The Problem of Knowledge: Prolegomena to an Epistemology

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Each man has ten coins in his pocket. Smith has excellent reasons to believe that Jones will get the job and, furthermore, knows that Jones has ten coins in his pocket he recently counted them.

Immanuel Kant: Metaphysics

From this Smith infers, "The man who will get the job has ten coins in his pocket. Furthermore, Smith, not Jones, is going to get the job. While Smith has strong evidence to believe that Jones will get the job, he is wrong. Smith has a justified true belief that the man who will get the job has ten coins in his pocket; however, according to Gettier, Smith does not know that the man who will get the job has ten coins in his pocket, because Smith's belief is " These cases fail to be knowledge because the subject's belief is justified, but only happens to be true by virtue of luck.

In other words, he made the correct choice believing that the man who will get the job has ten coins in his pocket for the wrong reasons.

Immanuel Kant: Metaphysics

This example is similar to those often given when discussing belief and truth—wherein a person's belief of what will happen can coincidentally be correct without the actual knowledge to base it on. The responses to Gettier have been varied. Usually, they have involved substantial attempts to define knowledge different from the classical one, either by recasting knowledge as justified true belief with some additional fourth condition, or proposing a completely new set of conditions disregarding the classical ones entirely.

In one response to Gettier, the American philosopher Richard Kirkham has argued that the only definition of knowledge that could ever be immune to all counterexamples is the infallibilist one.

PHILOSOPHY - Epistemology: The Value of Knowledge [HD]

In other words, the justification for the belief must be infallible. Yet another possible candidate for the fourth condition of knowledge is indefeasibility.

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Defeasibility theory maintains that there should be no overriding or defeating truths for the reasons that justify one's belief. For example, suppose that person S believes he saw Tom Grabit steal a book from the library and uses this to justify the claim that Tom Grabit stole a book from the library. A possible defeater or overriding proposition for such a claim could be a true proposition like, "Tom Grabit's identical twin Sam is currently in the same town as Tom. The Indian philosopher B. Nyaya theory distinguishes between know p and know that one knows p —these are different events, with different causal conditions.

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The second level is a sort of implicit inference that usually follows immediately the episode of knowing p knowledge simpliciter. The Gettier case is examined by referring to a view of Gangesha Upadhyaya late 12th century , who takes any true belief to be knowledge; thus a true belief acquired through a wrong route may just be regarded as knowledge simpliciter on this view.

The question of justification arises only at the second level, when one considers the knowledge-hood of the acquired belief. Initially, there is lack of uncertainty, so it becomes a true belief.


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But at the very next moment, when the hearer is about to embark upon the venture of knowing whether he knows p , doubts may arise. Reliabilism has been a significant line of response to the Gettier problem among philosophers, originating with work by Alvin Goldman in the s.

According to reliabilism, a belief is justified or otherwise supported in such a way as to count towards knowledge only if it is produced by processes that typically yield a sufficiently high ratio of true to false beliefs. In other words, this theory states that a true belief counts as knowledge only if it is produced by a reliable belief-forming process. Examples of reliable processes include standard perceptual processes, remembering, good reasoning, and introspection. Reliabilism has been challenged by Gettier cases. In the thought experiment, a man, Henry, is driving along and sees a number of buildings that resemble barns.


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Based on his perception of one of these, he concludes that he has just seen barns. Theoretically, Henry does not know that he has seen a barn, despite both his belief that he has seen one being true and his belief being formed on the basis of a reliable process i. Robert Nozick has offered the following definition of knowledge: S knows that P if and only if:. Nozick argues that the third of these conditions serves to address cases of the sort described by Gettier.

Nozick further claims this condition addresses a case of the sort described by D. Armstrong : [23] A father believes his daughter is innocent of committing a particular crime, both because of faith in his baby girl and now because he has seen presented in the courtroom a conclusive demonstration of his daughter's innocence. His belief via the method of the courtroom satisfies the four subjunctive conditions, but his faith-based belief does not. If his daughter were guilty, he would still believe her innocence, on the basis of faith in his daughter; this would violate the third condition.

The British philosopher Simon Blackburn has criticized this formulation by suggesting that we do not want to accept as knowledge beliefs, which, while they "track the truth" as Nozick's account requires , are not held for appropriate reasons. He says that "we do not want to award the title of knowing something to someone who is only meeting the conditions through a defect, flaw, or failure, compared with someone else who is not meeting the conditions. Timothy Williamson has advanced a theory of knowledge according to which knowledge is not justified true belief plus some extra condition s , but primary.

