• Banno
    23.5k
    How do we identify truth?
    What is knowledge?
    Are there moral facts?
    Tom Storm

    Given what I said above, I hope it is clear that I do not think there can be what I've called an "algorithmic" account of truth, and hence of either what we should believe or of what we can know.

    I'll just note that, somewhat surprisingly, "How do we identify truth?" becomes a normative, even an ethical question, being much the same as "What ought we believe?". It is about our place in a community, especially a language community. So despite my rejecting the antirealist move against there being true statements independent of the attitude we adopt towards them, I do think that what we say is true or false is to a large extent bound to the way we are embedded in a society. I agree more or less with their conclusion, but not with their argument.

    So for example I am certain that this post is in English, and it is true that this post is in English, and that this is a result of my being a member of that community.

    And this feeds in to your last question.

    OF course, I might be wrong.
  • Banno
    23.5k
    It was a somewhat facetious example, as you show; Newtonian physics is correct, provided we stick to medium-sized objects and medium-sized velocities and medium-sized errors.

    We can give other examples of useful information that is false.
  • Tom Storm
    8.6k
    First i think there are two questions that sometimes get conflated; the first is, what does "...is true" mean? The second, how do we tell if some sentence is true?Banno

    Got it.

    "P" is true if and only if P. so "The kettle is boiling" is true iff and only if the kettle is boiling. It seems to me that this account brings together the coherence, correspondence and redundancy of truth, ideas to which philosophers keep returning.Banno

    Does this privilege forms of truth involving empirically verifiable matters? How do we deal with issues such as, for instance, the band Cream was formed in 1966?

    This is where the distinction between what is true and what is thought to be true comes into play. Whereas truth is monadic, being about some sentence, belief is dyadic, being about both some sentence and a believer. That is, the kettle is either boiling or not is about the kettle, while that one believes the kettle is boiling is about both the believer and the kettle. This is of importance because idealism and anti-realism work by denying this distinction between truth and belief. For them something is true only if it is believed (or perceived, or whatever) to be true.Banno

    I'll need to mull over this.

    I hope it is clear that I do not think there can be what I've called an "algorithmic" account of truth, and hence of either what we should believe or of what we can know.Banno

    I think this is clear.

    "How do we identify truth?" becomes a normative, even an ethical question, being much the same as "What ought we believe?". It is about our place in a community, especially a language community. So despite my rejecting the antirealist move against there being true statements independent of the attitude we adopt towards them, I do think that what we say is true or false is to a large extent bound to the way we are embedded in a society. I agree more or less with their conclusion, but not with their argument.Banno

    Jeez, there's a lot bound up in all this. But you wouldn't subscribe to a 'intersubjective community of agreement' style account of truth that has 'truth' shift about in a relativistic manner across different world views and value systems as per post modernism, right?

    OF course, I might be wrong.Banno

    Ha! Well if it gets back to anyone, you said it..

    Thanks for this.
  • Banno
    23.5k
    Jeez, there's a lot bound up in all this.Tom Storm

    That's your fault; you asked the big questions.

    "Cream was formed in 1966" is true if and only if Cream was formed in 1966.

    How you decide to believe that Cream was formed in 1966 is over to you - you were there, your friend told you, you read about it on the back of an LP, you recall it from somewhere but are not sure where...

    'intersubjective community of agreement' strikes me as muddled. It places too much emphasis on the subjective, the subject.
  • Tom Storm
    8.6k
    How you decide to believe that Cream was formed in 1966 is over to you - you were there, your friend told you, you read about it on the back of an LP, you recall it from somewhere but are not sure where...Banno

    Do you use the term justification for this process?
  • Banno
    23.5k
    May as well.
  • Bylaw
    550
    Yes, we can. My main point is that I think it's most useful to consider knowledge things that have been rigorously determined (and at least seem to be useful). Later we may find that they were merely approximate, or local or even not true, but they were knowledge. Like: it's ok that some of what we call knowledge will turn out to be false. The category is still useful.
  • Banno
    23.5k
    If you like. Such an approach probably originated with Peirce, the notion being that we never know anything for sure but only approach the truth asymptotically. Is that were you are coming from?

    There are counterexamples. I am certain, for instance, that this post is in English, and my certainty is not a theory that I could revise if further evidence came along.

    I'd just say that if we counted something as knowledge and later it turned out to be false, then we were wrong, that it wasn't knowledge, and we have now corrected ourselves.

    But the idea that folk can be wrong has fallen into disfavour, and it seems it is now considered no more than bad manners, even in a philosophy forum, to point out people's mistakes. Oh well.

