Knowledge

Discussion in 'General Philosophy' started by Hoth, Feb 16, 2002.

  1. Hoth Registered Senior Member

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    Knowledge, at least according to philosophers, requires not only belief of something that's true but also complete justification for that true belief. Agnoiology, which means defense of skepticism, attacks the idea of complete justification. Here's Keith Lehrer's skeptical hypothesis, or at least the basics of it:

    There's an alien race, called the Googols. (No relation to Larry Paige.

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    ) Their intelligence is 10^100 times greater than ours. The super-intelligent Googols send waves into our minds (or brains if you prefer) that cause us to have beliefs about the world that are incorrect.

    Many of our beliefs, although false, can be very nearly true. For example 2+2 very nearly equals 4, but not quite, there's something wrong about it that we don't notice thanks to the Googols. We're just close enough to right about things to be able to find food, reproduce, think that our mathematics make sense, etc. (I guess this is just intended to make it easier to imagine by keeping it in the physical world [no demons] and yet still avoiding questions of why our false beliefs don't kill us. The "very nearly true" isn't required, it seems like all our beliefs could also be very much wrong if a Googol decided to make it that way.)

    Even statements about an internal conscious state can be false according to Lehrer. If you say you're feeling pain, you can still be mistaken because it might actually be an itch you're mistaking for a pain... a googol-wave plus an itch may cause you to think you're feeling pain. A nearby Googol can cause you to mistake one conscious state for another.

    Lehrer isn't trying to say all beliefs are false. His goal is to say that we can never know which ones are false, and any individual belief may be false. Maybe 99.9% of our beliefs are true, but every once in a while a Googol drops by and sends a googol-wave to cause a false belief. We'd still never know which are the false beliefs since it could be anything, and thus we'd never be able to give complete justification for what we think we know.

    Whether a belief we have is true or not depends entirely on if the Googols decide to interfere with that belief. Thus, knowledge of any kind is unattainable. (Even the Googols themselves don't have knowledge, because there could be "super-Googols" feeding them their beliefs.)

    Lehrer responds to those (like G.E. Moore) who'd suggest common sense tells us things are as they seem by asking why claims of common sense must be considered "innocent until proven guilty" while skeptical claims aren't. He suggests if all beliefs are innocent until proven guilty we just have conflicting innocent claims (skepticism vs. dogmatism) and when innocent beliefs conflict we have no knowledge. Lehrer suggests subjective probability is what we should turn to as a substitute for knowledge.


    If knowledge requires a complete justification, what can we have knowledge of? What flaws do you see in Lehrer's hypothesis? (I'll give my ideas later.)
     
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  3. Chagur .Seeker. Registered Senior Member

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    Hoth ...

    Nothing.

    None.

    Take care

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  5. Hoth Registered Senior Member

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    I would say I can have knowledge that there is thinking. I directly experience that, so the direct experience is complete justification.

    Also I'm not sure I buy his idea that you can be mistaken about identification of a conscious state. You can use the wrong word, but that's just linguistic error rather than an error in meaning. The actual proposition being made is still correct.

    Even if you limit yourself to the subjective, aren't there subjective truths (like conscious states) along with subjective probabilities?
     
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  7. Stryder Keeper of "good" ideas. Valued Senior Member

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    Hoth

    Looking at this post you could see a problem arise.
    The problem arises when you decide what is True or False, and if you should only believe one or the other.

    In the case you stated, you mentioned:

    "Even statements about an internal conscious state can be false according to Lehrer. "

    If a person is to perceive the world through eyes that look at everything as a falsehood, then they will find no truth, they will not be able to handle the truth.

    Just as if someone was perceiving nothing but the Truth, will find themselve gulible to falsehoods.

    You would be better rather than having an analogue answer of wether something is True or False, you should have a Floating-point answer, where if something is below 1 then it's false until proven true. When proven true it equals 1

    Or how you mention "very nearly equals" a number can be rounded (i.e. 0.999993 = 1), to fill in the gaps we don't know.

