Epistemolo-what?!!

Kim-il-sung

Kim Il Sung giving "on the spot guidance" to collective farmers. When asked the farmers were unclear about his message

One of the biggest complaints of New Zealand scientists working in the Crown Research Institutes is bureaucracy. Or, at least that was the case during my time.

You know – stupid bureaucratic requirements like time sheets. At one stage we were being forced to break our time down to 6 min intervals! I used to say that science is a creative process and this was as silly as getting artists to fill in time sheets. Then we had financial managers, commercial managers, human resources people, communication managers, etc. making extra demands on our time. Creative people forced into an accounting role. Publications having to be vetted for intellectual property (IP) before publication – and sometimes prevented from being published so that IP could be “captured”. “Innovative thinking” and “customer management” courses imposed on researchers. Commercial managers preventing proper communication of science to the public (see the example of Jim Salinger in Clamping down on science communication).

Epistemology managers – a new bureaucrat layer

It’s a human problem – we always seem to spawn bureaucracy and the bureaucrats always try to prevent us from doing our jobs.

But here is another bureaucratic layer one of the “Thinking Matters” bright sparks wants to impose on science. The epistemologists!

In comments on his posts (Evolution should not be taught in State Schools: A Defence of Plantinga Part I and Part II), Matt at the MandM blog pontificates:

“Scientists cannot get to claims about the world unless they use a reliable method and what epistemologists are need to help us know what methods are reliable.” Mind you, he is gracious enough to suggest this as a “partnership” rather than an imposition (although we know from experience to be wary of those who declare “we are here to help you”): “On the other hand epistemologists can help us discover whether a method is reliable but they cannot tell us about the world until someone trained in the method uses it.”

I have this vision of a new breed of managers, the “Epistemology Managers,” at research institutes. Their job would be scrutinise every research proposal, every publication, with powers of veto when they felt their brand of “epistemology” might be violated. Maybe some would even be appointed to laboratories to look over scientists’ shoulders to ensure the methodology was “pure.” Reminds me a bit of the Stalinist approach to science. Or the appointment of political commissars to work groups and military units in Stalin’s USSR and Mao’s China. The “on the spot guidance” that the North Korean leader Kim Il Sung was always giving (see photo) also comes to mind.

It sounds pretty silly, and unlikely for New Zealand. But I still wouldn’t like Crown Research Institute managers hearing this idea – they have been know to run with others just as silly.

Naive epistemology

Of course, Matt’s concept of the scientific process is pretty naive and mechanical. And he has his own theocratic motives for undermining science.

In reality a good appreciation of epistemology is inherent in the scientific method. Not the creationist “epistemology” that leads Matt to argue that children in state schools should be denied access to current knowledge in their science classes. No. Scientific epistemology sees our knowledge as arising from interaction with reality, from evidence. And that knowledge is validated by checking against reality. The theological “epistemology” Matt wants to impose sees knowledge as arising from mythology,  revelation and theocratic requirements. It denies the proper role of reality in the process.

Some idea of Matt’s naive concept of epistemology can be seen in his rejection of science as a powerful way of understanding the world. His concept of scientific theory:

“some have argued that in fact history shows us that scientific theories are nearly always later discredited and proven false. If so this is not a history of progress it’s a history of failures and mistakes.” (I guess the “some have argued” provides deniability but why present the argument if he doesn’t agree with it?)

Scientists don’t see scientific knowledge as “finally true” – and this underlines the power of science. Its success relies on that humility and the fact that our knowledge is constantly tested and verified against reality. Matt dismisses this with “This is just rhetoric, if science repeatedly fails to get it right that does not show its reliable. It shows its unreliable.” I guess for him “truth” comes only from revelation.

I find these statements unbelievable. Does Matt use any of today’s technology? Will he board a plane, drive a car or visit a medical specialist? These assertions indicate that Matt has a very naive understanding of scientific method and epistemology.

No scientific theory ever conforms exactly with reality. There is always room for improvement, modification. That’s great – it keeps scientists in jobs. It also keeps them humble as they recognise the importance of evidence and testing against reality to support their theories and to enable modification so that theories mirror reality more exactly. We could say that a good scientific theory contains two kinds of truth. Aspects which are true in an absolute sense, conforming closely to reality. And aspects that are true in only a relative sense, likely to be modified as new data comes in. The philosopher of science Alan Chalmers describes this briefly when he says that “significantly confirmed theories need to live on as limiting cases in their successors.”

Newton & Einstein are “failures”

kim-2

"Epistemological Manager" giving "on the spot guidance" to NZ agricultural scientists

Matt’s “epistemology” would have it that Newtonian mechanics is a failure, has been discredited and that the same fate awaits Einsteinian mechanics. (What a bleak view). But scientists don’t see it that way. They see Newtonian mechanics as a limiting case. Perfectly adequate for the day-to-day world but unable to describe things at high velocities or in extreme gravitational fields. Newtonian mechanics accurately predicted the existence of the planet Uranus (from its effect on the orbit of Neptune) but the prediction of a planet “Vulcan” (from abnormalities in the orbit of Mercury) proved wrong. The gravitational field of the sun meant Newtonian theory was inappropriate.

So what would happen with Matt’s “Epistemological Managers.” They would have us throw away every scientific theory as a “failure,” a “mistake,” as discredited. No scientific knowledge would be left. With that sort of ideology they would actually have us throw away scientific epistemology.

And, after all, isn’t that the intention of the current attempts by theocrats to undermine science. Isn’t that the Wedge Strategy – which seeks to impose a theistic epistemology on science (see Intelligent design/creationism III: The religious agenda)?

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47 responses to “Epistemolo-what?!!

  1. I think that the label I wear probably says “epistemologist” somewhere on it (Alan Chalmers was one of my PhD referees), and I have to say that I find the idea you mention utterly frightening. Given the extremely poor grasp of how science works that is possessed by epistemology and philosophy of science, the concept of having epistemologists telling scientists what to do is kind of like the concept of having neurologists telling brains how to work. Both philosophy of science (the label I prefer but he probably would not like) and neorology are only starting to come to understand the natural processes they are examining. Sure, in the case of philosophy of science there is the possibility and, in a few cases, reality of fruitful collaboration. But a big part of what is required for that collaboration to be possible is that philosophers forget about the anachronistic (I was thinking of other adjectives but I’m trying to be nice) notion of a first philosophy that tells every other science how to run its affairs.

    And that’s before we even get to the idea of a theistic first philosophy! Mind you, given that the guy is defending Plantinga (don’t get me started on him), it is hardly surprising that he is working with this anachronistic (there, I stopped myself again) preconception.

    I have to say that I love the quote “epistemologists can help us discover whether a method is reliable but they cannot tell us about the world”. Guess the guy does not understand that whether a method is reliable is a fact about… the world. He is, in effect, presuming a dualist view. Again, no surprise, I suppose.

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  2. This is a reply to Glenn on his blog post Nuts and Bolts: What is knowledge? For some reason his blog won’t allow me to comment at the moment. Hopefully, he will fix this or continue the discussion here.

    I suspect Heraclides was correct when he identified the problem as one of you not understanding what is meant be a scientific theory. From my perspective and experience you have described theory in a naive mechanical way as either true of false. In reality scientific theories are dynamic, constantly developing so as to provide better and better reflections of reality. But they are reflections of reality – not reality itself.

    So they should not be described as absolutely true – although they will contain elements of absolute truth (as well as relative truth). I briefly described this in my post at Open Parachute (Epistemolo-what?!!).( Sorry I cant put a link as I think this causes rejection of my comments.)

