Epistemology

Greek | ἐπιστήμη | the study of belief/knowledge

Epistemology is the study of the nature and scope of knowledge and justified belief. It analyses the nature of knowledge and how it relates to similar notions such as truth, belief and justification. It also deals with the means of production of knowledge, as well as scepticism about different knowledge claims. It is essentially about issues having to do with the creation and dissemination of knowledge in particular areas of inquiry.

Epistemology asks questions like: “What is knowledge?”, “How is knowledge acquired?”, “What do people know?”, “What are the necessary and sufficient conditions of knowledge?”, “What is its structure, and what are its limits?”, “What makes justified beliefs justified?”, “How we are to understand the concept of justification?”, “Is justification internal or external to one’s own mind?”

The kind of knowledge usually discussed in Epistemology is propositional knowledge, “knowledge-that” as opposed to “knowledge-how” (for example, the knowledge that “2 + 2 = 4”, as opposed to the knowledge of how to go about adding two numbers).

What Is Knowledge?

Knowledge is the awareness and understanding of particular aspects of reality. It is the clear, lucid information gained through the process of reason applied to reality. The traditional approach is that knowledge requires three necessary and sufficient conditions, so that knowledge can then be defined as “justified true belief”:


  • truth: since false propositions cannot be known – for something to count as knowledge, it must actually be true. As Aristotle famously (but rather confusingly) expressed it: “To say of something which is that it is not, or to say of something which is not that it is, is false. However, to say of something which is that it is, or of something which is not that it is not, is true.”
  • belief: because one cannot know something that one doesn’t even believe in, the statement “I know x, but I don’t believe that x is true” is contradictory.
  • justification: as opposed to believing in something purely as a matter of luck.

The most contentious part of all this is the definition of justification, and there are several schools of thought on the subject:


  • According to Evidentialism, what makes a belief justified in this sense is the possession of evidence – a belief is justified to the extent that it fits a person’s evidence.

  • Different varieties of Reliabilism suggest that either: 1) justification is not necessary for knowledge provided it is a reliably produced true belief; or 2) justification is required but any reliable cognitive process (e.g. vision) is sufficient justification.

  • Yet another school, Infallibilism, holds that a belief must not only be true and justified, but that the justification of the belief must necessitate its truth, so that the justification for the belief must be infallible.

Another debate focuses on whether justification is external or internal:


  • Externalism holds that factors deemed “external” (meaning outside of the psychological states of those who are gaining the knowledge) can be conditions of knowledge, so that if the relevant facts justifying a proposition are external then they are acceptable.

  • Internalism, on the other hand, claims that all knowledge-yielding conditions are within the psychological states of those who gain knowledge.

As recently as 1963, the American philosopher Edmund Gettier called this traditional theory of knowledge into question by claiming that there are certain circumstances in which one does not have knowledge, even when all of the above conditions are met (his Gettier-cases). For example: Suppose that the clock on campus (which keeps accurate time and is well maintained) stopped working at 11:56pm last night and has yet to be repaired. On my way to my noon class, exactly twelve hours later, I glance at the clock and form the belief that the time is 11:56. My belief is true, of course, since the time is indeed 11:56. And my belief is justified, as I have no reason to doubt that the clock is working, and I cannot be blamed for basing beliefs about the time on what the clock says. Nonetheless, it seems evident that I do not know that the time is 11:56. After all, if I had walked past the clock a bit earlier or a bit later, I would have ended up with a false belief rather than a true one.

How Is Knowledge Acquired?

Propositional knowledge can be of two types, depending on its source:


  • a priori (or non-empirical), where knowledge is possible independently of, or prior to, any experience, and requires only the use of reason (e.g. knowledge of logical truths and of abstract claims); or
  • a posteriori (or empirical), where knowledge is possible only subsequent, or posterior, to certain sensory experiences, in addition to the use of reason (e.g. knowledge of the colour or shape of a physical object, or knowledge of geographical locations).

