified assumption in epistemology: S knows that p only if p is true. Why does 'knowing' have anything to do with propositions?
The point about Parmenides and Descartes, is that they each discovered what are in effect, analytic empirical facts. If either proposition; 'Being is', or 'I think' can be uttered, they are necessarily true. I am fairly certain I have bored everyone by arguing that language is inescapably contextual. 'Knowing' doesn't really refer to anything, in the sense it is usually understood, other than analytic statements.
Peter Holmes wrote:
Mon Jul 31, 2017 11:11 pm
As I understand the 'cogito', it explicitly rejects experience as always corruptible by the malicious demon, which is why the thinking self is Descartes' epistemological foundation. Why do you say experiences are the only certain thing in his view? Sorry if I've misunderstood this all along.

The claim that every interpretation of an experience is theory-laden - what that means and what Hume may have meant by it - I need more time to mull over. Thanks for the heads up.
Well, however implausible they may be, Descartes has a point that there could be any number of causes of our perceptions. Even 'therefore I am' assumes that he was a thinking being, rather than some random thoughts that happened to coalesce when they did.

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