    I think this is the problem with adopting an abstract approach (no matter how many philosophers do this). Unless our knowledge is intimately connected to reality, via practice, we are bound to come to conclusions which can’t really be used.

    We can take your example of the planets to illustrate scientific dynamism. At one stage orbits were assumed to be circular (good philosophical reasons for that belief, by the way). Evidence accumulating showing that this model produced the wrong predictions. Eventually it was recognised the orbits were elliptical with the sun at one of the foci.

    Now, the planetary science knowledge or theories were not either “true” of “false”. They were, and still are, just imperfect reflections of reality. We didn’t throw away that theory or knowledge when further evidence came in, we modified it. As philosopher of science Alan Chalmers points out, almost inevitably (but not completely so) “new” theories contain within themselves the “old” theories as limiting cases. Usually still very useful. After all, for most purposes we still use Newtonian mechanics, don’t we?

    The fact is that all knowledge, all scientific theories are provisional – it arises out of their dynamic nature. Scientists don’t normally describe their theories or knowledge as absolute truths (except to be provocative as Jerry Coyne did with the title of his recent book). We don’t normally talk about “scientific truths” in the way that theologians talk about “biblical truths.”

    As for examples – I had hoped that your classification of the different areas of scientific knowledge would illustrate your understanding of theory. I guess we are stuck with the jelly beans.

    Now you say that the theory there are 135 beans is a “well supported theory”, a “true belief”, “true as a matter of fact” and therefore “knowledge.”

    You have presumably come to that conclusion because of the empirical evidence, the fact that we have interacted with reality, sighted the beans and counted them.

    As a scientist I would say that it is scientific knowledge and a scientific theory (we actually tend to use the word theory only where ideas are well supported. Where we don’t yet have support we usually describe them as hypotheses). But I would never say it was “true as a matter of fact” or a “true belief.”

    While this is a trivial example I can expand this to parallel the real world situation we have in cosmology at the moment.

    OK – I have got by with the scientific theory that there are 135 beans in the jar. But after a while I notice there are things which just don’t agree. (Just like planetary orbits). Perhaps I start to realise that the volume in the jar doesn’t really correspond with that number, or some conflict exists with apparent weight. So I make some exact measurements (including re-sighting and counting the beans), like accurate measurements of the weight of the jar contents. This produces a result conflicting with the number. The improved evidence actually shows that the mass of beans in the jar is about 500% greater than it would be if there were only 135 beans. I am therefore forced to revise my theory, revise my knowledge, about the number of beans. I get a more exact picture – a better reflection of reality, and actually produce a new “problem.” There appear to be jelly beans that just don’t interact with electromagnetic radiation, but have mass and can therefore be weighed. This is the sort of problem scientists love – something new to investigate. I can assure you that in my own research a result which conflicted with my own (or others) theory was actually very welcome. At times like that I felt we had a good chance of making progress.

    As a said, a trivial imaginary example but it parallels the discovery of dark matter in galaxies.

    The point is that our knowledge about the jelly beans is dynamic – not “true belief”. It changes as we get more information. It may well be that for many purposes we can ignore these new types of jelly beans and the old theory would suffice. But for others we have to use the “new” theory (which contains within it the “old” theory).

    Briefly, that is how scientific epistemology works. Even though you may have a number of philosopher who you think don’t agree with that. But then again they aren’t in the process of obtaining knowledge about reality. Science is and most sensible people will agree it has been extremely successful at this task.

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  3. Ken, what I can see here is you describing scientific theories exactly as I described therm, and then you’ve said that my view of them is different and wrong. For that reason it’s hard to know exactly which issue to start with.

    What I have said in regard to knowledge is that some beliefs are true as a matter of fact. But this fact does not imply that we know which of our beliefs are actually true and which are not.

    I think what you’ve done is that you’ve observed that I have noted that knowledge is warranted true belief, and you’ve assumed (apparently) that I think we always have perfect awareness of which things we really know and which things we don’t. But I do not think this and have never said this.

    You have said:

    ***
    Now you say that the theory there are 135 beans is a “well supported theory”, a “true belief”, “true as a matter of fact” and therefore “knowledge.”
    ***

    But this is not so. Something is not knowledge merely because it is true. As my whole article was written to explain, knowledge is not merely true belief, but warranted true belief. Truth is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for knowledge. Take the jelly bean example again. You say:

    ***
    As a scientist I would say that it is scientific knowledge and a scientific theory (we actually tend to use the word theory only where ideas are well supported. Where we don’t yet have support we usually describe them as hypotheses). But I would never say it was “true as a matter of fact” or a “true belief.”
    ***

    It isn’t a true belief because we have counted them – nor would I ever say this (nor have I ever said this). If your comments appeared int he blog post you’re quoting, the reader would see this. I have therefore taken the liberty of posting this reply of yours at my blog – where you say you tried to post it. That way I can simply invite the reader to look at what I said, and compare it with the way that you portrayed my comments, so that the reader can see the major differences.

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  4. Ken, having read through the blog post directed against Matt Flannagan, I can only assume that you’re being facetious. Epistemology managers? Hardly.

    All that Matt has offered is the very modest claim that in order for science to get to reliable claims about reality, it needs a reliable method of accessing the facts – and such methods, just as a matter of technicality, are called “epistemology.” Obviously that doesn’t mean that they need an office down the hall where their resident epistemologist wits, twiddling his thumbs until there’s a new theory to analyse! What it means is that scientists need the humility to accept instruction from other disciplines. Epistemologists have already had their say (and continue to say it within their field), and it wouldn’t hurt for scientists to bone up on that material any time they say anything that makes epistemological assumptions. None of this is whacky or oddly religious.

    Your inflammatory references to a “theocratic” motive, or your generalising and unsubstantiated references to a “mechanistic” view are not enough to paint a serious reflection on the philosophical assumptions of science as crazy, however much you might wish to do so.

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  5. All that Matt has offered is the very modest claim that in order for science to get to reliable claims about reality, it needs a reliable method of accessing the facts

    Actually, Matt wrote more than that. In particular he claimed that “theological knowledge” should be included in scientific theories. (He still hasn’t fronted up with an example, so his claim remains moot.)

    It isn’t a true belief [statement] because we have counted them

    Let me get this straight. You want knowledge to be a “warranted true statement”, but a statement “there are 135 beans” which then is warranted by counting the beans is not a warranted statement even thought it’s just been warranted.

    I think I’m going to go off and find a Tui.

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  6. Actually, Matt wrote more than that. In particular he claimed that “theological knowledge” should be included in scientific theories.

    Here you evade the issue, as Glenn points out Ken has distorted what I said in the quote he cites. I may have said other things in other quotes. But I did not and have never said what Ken attributes to me in this blog in the quote he provides nor have I said it any where else.

    Moreover Ken after misrepresenting my position spends much of the post comparing me to Stalin and Mao mass murderers.

    Straw men and ad hominems are hardly compelling evidence.

    (He still hasn’t fronted up with an example, so his claim remains moot.)

    Sorry, as I noted when Ken asked what we mean’t by knowledge Glenn provided him with three sources one from Plantinga explaining it. Ken stated he was going to ignore this.
    I also did reply to Ken about what I meant by theological evidence, but that was ignored as well.

    Let me get this straight. You want knowledge to be a “warranted true statement”, but a statement “there are 135 beans” which then is warranted by counting the beans is not a warranted statement even thought it’s just been warranted.

    Er No, Glenn never said this at all,

    If I guess how many beans are in the jar and by fluke get it right. My belief is true, but not warranted hence its not knowledge its simply a true belief. Guessing is not a reliable method.

    On the other hand if I count the beans in the jar as 135 and then believe correctly that its 135 beans then its true and warranted. Its true because there are 135 beans in the jar and its warranted because counting is a reliable way of determining how many things there are.