    Of course, if folk are never wrong, then they have no need to correct themselves, and hence no way to improve their understanding.

    But I might be wrong.
  • Tom Storm
    8.6k
    There are counterexamples. I am certain, for instance, that this post is in English, and my certainty is not a theory that I could revise if further evidence came along.

    I'd just say that if we counted something as knowledge and later it turned out to be false, then we were wrong, that it wasn't knowledge, and we have now corrected ourselves.
    Banno

    I get you. I believe I recall you saying that you found the approach of fallibilism problematic. Although from my perspective it seems we often have no choice but to operate in much this way holding tentative accounts of 'the world' which are based on the best available evidence or reasoning, but are subject to revision over time. I question how useful the word knowledge is much of the time.

    Would it not be the case that as we go about our business we generally do struggle to achieve knowledge of the sort you describe (the certainty that this sentence is in English)? We seem to spend most of our lives in belief-land - some more than others.

    We find people who say they have knowledge of god though direct experience - how would you describe this type of claim? A belief? To call it a false belief would imply that we already have decided that knowledge of god is not legitimate. Or it begs the question that we can tell if someone has knowledge of god.

    Thoughts?
  • Cidat
    128
    Karl Popper's suggestion was to throw away certainty from knowledge and work with knowledge in terms of probability. Basically, we are justified in believing something if it's the most probable belief given our current data.
  • Ludwig V
    1k
    I'd just say that if we counted something as knowledge and later it turned out to be false, then we were wrong, that it wasn't knowledge, and we have now corrected ourselves.Banno

    That's perfectly true and it is good to discover someone else believes it. Fallible knowledge is just belief under another name. There's no point to the concept of knowledge if it is fallible.

    I've coined a slogan. Knowledge is never wrong. People often are.

    Would it not be the case that as we go about our business we generally do struggle to achieve knowledge of the sort you describe (the certainty that this sentence is in English)? We seem to spend most of our lives in belief-land - some more than others.Tom Storm

    Having said that. I do agree that "ordinary speech" is quite lazy about knowledge, treating more as an honorific than a serious category. So i do accept that it is appropriate for the term to be applied a bit more strictly in philosophy than elsewheere.

    We find people who say they have knowledge of god though direct experience - how would you describe this type of claim? A belief? To call it a false belief would imply that we already have decided that knowledge of god is not legitimate. Or it begs the question that we can tell if someone has knowledge of god.Tom Storm

    I'm an agnostic with atheistic leanings. I've no problem categorizing "knowledge" of God as belief. I'm not sure that it is appropriate to call it false, though. "God" (or even "gods") is not simply a fact, It is a way of looking at, or thinking about, or approaching the world. It's not in the realm of ordinary truths and falsities.

    Karl Popper's suggestion was to throw away certainty from knowledge and work with knowledge in terms of probability. Basically, we are justified in believing something if it's the most probable belief given our current data.Cidat

    I'm surprised if he did say that we should throw away certainty. He seemed pretty certain that falsifying a theory could be a certainty. Indeed, that's why he proposed relying on it. It is true (though I don't think it is exactly his idea) that "we are justified in believing something if it's the most probable belief given our current data". Wouldn't we need to be certain of our data, though?
  • T Clark
    13.1k
    Would it not be the case that as we go about our business we generally do struggle to achieve knowledge of the sort you describeTom Storm

    I don't think we ever really try to achieve certainty in our knowledge. I don't even think it's a valuable goal. Most uses for knowledge don't require certainty—only a balance between level of certainty and cost of justification.

    We find people who say they have knowledge of god though direct experience - how would you describe this type of claim? A belief? To call it a false belief would imply that we already have decided that knowledge of god is not legitimate. Or it begs the question that we can tell if someone has knowledge of god.Tom Storm

    I use personal introspection as one of the sources of my knowledge. I think that's legitimate. When I present that as evidence or think about someone else's experience, there are three approaches that make sense to me before rejecting it outright 1) Compare it to my own experience 2) Pay attention to who has had similar experiences and who hasn't 3) Take it as an interesting fact about different ways people experience the world.
  • T Clark
    13.1k


    It's funny. I strongly disagree with this:

    I'd just say that if we counted something as knowledge and later it turned out to be false, then we were wrong, that it wasn't knowledge, and we have now corrected ourselves.
    — Banno

    That's perfectly true
    Ludwig V

    And strongly agree with this:

    "God" (or even "gods") is not simply a fact, It is a way of looking at, or thinking about, or approaching the world. It's not in the realm of ordinary truths and falsities.Ludwig V
  • Alkis Piskas
    2.1k

    I thought you asked about a definition of knowledge and meant to receive answers. So, I replied. But maybe it was just my idea ...
  • Ludwig V
    1k


    Well, I guess one agreement out of two propositions is not bad.