Knowledge of empirical facts about the physical world will necessarily involve perception, in other words, the use of the senses. But all knowledge requires some amount of reasoning, the analysis of data and the drawing of inferences. Intuition is often believed to be a sort of direct access to knowledge of the a priori.

Memory allows us to know something that we knew in the past, even, perhaps, if we no longer remember the original justification. Knowledge can also be transmitted from one individual to another via testimony (that is, my justification for a particular belief could amount to the fact that some trusted source has told me that it is true).

There are a few main theories of knowledge acquisition:


  • Empiricism, which emphasizes the role of experience, especially experience based on perceptual observations by the five senses in the formation of ideas, while discounting the notion of innate ideas. Refinements of this basic principle led to Phenomenalism, Positivism, Scientism and Logical Positivism.

  • Rationalism, which holds that knowledge is not derived from experience, but rather is acquired by a priori processes or is innate (in the form of concepts) or intuitive.

  • Representationalism (or Indirect Realism or Epistemological Dualism), which holds that the world we see in conscious experience is not the real world itself, but merely a miniature virtual-reality replica of that world in an internal representation.

  • Constructivism (or Constructionism), which presupposes that all knowledge is “constructed”, in that it is contingent on convention, human perception and social experience.

What Can People Know?

The fact that any given justification of knowledge will itself depend on another belief for its justification appears to lead to an infinite regress.
Scepticism begins with the apparent impossibility of completing this infinite chain of reasoning, and argues that, ultimately, no beliefs are justified and therefore no one really knows anything.
Fallibilism also claims that absolute certainty about knowledge is impossible, or at least that all claims to knowledge could, in principle, be mistaken. Unlike Scepticism, however, Fallibilism does not imply the need to abandon our knowledge, just to recognize that, because empirical knowledge can be revised by further observation, any of the things we take as knowledge might possibly turn out to be false.
In response to this regress problem, various schools of thought have arisen:


  • Foundationalism claims that some beliefs that support other beliefs are foundational and do not themselves require justification by other beliefs (self-justifying or infallible beliefs or those based on perception or certain a priori considerations).

  • Instrumentalism is the methodological view that concepts and theories are merely useful instruments, and their worth is measured by how effective they are in explaining and predicting phenomena. Instrumentalism therefore denies that theories are truth evaluable. Pragmatism is a similar concept, which holds that something is true only insofar as it works and has practical consequences.

  • Infinitism typically takes the infinite series to be merely potential, and an individual need only have the ability to bring forth the relevant reasons when the need arises. Therefore, unlike most traditional theories of justification, Infinitism considers an infinite regress to be a valid justification.

  • Coherentism holds that an individual belief is justified circularly by the way it fits together (coheres) with the rest of the belief system of which it is a part, so that the regress does not proceed according to a pattern of linear justification.

  • Foundherentism is another position which is meant to be a unification of foundationalism and coherentism.


References

Mastin, L. (2009). Epistemology. Retrieved, philosophybasics.com/branch_epistemology
Penguin (2007). The Penguin English Dictionary (3rd ed.). London: Penguin

Codex

{hello world}/ This.Is.Not

A codex (from the Latin caudex for “trunk of a tree” or block of wood, book) is a book constructed of a number of sheets of paper, vellum, papyrus, or similar materials.

double-page-codex

#00—Who am I?

pointless pleasurable ponderings

It is a valid question. But it is not one I, you or anyone else has yet to satisfactorily answer. I mean to say, if it was readily answerable, it wouldn’t be one that we see asked again and again and again. We aren’t just numbers—but as e.g., citizens, drivers, employees, students etc., &c. we are numerically referenced—we do have identities, but these identities are largely manufactured and, for the most part, made up in our heads. We are homo sapiens, we are fauna (i.e., not flora), we are a form of animal species and as animals we (but not all of us) are going to do, or have already done, certain things to replicate ourselves: to reproduce our (selfish)genes.

