2.1. INTROPHIL – The Basic Constituents of Knowledge


Hi, my name is Duncan Pritchard. I’m the professor of Philosophy at the
University of Edinburgh. I’m here to talk each day about field of
Philosophy which is known as epistemology which is
essentially the theory of knowledge. The lecture is going to break into three
parts. In part one, I’m going to be talking about
the basic constituents of knowledge. In part two, I’m going to be introducing
you to a certain problem about offering a theory of knowledge which
is called the Gettier Problem. And then in part three, I’m going to be introducing
you to the problem of radical skepticism,
which is the difficulty of demonstrating that we
have as much knowledge as we take ourselves to
have. Part one, The Basic Constituents of
Knowledge. We live in an information age, and that
means for most of us there you, right, information is readily
accessible to at a click of a button. But having lots of access to information
isn’t much use, unless you can filter the good information from the bad
information. And that’s why knowledge is so important. And that’s one reason why philosophers are
very interested in trying to determine exactly
what knowledge is. And that’s what we’re going to do in this
section. In the very least, we’re going to try and determine the basic constituents of
knowledge. Now the word knowledge gets used in lots
of different ways in ordinary language. here is some examples. That David knows that the kettle has
boiled. Suilin knows where the secret compartment
is. Alasdair knows why the house burned down. Matthew knows how to fly an aeroplane.
Michela knows which route to take. Allan knows so and so from that TV show,
and so on. So all this are different ways which we
use the word knows. Now what we’re going to do today, is we’re
going to focus in on a particular way in which we
use. A particular fundamental way in which we
use the word knows, just to narrow down our
discussion a little. And this is what’s called Propositional
Knowledge, which is knowledge that something is the
case. In order to know what propositional
knowledge is, we need to say a little bit about what a
proposition is. A proposition is what is expressed by a
declarative sentence. That is, a sentence that declares that
such, something is the case. So, consider the cat is on the mat. That’s a sentence that declares that the
world is a certain way, that there is a cat on a mat.
But not all sentences are like that. Think of a sentence like, shut that door
or yes please. These sentences aren’t, they’re not
describing the world as being a certain way. They’re not saying that, that something is
the case. So what we’re interested in when we talk
about propositional knowledge, is the knowledge that, is knowledge that
something is the case. And propositional knowledge is the kind of
thing that can be true or false. So, a sentence like Shut that door is not
the sort of thing that can be true or false, because it doesn’t
describe the world as being a certain way. But a sentence like the cat’s on the mat,
well, that could be true, there is a cat on the
mat. Or it could be false, there isn’t a cat on
the mat. And if you have propositional knowledge of
this proposition, then you know that the cat is on the mat. One way of getting a handle on what propositional knowledge involves is to
contrast it to another kind of knowledge called know how
or ability knowledge. Knowing that Paris is the capital of
France is a very different thing than knowing how to
ride a bicycle. In the, the latter case, the case of
knowing how to ride a bicycle, knowledge is connecting with
the manifestation of ability or skill. It’s very different from propositional
knowledge, like knowing that Paris is the capital of France, where your knowledge is connecting with a
proposition. You know that a proposition is the case. There are two basic constituents of
propositional knowledge that pretty much everyone agrees
upon. The first of these is truth. That if you know a proposition, then that
proposition must be true. Now, no true amount to go, the
propositions can be true or false. A proposition like the cat is sitting on
the mat is true if the cat really is sitting on the mat,
and it’s false otherwise. So the claim is that if you know that the cat is sitting on the mat, then that
proposition that the cat is in the mat must be true. That is, the proposition is describing the
world is being in a certain way. And if you are to know that proposition,
then the world must really be the way that
proposition says it is. So, to say that proposition knowledge
requires truth, is to can say you can’t know a falsehood. Now of course you may think you know of falsehood, and often we do think we know a falsehood. But we’re not really interested in when you think you know something, because a
epistemologist, but rather when you actually know it. So that’s what we mean when we say that
knowledge requires truth. The second basic constituent of knowledge