    I don't think we ever really try to achieve certainty in our knowledge. I don't even think it's a valuable goal. Most uses for knowledge don't require certainty—only a balance between level of certainty and cost of justification.T Clark

    I have a couple of questions about this.

    I agree that pragmatically we tend to strike a balance between the level of certainty we can achieve for an appropriate cost of achieving it - mostly with a strong inclination to put in as little effort as possible. That's a good strategy in most situations.

    I agree that we often call the result knowledge. Knowledge has much more prestige than belief and consequently a claim to knowledge has considerable persuasive power among those disinclined to skepticism.

    I agree moreover that such "knowledge" is often good enough in practice.

    Could you explain to me exactly how "knowledge" of this kind differs from justified belief?

    Do you have any idea why knowledge carries more prestige and persuasive power than belief?
  • T Clark
    13.1k
    I agree that pragmatically we tend to strike a balance between the level of certainty we can achieve for an appropriate cost of achieving it - mostly with a strong inclination to put in as little effort as possible. That's a good strategy in most situations.

    I agree that we often call the result knowledge. Knowledge has much more prestige than belief and consequently a claim to knowledge has considerable persuasive power among those disinclined to skepticism.

    I agree moreover that such "knowledge" is often good enough in practice.
    Ludwig V

    I agree with all this, although I wouldn't put quotation marks around knowledge.

    Could you explain to me exactly how "knowledge" of this kind differs from justified belief?

    Do you have any idea why knowledge carries more prestige and persuasive power than belief?
    Ludwig V

    The first time I heard about JTB I thought it was wrongheaded. It doesn't reflect how people use knowledge to make decisions. I've thought about that a lot and come to the conclusion that knowledge is adequately justified belief for the specific purpose needed and the consequences of being wrong. So, yes - knowledge is justified belief with the condition that the justification is adequate.
  • Tom Storm
    8.6k
    I use personal introspection as one of the sources of my knowledge.T Clark

    Can you outline what you have in mind here? Do you mean using experience to make assessments and decisions?

    I don't think we ever really try to achieve certainty in our knowledge.T Clark

    Does this depend on the area? Surely certainty is important to logic, math and in your game - engineering? I have never understood math of any kind so for me it is like an arcane type of mysticism. :wink:
  • T Clark
    13.1k
    Can you outline what you have in mind here? Do you mean using experience to make assessments and decisions?Tom Storm

    Much of what I write here on the forum comes from personal experience, introspection, rather than reading philosophers. The philosophers I like are those who's general understanding is consistent with my own, but who can help me to expand my understanding and figure out which way to go next. That's why Lao Tzu means so much to me. A lot of people come to the Tao Te Ching with an understanding based on a formalistic, logical reading. For me, Lao Tzu is pointing us toward an experience, trying to show it to us. The words are just the tools he has to work with and he acknowledges upfront that they are inadequate.

    Also, for 30 years as an engineer, I used information from many different sources to help decide what needed to be done and the best way of going about doing it. One of the first jobs on any project was to put all the information from all the sources together into what we called a site conceptual model (SCM). Nowhere in that process or in the results were there any propositions that were true or false. A SCM is not true or false, it is valid or it's not. And it's validity doesn't depend on one piece of information, rather on all of it together. I think that's the way humans deal with knowledge on a real day-to-day basis.

    Surely certainty is important to logic, math and in your game - engineering?Tom Storm

    I guess in math and logic, as long as you leave out any contact with the real world, you can get certainty. As for engineering, as I described above, we have to work with limited amounts of expensive information. We have to do the best we can with what we have. Civil and environmental engineering always involves data with lots of uncertainty. That generally gets handled by putting big fudge factors, called factors of safety, on all our calculations. There may be other branches where that is less so.
  • Tom Storm
    8.6k
    :up: Interesting observations about the engineering process.

