• darthbarracuda
    2.9k
    From the basic assumptions of existence (such as cogito, which even that is disputed), to grand metaphysical and ethical theories, to the existence of god, string theory, or whether or not the sun will rise in the east tomorrow; all of these cannot be proven without any doubt.

    It is conceivable that we could actually find out something about the way the universe operates that makes the Earth suddenly turn on its axis, making the Sun rise in the west. Whether or not it will actually happen is unknown, but it is conceivable.

    Similarly, it is conceivable for a utilitarian to read an argument tomorrow that will disprove utilitarianism.

    Because of this, should we hold any positions at all? Sure, we can defend these positions, but it certainly takes a bit of the passion out of the debate if it is irrational to actually believe it is true.
  • unenlightened
    3.9k
    I have a position on this. I always treat the dream as real until I wake up.
  • shmik
    207
    Hey , maybe the problem exists with your version of truth or certainty. To believe something is not the same as knowing without any doubt that it's falsity is impossible. You don't even need to look at examples where the laws of physics suddenly change. Rather, we can inspect normal situations.

    Let's say you leave your house to drive to work. You get into your car and find that the battery is flat. When you get to work late it wouldn't make any sense if your boss told you that you should have been prepared earlier in case your car didn't start and you needed to take the train. It doesn't make sense for him to claim that your belief that you would be able to drive to work was irrational because there was the possibility that your battery was flat.

    Edit: if that happened we would be calling your boss the irrational one.
  • Arkady
    762
    Your argument is convincing, but there's a possibility that it may be false, so I'm going to disbelieve it.
  • Bitter Crank
    8.2k
    How do we separate "beliefs" (confidence in the existence of events or entities for which there is no evidence) from other kinds of estimations of the future (and past) or the unknown? If I say "I believe I will be alive tomorrow" what, exactly, am I saying?

    Am I confidently claiming "I will be alive and well 24 hours from now" based on evidence, or is this a belief in unknowable events?

    It can't be a statement of fact. There is only a probability that I will be alive in 24 hours. There is also a smaller probability (I hope) that I won't be alive tomorrow. I might and could be dead in 24 hours. (In which case, you should respond and like this post IMMEDIATELY so I have time to enjoy your approval.)

    It could be a statement of belief, but it is a conditional belief: I believe I will be alive tomorrow IF I do not take unreasonable risks today. Is that a "belief" in the sense that someone believes God exists? Or is this 'belief' merely an estimation of chance? I am aware of enough close calls in traffic that IF I spent much more time bicycle riding around town, and IF I chose to ride on the freeway, I would have a greater chance of dying. I know that IF I ignore signs of disease, a fairly rapid death might ensue--maybe not by tomorrow, but sooner than December 1 (24 days away).

    I don't believe the sun will rise in the east. I know the sun MUST rise in the east, given the mechanics of celestial bodies. It's not a belief. The sun has no choice.

    About the gods I have beliefs and no knowledge. About Caesar Augustus I have more beliefs than solid knowledge. (I have no proof in my possession that he actually existed.) About Mayor Lattimer I have knowledge--proof positive. I don't believe he existed, I know he existed.

    Our minds are full of things for which we have no evidence, but which we count as factual (like Caesar Augustus) because people we believe are trustworthy say he existed. I don't know that all the people who have said Caesar Augustus existed were trust-worthy. Are they more or less trustworthy than all the people who said God existed?

    How can I say that most people are as trustworthy as I am (no more likely to fabricate historical events and entities than I am)? I say that because I believe it to be so. There is only some evidence that most people are trustworthy, and there is some evidence that most people can be, or are not trustworthy.