that everybody agrees upon, is that if you know a proposition, then you must
at least believe that proposition. So, if you know that Paris is the capital
of France, then you must at least believe that Paris is
the capital of France. Now, of course, sometimes we explicitly
contrast belief and knowledge. So we might say something like, I don’t
merely believe that Paris is the capital of France, I
know it. And the suggestion seems to be there that knowledge is different from belief. Because what we really mean when we say
something like that, is that I don’t merely believe
it. So I don’t just believe it, but I, in
addition to that, I know it. So what we’re signaling there is the idea that knowledge is something stronger
than belief. But of course that’s entirely compatible
with the thought that knowledge at the very least
requires belief. Notice that when we say that knowledge
requires truth, all we mean by that is that you can’t know a
falsehood. In particular, we’re not suggestion that
when you know you must be infallible, or that you must be
absolutely certain. So, for example, presumably you know what
you had for breakfast this morning. but of course you might be in error about
this, it’s not as if the kind of thing one can possible be in error about, that one couldn’t make
mistakes about. But in so far as you really didn’t make a
mistake, and you really do correctly remember what you had
for breakfast this morning, then by any normal standard for knowledge, you’re
counted as knowing what you had for breakfast this
morning. So knowledge doesn’t require certainty, it
doesn’t require infallibility, but it is inconsistent with
knowing a falsehood. The second thing to note here is that when
we talk about knowledge of a proposition, we
mean just that. In particular, we don’t mean knowledge
that the proposition is likely or probable, that’s
a separate thing. So, consider the claim that human beings
have been to the moon, and compare that with
the claim that it’s likely or probable that
human beings have been to the moon. The second claim is much weaker than the
first. The second claim is consistent with the,
the possibility that human beings haven’t been
to the moon. Now, why we say that someone knows that
human beings have been to the moon, we mean the first claim, not
the second claim. Alright. So if we say that without qualification,
that’s what we mean. It means that’s what they know. Not just they know that it’s likely or probable, but that they know this is the
case. Now of course sometimes it is relevant
here to, to hedge the things that we know. That is, to qualify them in some way. So if we’re not completely sure about
something, if we think there’s some genuine reason to
doubt, then we might say that what it is we know is just simply that it’s likely or
probable. So we don’t know the proposition
simpliciter, but we know it in this hedge or qualified
form. But that it’s sometimes appropriate to do
that, doesn’t mean it is always appropriate to
do that. In fact, in lots of cases, in so far as we
apply a reasonable standard for what qualifies as knowledge, then we do
know things without, without the qualification,
without the hedge. So, for example, I know what I had for
breakfast this morning. It’s not that I know that it’s likely or
probable, that I had such and such for breakfast
this morning. Actually I just know what I had for
breakfast this morning. So knowledge requires truth and it requires belief,
requires true beliefs. That means that knowledge requires getting
it right. If you don’t get it right, if you don’t
have a true belief, then you’re not in the
market for knowledge. Is there more though to knowing than
simply getting it right? Well, I think a moment’s reflection
reveals there must be. Because they’re all kinds of ways that one
can get it right. I have a true belief, but where one
wouldn’t count as knowing. So think of this kind of example, imagine
a juror in a criminal trial. Unless suppose they believe that they get
the defendants guilty, but not because they been
listening to the evidence. Let’s say they haven’t been paying
attention to the evidence tool. They form their judgement that the
defendant is guilty simply out of prejudice, let’s
say. So they’ve just formed a snap judgement based on prejudice that the defendant is
guilty. Now could well be that the defendant is
guilty. So then you end up with a true belief, they got it right. But clearly you wouldn’t count as knowing
that the defendant is guilty simply by forming a snap judgement
on the basis of prejudice. Compare this juror who forms their belief
about the guilt of the defendant simply through prejudice,
with a different kind of juror who carefully attends to the
evidence and thinks through the issues, listens to the
testimony from both sides. Listens to the directions of the judge and so forth, and forms a
judgement that defendant is guilty. So they both, both jurors end up with the
