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Toren Casually Solving Epistemology

I do not easily fit into the main muppet demographics. I have zero attention to detail, and yet when I’m forming my arguments they usually become almost mathematical logical statements. Hopefully my rationality pulls through and the below is not me making a fool of myself.

I had previously thought the definition of “know” was to have absolute certainty, which didn’t work with me, since we had already unanimously decided that objective truth is unreachable.  I thought the whole discussion was misguided under that definition, since knowledge couldn’t exist without the certainty we can never have.

Knowledge could mean 100% justified (objectively true) information, and therefor likely not exist.

Justifying true belief in this way is troubling, because nothing can be fully justified, and everything is at least somewhat justified. With this definition any justification on a believed idea equals knowledge. Thus any opinion is knowledge, as some level of justification must exist to support belief. If limited to a single person, rather than common opinion, the definition becomes even more useless.

Someone brought up the idea of knowledge being collective partially justified belief. This immediately struck me as being almost the definition of popular opinion. I originally didn’t like this because, like the previous, it reduces knowledge so it need have nothing to do with truth to exist, but I’ve dispelled that view. Truth is unreachable, and thus irrelevant, as sad as that may seem.  it fits the purpose of practicality, in ever building circles (or triangles perhaps) of knowledge.

Knowledge could any mean 0.001% justified (objectively true) information, and therefore be the equal of opinion with self-imposed justification.

Knowledge could mean mutually agreed upon, 0.001% justified (subjectively true) information, and therefore be the equal of popular opinion, containing each person’s self-imposed justification.

I’m viewing knowledge as a very mushy grey area, and agreed upon knowledge even more so. If we aim between my first and second example (so there must be considerable justification but not 100%) we have no clear boundaries, and thus no real definition.

Knowledge could mean an undecided amount of justification on an idea, and therefore have no true definition.

So the answer is likely one of the above possibilities. Which one is up to whoever is defining the word. I personally believe arguing about the pointless. Rather than finding a word we don’t understand and trying to find the one true meaning behind it, why not take things we do understand and attach words to them? We know what we believe, we know (I think) what the massed beliefs are, and we know (kind of) that there is no reachable objective truth. I think this problem is caught up more in linguistics and differed opinions than an actual problem. Maybe I’m wrong.

Also, not done yet, the question of innate or experienced knowledge has to stop. I don’t know if it’s even a question still in the air, but this and the natures versus nurture debates are just the silliest arguments. It’s like if a bunch of philosophers sat down and tried to puzzle out, “are all people men, or are all people women?” (We’ll forget about the outliers here)

There’s evidence for both sides, so therefore people have to fight it out until one side reigns dominant. Something are innate, something need to be experienced. I have just ended the nature versus nurture debate. You’re welcome.

Also I just said a lot of things that might be wrong. If I said something you think is wrong, comment and tell me ok?



6 thoughts on “Toren Casually Solving Epistemology

  1. Good job. I don’t have an opportunity to listen in on the live streaming of the classes, which is regrettable to say the least. As a result I’m not privileged to hear the conversations that lead to the posts. Perhaps, you can help me with a few issues.

    What do we mean by ‘objective truth’? How is this term being used in class?

    I find myself a little confused when I read a sentence like this one, “Truth is unreachable, and thus irrelevant, as sad as that may seem”. Now, it certainly does seem like a sad conclusion. But is it a true one? You seem to believe that it is true that truth is unreachable, but that would mean that we can reach truth and it is very relevant to the topic at hand, perhaps turning a frown upside down.

    Self-referential incoherence is a real problem. It sounds like this, ‘there is no such thing as truth except for the statement there is no such thing as truth’. Depending on how the word ‘objective truth’ is defined it could sound like, ‘there is no such thing as objective truth, and that is objectively true whether you agree with it or not”.

    Self-referential incoherence = ‘The position is refuted by uttering it.’ Do get what I mean?

    And can you help?



    Posted by Chris Price | November 11, 2012, 9:35 pm
    • I’m rather frustrated. I just wrote a reply to this, and I must have neglected to hit post or something, because it’s not here. Alright. Again. Maybe a little shorter this time.

      Objective truth is something that is 100% irrefutable truth, that must be true without any other possibility. I don’t believe I ever said it didn’t exist, just that it’s unreachable. For instance you could say that all pears are green, and that’s all good until you find a new species or some weird mutant blue pear. And then if you find a blue pear, you can never be entirely sure its actually blue, and you’re not hallucinating, or struck by an odd temporary case of color befuddlement in which greens in the center of your vision appear blue. As unlikely as any of that may be, the statement cannot be proven or falsified. All knowledge is like that, without any real certainty of its truth. Until you’ve looked at every single metaphorical pear, you haven’t even started. That’s objective truth, and that’s why its unreachable.

      A helpful quote from Philosophy Bro:
      “Consider heliocentricity – are you sure the Earth goes around the Sun and not the other way around? Because here’s the thing – there’s a reference frame in which the Earth is at the center of the solar system, the Sun goes around the Earth, and the other planets go around the sun, and it’s exactly as predictive as Kepler’s Laws, because it’s completely equivalent. So why do scientists insist that the Earth actually goes around the Sun and not the other way around, or no way at all? Well, it’s more elegant for one; the math is simpler. But why should we prefer elegance? That’s not verifiable, bro. Newton required an idea of absolute space to ground his idea of relative motion – not verifiable. Einstein uses a convention where the speed of light in any direction is always the same – not verifiable, since light has to go one way and then the results have to come back the other way – it seems logical to assume the one-way speed of light is always the same, but it’s impossible to test that.”

      I hope that clears things up? I don’t think I explained as well as I did the first time and I might have missed something.