    This afterall is what the human mind does naturally, and has been the basis of people trying to program intelligent software to match images. (A portion of Neural Networking)

    I use to, and still work my own thoughts to such an equation.

    0-30% Heard of subject, might keep relevant in the mind.

    31-50% If relevance causes me to think of it again, maybe decide to look up relevant information.

    51-70% Looking up information as best as I can. Time to cross reference other data that "Tangents" away from original subject.

    71-99.99% Can class myself as knowing about that subject, at least until new data is found to contradict original findings.

    (Thats why the answer is never a 1! or 100%)
     
  8. Hoth Registered Senior Member

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    383
    You'll still have 0% knowledge, since any justification of a belief is worthless if there's no basis for the justification. If I have a long list of justifications for why the Earth is flat, that doesn't make it probable if I can't justify the initial premis (maybe sense data) on which all the other justifications rest. There is no objective justification then.

    I guess the percentage probability system works for judging subjective probabilities of things... perhaps that's all that matters.
     
  9. Congrats Bartok Fiend Registered Senior Member

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    Sounds like a cliche, but I'd say "you can never disprove anything".

    So what we belive is always what's true. Truth is merely a human-created basis for comparing facts, finding efficincy. Much like a least commmon denominator would be used in solving a math problem.

    We have certain criterion that we use to determine what is more true than others; yet we are always disproven. Every time a whole set of complete understanding exists on one level, it is obsolete on another. WE very rarely put US in that situation; that WE will most likely be disproven by the descendants of OURSELVES. I would like to think about that- if WE are almost always currently wrong, when could WE reach a level where WE can say that the realm of universal simplcity is now over; done.

    Unless we have reached a level where the propensity of our desire and the range of OUR capability coincide with the amount of knowlegde yet to be had, we are wrong.

    ...And isn't it funny, how Truth is merely a summation of our best effort to describe ourselves at a given time, while that summation is, basically, flawed in just existing. Due to time, no less. It's what makes us human, friends. We are no closer to total existence than we were at the time of Jesus. We are higher, yes. However, to get closer, we have to transcend height and go in. We can always be 'out-heighted'. Lets' look at the big picture.

    If time is going on, chances are that we will have disproved ourselves more in the next 200 years than in the past 200. there are no equations, no complicated idealistic realisations- only time. Time, or the certainty that we will discover more in the future, proves us interminably wrong today. How chintzy, how ironic, yet how beautiful. Right?
     
  10. glaucon tending tangentially Moderator

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    Not true. Most contemporary theories merely require that a valid method of justification is used. Epistemically speaking, the criterion of knowledge is simply an observed corroboration between the subject at hand and an ontological structure.
    In lay terms, determine what you think what is required of 'knowledge', observe, check it.

    I think what you're trying to get at here is the idea of real knowledge, or truth . It seems to me that you are assuming that there is such a thing as knowledge, or, let's say, that something can be known completely. You need to take a step back then, and take a look at your ontological point of view..
     
  11. Hoth Registered Senior Member

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    383
    Glaucon, no method of justification can determine knowlege. Some are just more appealing. Every method of justification requires a premis that isn't justified. How do you go about checking to be sure there aren't any Googols? You can't, yet every justification of knowledge (at least external knowledge) rests on that assumption.

    You're talking about beliefs. Yes, we have beliefs with justifications, the justifications making the belief stronger. They aren't knowlege. You can use your own definition for the word "knowledge", but it won't be the one Keith Lehrer was trying to disprove with this scenario when he wrote the paper in the early 1970's.

    I can say that there's a unicorn standing on your head. My justification is that in my mind I can clearly perceive the presence of the unicorn on your head. Just as a further logical justification, I can also note that the presence of the unicorn explains why you're not looking up (and if you do, that means it already moved to your back). Now if I call in another person who also tells you they perceive a unicorn on your head, do you now know it's there? It's the same sort of justification you usually use for knowing things.

    Lehrer would say that using any method of justification will yeild subjective probabilites, but not knowledge.