    That's why Lao Tzu means so much to me.T Clark

    I'm always envious of people who have models or texts they admire and are guided by. I've never really had that. I enjoy essay writers, but mainly because of their capacity to use language, not so much as a guide or inspiration.
  • Bret Bernhoft
    220
    What an interesting question! I love it! Well, I think that we can never define a clear-cut definition of knowledge. I think that to know something is to experience it and therefore to perceive it in an undoubtable way. The philosopher Kant talks about this in his work "The Critique of Pure Reason". I strongly recommend that you read it if you are interested in the foundation of knowledge. To summarize: you only know something when you have perceived it undoubtably through your senses.
  • T Clark
    13.1k
    Interesting observations about the engineering process.Tom Storm

    Is the process I described all that different from how you decide things in your life and work? In engineering we tend to be more formal, with required documentation, but for me, the overall process of knowing and deciding is the same one I use in my life outside work.
  • T Clark
    13.1k
    I'm always envious of people who have models or texts they admire and are guided by. I've never really had that. I enjoy essay writers, but mainly because of their capacity to use language, not so much as a guide or inspiration.Tom Storm

    You've written about how much some music means to you. I don't have that. I do like music, but not to the same degree.
  • Banno
    23.5k
    Although from my perspective it seems we often have no choice but to operate in much this way holding tentative accounts of 'the world' which are based on the best available evidence or reasoning, but are subject to revision over time.Tom Storm

    Of course. This works well when one is actively problem solving, as in science or engineering. Less so in social work, were it is sometimes necessary to stipulate explicitly rather than observe tentatively. Sometimes saying it is so makes it so. Falsification (the logic behind fallibilism) works in some situations, but not all, and itself takes some things as granted, as certain. It is applicable in some situations, but problems arise when it is taken as a universal answer to the OP's question.

    Again, it's complicated.

    Would it not be the case that as we go about our business we generally do struggle to achieve knowledge of the sort you describe (the certainty that this sentence is in English)? We seem to spend most of our lives in belief-land - some more than others.Tom Storm
    There's a distinction to be made between the stuff we don't question, but might, and stuff that we don't question because it forms the background against which we can question things. We have to hold some things certain in order to be able to cast doubt on other things; doubt only takes place against a background of certainty.

    ...knowledge of god though direct experience...Tom Storm
    One of the things I hope might be clear from this discussion is that knowledge is social, it is had by a community more than by an individual. Foremost, That Knowledge (to borrow a term of art) is by it's nature propositional, and hence embedded in the language of a community. Additionally, knowledge is justified, meaning that in some way it fits in with what you and those around you hold to be the case. And of course knowledge is useable, and so has a function within the community.

    The notion of personal knowledge is therefore somewhat oxymoronic.

    Reveal
    Consider Wittgenstein's example of whether one can properly claim to know one is in pain.


    Religious beliefs belong less to the sort of thing that can be falsified and more to those that set out and constitute a "form of life", to borrow another term of art. A direct experience of god is presumably overwhelming, and undeniable, and so not the sort of thing that might be falsified. For the person experiencing it, it cannot be false.

    Putting these two approaches – that knowledge is social and that some of out understandings are indubitable – together, religious and such spiritual stuff is more about membership of a community and what counts as certain in a group than it is about truth and falsity.

    And again, there is much more that could be said.
  • Banno
    23.5k
    Karl Popper's suggestion was to throw away certainty from knowledge and work with knowledge in terms of probability. Basically, we are justified in believing something if it's the most probable belief given our current data.Cidat

    Yes, but no. Counterintuitively, Popper argued that the less likely a theory, the more scientific it is.

    In the view of many social scientists, the more probable a theory is, the better it is, and if we have to choose between two theories which differ only in that one is probable and the other is improbable, then we should choose the former. Popper rejects this. Science values theories with a high informative content, because they possess a high predictive power and are consequently highly testable. For that reason, the more improbable a theory is the better it is scientifically... — https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/popper/#ProbKnowVeri
  • Banno
    23.5k
    Knowledge is never wrong. People often are.Ludwig V

    Nice.
  • Banno
    23.5k
    I don't think we ever really try to achieve certainty in our knowledge.T Clark

    We might consider this in a bit more detail.

    Certainty is the flip side of doubt; if something is undoubtable, then it is certain. And there are innumerable things that we take as undoubtable. I've already given the example of this post's being in English; to bring that into doubt is to bring into doubt the very basis on which one can doubt. There are simpler examples - One can't play nought and crosses if one doubts that three in a row is a win; One can't doubt that the brakes will work on one's car if one doubts that it has wheels.

    So maybe we don't try to achieve certainty, but we do try to remove doubt, which may be much the same sot of thing.

    Again, doubt takes place against a background of stuff that is taken as undoubted.

    So, in constructing a site conceptual model one does not doubt that there is a site...
  • Ludwig V
    1k
    I agree with all this, although I wouldn't put quotation marks around knowledge.T Clark

    Yes, I'm afraid I wasn't consistent enough in writing that. I wanted to distinguish clearly between knowledge and fallible knowledge, which, as you may have noticed, I do not consider to be knowledge. One of the reasons for that conviction that if knowledge (as distinct from people) can be wrong and still called knowledge, the distinction between knowledge and belief disappears. That's the main reason that people like to claim knowledge when they don't really have it and prefer to gain knowledge rather than belief.