Here are some questions and topics that will first need to be considered before we can return to the vexed/complex and quite possibly pointless (but nevertheless, pleasurable to ponder) question of “Who am I?” You will notice the list is reflective of the zeitgeist of our times, trepidation with respect to man’s impact on the natural environment (because it is man isn’t it).

#01—Does life have meaning?
#02—What is truth?
#03—Is truth important?
#04—Superstition & scientific knowledge
#05—Is the mind an effect of the body?
#06—Theories on consciousness…
#07—If a tree falls in a forest…
#08—Rights for future generations?
#09—The deep ecology view…
#10—Climate change & moral responsibility

(I want to be free to speak my mind & I want to be free to wear what I like; this is what I am about and this is who I am.* *but I am not who I want to be and most likely I will never be.)

Obviously I am someone, but my identity itself, is of no consequence to answering this question; or to investigate the question as no clear answer will be provided (not least because until now, no convincing answer has been proffered).

This Anodyne Tome

Fettered, febrile & formulaically forlorn…

a rant is Brewing:
Frantic, frenetic and as pointless as patriarchal pride.
a rant is Emboldening:
Uncouth, unhindered and as cruel as chemical castration.
a rant is Wending:
Curt, callous and as cutting as a talent show host.
a rant is Advancing:
Knifelike, knowledgable and as tiresome as suburban conventions.
a rant is Raging:
Eviscerating, exposing and as dogeared as orthodox faith.
a rant is Ending:
Rabid, rambled and as incandescent as ice.


Wilderness Ruined

Rose-tinted glasses,
Halcyon days…
Bygone times,
& Golden eras; humans are self-obsessed sent-i-mental beings.

Wilderness-Lost

^ Ansel Adams (1902–1984) was an American photographer most famous for his pictures taken in National Parks, taken in areas designated to be wilderness.

He once said, “we all know the tragedy of the dustbowls, the cruel unforgivable erosions of the soil … and the shrinking of the noble forests. And we know that such catastrophes shrivel the spirit of the people… The wilderness is pushed back, man is everywhere. Solitude, so vital to the individual man, is almost nowhere.”

One wonders if his iconic pictures acted as the magnet for today’s mass tourism and the overcrowding of sites of natural and historic beauty:

Nature: We’re Lovin’ It To Death The Guardian, 2018.

Image:
Wilderness-Lost--02

Reality:
Wilderness-Lost--03

* * *

Halcyon

Communal Goodness

of benefit to one and (hopefully) all…

Audio one, Liberalism in Retreat by Robin Niblett

Audio two, China and the World by Evan A. Feigenbaum

In economics, philosophy and political science, the ‘common good’ tends to relate to what is shared and beneficial to (most) members of a given community (or economy or group of countries).

References
Feigenbaum, E. A. (2017). China and the World. Foreign Affairs, 96(1), 33–40

Niblett, R. (2017). Liberalism in Retreat. Foreign Affairs, 96(1), 17–24


Grant Wood (1891-1942), American Gothic, 1930
The 1930’s, think of the Great Depression; think of the lead up to WWII.

p.s. ‘Ubique’ is Latin for “everywhere,” and tends to imply omnipresence (the property of being present everywhere). Think of the adjective ‘ubiquitous.’ e.g., “Nowadays, smartphones are ubiqitous.”

Priceless Graphite

with a pencil you are totally free

2281

It’s a tool. As is the plough, as are sextants and swords, as is the shovel, as are sickles and hammers, as is the hypodermic syringe (that may carry a lifesaving elixir, an opioid escape or a life saving or a life ending chemical cocktail). Yet, in distinction to those tools, this one, the tool that I talk of now, is by far the more influential. It articulates, crafts, drafts and sketches. It is one that we have all had in our hands at one point in time or more. We use it to colour in shapes etc. as kids at Kindergarten, to spell out words teachers teach us at School. We use it to write shopping lists for trips to Sweihan’s Abu Siraj Supermarket; we use it to organise thoughts and explore our emotions in private diaries. I think it lets is demonstrate we are human kind. It is, as I know you now know, the pencil [take your pick, your etching stick, 9H through HB to 9xxB].