    Simple

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  7. Hi Matthew,

    As mentioned by others, this particular debate is very hard to follow being split over multiple blogs and all, with a lot of he said/she said.

    I suspect though that what Ken and Heraclides are reacting against here is that you seem to regard scientific knowledge as some form of diminished knowledge, or of lesser value than “true” knowledge. As I posted over at Glen’s blog, I can’t see any basis for this view. I would go further and say that scientific knowledge is the highest value and most certain knowledge that we have due to the variety of methods of acquisition and testing. All possible techniques for improving the accuracy and certainty of such knowledge can, and are used.

    The question for you is: It seems that at the origin of this debate you were arguing that there are methods other than what science uses for gaining knowledge of greater certainty, and that these methods should be included in schooling. If so, what are these methods, and how do they achieve greater certainty? Perhaps a link to your original post would help me.

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  8. Heraclides:

    ***
    Let me get this straight. You want knowledge to be a “warranted true statement”, but a statement “there are 135 beans” which then is warranted by counting the beans is not a warranted statement even thought it’s just been warranted.
    ***

    No, this is just a silly re-organisation of words. I never said this at all. Please make the effort to read what you reply to.

    What I said is that the statement about 135 jelly beans is not true because we counted them. It’s true because of how many jelly beans are really there – even if we had mis-counted and reached a different answer.

    Of course it is is warranted if it has just been warranted.

    Ken, please help Heraclides out!

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  9. Nick:
    ***I suspect though that what Ken and Heraclides are reacting against here is that you seem to regard scientific knowledge as some form of diminished knowledge, or of lesser value than “true” knowledge. As I posted over at Glen’s blog, I can’t see any basis for this view.
    ***

    I can’t see any basis for it either.

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  10. Matt,

    You’re making attacks on the person (me), instead of just dealing with issues? Bit rich of you to accuse me of much, eh?

    I’d didn’t evade anything (falsely attributing, etc.). You (Matt) certainly accepted that this is want you wanted, whether you wrote those specific words yourself or not. (I repeated Ken’s phrase as you must know very well.) While accepting this statement, you still haven’t substantiated it. Not trying to run away from your stance, are you?

    Sorry, as I noted […] You’re “excused” yourself from other things, not what we wrote. (Three people asked basically the same question about this.) You do seem to be avoiding it.

    Your (Matt’s) explanation of what you think Glenn was writing seems fine. (It gels with what I referred to when writing to Glenn above and has the same meaning as I have written elsewhere myself after all: indeed I tried several times to make this very point to Glenn!) I think the deeper problem is that you, and especially Glenn, need to try think about how others will read your words. The phrase “true belief [statement]” would seem to have a different meaning to you than it would to most people. You seem to be using a phrase that comes from a very narrow context with a meaning that differs from the meaning of the same phrase in common use, but you haven’t thought to point that out. You should be aware of that and knowing that, either tell people or use something from “common language” that has the meaning you intend. To most people, this phrase would imply that the statement had been justified, not that it might only coincidentally be right.

    Glenn: No, this is just a silly re-organisation of words. No, it’s not. It follows directly from your writing. At best, you need to be clearer and think about how other will read your words. (See above.)

    What I said is that the statement about 135 jelly beans is not true because we counted them. [read: we just warranted that there are 135 beans by counting them.] It’s true because of how many jelly beans are really there – even if we had mis-counted and reached a different answer. [read: the statement “there are 135 beans” is warranted even if we counted wrongly.]

    It’s really is NOT clear from reading this at face value what it means. I only get a guess at what you intend from reading Matt’s explanation and riddling out that from Matt’s explanation that the phrase “true belief” appears to have special meaning to you that you haven’t elaborated prior to using it. It appears to be that “true belief [statement]” to you means “my statement [opinion or “belief” for you] was coincidentally right” and therefore is a “true statement”. The trouble is that “true statement” to most people will imply that is was justified as true. Getting back to what appears to be your meaning of the phrase, the statement might happen to be right, but it’s not knowledge until it’s warranted, it’s just an opinion (as I’ve said elsewhere and Matt has also said above). It’s not knowledge, you didn’t know it was right. As your “explanation” says, it’d be “right” even if the warranting was wrong. Being right in this way doesn’t make it knowledge. But I’m repeating things I wrote ages ago…

    The only reason I’m even getting to this point is by trying to figure out “alternative meanings” you’ve placed on words and phrases! If I have read every sentence you write this way, we’ll be at it for centuries as most words have alternative meanings. A simple rule is that people will use the common-language meaning unless you say otherwise. You seem to be using a meaning from a very narrow context that conflicts with the common-language meaning without pointing that out first.

    Nick: No, that’s not what I’ve been after. I can’t even recall them have said that science’s approach is “less than” philosophy, so much as conflating philosophy’s ability to greater than it is. Two sides to a coin, if you like, but you’re picking on the wrong side as to what I was coming from. Move practically we’ve moved well past that. (From my perspective, I’ve already covered this in a post Matt didn’t reply to.) To me the remaining issue is that Matt won’t substantiate a position that if he didn’t say it himself it certainly accepted. He doesn’t get to wriggle off it by saying he didn’t say those words: he certainly accepted that position; he did try present one example which fell short and now appears—as far as I can make out—to be avoiding it.

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  11. Excuse all the typos. No time to edit, but just bash it out, etc.

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  12. Well, if Glenn now denies his his description of the jelly bean knowledge (as described in his comment) perhaps we are making progress. Perhaps he is adjusting the presentation of his abstract philosophical definition of knowledge to accord more with practical scientific epistemology.

    But – to be clear (since he implies that I misrepresent him) this is what he actually said in his comment:

    “In the above example, we have counted the jellybeans so we have a very well supported theory (some theories are not well supported). So yes it is a theory. However, our belief, encapsulated in this theory is also true – and it’s not true because we have counted the jellybeans, it’s true because as a matter of fact (in dependent of what we may or may not think) there really are 135 jellybeans in the jar. What makes it a theory is that we believe it and the way we formulate the claim. What makes it knowledge is the fact that it is true, and we believe it, and we have a sufficient warrant for believing it.” My emphasis.

    Now, I specifically asked him to commit himself on this example so that we could consider a practical example. As you see he did actually use the terms :“well supported theory”, a “true belief”, “true as a matter of fact” and therefore “knowledge.” Those were his words not mine.

    OK Glenn – you now say you accept my description of scientific theory. Good – that progress because you yourself had presented a naive mechanical description of theories as either “true” or “false” (eg your planetary example – and your jelly beans). And that is not how things are.

    Now what about pointing out to Matt how wrong he is to claim the same naive mechanical view and then conclude that scientific knowledge is not a history of progress.

    I suspect, though, you are continuing to deny scientific knowledge is knowledge. You will persist in the abstract definition using “true belief” (with a convenient, but is suspect suspicious, ignoring of how the truth is determined). If so you should acknowledge that you are defining the word differently to that used by most dictionaries and most people.

    And yes, Glenn, you are quite correct. My article on Matt’s “epistemology” was facetious – it was planned that way. I think ridiculous ideas are sometimes most effectively exposed by ridicule.

    Unfortunately, you persist with the same hubris as Matt when you say: “scientists need the humility to accept instruction from other disciplines.” (I am sure Stalin and Mao would have justified their political commissars and the overseeing role of the Party in the same manner – yes I am ridiculing the idea). Of course Matt revealed what he would like to do if he had the power to impose his instruction onto scientists – force them to include “theological claims” as “evidence” within science. Do you also want that? Is that what is behind your desire to instruct me?

