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Syllogisms, Evil Clowns and Epistemology – Nicholas

I’m hoping to make this post a little like my earlier one where I made a series of syllogisms. Hopefully this will let me create some sort of substantial definition of knowledge while explaining some of the obvious premises of it. Here goes.

(Premise 1.1) We think nothing but our thoughts – this should be self explanatory
(Premise 1.1) We can’t know anything we don’t think – hopefully this is also obvious
(Conclusion 1) We can only know things that we think

(Premise 2.1) A physical world exists – ie. the computer screen you’re reading this on is made up of real, physical matter.
(Premise 2.2) We perceive the world based upon what actually exists, and how our senses interpret this information – What else would there be to observe?
(Premise 2.3) Our senses are also composed of the physical world – factors in the physical world and the physical world alone influence how our senses sense
(Conclusion 2) How we sense (perceive) the world is entirely dictated by the physical world – note, we don’t necessarily interpret things this way, but you current sensory input is dictated by the physical world

(Premise 3.1) How we perceive the world (sensory input) influences thoughts – for example, if you see a clown, you will likely start thinking about clowns. Note that premise 3 is based upon conclusion 2
(Premise 3.2) Memory of previous thoughts (conscience experience) also influence thoughts – if you were chased by a madman dressed as a clown earlier in your life you will likely think bad thoughts when you think of clowns

(Faulty Conclusion 1) All clowns are evil

(Premise 3.3) unconscious thought of previous experience also influences thought – if the clown that chased you had red hair, you might have an uneasy feeling about all red-haired people, but may not know why. This also explains ‘gut feelings’
(Premise 3.4) Nothing else influences a current thought – I may be wrong in this, but I really can’t think of anything else.
(Conclusion 3) A thought is influenced solely by experience (conscience and unconvinced) and sensory input

(Premise 4.1) At one point you had no previous experience to draw upon – unless you believe in previous lives, this should be obvious
(Conclusion 3, Premise 4.2) A thought is influenced solely by experience and sensory input
(Premise 4.3) Previous thoughts constitute entirely your (conscious and unconscious) experiences
(Conclusion 4)Sensory input completely influences thoughts – Note, this is basically John Locke’s idea

(Conclusion 1, Premise 5.1) We can only know things that we think.
(Conclusion 2, Premise 5.2) How we perceive the world is entirely influenced by the physical world
(Conclusion 4, Premise 5.3) Sensory input completely influences thoughts
(Conclusion 5) We can only know things that exist in the physical world.

Ta da! I have used (hopefully proper) logic based on what I see as true premises and have reached a solid conclusion about knowledge (take that philosophy). However, it is not an all encompassing conclusion, as just because we can only know things that exist in the physical world doesn’t mean that something that exists in the physical world is knowable, but for something to be knowable, it must actually exist. Someone could of course argue, “Well what about concepts, like 1+1=2?”. I would say that there indeed exists one object in the world, along with another object that when put together, form something that can be termed “two” objects, so indeed, 1+1 = 2 does exist in the real world and is therefore, knowable.

If anybody (*cough Stephen Downes cough*) would like to point out flaws in either the truth or validity of my arguments, or use the Socratic method to try to find a counter example I would appreciate it. Hopefully it will let me improve my own interpretation of epistemology and give me a new, better one. However, if you have any suggestions (other than telling me why I’m wrong :P) and care to share that would be great too!




4 thoughts on “Syllogisms, Evil Clowns and Epistemology – Nicholas

  1. Great job!
    I once wrote a detailed comment on this blog post that was lost (perhaps regrettably) somewhere in cyber space.

    I can’t remember all that I wrote but I had at least one question:

    The conclusion of the whole argument is ‘we can only know things that exist in the physical world’.

    My clarification question is, ‘what do we mean by know’? Are we making any distinction here between belief and knowledge? In this case are we referring to a warranted, or justifiable belief, which thereby constitutes knowledge?

    Here is my other question (which I wrote in much fancier way in my last attempted comment):

    An earlier premise is stated as: ‘the physical world exists’. This seems to be an obvious truth (like many of your other premises). What I am wondering is, ‘have you hidden in the premise the word ‘ONLY’, without stating it? If so , the premise would really read, ‘only the physical world exists, which would lead necessarily to the conclusion that ‘we can only know things that exist in the physical world’.

    This would, however, also entail that the argument is question begging. I won’t mind clarification on this issue, as I don’t get to hear the class discussions.

    It seems more likely that you mean as you state elsewhere, ‘we only know things through our senses’. Or in other words, ‘only empirically based beliefs constituted knowledge’.