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In his book Knowledge and its Limits , Williamson argues that the concept of knowledge cannot be broken down into a set of other concepts through analysis—instead, it is sui generis. Thus, according to Williamson, justification, truth, and belief are necessary but not sufficient for knowledge. Alvin Goldman writes in his " Causal Theory of Knowing " that knowledge requires a causal link between the truth of a proposition and the belief in that proposition.

A central debate about the nature of justification is a debate between epistemological externalists on the one hand, and epistemological internalists on the other. Externalists hold that factors deemed "external", meaning outside of the psychological states of those who gain knowledge, can be conditions of justification. For example, an externalist response to the Gettier problem is to say that for a justified true belief to count as knowledge, there must be a link or dependency between the belief and the state of the external world. Usually this is understood to be a causal link.

Such causation, to the extent that it is "outside" the mind, would count as an external, knowledge-yielding condition. Internalists, on the other hand, assert that all knowledge-yielding conditions are within the psychological states of those who gain knowledge.


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  • He wrote that, because the only method by which we perceive the external world is through our senses, and that, because the senses are not infallible, we should not consider our concept of knowledge infallible. The only way to find anything that could be described as "indubitably true", he advocates, would be to see things "clearly and distinctly". However, this does not mean that man's ability to know is perfect.

    God gave man the ability to know but not with omniscience. Descartes said that man must use his capacities for knowledge correctly and carefully through methodological doubt. The dictum "Cogito ergo sum" I think, therefore I am is also commonly associated with Descartes' theory. In his own methodological doubt—doubting everything he previously knew so he could start from a blank slate—the first thing that he could not logically bring himself to doubt was his own existence: "I do not exist" would be a contradiction in terms.

    The act of saying that one does not exist assumes that someone must be making the statement in the first place. Descartes could doubt his senses, his body, and the world around him—but he could not deny his own existence, because he was able to doubt and must exist to manifest that doubt. Even if some "evil genius" were deceiving him, he would have to exist to be deceived.

    Kant and Hume on Causality (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

    This one sure point provided him with what he called his Archimedean point, in order to further develop his foundation for knowledge. Simply put, Descartes' epistemological justification depended on his indubitable belief in his own existence and his clear and distinct knowledge of God. We generally assume that knowledge is more valuable than mere true belief. If so, what is the explanation? A formulation of the value problem in epistemology first occurs in Plato 's Meno. Socrates points out to Meno that a man who knew the way to Larissa could lead others there correctly.

    But so, too, could a man who had true beliefs about how to get there, even if he had not gone there or had any knowledge of Larissa. Socrates says that it seems that both knowledge and true opinion can guide action. Meno then wonders why knowledge is valued more than true belief and why knowledge and true belief are different.

    Socrates responds that knowledge is more valuable than mere true belief because it is tethered or justified. Justification, or working out the reason for a true belief, locks down true belief. The problem is to identify what if anything makes knowledge more valuable than mere true belief, or that makes knowledge more valuable than a mere minimal conjunction of its components, such as justification, safety, sensitivity, statistical likelihood, and anti-Gettier conditions, on a particular analysis of knowledge that conceives of knowledge as divided into components to which knowledge-first epistemological theories, which posit knowledge as fundamental, are notable exceptions.

    The value problem has been presented as an argument against epistemic reliabilism by philosophers including Linda Zagzebski , Wayne Riggs and Richard Swinburne. Zagzebski analogizes the value of knowledge to the value of espresso produced by an espresso maker: "The liquid in this cup is not improved by the fact that it comes from a reliable espresso maker. If the espresso tastes good, it makes no difference if it comes from an unreliable machine.

    She assumes that reliability in itself has no value or disvalue, but Goldman and Olsson disagree. They point out that Zagzebski's conclusion rests on the assumption of veritism: all that matters is the acquisition of true belief. By analogy, having a reliable espresso maker that produced a good cup of espresso would be more valuable than having an unreliable one that luckily produced a good cup because the reliable one would more likely produce good future cups compared to the unreliable one.

    The value problem is important to assessing the adequacy of theories of knowledge that conceive of knowledge as consisting of true belief and other components. According to Kvanvig , an adequate account of knowledge should resist counterexamples and allow an explanation of the value of knowledge over mere true belief. Should a theory of knowledge fail to do so, it would prove inadequate. One of the more influential responses to the problem is that knowledge is not particularly valuable and is not what ought to be the main focus of epistemology.

    Instead, epistemologists ought to focus on other mental states, such as understanding.