    Perhaps you should have enough humility to see that scientist do epistemology every working day. As such, I believe that most scientists have an intuitive understanding of scientific epistemology which many people trained in philosophy don’t. (And I think your comments on planetary orbits and jelly beans are an example). If only more trained philosophers would recognise that.

    But perhaps that humility is what comes with experience.

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  13. I also am very unhappy that this discussion is spread over 2 or 3 sites and this creates difficulty in referring to original arguments. However, Glenn’s blog just won’t accept my comments at the moment (even the word “test”).

    I can only put this down to my evil karma or demonic spirits. After all most apologetics blogs delete my comments. Now that I have found two that don’t (Matt’s and Glenn’s) Matt’s blog develops all sorts of comment problems which blocked discussion and Glenn’s refuses to allow me to comment!

    I realise that this is not a “naturalist” or “materialist” explanation. However, as I have pointed out many times before, in practice science doesn’t deny consideration of any evidence – it doesn’t concern itself with the words naturalist or supernatural. It just follows the evidence, all the evidence.

    So we have this little bit of evidence. I have postulated one hypothesis. But I think I will wait for more evidence, and a chance to test this hypothesis, before giving it the grand title of theory or knowledge.

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  14. “Ken, please help Heraclides out!” Actually, Glenn, you would help us all out if you could only tell us how you determine truth. Use the example of the jelly beans. You used the term true belief and claim that you had this true belief/knowledge that there were 135 beans. But you don’t describe how you came to this conclusion – and in fact denied that it was based on counting those beans that interacted with electromagnetic radiation.

    Now I have pointed out a scenario where your “true belief”/knowledge of 135 beans was actually wrong. That conclusion would be based on evidence (as I believe your original “true belief” of 135 beans was). Now, of course you will agree that there are more than 135 beans. This is your new “true belief” and you will deny that it is based on the evidence I mention.

    So, I think, the key question is how you determined your belief is “true’ without referring to evidence. This is the suspect part and my reading of Platinga indicates he is prepared to pull all sorts of tricks in ascribing his warrant. Claiming for example that such warrant can only be obtained by having a design given by a god! Or that warrant can be supplied by personal conviction!

    These are the suspicious parts which I reject,. And I am certainly not going to “take instruction” from people like that.

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  15. For the record – Ken HAS successfully posted at my blog, as he will admit. I have also deleted one post that contained only the word “test.” This post appeared before the one that he successfully posted. Others are successfully posting there. Only one individual in the world is having this difficulty (namnekly the person who, on other people’s blogs, urges people to come back to his own blog and sicuss it there), and I strongly suggest that the problem is in the method that person is using. I have even privately emailed him and asked him to tell me what the “error message” that he has referred to in the past says, but he has not told me.

    On the subject at hand, Ken, your persistent problem is that you attribute claims and positions to me that simply are not mine, just as you do to Matt. You now say: “So, I think, the key question is how you determined your belief is “true’ without referring to evidence. ”

    Where did I ever say that I would or could do any such thing? I never did. What I have said more than once now is that evidence leads us to provisional judgements about what is true. They are provisional judgements because they could be incorrect. Provided we hold those beliefs because of good warrant, then those beliefs will constitute knowledge just if they are true. As I have said in multiple places now, we might not perfectly know which of our beliefs are knowledge and which are not. That we are not omniscient or infallible is just a fact of life, and not a flaw with this normal definition of knowledge.

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  16. Oh, one more thing, Ken – how is it that you can think that there are some true beliefs that are not true? You say:

    ***
    Now I have pointed out a scenario where your “true belief”/knowledge of 135 beans was actually wrong. That conclusion would be based on evidence (as I believe your original “true belief” of 135 beans was). Now, of course you will agree that there are more than 135 beans. This is your new “true belief” and you will deny that it is based on the evidence I mention.
    ***

    Ken, if there are not actually 135 beans, then nobody can have a “true belief” that there are 135 beans. What they have is called a “false belief.”

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  17. For the record Glenn I have managed to make one substantive comment on your post – after another containing only “test” I sent because because my previous post (several days before) had been rejected and lost.

    Several other attempts have not been successful.

    Now Glenn – did you or did you not receive my email sent at 10:30 am this morning which reads as follows?:
    “I have just tried to make a brief comment and get this message:
    “Sorry, but your comment has been flagged by the spam filter running on this blog: this might be an error, in which case all apologies. Your comment will be presented to the blog admin who will be able to restore it immediately.
    You may want to contact the blog admin via e-mail to notify him.”

    Obviously it’s not possible for me to comment directly on your blog. I don’t know why as I have never struck this problem before.
    Pity, as I want my comments to relate to yours and to your post. I’ll just have to see what I can do.
    Meanwhile I’ll probably continue comment on my own blog – or alternatively get around to doing my own article on this issue.
    Ken.”

    If you didn’t, then there must be another administration problem with your blog.

    Perhaps you are proposing an alternative hypothesis that I am being dishonest and it’s all a plot to divert discussion to this blog. Well, your evidence isn’t there is it? Mind you, I’m not claiming the hypothesis I presented earlier is any better.

    Perhaps its got something to do with cookies. This might explain why I am the only one rejected. Perhaps something happened in the past to give me a bad cookie. Unfortunately, I don’t really understand this too well – perhaps one of the local computer geeks could advise us.

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  18. Glenn – “Ken, if there are not actually 135 beans, then nobody can have a “true belief” that there are 135 beans. What they have is called a “false belief.””

    Well, Glenn, you committed yourself to that “false belief”, declaring it a “true belief” in your comment. I was specific in asking for your application to that specific problem.

    It does reveal that the real problems here are:

    1: How one determines of a belief is “true” (and if you can’t why use the term which has a completely different common usage)?

    2: What procedure is used to “warrant/justify” a claim?

    So please – can you be specific in replying to two questions:
    1: What examples can you provide of “knowledge”, according to your abstract definition? (I take it you have backed away from the jelly bean example and wonder just what you would commit to. This might help us see how you can define that knowledge as a “true belief.”
    2: Do you include methods other than empirical evidence in your warranting procedure.?Specifically, do you include things like personal conviction, overwhelming belief, revelation, and a god-provided design enabling determination of truth (Platinga implies that warrant requires existence of a god)?

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  19. @Hericlides. Ok, perhaps I am reading a bit too much between the lines.

    Due to all the multi blog issues, and because the actual discussion seems to be taking place here. I post below what I posted a couple of hours back on Glen’s blog:

    Hi Glen,

    Thanks for the definition, perhaps you could clarify something for me. It seems to me (hard to tell, but I get a whiff) that you are a bit hung up on the “true” portion of this definition. Correct me if I am wrong, but it seems that the necessarily provisional nature of scientific theories somehow places them in another category other than knowledge for you.

    What I am driving at here, is that the true portion of your definition is actually not practically useful, at least as a binary TRUE/FALSE value as there appears to be no way to achieve 100% certainty about the truth of anything. Without the ability to achieve this 100% certainty, I would say that the true bit of the definition is redundant and actually practically meaningless. Unless of course, you know of any ways to achieve this 100% certainty?

    For the record, I have no direct experience of science, or of philosophy (outside of the pub anyways), but I do have an opinion, and this is a blog, so:

    In fact, for practical applications, it seems to me that a more useful (and honest) definition would be to replace this true stuff with a probability of certainty. Perhaps this is unorthodox, but I would then define knowledge as information about something, that has a probability of certainty. Nb. Of course, with such a definition, both the information and the probability of certainty can be incredibly complex and interrelated things.