same judgement. And of course they both get it right. But the first judge, juror who makes the
decision simply on the basis of prejudice, this
person doesn’t know. But the second juror who sifts through the
evidence and carefully weighs it out, it seems they
do know. So this raises an interesting question for
epistemologists. Knowledge requires more than mere true belief, more than just
getting it right. It requires doing the same kinds of things
that the second juror is doing. Attending to the evidence, thinking things
through, coming to a correct judgement. But what is it in general that marks the
difference and merely getting it right? And this is what we are going to talk about in the, the second part of this
lecture. There are two basic intuitions that govern
our thinking about knowledge. And in particular, which govern our thinking about what knowledge requires
over and above their true belief, over and
above merely getting it right. The first is sometimes called the
Anti-Luck Intuition. And what this means is that when you know
you’re getting it right, your true belief isn’t just a
matter of luck. So, think about the juror who forms their
belief through prejudice. Though they’ve got it right, thought they, they’ve ended up with a true
belief. The way in which they form their belief is not generally a good way of getting to the
truth. And so, in so far as they’ve got a true
belief, it’s just a matter of luck that their
belief is true. It’s just lucky that they formed a belief through prejudice and this happened to be
true. In contrast, the juror who has carefully
sifted through the evidence and thought things through,
in so far as they’ve got a true belief, it seems
it’s not a matter of luck that their belief is
true. Because they’ve formed their belief in a
way which is a good route to the truth. So this is the anti-luck intuition. So when you know your true belief is not
merely a matter of luck. The second fundamental intuition about
knowing is sometimes called the Ability Intuition. And this is the idea that when you know,
your knowing is down to you in some important way and the exercise of your, your, your cognitive abilities,
that is your abilities which are relevant to the
formation of true beliefs. So take the, the Juror forms that belief
through prejudice. Forming beliefs through prejudice, that’s
not a cognitive ability, that’s not a root to
truth. the effect is actually a root to
falsehood. If you want to form false beliefs, that’s
a very good way of forming false beliefs. But if you want to form true beliefs, that’s a terrible way of forming true
beliefs. In contrast, the juror who carefully attends the evidence and thinks things through, they’re using their cognitive
abilities. And that’s why, some would argue, they
count as knowing. Because they’ve got to the truth through
their abilities. Their, their cognitive success, their true
belief, is down to them and their cognitive abilities in
some important way. And way it isn’t, when it comes to the
juror forms beliefs through prejudice. So you got these two fundamental
intuitions about knowing, and then they may be closely related actually. They may well end up being basically the
same intuition. The first is the if you know then your
true belief is a matter of luck. The second is if you know, then your true belief is down to your abilities in a
certain way. And I say they might end up being the same intuition, because you might think, well,
what is it for your true belief not to be a matter of
luck, if not for it to be down to your
abilities? And what is it for your true belief to be down to your abilities, in
some significant way, but for it to not thereby be a matter of
luck? But we’ve got these fundamental intuitions
about knowing, and their governing our thinking about what it takes over and
above merely getting it right. Our prejudiced juror doesn’t satisfy
either of these intuitions, and that’s at least part of the reason he
doesn’t know. Whereas our juror who thinks things
through and attends the evidence, he is satisfying his
intuitions. And that’s at least part of the reason why
we think he does know. So here are the conclusions to part one. We saw that we’re going to focus our
attentions on a particular kind of knowledge, which is
called propositional knowledge. Knowledge that a proposition is the case. Then we saw that there are two basic constituents of propositional knowledge
that everyone agrees upon. And these are the, when do you have
propositional knowledge. The proposition in question must be true,
and you must believe that proposition. So knowledge requires true belief. It requires getting it right. And then finally, we saw that there’s
actually a lot more to knowing than to merely getting
it right. What can getting it right have true
beliefs in all kinds of ways that are aren’t
appropriate for knowledge. And so this raises the question, what do
we need to add to true belief in order to get
knowledge?

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