    The foundations of my knowledge at least, seem to have at least layers of belief. I trust (an act of belief) that my teachers were not all lying.
  • Sir2u
    1.8k
    making the Sun rise in the westdarthbarracuda

    Where do you live?
  • darthbarracuda
    2.9k
    To believe something is not the same as knowing without any doubt that it's falsity is impossible.shmik

    Then why believe anything?
  • darthbarracuda
    2.9k
    Your argument is convincing, but there's a possibility that it may be false, so I'm going to disbelieve it.Arkady

    This is similar to that zingy argument against logical positivism that makes it self-refuting, you know, the whole "well is the statement: 'only empirical statements are meaningful', empirical?". But it's more of a guideline.
  • Sir2u
    1.8k
    That was the point.darthbarracuda

    The point of what?
  • darthbarracuda
    2.9k
    I used the Sun rising in the West as an example because that would not happen. I do not live in a place in which the Sun rises in the West, and as far as I know it is impossible for any place in the solar system except Venus for the Sun to rise in the West.
  • darthbarracuda
    2.9k
    I don't believe the sun will rise in the east. I know the sun MUST rise in the east, given the mechanics of celestial bodies. It's not a belief. The sun has no choice.Bitter Crank

    But do you know that there isn't going to be a mysterious demon that pops in and out of existence and tomorrow will change the rotation of the Earth? Call it absurd, but how do you know?

    To continue:

    Just a made up scenario: Say I read a philosophical article. The article talks about the position of compatibilism, in relationship to the free will debate. Say I find it fairly convincing, and am comfortable in calling myself a compatibilist.

    Now say a month later I read a different philosophical article, which attacks the compatibilist position. I find it thoroughly convincing and am forced to drop my prior compatibilist tendencies.

    Did my original position count as knowledge? Obviously not, since it is wrong because I was convinced by the other article.

    Does my new position count as knowledge? How can it?, since this new position is just as conceivable to be disproven as my prior position.

    There will always be the unknown possibility, the never-before-thought-of position. It doesn't mean it actually exists, but it is conceivable that it exists, and therefore we are always on our toes, so to speak, when it comes to justifying our beliefs. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm basically advocating Pyrrhonism.
  • Wosret
    3.2k
    Certainty, and knowing everything would suck. Not knowing what's going to happen next is more fun.
  • Bitter Crank
    8.2k
    Pyrrhonismdarthbarracuda

    Yes, of course anything and everything might be right today and proved wrong tomorrow, but walking around with all that uncertainty is just toooo painful -- worse than arthritis. I prefer to believe know that what is so is so. If I have to switch out a plank in my knowledge system every now and then, that's OK.

    I'm perfectly willing to make the occasional adjustment (like, when I started college (back in the paleolithic period) I thought Fred Hoyle's steady state theory was correct, but then I heard about the big bang and decided immediately that made more sense. It has continued to make more and more sense.

    I also changed my mind about wearing plaid, paisley, stripes, and floral patterns together. I once thought it was attractive, then I had a flash of insight one day: "God, that looks awful!"
  • S
    11.5k
    Then why believe anything?darthbarracuda

    That's a weird question. As if there were an option to not believe anything.
  • Arkady
    762
    This is similar to that zingy argument against logical positivism that makes it self-refuting, you know, the whole "well is the statement: 'only empirical statements are meaningful', empirical?". But it's more of a guideline. — darthbarracuda
    Then by that "guideline" your own argument ought to be disbelieved. Zingy or not, that's the breaks. X-)
  • Arkady
    762
    I don't believe the sun will rise in the east. I know the sun MUST rise in the east, given the mechanics of celestial bodies. It's not a belief. The sun has no choice. — Bittercrank
    The colloquial usage of "believing" something is often contrasted with "knowing" it ("I don't believe X: I know X"). But this doesn't really hold philosophical water, as many epistemologists believe knowledge to be "justified true belief" with perhaps some additional qualifiers thrown in to handle epistemic luck in Gettier cases. So, knowledge, far from being dichotomous with belief, entails it.
  • jamalrob
    2k
    But "I don't believe X: I know X" means "I don't just believe X: I know X", and this is often how the colloquial use is put. It's very much in line with the JTB definition. When "just" is not used, I think it's implied. On the other hand the JTB definition looks like a clumsy attempt to encapsulate this colloquial use; in the latter, a belief that is true and justified is transformed into something more than a belief--not just a belief that happens to be true and justified but attaining another epistemic state entirely--and a literal understanding of JTB can lose sight of this.