    We can't have absolute knowledge, so we must treat truth as consistency. Something is true so long as it's a consistent perception. It can always become untrue in the future with a conflicting perception.
     
    Last edited: Feb 23, 2002
  12. glaucon tending tangentially Moderator

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    5,502
    Which was exactly my point.

    Not true. Perception is, by it's very nature, subjective and therefore, a flawed source of 'truth'. Thus, scientific method.

    Overall, I agree with you, consistency is a critical factor in verification. However, your premiss (which is tacitly assumed in your argument) that there in fact is such a thing as objective truth, is just as suceptible to becoming observedly 'untrue' at some point in time, as any method of verification is...

    In fact, most contemporary philosophers, and scientists, would completely disagree with the ontological notion of an 'objective' truth....
     
  13. Bagman Registered Senior Member

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    31
    Hoth,

    Lehrer is not actually a skeptic; he's trying to refute skepticism. In fact he thinks he has refuted it.

    I'm surprised if he says that we might be made to make mistakes about our conscious states, because that's not how I understand him, although I haven't read his book, I've only read about him. As far as I know, the mistake he'd be talking about would consist of a failure to realize that one could __not__ be mistaken about one's conscious state.

    I don't see the difference between his Googols and Descartes' demon, in case there's supposed to be any - I don't know.
     
  14. Bagman Registered Senior Member

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    31
    Glaucon,

    quote
    --------------------------------------------------------------------------
    [Hoth] We can't have absolute knowledge, so we must treat truth as consistency. Something is true so long as it's a consistent perception. It can always become untrue in the future with a conflicting perception.

    [Glaucon] Not true. Perception is, by it's very nature, subjective and therefore, a flawed source of 'truth'. Thus, scientific method.
    --------------------------------------------------------------------------

    It's not a "flawed" source of truth; it's no source of truth or falsehood at all. There may be some twist on this that I'm not aware of, but I suppose it would depend on what was meant by "perception." For example, does it include "perceiving" that the object over there is a car? If, on the other hand, "perceive" only means what we do with the senses, no question of truth or falsehood arises.

    quote
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    In fact, most contemporary philosophers, and scientists, would completely disagree with the ontological notion of an 'objective' truth....
    ---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    It's hard for me to tell what that statement means. Could you elaborate? If you mean that skepticism has won, or that the vast majority of philosophers are skeptics, I think that's far from being the case.
     
  15. Hoth Registered Senior Member

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    383
    Lehrer believes there's an external world and that there are truths and he suspects he's right about most of them. He's still very much a skeptic though, because he says he can never know for certain if a particular belief is true.

    He calls himself, in that essay, a proponent of agnoiology. Agnoiology, in his words, is defense of skepticism. The opposite of epistemology, he says. So, he most certainly is trying to defend skepticism in that essay since that's the whole point of his essay. He is most certainly not trying to refute skepticism in that essay, he says that's for the epistemoligists and he's being an agnoilogist.

    Now, he does start to lay out a path of what he can do: he says we can use subjective probability. He doesn't call that knowledge though.

    The main difference is Lehrer is showing that you don't have to eliminate the external world in order to eliminate knowledge. Most people these days don't believe is demons, and find it very hard to conceive of how we could exist and survive to feed ourselves if there were no external world. Thus, Lehrer is showing that even given an external world and an ability to keep ourselves alive, we still can't say that we have knowledge -- because we can't provide any real reason other than simplicity to discount the idea that something we don't know about (like a Googol) could be subtly altering our perceptions of everything.

    I believe his arguments about not knowing internal states for sure are based on him being confused by language and not really understanding the nature of the mind, though. And even Lehrer himself admits one thing, actually: he says we do have knowledge when we say "I believe x".