    Am I understanding correctly, or making a mess of the whole thing?



    Posted by Chris Price | November 11, 2012, 9:49 pm
    • Thanks for your comment Chris.

      In response to your first question, let me clarify first by saying that I am lazy. I know (ha) that knowledge can be defined in numerous ways, simply as justified true belief or as some concrete, capital T Truth or as something completely unobtainable. I know that a lot of people will blog about what exactly knowledge is, but I just tried to prove that knowledge, whatever we define it to be, must be based in the real world, so, in my opinion at least, exactly what knowledge is doesn’t really matter here, so long as we can agree that something called knowledge exists, or at least, can exist (and indeed it does, because we have the word ‘knowledge’).

      As to your second question, I will admit that I was not thinking of it at the time that I wrote this post. While I personally believe that only a physical world exists, I believe that even if ‘other’ worlds exist that my statement still stands. Since we can only perceive things through our senses and because our senses are influenced by the physical world (exclusively), all that we can know must be based in the physical world. Though I would change your statement ‘only empirically based beliefs constituted knowledge’ to ‘only empirically based beliefs can constitute knowledge’. The ‘can’ is important because empirically based beliefs don’t necessarily constitute knowledge, but knowledge must be constituted of empirical knowledge (kind of like how a rectangle is not a square but a square is a rectangle). I do not believe this excludes the existence of a non-physical God however. God may indeed exist in a non physical world, but all that we can know about Him is his presence and influence on the real, physical world. For example, if the (physical) bible didn’t exist and (physical) miracles never happened, Christianity would likely not be around today, and yet, many people ‘know’ God.

      Hopefully that makes things clearer, if it doesn’t, feel free to reply!


      Posted by nichoman321 | November 13, 2012, 6:59 am
  2. I think you touched upon the main objection that could be made to your thesis when you wrote: ““Well what about concepts, like 1+1=2?”. I would say that there indeed exists one object in the world, along with another object that when put together, form something that can be termed “two” objects, so indeed, 1+1 = 2 does exist in the real world and is therefore, knowable.”
    You are right when you say that there are two objects that when put together could be represented by ‘2’, but the real question is: what is an object? Is there on the physical world a pure object (a mean something that would be only an object and nothing else) or object is an abstraction/concept we created to represent different kind of things (like apples. pears, houses. cars, etc.) ? Said otherwise, all apples are objects, but not all objects are apples. And is there any concretes thing (let’s call it x) for which you could say all x are objects and all objects are x? If not, then it would mean that there is no ‘object’ in the physical world.
    The same is true for the clown. Our concept/idea of a clown is not any specific clown (that you could have seen on tv or at a circus), but a kind of abstract/ideal clown having all the traits we think a clown could/should have. That abstract/conceptual does not really exist, there is only variation of it (in software programming we would say instances).
    But you could say that these are perhaps abstract but still originated from the physical world, or that they have an instance/representation in the physical world.
    But now, what about 0? And what about concepts like ‘truth’, ‘justice’, ‘love’, etc.

    Posted by Celso Gonzalez | November 12, 2012, 12:19 am
    • Tough question, thanks. So long as you take the premise “a physical world exists” to be true, then objects must exist, for something must make up the physical world. The concept of an ‘object’ is indeed an abstraction, and nothing ‘pure’, but I don’t think that this falsifies my thesis. An object is (according to me) something that we can empirically sense either through our senses or with the aid of machines (and then through our senses). Therefore, if you can see an apple, then you are indeed seeing something and that something must exist in order for you to see it.

      I would actually agree with you that a clown is indeed nothing but a concept, and a concept that we can know, but I still believe that the idea of a clown is based in reality. You have seen several, similar looking figures that everybody calls ‘clowns’ (or anything else for that matter) and therefore, you ‘know’ what a clown is. Even though all you know is a concept, that concept itself is rooted in reality. As for other concepts like ‘love’ or ‘justice’ that differ widely throughout the world, I would still say they are either based in reality, or unknowable. Take love for example. It can be repeatedly observed that two people can develop some sort of bond (lets call it ‘love’) that compels them to do things they would not otherwise do. Since the people exist, as do their actions, a concept of love can exist. Things that do not exist however, can not be know. Fairies for example, can not be know because they do not exist. While you can have a ‘belief’ or concept of a fairy in your head, you can not know it because there is nothing empirical to base your belief on.

      What do you think? Do my arguments hold up?

      Posted by nichoman321 | November 13, 2012, 7:21 am

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