    It seemed like BC was actually making another distinction, one that epistemologists would complain about, between a subjective belief and an objective physical necessity. But this really boils down to an assurance of knowledge too, because it's an attempt at guaranteeing the truth component of a JTB, with a mention of celestial mechanics in lieu of justification.
  • jamalrob
    2k
    I don't believe the sun will rise in the east. I know the sun MUST rise in the east — Bittercrank

    If you do know that the sun will rise in the east, we'll grant you all the rest.

    But do you?
  • Wayfarer
    8.3k
    Your problem is your definition of 'rational'. If someone pressed something sharp into your flesh, it would be 'rational' to ask them to desist or to at least move out of the way. You wouldn't stand there saying 'is that a pain I feel? How do I know I feel this pain? I wonder what I might do to assuage it?'

    I think that the original impulse behind scepticism was much more of that nature, than of weighing up the various options in a symbolic or abstract way. The original sceptics were renunciates (as were the cynics). They wanted to reach a point where nothing whatever bothered them at all, and I'm sure that to do so, they underwent a lot of what us corn-fed suburbanites could only regard as horrible ordeals.

    So what I'm trying to say is that it's not an abstract question. 'Knowing what is real' might be something with a direct bearing on the quality of your existence. I think that is what any real spirituality is born out of. So you have to have 'skin in the game'. Standing back and considering the odds in an abstract or symbolic way is not having 'skin in the game'; it's wondering what the game is.
  • Arkady
    762
    But "I don't believe X: I know X" means "I don't just believe X: I know X", and this is often how the colloquial use is put. It's very much in line with the JTB definition. When "just" is not used, I think it's implied. On the other hand the JTB definition looks like a clumsy attempt to encapsulate this colloquial use; in the latter, a belief that is true and justified is transformed into something more than a belief--not just a belief that happens to be true and justified but attaining another epistemic state entirely--and a literal understanding of JTB can lose sight of this. — jamalrob
    Yes, I had the same thought: in saying that they don't "believe" P, a person is sometimes saying that they don't merely believe P (that is, their belief is justified and/or true, as well). However, this being a philosophy forum, one should probably be more careful in their terminology if they're going to say things along the lines of "I don't believe P: I know P."

    Whether or not the JTB account of knowledge is "clumsy" is a subject for another discussion, I suppose...
  • Moliere
    1.7k
    From the basic assumptions of existence (such as cogito, which even that is disputed), to grand metaphysical and ethical theories, to the existence of god, string theory, or whether or not the sun will rise in the east tomorrow; all of these cannot be proven without any doubt.

    It is conceivable that we could actually find out something about the way the universe operates that makes the Earth suddenly turn on its axis, making the Sun rise in the west. Whether or not it will actually happen is unknown, but it is conceivable.

    Similarly, it is conceivable for a utilitarian to read an argument tomorrow that will disprove utilitarianism.

    Because of this, should we hold any positions at all? Sure, we can defend these positions, but it certainly takes a bit of the passion out of the debate if it is irrational to actually believe it is true.
    darthbarracuda

    I would draw these distinctions: knowledge and rationality, truth and rationality, certainty and rationality. I center on rationality because of your ending sentence and the title of the thread.

    Rationality deals with a process for belief-acquisition. If you acquire a belief rationality, then you are the sort of person who follows a good process in acquiring said belief. Whatever that process happens to be is up for debate, but this is how I would tackle rationality in the abstract.

    Knowledge is produced in communities of knowledge-producers. Communities of knowledge-producers create their own standards of rationality and enforce said standards. So, knowledge is a little less abstract than rationality as such -- in my accounting set out here -- because it is here that we can begin to reference particular actors and communities to begin sifting through what counts as knowledge. But you'll note that I do define knowledge as a cultural product, and not a particular belief some individual agent might hold onto [[which runs up against JTB]]

    Truth is a value of some beliefs. One might taylor their rationality such that true beliefs are an objective for said rationality, but truth isn't that easy to acquire where you can just say "I want to believe true things", so rationality must include much more than this simple criteria.