    Where does science come into this? I rather like the image of science (and scientists) as providing an evolutionary fitness function in developing/evolving knowledge. Achieving ever more detailed, useful and certain information about reality. It also seems to be hugely practical in that any technique that can be used to improve the certainty of the knowledge can, and is used to do so. This includes, but is not limited to philosophical ideas were possible.

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  20. And then I made a further clarification, as replicated below:

    I don’t disagree that you can define a category of things that are true. What I am saying is that we have no way of knowing what the members of the bucket labelled true things are to a 100% certainty. Without a way of determining the members of that category, then the actual category itself is practically useless. Thus, a more practically useful definition of knowledge should contain some concept of probability or degree of certainty, through which we can use that knowledge.

    Perhaps there could be some utility for such an abstract category of true things, but I haven’t yet read anything in this thread that supports such utility.

    I would probably even go so far out on a limb as to propose that the category itself does not exist for human beings, in that our languages and even thoughts are not precise enough to even compose information/knowledge that can be categorised as a 100% true description of reality. Maybe there is always room for refinement of knowledge. Perhaps the resident philosopher can flesh this out with some discussion on philosophy of language?

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  21. On the subject of truth and blog posting. I have an hypothesis as to why Ken is unable to post on Glen’s blog.

    Perhaps there exists a rule in the blog software Glen is using (it looks like WordPress), whereby posts from the same IP address as posts that have previously been deleted (or perhaps even marked as spam) by the administrator are subsequently automatically flagged as spam.

    I have no direct experience of WordPress, but would suggest that we could test this Hypothesis in a number of ways. One prediction that I would make under this hypothesis is that if Ken changed his IP adress (this would be dependant on his ISP), that subsequent comments are allowed.

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  22. Nick, I have tried again with both Firefox and Explorer. Same result – treated as spoam and rejected.

    As regards IP address. Don’t I get given a different IP address each time I log on to the internet? This has been happening for a week or so now.

    If not – how do I change the address? Is it easy? Is my modem involved? And is it wise? Don’t want other problems

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  23. Should add, Nick that initially I lost a comment this way, then several days later got 2 through, and since then have tried for several days with no luck.

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  24. Usually ISPs provide dynamic IP addresses for private customers, with the option of static addresses , which are necessary when people want to host anything. In my experience however, the dynamic IP does not necessarily change that often, particularly with broadband “always on” connections, the IP can stay the same for long periods of time. This is not really my area of expertise, but there are usually some “disconnect when idle” options in the modem configuration. Forcing a disconnect here could mean that you get allocated a new IP by the ISP,but not necessarily. However, I would not recommend changing anything here without knowing what you are doing :-) Perhaps simply turning off the modem for a period of time will also result in a new IP being allocated.

    There should however be some sort of status page accessible through the admin function of your modem that shows what your actual IP currently is. By looking at this, and seeing when/if it changes, this might help a bit.

    The better approach would probably be for Glen to have a look at why his spam filter is rejecting your posts, I would expect that all this would be logged somewhere and is also configurable. That of course is outside your control.

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  25. Ken: Don’t I get given a different IP address each time I log on to the internet?

    Try using whatismyip.com and see for yourself ;-)

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  26. Thanks Heraclides, I see that that site also has some hints for changing your IP address. Given some experience in the IT field however, I would warn that this sort of tinkering could be considered masochistic.

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  27. Thanks.I’ll keep an eye on my IP address. But, meanwhile I won’t make any changes. It doeesn’t effect me anywhere else. I think Glenn should have a look at his blog as I may not be the only one effected in the end.

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  28. I checked my beretta email after getting home from work today and got your mail Ken. As far as I know you are the only individual affected. I have removed the spam filter that was operating. We’ll see what happens.

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  29. Ken says:

    ***
    Well, Glenn, you committed yourself to that “false belief”, declaring it a “true belief” in your comment.
    ***

    Not so. I did nothing like this. In my scenario, I referred to a situation in which it really was true that there were 135 jelly beans. If this is a true belief, it can never become false (unless the actual number of beans does change).

    You might find this trollish or condescending of me – but as a person who works closely with philosophical writing all the time and encounters this problem a lot, I seriously recommend re-reading scenarios and re-reading the way people describe their position to make sure that when you describe it you are doing so fairly and accurately. I notice that virtually all of your basis for so strongly rejecting what I (and Matt) say is based on what looks like a very clear misrepresentation by you of what was said.

    I see no real need to continue this here (especially because the above phenomenon is somewhat irritating to me). I will continue to discuss it with anyone who comments at the blog where my post actually appeared.

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  30. In fact, for practical applications, it seems to me that a more useful (and honest) definition would be to replace this true stuff with a probability of certainty. Perhaps this is unorthodox

    It’s not unorthodox and I believe most serious philosophers (without agendas, that is) prefer this general line of thinking about scientific knowledge over the stricter falsification that Popper suggests. Try searching for “probabilistic falsification” and “probabilistic induction” if it interests you.

    Where does science come into this? I rather like the image of science (and scientists) as providing an evolutionary fitness function in developing/evolving knowledge.

    I quite like this :-)

    Back to our artificial intelligence from some time ago, we’d have an advanced GA (genetic algorithm) or the like slaving away… :-)

    Glenn, bit besides the point now but deleting posts with only the word “test” isn’t a good idea if you know the person is likely to be testing! You’ll just fail their test for all practical purposes and they’ll think it didn’t work!!

    we might not perfectly know which of our beliefs are knowledge and which are not This contradicts your definition of knowledge as I (and Matt) mentioned recently. If you don’t know if a statement (“belief”) is true, that statement is not knowledge. That’s where the “know” of “knowledge” comes from, “knowing”. e.g. in Matt’s words: If I guess how many beans are in the jar and by fluke get it right. My belief is true, but not warranted hence its not knowledge its simply a true belief. (I still don’t like the phrase “true belief”.)

    Put another way, according to your (and Matt’s) definition of knowledge, the correct answer to if we do not know which of our beliefs are true, how many of them are “knowledge”, is “none of them”, no matter how many “happen” to be “right” because you didn’t know if they were right or not.

    I’m working from your/Matt’s definition of knowledge— i.e. “justified true statements”—to try make it easier for you. My own understanding of what “knowledge” is a bit more subtle, but I’m not going to confuse this by introducing that here.

    If you don’t mind me saying so, you (Glenn) sound confused. You might want to read Matt’s explanation and think about it a little. (I’m not saying Matt’s explanation is the “right” definition of knowledge, just that it seems a clear explanation of the position you seem to want to express, but are writing statements that aren’t consistent with.)

    is based on what looks like a very clear misrepresentation by you of what was said.

    Or based on the person writing not taking the trouble to think what their statement reads like to others. Or the person being wrong and them just not being aware of it. I’m not saying which is right, but that you seem to jumping the gun to lump for one answer like that.

    Matt: I still think that you should reply to the questions we asked! :-)

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  31. Heraclides, for crying out loud, read more carefully! This is the last time I wick pick through the bones, so to speak, snd show that virtually every single comment you make is because of your own carelessness.

    I have already fully covered every single point you now raise. For example:

    “we might not perfectly know which of our beliefs are knowledge and which are not ” This contradicts your definition of knowledge as I (and Matt) mentioned recently. If you don’t know if a statement (”belief”) is true, that statement is not knowledge.

    Knowledge, I have said, is a warranted belief that is true. This does not contradict the fact that we might wrongly think that some of our beliefs are knowledge when they are not really knowledge. As I have said, we are capable of being mistaken on the subject of what we know and what we don’t.

    As long as you have a warrant for your belief, and as long as the belief is actually true, then regardless of what else you have or do not have, you have knowledge.