The computer dictates how you do something, whereas with a pencil you are totally free.
— James Dyson, Inventor (1947– )

Put down your pistols, pick up your pencils. Holding them can be therapeutic it can also be fantastically lucrative. As one advertising campaign proclaims, pencils are where it ‘all’ begins – i.e., the ‘it’ is creativity, e.g., the ‘it’ can be influential literature, impressive architecture, iconic furniture (poetic licence permits me to include here other writing instruments such as the quill of the 18th and 19th centuries and the ink pen of the 20th century and the digital stylus/iPencil of the 21st). The pencil, in olden days, was so expensive. Nowadays, it is cheap and everyone can have one. They now come in every shade of the rainbow but for me, I will stick to graphite grey.
The magic ingredient is indeed graphite (a non-metal mineral), but we often call this lead. As do most good things, the word graphite comes from the ancient Greeks ‘graphein’ – in other words it means to write. Pencil is derived from the Latin ‘pencillus’, meaning little tail, to describe the small ink brushes used for writing in the Middle Ages (imagine for a magic moment these writing sticks in the hands of Chaucer, Dante, Machiavelli, Marlowe and last but not least, Shakespeare). According to J. D. Barrow, the modern pencil was invented in 1795 by Nicholas-Jaques Conte, a scientist working in the Army of Napoleon Bonaparte. I understand from “Guns, Germs, and Steel” that great inventions are results of war. So my humble black and yellow Germany made Staedtler pencil (Norris HB[2] Art. Nr. 122-HB EAN 40 07817 106365) is a child of long past war. My wood wrapped writing stick is born with blood and death on its hands?

Ideas are elusive things so keep a pad of paper and a pencil at your bedside, by so doing, you can stab them during the night before they get away.
— Earl Nightingale, Commentator (1921–1989)

The strange thing about graphite is that it is a form of pure carbon that is one of the softest solids known to scientists (is a soft solid, an oxymoron?). Yet if the graphite’s atomic structure is changed just a little bit it becomes a diamond; the hardest solid known to us. Carbon Dioxide is CO2 and as every Emirati high school graduate knows, this is a Global Warming Greenhouse gas. Indeed, we learn from Google/Wikipedia that Carbon makes up 18 per cent of me and, my dear reader, you. Pencils can be square, polygonal or round, depending on its intended use. It is know that vocational people do not much love round pencils because they roll off of tables etc. During the nineteenth century a major pencil manufacturing industry developed in Great Britain where Barrow informs us, “the purest graphite can be found.” The first pencil factory says Barrow was opened in England in the 1830s. I’d like to move to the Derwent brand (I’d love to visit the Derwent Pencil Museum, which a BBC website review say is one of the most peculiar days out in the UK; one that will fulfil the hopes and dreams of pencil fanatics everywhere), but I cannot leave my black and yellow stripped German made digging tool.

Without a pencil in my hand I am not me. If I am not me then I’m blunt and need to be sharper, before my ink runs dry I am now going to ‘pencil’ some sagely advice. According to Alison Nastasi, writers like John Steinbeck and Vladimir Nabokov were pencil fanatics. Nabokov (a user of Faber-Castell Blackwing 602s) outlined his novels and used one to write, “It was love at first sight, at last sight, at ever and ever sight.” Steinbeck loved the Mongol 480 (Faber-Castell again) as it was topped with a rubber. Nastasi says that Steinbeck used 300 pencils to write East of Eden (who, I wonder, counted them). My sagely advice, I hear you ask. Well dear reader, it is this, read these words—written in/by pencil—by Steinbeck: “The free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable element in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected.”


Inspirations and/or Recommended Readings

Barrow, J. D. (2010). 100 Essential Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know. London: Random House.

Diamond, J. (1997). Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. New York: Norton & Company, Inc.

Nastasi, A (2013, August 17). The Writing Tools of 20 Famous Authors. Flavorwire.