    Hence, we have certitude. I tend to think there's not much to any criteria for epistemic certitude -- I can make sense of attitudinal or psychological certitude pretty easily, but I'm less clear on the epistemic -- but, in the abstract, it's easy enough to think of certainty as a scale from some theoretical absolute point to another theoretical absolute point, neither of which are actually possible to obtain epistemically [though we may be familiar with them at the psychological level] (also, why I tend to be shy of epistemic certainty -- it's just so abstract that it doesn't actually seem to work as much of a practical guide, and I prefer to think of rationality/knowledge etc. in terms of praxis due to my emphasis on process). Certainty is just a measure of how much we ought to hold onto a belief in the face of contradictory evidence. So you are very certain that demons don't just appear, and upon seeing one, in spite of this strong evidence, you come up with other theories to explain said experience on the basis that you are very certain that demons do not exist -- at least until you see more than just this one demon when you happened to be under the influence. But suppose you are a forgetful person, and you think your keys are in your pocket. Upon looking you find that your pockets are empty. Knowing that you are a forgetful person you don't cling to the belief that your keys are in your pockets because you weren't terribly certain about that to begin with.


    Given all that -- it is, indeed, rational to believe. And the fact that we may be wrong is just part of the rational acquisition of beliefs. EDIT: Though I might prefer to say that it is not irrational to believe -- since I would say that to believe is not necessarily rational. We are still irrational creatures, as humans, so it's not like believing necessitates rationality.
  • Janus
    8.3k


    Yes, the common understanding of the phrase "I know" is precisely an expression of the idea of an absolute certainty which is opposed to the uncertainty of "I believe".

    The JTB, on the other hand is the expression of the logic of correspondence of truth with actuality. What I believe will be true if it corresponds to actuality. This correspondence means that I am justified in my belief and also that the belief is true, and is thus an instance of knowledge.

    This is different than the common understanding of knowledge as certainty because it entails that although I may be said to know insofar as my belief corresponds with actuality, since I can never analyze what it means for my belief to correspond with actuality, and thus deductively know whether it truly does; I can never be said to know that I know.

    The common understanding of "know" in the sense of certainty implies that I know that I know, and that is the difference.
  • Ciceronianus the White
    824
    It's irrational to expect certainty, or require it. We get along quite well without it. It's when we think we need it that we begin making things up.

    The quest for certainty is apparently ongoing, though. This thread should be merged with the one about progress in philosophy.
  • darthbarracuda
    2.9k
    To try to rephrase my thinking here: If we don't know we are correct (as in, we are not omniscient), then is it reasonable to hold a position as truth?

    Wait a second...is this post-modernism?
  • Arkady
    762
    To try to rephrase my thinking here: If we don't know we are correct (as in, we are not omniscient), then is it reasonable to hold a position as truth?darthbarracuda
    Unless you are speaking to an omniscient audience, then any negative answer to your question can only be self-defeating.
  • Postmodern Beatnik
    69
    To try to rephrase my thinking here: If we don't know we are correct (as in, we are not omniscient), then is it reasonable to hold a position as truth?darthbarracuda
    I don't see why not. You seem to be assuming that certainty is necessary for knowledge (a position known as "infallibilism"). But why should we accept this standard for knowledge? Furthermore, is it even possible that there could be an argument for infallibilism that isn't self-defeating—particularly given the fact that you are also assuming that nothing can be known with certainty?

    And notice that the Pyrrhonist response won't work here. Either the Pyrrhonist assumes infallibilism (which, besides not getting us out of the problem, is inconsistent with his Pyrrhonism) or he has no way of pushing the argument against those who are not infallibilists. So if one is a fallibilist, and therefore holds that knowledge does not require certainty, then it does not seem that you have presented any reason to think it is not rational to have beliefs.

    Sure, the fallibilist must always be open to the possibility that he is mistaken. But that's not a bug, it's a feature. It is a bit of epistemic humility that forces us to remember how high a standard certainty really is. Nevertheless, belief itself can be rational—and we might even think that it makes sense for practical purposes to sometimes say that we know things (even if our knowledge claims are always subject to revision).
  • darthbarracuda
    2.9k
    Everything you said makes sense. Cool stuff.
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