    You think that you’re rejecting the idiosyncratic belief of a few. You’re not. You’re rejecting the normal definition of knowledge.

    Your diagnosis of contradiction is just wrong, incredibly hasty and not well thought out at all.

    You also say:

    Put another way, according to your (and Matt’s) definition of knowledge, the correct answer to if we do not know which of our beliefs are true, how many of them are “knowledge”, is “none of them”, no matter how many “happen” to be “right” because you didn’t know if they were right or not.

    Again, completely wrong. This does not follow from any of my claims. The fact that I have the humility to admit that I am able to be wrong in my assessment of what is true and what is not certainly does not imply that I can never know if any statement is true. You are making the following invalid inference:

    1) It’s not the case that we perfectly know which of our beliefs are true and which are not (i.e. we are fallible).
    2) Therefore for every belief that we hold, we do not know if it is true.

    Since this is an invalid inference, why should anyone take it seriously?

    And to think, after presenting arguments like this, you call me confused!

    PS – as I said, I deleted the “test” post only after Ken had later successfully posted a real post.

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  32. @Glen. Then surely, as I have asked on your blog, the question is: How do you know which of your beliefs are true? Surely this is what science is all about, or do you have some other method for knowing which is true.

    Ken explicitly ask you this earlier in this thread, and even provided some examples to get going with. His question is below:
    2: Do you include methods other than empirical evidence in your warranting procedure.?Specifically, do you include things like personal conviction, overwhelming belief, revelation, and a god-provided design enabling determination of truth (Platinga implies that warrant requires existence of a god)?

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  33. @Glen. To be clear. The question stands for both beliefs which you are 100% certain are true, and also for those that you are not 100% certain of. Perhaps the difference in answers between these two things will be illuminating.

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  34. Nikk, and I replied (as you acknowledged at my blog) with examples. You ask now replying in a different location where people can’t see our conversation, as though I had not done so. The example of mathematics you pushed away saying that it might be anything but simple (although you didn’t offer a reason to doubt the example).

    The reason I did not respond to the remainder of Kenn’s post is that the first half perpetuated the blatant misrepresentation of me. He has done little but draw absurd conclusions about simple descriptions of a subject I think he would fairly candidly admit to be a relative newbie in, and instead of admitting his own hasty misunderstanding, he has attributed his apparent change of heart to some of my comments to a change of my position. Crazy!

    But OK, I’ll turn to the examples Kenn used: His question is framed as though he does not know what the term “warrant” means. he asks me what “methods” I include in my “warranting procedure,” as though warrant is something that we do (e.g. we warrant our beliefs). But anyone who knows what a warrant is will find this to be a bizarre way to put words together. We do not warrant our beliefs. Some of our beliefs have warrant, certainly.

    So i will have to re-organise his written thoughts to try to make them make sense. I am assuming that what he would like to ask is more like this: “What types of thing do you think might bestow warrant apart from empirical evidence?”

    Kenn uses the terms “personal conviction” and “overwhelming belief.” These are just other ways of saying “belief.” This too is a jumbled collection of ideas. Fancy asking if belief confers warrant upon belief! Maybe I can improve this for him: Maybe he wanted instead to ask whether or not previously held warranted beliefs could bestow warrant on new beliefs. If that’s what he meant instead, then the answer is obviously yes, without a doubt. It’s normal for all of us, when doing science and when not, to base our understanding of the world on our existing knowledge. Otherwise when interpreting data we’d have to learn to read all over again, learn how to use examining equipment, learn to study history again, etc.

    The example of “revelation” is also fairly easy, since if revelation does exist, then it can bestow warrant upon beliefs. Obviously if it doesn’t exist (i.e. the things that people think are revelation really aren’t), then it can’t be used.

    Kenn’s reference to Plantinga concerns me, because I am absolutely certain that ken has neither familiarity with the complexities of Plantinga’s arguments surrounding warrant nor the sympathetic willingness to understand them without trying as hard as possible to find a turn of phrase that he objects to so that he can pounce at what he thinks he has found. Doubtless Kenn finds that characterisation of him unfair. I beg to differ.

    I will therefore re-word Kenn’s description of the final item in the list: “a belief forming structure that is working as it should in a truth aimed way in an environment that is conducive to it providing reliable information” (that, after all, is Plantinga’s view). And my answer is yes, such a thing does tend to bestow warrant on beliefs.

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  35. Glenn,

    There is a contradiction according yourself. If you don’t understand or can’t see it, that’s fine, but don’t accuse me of being stupid, please.

    Please re-read your statement:

    we might not perfectly know which of our beliefs are knowledge and which are not

    This reads as carrying the meaning “at the time we proposed the statement [belief] we were uncertain if it was right or not”.

    But according to you:

    Knowledge […] is a warranted belief that is true.

    But if you aren’t sure that the statement is right at the time you made it, then it can’t be strictly “warranted true belief”, but something weaker (e.g. to allow “likely to be right”). You’d have to weaken your definition of knowledge for the two to be compatible.

    I’m not saying I disagree or agree with your conclusions or your definition of knowledge, just pointing out your statements aren’t consistent with one-another.

    Knowledge, I have said, is a warranted belief that is true. This does not contradict the fact that we might wrongly think that some of our beliefs are knowledge when they are not really knowledge You’re presenting a different position here, one where you later find out you have erred after the fact, i.e. at the time of making the statement you were “sure” you were right, but later find that you weren’t. This not what you wrote earlier, to which I replied. (It may well have been what you intended, but it’s how it reads.) Even this position is in conflict with the strict way you have defined “knowledge”. If you subsequently discover a statement wasn’t warranted or justified well enough to be knowledge, it was never knowledge in the first place.

    Please note I am not writing about what I think knowledge is, but comparing your statements with your definition of knowledge. Some of your statements read as if you think I’m writing about my position (e.g. “You think that you’re rejecting the idiosyncratic belief of a few. You’re not. You’re rejecting the normal definition of knowledge.”) I’m not, I’m paraphrasing how your statements read when they’re put together. (On that note, the inference you refer to isn’t my inference, but one that can be inferred if one were to put your statements together.)

    Back on topic, according to your (Matt’s) definition of knowledge, not knowing if a belief is true is equivalent to saying that belief hasn’t been justified well enough to be knowledge.

    Allowing uncertain things to be knowledge would be like knowing “I’m not sure if I counted the beans properly”, yet trying to say that “there are 135 beans” is knowledge. It doesn’t make sense. What you’re left with is an opinion, not knowledge, one that might be a little better in that you might be able to say “the number of beans is close to 135″, but the original statement—”there are 135 beans”—hasn’t been justified. A new, “weaker” or “looser” statement might be justified, though.

    If you thought you’d counted correctly, but erred (i.e. you are fallible and failed), it’s not knowledge, because the justification was invalid.

    Likewise, if you counted sloppily, but got the right answer, it’s not knowledge, it’s just a fancier version getting it right by fluke. (See Matt’s definition. This is related to the issue of getting the right answer by the wrong means, which is a real issue.)

    Under your strict definition, knowledge is only knowledge if both the statement and the justification were correct.

    You have put forward a very rigid notion of what knowledge is, but now want a looser set of things to be consistent with it and you are running into the rigid definition you laid down earlier. Something has to give! You could “weaken” (“loosen”, whatever) your definition of knowledge. (I would be looking at “warrant”, “justify” or “true” in particular.)

    For what it’s worth, this isn’t a bad direction to go (see Nick’s earlier post and my reply to it, it’s relevant), but to have your more recent statements hold true, you have to go back and re-work your definition of knowledge to make the two sets of statements consistent with one-another.

    Alternatively, this could be a consequence of you having a different idea of what “justification” means, as Nick’s more recent posts query. You might want to clear that up; we’d need to know where you stand on that.