      Posted by torendarby | November 12, 2012, 6:18 am
      • I think that is very helpful and clarifying. If objective truth is something that is %100 irrefutable it would certainly be hard to come. So when you write, ‘truth is unreachable’ you are talking about objective truth in this manner, thereby hoping to avoid the self-referential problem I mention in my initial response.

        I have two follow questions that you can respond to if you like:

        The first is, ‘is this definition of objective truth correct’?

        It certainly is stringent. It would, in fact, disqualify all scientific knowledge as objective because at least one of of the demarcations between science and non-science is falsifiability and in our given definition objective truth is irrefutable (I like you’re example. It clearly shows the limitations of drawing absolute truth from empirical observations). So I don’t mind humbling science but are we really going to start denying the earth goes around the sun?

        When I pursue some philosophical dictionaries and text books here is how I find objectivity defined. Either they talk about the knower being objective. This often means, ‘neutral, detached, ‘a view from nowhere’ (Nagel). Post Modern thinkers have exploded this as a myth. It it would seem that they are right on this point.

        Here is a definition of objective (or absolute) truth that is not uncommon, ‘on this view truth is not created it is discovered, and a claim is made true or false by reality itself, totally independent of whether the claim is accepted by anyone’. These types of truths conform to fundamental laws of logic like, ‘the law of noncontradiction, or the law of the excluded middle’. I’m not sure this understanding of truth can be refuting without being affirmed in the very act of refuting it.

        Clearly, given this definition of objective truth some truths are reachable. All unmarried men are bachelors. Tom is an unmarried man. Therefore, Tom is a bachelor. If unmarried men are bachelors by definition, and Tom is unmarried (that statement conforms to the reality of Tom’s marital situation), than Tom is a bachelor. That seems true (objectively, even under your stringent criteria). Also, some scientific theories could be objectively true given the above definition. In fact, scientific realism embraces this correspondence theory of truth.

        So that was rambling but I guess my follow up questions are 1. Is the definition correct? 2. Even given that definition are we sure that objective truth is unreachable.

        I would like very much to reign in the tides of skepticism a little (not too, too much just a little). It’s always good to be skeptical about our skepticism I would think.


        sorry about the grammar!

        Posted by Chris Price | November 12, 2012, 5:22 pm
        • We aren’t going to deny the earth revolves around the sun, we are simply going to understand that the possibility exists. This doesn’t devalue science so much as humble it.

          For the first definition, I believe if the viewer is objective, meaning unbiased(?), that would make the information observed no more true or false, but would help the gathering of the information as a bias could otherwise skew results. I think I may be missing the point.

          For the second definition, I believe that actually fits easily into my definition. Being not created but discovered, and being true whether or not it is accepted, simply means it is the actual correct answer, the actual pattern underlying what we observe, 42, etc. That’s all that makes truth objective. The actual problem lies in reaching an objective truth, or objective knowledge. We can come to an objectively true answer, but we can’t know it objectively without having this irrefutable evidence, as by my first example. This comes back to how we’re defining know.

          Actually, I think I made a mistake, in the last post I think I defined objective truth as objective knowledge. Sorry about that.

          Objective truth is something that is actually true, whether or not anyone believes it.
          Objective knowledge (by first definition, which may not be correct) is something that is irrefutably proven to be objectively true.

          So I think you’re right, that was my mistake.

          As for the second question, I’m not entirely sure. I think all unmarried men are bachelors might fall to the same problem as all pears are green, but because the statement is more linguistic rather than measured, it might work differently. I’m not sure if you can call it objectively true that all unmarried men are bachelors because that is a created truth, not a discovered truth. By our previous definition of objective truth, belief should have no effect, but people’s belief will change the meaning of the word bachelor, or the requirements to fit the definition.

          That’s equally true if everyone starts using another word instead of pear or green, or change the meaning of the words. Even if we genetically analyse the pear and put a label on the color range permitted as green, or legally define marriage and clearly state “an unmarried man is a bachelor,” the descriptions are still invented, not discovered. I’m making this up as I go along, but I think it makes sense.

          I do like to think in terms of infinities, infinitesimals and zeroes. Grey areas are a mushy place for definitions. I’m gradually becoming less confident in my stance though, so keep going, you might break me.

          Posted by torendarby | November 13, 2012, 3:46 am
  2. Great post, Toren. One thing that struck me. In your second paragraph, you say “subjective truth is unreachable”. I assume you meant to say objective truth, because that would make a lot more sense. But, with your definition of ‘know’ being to have absolute certainty, you then go on to say that its impossible to have that. Is that true? Is there a distinction to be made between having absolute certainty – which is a human, personal thing -and actually being able to conclusively, objectively prove something beyond all doubt? And when someone does have this absolute certainty, does that affect how we understand knowledge, at all? Does the simple act of knowing, of being absolutely certain regardless of ‘evidence’, change how we must view and interpret and we and what others know? Sorry if this is a bit rambling – its just a question that popped up while I was reading your post.

    Posted by liamthesaint | November 12, 2012, 5:46 am
    • Thanks, I kept having subjective and objective mixed up in my head as I wrote, so I’m not surprised I got one wrong.
      That wasn’t my definition, that was just one of the possibilities I saw, I don’t exactly have a definition.
      I think the difference might be behind the justification. The person who has absolute certainty in something simply has true belief, but can’t objectively justify it.
      Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think that believing something with absolute certainty is the very definition of true belief, so it doesn’t contradict the current views on knowledge, in fact in fits into the formula. I’m not confident on any of this though, I hadn’t thought of it before. I’m viewing knowledge as a very mushy grey area, and agreed upon knowledge even more so. If we aim between my first and second example (so there must be considerable justification but not 100%) we have no clear boundaries, and thus no real definition. Maybe I should add that to the post.

      Posted by torendarby | November 12, 2012, 6:00 am

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