    So, yes - knowledge is justified belief with the condition that the justification is adequate.T Clark

    Well, we're agreed on that, then. However, I'm not sure I would consider JTB a definition in the strict sense. One of the reasons is that the Justification condition is very, very hard to articulate in the way one would expect for a definition. In my own mind, this condition is more like an area to check out and consider rather than a criterion to be applied.

    knowledge is social, it is had by a community more than by an individual.Banno

    Yes, I'm in complete agreement with that. It seems to me that community involvement is built in to the concept, in two ways. First, that anyone who passes on knowledge has to endorse it. That's the consequence of the Truth clause in the JTB account. Second, the authority of the source can be a justification for passing on - and therefore endorsing - knowledge. Authority may be first hand, but it may also be second hand, which is a bit less satisfactory to philosophy. But if we can't claim knowledge at second hand, most of what we know isn't knowledge. Awkward.

    I think that to know something is to experience it and therefore to perceive it in an undoubtable way.Bret Bernhoft

    Yes. That's why Russell thought that knowledge by acquaintance was important - and different from knowledge by description (i.e. at second hand).

    Odd, though, that direct experience of an event is well known not to make one a reliable witness. Perhaps it is over-rated?

    people who say they have knowledge of god though direct experience - how would you describe this type of claim?Tom Storm

    See above on knowledge by acquaintance. But one has to acknowledge that experiences of God are overwhelmingly important to their subject and seem to be self-certifying. However, it also seems pretty clear that not all such experiences are actually from God, and that validation of them by others should depend on what comes from them in everyday life.

    Certainty is the flip side of doubt; if something is undoubtable, then it is certain.Banno

    Yes. I like the way you put that.
  • Tom Storm
    8.6k
    To summarize: you only know something when you have perceived it undoubtably through your senses.Bret Bernhoft

    The issue with this is that people perceive things with certainty through their senses all the time and yet are mistaken in their conclusions. Given this, I am skeptical that we can readily identify how we can tell when someone knows something this way. Something else needs to be present.

    But one has to acknowledge that experiences of God are overwhelmingly important to their subject and seem to be self-certifying. However, it also seems pretty clear that not all such experiences are actually from God, and that validation of them by others should depend on what comes from them in everyday life.Ludwig V

    Yes. Can we point to a single verified example of someone having an experience directly from god? I know you are not saying this, but I don't see how a person's own feelings of certainty can assist us with this.
  • T Clark
    13.1k
    And there are innumerable things that we take as undoubtable. I've already given the example of this post's being in English; to bring that into doubt is to bring into doubt the very basis on which one can doubt. There are simpler examples - One can't play nought and crosses if one doubts that three in a row is a win; One can't doubt that the brakes will work on one's car if one doubts that it has wheels.Banno

    Your three examples are trivial. Of course I can doubt if my post is in English. Of course I can doubt that three in a row wins in tic tac toe. Of course I can doubt if my car has wheels. I can doubt anything. I'm not going to waste my time doubting them because my level of certainty is adequate for the purposes at hand. When she was taking French in school, my daughter sometimes spoke French in her sleep. When I try to talk French, sometimes German words end up in the mix. If I didn't know that naughts and crosses is the same as tic tac toe, I would doubt that three in a row wins.

    So, in constructing a site conceptual model one does not doubt that there is a site...Banno

    It is quite common when we start a new project to have a new survey prepared. When we do that, it is not uncommon for us to find that the limits of the property are not where we thought they were. Sometimes when we investigate a property, we find there is no contamination. A property with no contamination is not considered a site under site cleanup regulations.

    Nothing is absolute. There can always be doubt. It only matters how uncertain things are.
  • T Clark
    13.1k
    I wanted to distinguish clearly between knowledge and fallible knowledge, which, as you may have noticed, I do not consider to be knowledge.Ludwig V

    You and I seem to agree on most everything except this one linguistic issue. I don't think our differences are substantive except in one sense - My way of seeing things focuses on the most important thing - the adequacy of justification.

    Well, we're agreed on that, then. However, I'm not sure I would consider JTB a definition in the strict sense.Ludwig V

    I guess I was unclear. I do not consider JTB as useful definition of knowledge. I do not think knowledge has to be true, only that I believe it is true and am justified in that belief. Those are the only things I have control of.
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