    Matt: I suspect all you have to do is treat the use of the word ‘warrant’ as a verb as meaning ‘justify’ (which is a correct use of the word ‘warrant’). Seems straight-forward enough to me. I suspect your insisting on a narrow meaning without looking at the more common meaning first, as has happen before with you and Glenn. (I haven’t time to read other blogs, so I’m only working from skimming your message.)

    Why won’t you answer the question you were asked? You’re not willing to back that “theological evidence” should be considered in scientific theories? Should we take it you have the opposite view, that “theological evidence” shouldn’t be part of scientific theories?

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  36. @Glen. I think you have misinterpreted my question. I am not asking for specific examples of things that you regard as true knowledge, I am asking you for the mechanisms in which you can be 100% sure of their status as true knowledge. The two examples you gave were:

    As a whole, perhaps, but there are definitely some propositions that I think it’s safe to say that we know. For example “1 + 1 = 2″ or “I am now posting on my blog.”

    But I have missed the bit where you show why/how you are 100% certain about these.

    On your last post, you start to explore some mechanisms, linking of knowledge items together (of course there is a complex net of interconnections between items of knowledge), and a bit of a throwaway comment about revelation existing or not. How do either of these give you your 100% certainty.

    Also, it is interesting that you find the suggestions of “personal conviction” and “overwhelming belief” contemptible. I’m sure you can see why Ken added these to the list. If not, then let me spell it out. These are precisely the sort of reasons that people have for holding 100% certainty about things. As you say, these are just other ways of saying belief, and as such are not reasonable justifications for 100% certainty. For the record, the only thing I can find in your posts that relates to how you can be 100% certain about your two examples was “there are definitely some propositions that I think it’s safe to say that we know.” How is this not a statement of belief? Where is the justification for those beliefs?

    Surely if you as an epistemologist are looking to having an input into science and the accumulation of “knowledge” you could make a great contribution by explaining methods for achieving 100% certainty.

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  37. And if anybody is interested. Below is my original answer to Glen’s examples on his blog:

    I would agree that we could probably weight the first of those statements up near the high end of certainty, but doesn’t this lead into the idea of platonic knowledge and a possible debate about whether mathematics has reality and is discovered, or is an invented construct that exists within certain constraints. To put it another way, is it possible to imagine scenarios in which we could discover that 1+1!=2? I think I can just about do this enough to lower the certainty of that statement below 100%. To put it another way, if you deconstruct the equation, there are some pretty meaty justifications needed for the different concepts here. You will of course be aware of the contributions of Betrand Russell in this area. Having read some of his writing on this, I would suggest that the seemingly simple certainty of the equation can be seen as anything but.

    The 2nd of your statements is more problematic, particularly from where I am sitting. You could be a hacker posting from Estonia for all I know. Given the context though, I am perfectly happy to accept that you are posting on your blog as a working hypothesis.

    Your second statement gets even more interesting from where you are sitting, in that we could rapidly get into all sorts of thorny sense of self and consciousness issues and even good old existentialism. All of which, in my opinion is sufficient to again reduce this certainty below 100%.

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  38. Heraclides, with all respect, in my estimate I have gained as much value from replying to you on this subject as is possible. As I have said, I think that the way you understand and represent things that have been said to you on this subject is not particularly good.

    Nick, part of the problem with merely reproducing comments from one blog to another is that it suggests that a reply is required in both places. I won’t be replying to the reproduced comment here, although I may offer further thoughts in the place you copied it from.

    On the general question of how we can obtain 100% certainty, surely you see that this question is not a challenge to the standard definition of knowledge that I defend. It’s a question of a different sort, not “how can we have knowledge,” but “how can we be sure that what we have is knowledge.” An analogous question would be, rather than “what is warrant,” asking “how can we obtain the psychological stance of certainty about whether our belief is warranted.”

    Don’t get me wrong, it’s not an uninteresting question. I just wanted to make it clear that this line of questioning is not a challenge to the standard definition of knowledge.

    Essentially, it’s like asking, not “how do you know?” but rather “how do you know that you know?”

    Although the answer I am about to give is fairly run of the mill in epistemology, it might be unfamiliar and unusual sounding to some here: I maintain that We can know things without “knowing that we know” them. This position is called epistemic externalism (I’d recommend googling it and becoming familiar with it before anyone decides to attack it). In fact, I think the alternative (internalism) is deeply flawed. If, for everything that we know, we also have to “know that we know” it, then we cannot actually know anything at all, because this creates an infinite regress.

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  39. Excuse my using “Matt” rather than Glenn, what I get for posting in the wee hours after a long day.

    Glenn, I take it you want to dismiss what I wrote out of hand. Fine, it’s your loss in my opinion.

    (I’m replying to this as I read, not after I’ve read the whole post; short on time, etc.)

    In your reply to Nick (and in your previous posts to me), you’re invoking circular logic or contradictions unless you weaken/refine your definition of knowledge. In particular, this paragraph runs straight into the points I raised in my previous post: On the general question of how […]

    That you’re calling for circular logic even follows directly from your statements, e.g. “how do you know that you know?” You’re using “know” in a recursive fashion, e.g. next it’ll be “how do you know, that you know, that you know?” … and on endlessly. You’re going to need something to escape that recursion. This was a point raised quite some time ago in a different form (justify the justifiers, etc.)

    I maintain that We can know things without “knowing that we know” them.

    Your latest addition does sounds like something that can be welded as an excuse to justify some of the things Ken raised, if someone chose to. (From Nick’s list: personal conviction, overwhelming belief, revelation, and a god-provided design enabling determination of truth.) Whatever strength it has in (sound) philosophy, I think there is good reason to be wary of the ease that it could be abused.

    By the same token, I’d be wary of someone with an agenda (e.g. religious bias) trying to “resolve” this. Not saying that they “have” to get it wrong, just “caution needed here”.

    Could I point out that despite dismissing me, you are in fact doing what I pointed out you’d have to do? I said you’d have to refine/change your definition of knowledge and here you are doing it. It seems that you want to work on the “justification” aspect, which is the aspect I pointed at. I’m not saying I agree (or not) with the particular way you’re going about it, just that it seems a bit silly to dismiss me only do the very thing I said you’d have to do.

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  40. Herclides, you are alleging that I am making changes that I am not making.

    Cheers
    Glenn.

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  41. Funnily enough, I feel I have learned quite a bit from this discussion (at least about some theological positions) and it would be a pity for Glenn and Matt to depart – I would love to learn more. I think if they could just work at explaining their concepts properly we could make more progress. Glenn’s reference to “epistemic externalism” at this late stage helps make his dogmatic insistence on knowledge as “true belief” more capable of interpretation.

    However, it never helps to react emotively in a discussion like this. (I sometimes wonder if feminists are right in their judgement of men being prone to “pissing competitions” and thereby avoiding proper discussion. Perhaps if more women participated here it might help?)

    But, I have had to have a bit of a giggle. Precipitated really by our old friend Bnonn “commenting” over at Thinking Matters (http://talk.thinkingmatters.org.nz/2009/the-definition-game/). This sort of behaviour has led me, in the past, to describe Bnonn, Stuart, Matt and Glenn as “the angry young men from Thinking Matters.” One can make the simplest comment and get jumped on, lectured at, given a good sermoning to, for it.

    I have been giggling about this image of a Thinking Matters cell meeting. Everyone is so dogmatic, so judgemental, that no-one dares inject a new idea for fear of retribution.

    I have seen it all before – it only reinforces dogma.

