Ancora Imparo - I am still learning

Thursday, April 9, 2009

More philosophy - epistomology

For this week's philosophy assignment, I had to study Gettier's counter opinion to Plato's traditional definition of knowledge (that knowledge is knowledge when we have a reason to believe what we believe). In the scenario we were given, a person's knowledge (justified true belief) is faulty because of a broken clock.

Knowledge is such an interesting topic, especially considering the metaphysics topic we explored last week. I definitely see metaphysics and epistomology as connected.

To begin, I should say that I do agree with Gettier to a certain extent. We can justify a good many things and believe them, but these things just are not true. I remember hearing one example of justification that really drove the point home for me. The example stated: suppose you have a friend who was in an airplane crash. There have been searches upon searches, but no survivors have been found. You would probably justify in your mind that your friend perished in the crash. In reality, however, your friend is floating in the ocean, holding on to a piece of debris, wondering when (s)he is going to be rescued. I think that is the perfect example of what Gettier is referring to. I think this is a good example of a justified true belief that turned out to be false.

In this example and in the clock example provided in this discussion board, I do believe the subjects have knowledge. If I look at a clock, I have no reason to believe it to be incorrect; unless I see another and another that say a different time. In the above example, the person whose friend was involved in an airplane crash would have no reason to doubt the authorities that there is little chance of survival. That is to say, to the best of one's knowledge, this is the case. In this case, I believe Gettier's theory is flawed. Knowledge is not omniscience. Knowledge is the believing of something to the best of one's ability.

I do believe knowing our viewpoints following an internalistic model is important. We do need to know why we believe what we believe. In the clock example, we would know the correct time based upon the justification that the library would have a working clock. In the airplane example, we would know based upon the information from the authorities. That said, I also believe it is important that we do not judge ourselves as all-knowing. As finite creatures, we prove over and over that we are not all-knowing. We possess knowledge, but not ultimate knowledge. There are always going to be times that we are proven wrong. This should, then, change our knowledge.

I do agree with the definition of justified true belief as presented in the point casts - a "true belief" that we believe and have a reason to believe. I do think, however, that this definition could go further. There are some things that we cannot explain. In this sense, this internalistic defintion of justified true belief does not seem to go far enough. As externalists point out, there are some things that we just "know" to be true without proof. For example, I have a justified true belief in angels and demons. Can I prove with reason that they exist? Others can justifiably disagree with me and probably present a more rational case than I can. Rationality and reason are not always the proper answers, however. I think what can be added to the definition of justified true belief is an element only explained by the human mind - that spiritual aspect of humanity that we discussed in metaphysics. I think most people will agree that they sense something more. This something more is our spiritual longing for not just more knowledge, but knowledge on a higher plain than we understand now. There are some things that I believe we can truly say are justified true beliefs because they do surpass the traditional defintion of knowledge - they reach that higher plain of understanding.

I do, in a sense, believe that Gettier had some valid points. In the clock and airplane examples, the knowledge that the subject thought he/she possessed turned out to be false. However, the subject's understanding was correct based upon the information (s)he had available. I do not think that the person's knowledge was at fault, but rather once his/her horizons were broadened with new facts, so to speak; the knowledge would change. I like the expression, "I reserve the right to change my mind." Changing one's mind to coincide with new evidence does not show lack of knowledge. On the contrary, it shows not only knowledge but wisdom to be able to admit a mistake and move on in the correct direction. I believe this is the best counterexample to Gettier's counterexample. We can only form our opinion (our knowledge) based upon the facts at hand. This does not immediately mean a flawed knowledge but flawed facts.

I do think we need to be careful when stating that we "know" something. However, I think it is even worse to be unwilling to adjust our justified true beliefs when they are proven incorrect, beyond a shadow of a doubt. Because we are finite creatures, we are not all-knowing; I believe the best defintion of "knowing" something is to sincerely believe it. This does not mean that our knowledge will never be proven wrong. We are flawed creatures. Our knowledge is not perfect, we just believed whole-heartedly in the knowledge we possess.



Colleen said...

This is one of the best essays I've read that you have done. Well done. Hope your teacher liked it!

unschoolermom said...

Thank you for the compliment! This was definitely a fun subject!