    I can't find Lehrer's essay online unfortunately... probably because it's copyrighted. Here's the closest thing I could find in a google search, actually an outline of Lehrer's argument: http://www.opifex.cnchost.com/philres/outlines/epistem/klskepto.pdf
     
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2002
  16. glaucon tending tangentially Moderator

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    Bagman; what I mean by this is that to take the position that there exists an objective, verifiable 'truth' is equivalent to a Rationalist position, a la Descartes. Science, and quantum mechanics in particular, have for all intents and purposes rendered this position untenable. If one had to label the ontological position of most contemporary philosophers and scientists, they could be said to be Nominalists. Through trial and error, via empirical methods, we come to agree to a terminology that serves our needs. It takes no position on the 'ultimate reality' (sic) of the world we live in. I think, to further the purposes of this discussion, we would do well to take a step back and see if Hoth, yourself and I could take a look at our usage of the term truth, and what we mean by using it.
     
  17. Hoth Registered Senior Member

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    Absolute Truth: That which is objectively, from a theoretical god's eye view, fact. Thus my opinion is that to know such a truth, it must either be a tautology, or something which we have an infallible god-like view of -- which IMHO includes the mind (but not any past states of mind since memory is in the brain).

    Relative truth (every day usage): Whatever I believe I have good justification for believing. With this definition my consideration and belief of the justification is enough to say I know it's true, since it means I will not believe counterexamples.
     
  18. Bohemian Nightmare I am better than you Registered Senior Member

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    i think hes right! but the google (or whatever theyre called) analogy was a little unnecessary!

    yes.
    truth is not fixed (well for huans). its fluid and changing. truth has always been based on aproximations so its stupid toassume that our current versian of truth is stoic.
    anything can make sence in a given meaning system so there are idneed paralell truthes..depending on which meaning system you subscribe. der. just ask any nihilist. tell us something we dont already know keith. heh
     
  19. Bohemian Nightmare I am better than you Registered Senior Member

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    but 2 + 2 will always equal four because numbers are human conceptions and have nothing to do with the googles.
     
  20. glaucon tending tangentially Moderator

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    Hoth,

    Bravo!
    I am in complete agreement with your definitions.

    Interestingly, tautaulogous truths are, necessarily, void of useful content, being derived from atomic propositions.

    However, I would have to disagree with you with respect to personal knowledge of the state of one's mind. This problem often comes up when dealing with indexicals, reflexive dichotomies.
    i.e.: when 'looking' at one's current state of mind, is it possible for the 'looking' 'you' to be included within the 'view' of the object 'you'??

    Gotta hate infinite regression problems...
     
  21. Hoth Registered Senior Member

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    383
    I don't think a thing observing itself is an intelligible concept, thus I'd say the conscious self is logically separate from the mind -- but I don't think the view the conscious self has of the mind can be flawed. Basically that comes from how I derive my definition of the mind: I start by saying "there is awareness", and then define the mind as that which the awareness is of. With this definition there's no way I could possibly be wrong about the contents of my mind.

    Interestingly, tautaulogous truths are, necessarily, void of useful content, being derived from atomic propositions.

    They're still quite useful however. All truths of reason seem to be based on it, and math may be said to consist of nothing but tautologies (complex ones reduced by proofs to simple ones). They may mean nothing useful by themselves, but they help us greatly in dealing with other things.
     
    Last edited: Feb 28, 2002
  22. kmguru Staff Member

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    11,757
    From an engineering perspective, True, False, 0, 1 etc are data. They are integral part of decision making for survival. When acted upon, they become knowledge. The results of that action can be good to one person while bad to others (like Enron chief's $5.2 million check!).

    So, if Lehrer's postulation helps me to get ahead, I am all for it. If not, I file it away as unnecessary for my survival..... Is that knowledge...depends....
     
  23. glaucon tending tangentially Moderator

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    5,502
    Ahhhh.. I was wondering when the Utilitarian perspective would be heard...

    Hoth,

    Now we're getting to the 'meat' of the question....
    Introducing the term conscious brings up a whole new bag of problems. Now we have to define (if not also identify) consciousness.
    Strangely, my thesis was on this particular topic...
    IMHO, consciousness could be defined as a preparatory mental state that aims at achieving an immediate goal. I've borrowed here from Dennett and Armstrong.
    I would argue therefore, that any activity disengaged from the current state of events could not be called conscious.

    Thoughts?
     

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