    Now, Glenn has called me a “relative newbie” wrt epistemology. I suppose I should be flattered at my age to have the term “newbie” associated with my name. However, it is a subject that has interested me for years – starting long before Glenn was born. I actually think that long consideration, and actual practical work in scientific research, which is very much about epistemology, produces a maturity.

    I made this point, provocatively, in my reference to Marxist philosophy on the previous thread (July 31, 2009 at 11:09 am). Unfortunately, it didn’t get a response.

    But I think this relationship between theory/philosophy and practice can be at the heart of many conflicts between theology and science.

    Scientists develop a good intuitive understanding of epistemology – because they do it every day. Theologians can develop a good “academic, philosophical” vocabulary in the area – but nothing really beats experience.

    While Glenn insists on presenting Platinga’s position in a very abstract manner, I can easily interpret comments like “a belief forming structure that is working as it should in a truth aimed way in an environment that is conducive to it providing reliable information.” After all, this could be a very rough abstract definition of the scientific process. But Platinga does make clear that it is his way of saying that this is only possible for a theist.

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  42. Ken, a couple of things:

    Firstly, I did explain my idea properly. It’s a new area for you as I think you agree, and you’re coming to grips with it. That doesn’t mean I didn’t correctly explain it to begin with, it just means that it’s becoming more familiar to you over time, and you jumped the gun with some of your attempted criticisms.

    Secondly, you’re still misrepresenting me. I have explicitly stated that I do not think that knowledge is just true belief. My original blog post made ths clear in very simple terms. However you’re still saying:

    Glenn’s reference to “epistemic externalism” at this late stage helps make his dogmatic insistence on knowledge as “true belief” more capable of interpretation.

    So as you can see, you’re still misrepresenting my position, showing that the problem was not at my end when it comes to clarity.

    Oh, Herclides, another thing: You accused me of falling intot he infinite regress problem when it comes to “knowing that we know.” have another look – carefully. I actually pointed out that this regress is a problem and I rejected it by saying that we do not always have to know that we know. I said this explicitly, and yet you still made your comment anyway.

    The number onbe problem here is definitely haste on the part of Ken and Herclides, not taking the time to carefully read what they respond to, and as a result, misrepresenting me even after I have explicitly stated that I do not believe the things that they are attributing to me. I hope that this is not how you do science.

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  43. Glenn – I see this just as the old male justification response. Emotional reaction.

    I think the problem is not just how you explain things – its how you understand things. That is why your characterisation of science can be so incorrect.

    I think the jelly bean thought experiment was extremely telling (as is also perhaps your reaction after I developed it further). You did declare a “true belief” knowledge of 135 beans and no doubt felt I tricked you when I introduced the possibility (and evidence for) beans that didn’t interact with electromagnetic radiation.

    My aim was to demonstrate to you the practical truth about investigating reality. With your attitude you would always think nature was tricking you, rather than realise that your own epistemological approach was the problem. Consequently you would not be able to develop a scientific understanding of reality, a knowledge which you have the humility to understand is always provisional.

    Your understanding of “knowledge” was just not up to the situation. This is often the case with “academic’ understanding – that is why I raised Marx’s thesis in this regard.

    That is why I think it is very arrogant of people who have an academic or theological understanding of philosophy claiming they can instruct us in this area. Even when they can’t actually give, or deal with, practical examples in debates like this!

    Over the years I have sometimes visited colleagues working at universities and spent time in staff common rooms. I have noticed a strong demarcation between scientific and humanities staff. Scientific colleagues have often commented disparagingly on overheard conversations involving academic philosophers. And I am sure the demarcation was usually mutual.

    I have picked up the same wariness and suspicions from scientists in other situations too and both philosophers and scientists do comment on the gap between them.

    I think this suspicion (at least from our side) arises from the abstract nature of discussion, the unwillingness (or inability) to consider real situations and examples, which some philosophers indulge in.

    On the other hand there are philosopher who are not remote from real science, who do keep themselves familiar with what is happening is science, and actually have the humility to learn something from this. I think we can and do actually develop extremely good and productive relationships with philosophers like this.

    I would never advance the idea that scientists should “instruct” philosophers. But I believe the good philosophers actually do make the effort to study, and appreciate, scientific epistemology.

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  44. Well Ken, I consider every claim you just made about me, what I think, what I understand, and what my attitude is, to be sheer fabrication.

    I really see little point in discussing this further with someone as untechable and arrogant as you, sicne you are allowing your ideological disagreement with my theological beliefs (something that I have not even brought into the simply definition of truth) that you’re just unwilling to engage reasonably. Sorry, that’s just how I see it.

    Feel free to make whatever false and sweeping claims about “academics” who do not bow to your understanding of reality. The reality is, those who know better will not care or feel threatened, and those who don’t know any better will either not care or pat you on the back.

    Enjoy the subject.

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  45. I meant “unteachable” and “free to make whatever claims you like about…”

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  46. Glenn,

    Firstly, it’s Heraclides, with an ‘a’ ;-)

    Secondly, you are doing a lot of arguing the person, not the material in your latest posts. Just a head’s up.

    From the point of view of a reader, you have made changes. You might well have had these opinions for some time, but we can only work from what you present to us.

    That doesn’t mean I didn’t correctly explain it to begin with, it just means that it’s becoming more familiar to you over time, and you jumped the gun with some of your attempted criticisms.

    It equally means that you have later included things that were needed to understand your position on your earlier statements. I think “correct” is the wrong word to choose: “complete” might be better. There wasn’t enough information for the reader to understand you position without more information. Nothing wrong with that, everyone does it, so why make an excuse for it that pins the “blame” on the reader?

    have another look – carefully. I actually pointed out that this regress is a problem and I rejected it by saying that we do not always have to know that we know. I said this explicitly, and yet you still made your comment anyway.

    I can’t see that you have and saying that “we do not always have to know” doesn’t fix it. Firstly, whatever recursion escape” you chose would have apply in every single instance, not occasionally as “we do not always have to” implies. Secondly, it seems to me that adding “we do not always have to know” will only run into “do we know that we don’t need to know”, which will only introduce a different recursion (but one based around the same need to resolve the knowing).

    Someone mentioned a long time back with words to the effect (as far as I can recall!) that they felt that the recursion of justification really had to stop with something somewhat arbitrary, e.g. a declaration that something was “good enough”. (I’m not saying I agree with this, but it’s one way of resolving it.)

    You’re welcome to provide a quote for where you have “pointed out that this regress is a problem” and where you rejected it, I can’t see that you have done this. If you are referring to your statement that “we do not always have to know”, this doesn’t seem to do this.

    Ken,

    One can make the simplest comment and get jumped on, lectured at, given a good sermoning to, for it.

    Add “banned from the blog” for it to the list.

    I have been giggling about this image of a Thinking Matters cell meeting. Everyone is so dogmatic, so judgemental, that no-one dares inject a new idea for fear of retribution.

    Nothing personal about those being referred to, but this general image is hilarious. Surely there is a Python sketch that works this theme?

    think this suspicion (at least from our side) arises from the abstract nature of discussion, the unwillingness (or inability) to consider real situations and examples, which some philosophers indulge in.

    For what it’s worth, I sometimes feel there is a similar suspicion between some classes of experimental and theoretical scientists. Sometimes this is even somewhat justified (in my opinion, of course!) For example, by theoretical biologists of those theoreticians that haven’t boned up enough on the “reality” of the system they’re studying. I’d have to flesh out examples for this to fully make sense, but I hope you get the general drift.

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  47. @Glen. My insomnia seems to have eased off now, so consequently I have less time, but I will endeavour to read a little up on epistemic externalism when I get a chance, and might post follow up observations on your blog. Looks to me like this thread is over.

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