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  • PROJECT TITLE: A CRITICAL ASSESSMENT OF GETTIER’S INSUFFICIENCY ARGUMENT
  • DEPARTMENT: SOCIOLOGY
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CHAPTER ONE

THE TRADITIONAL CONCEPTION OF KNOWLEDGE

1.0       Introduction:  A CRITICAL ASSESSMENT OF GETTIER’S INSUFFICIENCY ARGUMENT

            To begin with, knowledge is generic in the sense that it is a concept that allows for several species to exist. This is not only the case; it is such a concept that allows for element of one to be found in the other so that we cannot talk of one species (especially the propositional knowledge) in isolation from other species. By species, I mean entities that constitute a class by virtue of sharing essential element which allows for explanatory fusion of one into the other. In many ways, looking at knowledge in such a way is like redefining ontology. But then, what are the most general kinds of events and entities that brought about knowledge? How are these things related hierarchically in terms of causal symmetry or priority? What is their meaning and how is it represented. The aim of this chapter is to present the idea of knowledge as discussed in the traditional conception of knowledge. The chapter will examine the reasons for the necessity of the tripartite conditions in the definition of knowledge. The chapter will also present A.J Ayer’s analysis of what knowledge is, it will also discuss Keith Lehrer’s analysis on the same subject matter. The chapter will not neglect pointing out some of the difficulties with the analysis in a short term.

The tripartite condition for knowledge stems from the traditional conception of what knowledge ought to be as seen in western epistemology. This means that the normative conception of knowledge is the central idea of the traditional conception of knowledge as seen in western epistemology. This conception has been discussed, charaterised and critiqued by different scholars’ analysis.

1.1     On the Traditional Conception of Knowledge

The definition of knowledge remains a recurring debate among philosophers in the field of normative epistemology. The classical definition, described but not ultimately endorsed by Plato1 specifies that a statement must meet three criteria in order to be considered knowledge: it must be justified, true, and believed.  The justified true belief (JTB) analysis of knowledge aims at providing both the theoretical and practical conditions for knowledge claims.

To begin with, the traditional JTB account of knowledge as deduced in the dialogue with “Theatetus” says that to know that p, the following requirements must be satisfied: (1) you believe that p (2) you have justification that p (3) p is true.          The first condition, belief is the state of mind in which a person thinks something to be the case, with or without there being empirical evidence to prove that something is the case with factual certainty2. Another way of defining belief sees it as a mental representation of an attitude positively oriented towards the likelihood of something being true.3 In the context of Ancient Greek thought, two related concepts were identified with regards to the concept of belief: pistis and doxa. Simplified, we may say that pistis refers to "trust" and "confidence", while doxa refers to "opinion" and "acceptance". The English word "orthodoxy" derives from doxa. Jonathan Leicester suggests that belief has the purpose of guiding action rather than indicating truth.4

            In epistemology, philosophers use the term "belief" to refer to personal attitudes associated with true or false ideas and concepts. However, "belief" does not require active introspection and circumspection. For example, we never ponder whether or not the sun will rise. We simply assume the sun will rise. Since "belief" is an important aspect of mundane life, according to Eric Schwitzgebel in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, a related question asks: "how a physical organism can have beliefs?"5

            On justification, the idea that belief is conceptually prior to knowledge easily leads to the idea that evidence and justification are conceptually prior to knowledge too. Although that is most vivid in the traditional definition of knowledge as justified true belief, Gettier's counterexamples to that definition did not remove the idea that the concept of justification or evidence would occur with the concept of belief in a more complex analysis of the concept of knowledge. Consequently, the concept of knowledge was assumed to be unavailable for use in an elucidation of the concept of justification or evidence, on pain of circularity.6 Once we cease to assume that belief is conceptually prior to knowledge, we can experiment with using the concept of knowledge to elucidate the concepts of justification and evidence.

            The truth condition gives assurance that what may account as knowledge must not be by mere chance or luck but by logical truth. Thus a hypothesis is inconsistent with the evidence if and only if it is inconsistent with known truths; it is a good explanation of the evidence if and only if it is a good explanation of known truths. One's evidence justifies belief in the hypothesis if and only if one's knowledge justifies that belief. Knowledge figures in the account primarily as what justifies, not as what gets justified. Knowledge can justify a belief which is not itself knowledge, for the justification relation is not deductive. For example, I may be justified in believing that someone is a murderer by knowing that he emerged stealthily with a bloody knife from the room in which the body was subsequently discovered, even if he is in fact innocent and I therefore do not know that he is a murderer.

Justified true belief is a definition of knowledge that gained approval during the Enlightenment, 'justified' standing in contrast to 'revealed'. There have been attempts to trace it back to Plato and his dialogues.7 The concept of justified true belief states that in order to know that a given proposition is true, one must not only believe the relevant true proposition, but also have justification for doing so.

Philosophers have thought a great deal about knowledge matters, especially about the nature of what we can know or may mistakenly think we know sources of knowledge, such knowledge as a storehouse of what we have learned in the past, consciousness as revealing our inner lives, reflection as a way to acquire knowledge of abstract matters, and testimony as providing knowledge originally acquired by others. In approaching knowledge definition in epistemology, the theory of knowledge and justification, it is appropriate to consider all description. It seems altogether natural to believe these things given my experience, and I think I justifiedly believed them. I believed them, not in the way I would if I accepted the result of wishful thinking or of merely guessing, but with justification. By that I mean above all that the beliefs I refer to were justified.

The theory of knowledge suffered a significant setback with the discovery of Gettier problems, situations in which the above conditions were seemingly met but that many philosophers disagree that anything is known.8 Robert Nozick suggested a clarification of "justification" which he believed eliminates the problem: the justification has to be such that were the justification false, the knowledge would be false. If so we can say belief becomes knowledge (accepted reality) when it is justified.

1.2       A. J. Ayer on ‘The Problem of Knowledge’

In The Problem of Knowledge, Ayer defended a context-based account of knowledge that had as its essential ingredients that some claim, p, counted as knowledge for a person, Aiff p was true, A was sure that p, and A had, in the relevant context, ‘the right to be sure’ about the truth of p. The contextual element is apparent in the discussion after Ayer outlines what is required to have the ‘right to be sure’ in the mathematical case. One avenue to knowledge in this case lies in the ability of the agent to provide a proof of the relevant proposition. In the case of perception, or memory, it is clear that it is impossible to possess such a proof, so a more relaxed standard is required. To state in general how strong the backing needs to be for a believer to have the right to be sure that their belief is true is not possible; doing so would require drawing up a list of conditions “under which perception, or memory, or testimony, or other forms of evidence are reliable.”9 Ayer thought this would be too complicated a task, if at all possible. The ‘correct’ standard to set for claims to knowledge is to be decided pragmatically, on grounds of practical convenience. The skeptics ploy of setting an impossible standard, one requiring the impossibility of error, should be resisted, as one has the right to be sure even where error is possible.

The account offered was intended as an analysis of knowledge, but revealingly Ayer did not require that believers be aware of how they have the right to be sure. It was allowed that somebody who invariably correctly predicted the outcome of a lottery could be said to know that their prediction was true, even though they, nor anyone else, had any idea of how the predictions came to be reliable. Ayer admitted that this case, and others like it, may cause some dispute: it was not clearly covered by the meaning of the term ‘knowledge’, and so left room for some stipulation.10

Ayer's particular analysis came under attack in a famous paper by Gettier (1963), in which satisfaction of the three clauses (the truth of p, the belief in p, and the right to be sure that p) was held to be insufficient for knowledge. Gettier's argument requires that someone, A, could be justified in believing a false proposition, and that if A was justified in believing p and q is deducible from p, and A accepted q by deducing it from p, then A would be justified in believing q. An example used by Gettier has the following structure: (i) Jones owns a Ford. (ii) Either Jones owns a Ford or Brown is in Boston. Smith believes, and has ample evidence for, (i). He deduces (ii) from (i), and so is justified in believing (ii), even though, in fact, he has no idea of where Brown is. It turns out that (i) is false, but (ii) is true – unbeknownst to Smith, Brown is indeed in Boston. Gettier concluded that in this case all three clauses of the analysis of knowledge are satisfied, but that we should judge in this case that Smith did not know (ii). The suggestion was that an additional clause, or clauses, was needed11.

The literature spawned by the Gettier counter-examples is huge, nearly all of it attempting to pin down the elusive additional clause(s). Ayer himself did not think that any such additional clauses were needed. The counter-examples, he thought, showed that what was needed was a more careful account of what ‘being justified’ consisted in.

 Ayer, disputed Gettier's claim that any deduction from a justified, but false, proposition preserves justification. We already knew, he claimed, that the notion of having evidence for a claim is very difficult to elucidate; Hempel's paradoxes succeeded in showing that. Once we had managed to throw more light on the justification relation, we would see that his proposed analysis was sufficient for knowledge12.

1.3       Kieth Lehrer on Justified True Belief

Lehrer develops accounts of the first two conditions of knowledge: that p be true and that S accept that p. The truth condition for knowledge comes directly out of the original conception of knowledge as the recognition of correct information. In order to know that pS must "get p right." The traditional way of expressing this is to say that p has to be true in order to be known. This is captured in the common question, "Do you know that it is true?" There seems to be no real difference between this and the shorter question, "Do you know it?")  But the, what is the term truth? To get a feel for what accounts of truth look like, we will begin with one of the original definition of truth, given by Aristotle. For Aristotle, what is that it is not, or of what is not that it is, is false, while to say of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not, is true.13 The point here is that, Aristotle is comparing reality (what is or what is not) with what is said about reality (that it is or that it is not). Truth is a match between the two and falsehood a mismatch. This is reflected in what Lehrer calls the "absolute theory" of truth: (AT) It is true that p if and only if p, which looks like an abbreviated version of Aristotle's definition. Such a theory is "minimal," in that it tells us what truth is by describing what is true using one of the components of "It is true that p. The same holds for the "disquotational theory" of truth, "X" is true if and only if X, for a declarative sentence "X."14 It is called "disquotational" because the condition for truth is formed by dropping the quotation marks around the sentence whose truth-condition is being given. Similarly, Alfred Tarski, whose writings on truth  are probably the most influential in the twentieth century, regarded such minimal conditions as only necessary, and not sufficient, for a theory of truth15. But as we will see, Lehrer thinks they are enough for a theory of knowledge. Lehrer does the best he can to avoid saying anything substantive about truth and to avoid solving the paradoxes of truth. His truth condition is minimal, and at that, not completely general. But he thinks that it is enough to serve the purposes of a theory of knowledge. We have already noted that we could dispense with any reference to truth and reformulate condition (iT) as follows:

(iT') If S knows that p, then p.16

We have seen that Lehrer ties truth to acceptance, as its goal: one accepts that p in the interests of accepting all and only what is true. He thinks that there is no problem with this goal as long as it is restricted to non-paradoxical sentences. All the paradoxes mean is that the goal of accepting all that is true cannot be met. Moreover, as Lehrer notes, one could reformulate the goal of acceptance: to accept that p if and only if p. A final twist is Lehrer's attempt to give an account of correspondence based on the notion of true acceptance. He sets up a condition on true acceptance, (G) What S accepts, that p, is true if and only if S accepts that 


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