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Saturday, April 28, 2012

Dissecting the skeptics III

Rather than admitting his demonstrated errors or attempting to defend them, our intrepid champion of ancient skepticism has once again vowed to run away rather than engage his critics. Regardless, I shall continue with my critical analysis of his attempt to answer the question "what, if anything, do we know?" by examining the third section of To Know Our Unknowing with or without the benefit of his illuminating commentary. So far, we've identified five errors in his argument. Will there be more? Let's read carefully and see.
The constraints on justification outlined in (2)–called the Agrippan Trilemma–come down simply to this: merely assuming that something is true is not a rational reason to maintain that it’s true; therefore, any putative justifier must itself be justified, from which it follows that an infinite regress of justifications (where x is justified by y, which is justified by z, on and on forever) fails, as do circular justifications (where x is justified by y, which is itself justified by x).

There’s a sense in which the Agrippan Trilemma sums up the problematic of the entire history of epistemology. Foundationalist theories attempt to end the regress by appealing to some privileged class of self-justifying justifiers. Coherence theories, on the other hand, attempt to make a virtue of circularity by claiming, roughly, that we are justified in holding a set of beliefs if those beliefs evince the requisite degree of internal coherence.

Despite centuries–millenia!–of ingenious epistemological tinkering by generations of staggeringly intelligent people, it is hard to see, on the face of it, how any theory can escape the Agrippan Trilemma without giving up on rational justification altogether. The very idea of a self-justifying justifier is, if not incoherent, at least deeply suspicious. Such ‘foundations’ to our knowledge are often said to be ‘self-evident.’ But as the Devil’s Dictionary points out, ‘self-evident’ seems to mean that which is evident to oneself–and no one else. (Making the same point with far more plausibility, and much less humor: ‘self-evident’ seems to mean nothing more than what a particular cultural tradition has taught its members to accept without reasons.)

As for coherence theories, it may be the case that the greater the coherence of a set of beliefs, the more reason we have, ceteris paribus, to think those beliefs true. But the game of truth is not horseshoes or hand-grenades. Given that knowledge means justified true belief, then by claiming knowledge of x, we’re claiming that x is true, not that x is more or less likely to be true by virtue of belonging to a more or less coherent set of beliefs. There might be all sorts of interesting uses for coherence theories, but they are not theories of truth.

Finally, some epistemologists endorse ‘externalism,’ according to which (roughly) knowledge does not require that the knowing subject know that she knows. Here’s one way of putting it: as long as a belief was acquired by means of a reliable mechanism (a mechanism that is known to ‘track the truth’), then the belief is justified regardless of the ‘internal’ state of the subject. Externalists will want to argue that I (and other pesky skeptics) are demanding too much, namely, not just that we know x, but that we know that we know x.

Think about it for a minute, though. What does ‘externalism’ come down to? Just this: “It might very well be the case that many of our beliefs are justified even if we have no way of knowing that they are.” For consider: unless the externalist, or someone, is able to adopt the third-person perspective—the perspective from which it is possible to determine that Beatrice has arrived at belief x by means of a reliable, truth-tracking mechanism, and thus that she knows x (even though she does not know that she knows x)—then externalism amounts to saying, “It might be the case that we know all sorts of stuff.” Fine. I accept that, Sextus accepts that—all ancient skeptics do (at least in the externalist’s sense of having a true belief that is in fact justified in some way that escapes us). But without specifying what we know and how we know it (what justifies it), then externalism simply does not answer the question.

On the other hand, if externalists think that they (or someone) can adopt the justification-identifying third-person perspective, can identify (e.g.) reliable truth-tracking mechanisms, then their account of justification would have to be an account of the justification of those mechanisms—that is, an account of how it’s known that those mechanisms are truth-tracking. Externalism, then, if it is to contribute anything to the conversation, must collapse into internalism.

It is not enough to ‘know’ something in the externalist’s sense. Unless we’re in possession of a justification for a belief we hold, then we do not know that we know it, in which case we have no warrant for crowning it Knowledge.
There is no need to dispute Delavagus's summary of the Agrippan Trilemma, especially since in the current argument, it has no bearing on any form of putatative justification except those that purport to be rational. And even in the current argument, bringing it up would do little more than rehash the already dismissed problem of the criterion. Delavagus could, of course, simply wave his hand a third time and declare, for the sake of argument, that we shall agree that assuming something is true is a rational reason to believe it is true, but this time he elects not to do so and accepts the limitations that he previously ignored.

Nor do I see any reason to take exception to his assertions about self-evidence and coherence theories, even though I note in passing that he doesn't actually provide any reason to invalidate the former beyond citing Ambrose Bierce and his opinion that self-evidence seems to reflect cultural traditions. I tend to agree with his statements concerning the latter; they are not relevant here. However, when he attacks externalism, it is apparent that we have to look more closely at what he's saying and apply his definition of "knowledge" in order to be perfectly clear about it. When we refer to his definition of knowledge, the externalist claim concerning the skeptic's demand is not just that we possess justified true belief concerning x, but that we possess justified true belief concerning our justified true belief concerning x. Which of course, represents yet another return to the problem of the infinite regress. We need not trouble ourselves with all the tedious detail to see that externalism, as Delavagus describes it, amounts to a claim that a true belief can be justified without the subject being aware if his justification is valid or not.

And it is here that the problem arises. In his attempt to show externalism must collapse into internalism, Delavagus engages in a very shady attempt to move the goalposts, a move that is so blatantly shady that we must declare it to be his sixth error. Remember, the original question which Delavagus intended to answer was this: "What, if anything, do we know?" So, if an individual possesses knowledge, defined as justified true belief, then reason dictates he possesses it regardless of whether he happens to be aware of the validity of the justification for his true belief or not. What do we know? Those true beliefs that are justified, whether we know they are justified or not. All that matters is that the belief is true and the justification is valid. So, Delavagus is quite clearly wrong and externalism answers the very question that he asked because there is no need for the putative knower to justify his justification in order for him to legitimately possess the justified true belief. Therefore, whether we know that we know or not, we can and do know, even according to the philosophical definition of knowledge. The infinite regress is avoided.

His goalpost-moving leads Delavagus to commits his seventh error in his erroneous final statement. Whether we are in possession of the justification for the true belief or not, whether we even know the belief is true or not, we very much have a warrant for crowning our possession of justified true belief as knowledge for two reasons. First, because Delavagus did not define knowledge as "self-aware justified true belief", and second, because he did not pose the question "how can we know that we know?", but rather "what, if anything, do we know?" And the correct answer to that question, according to his chosen definition, is beliefs that are both true and justified, regardless of whether we know they are true or how they are justified.


Next section
Dissecting the skeptics IV

Previous sections
Dissecting the skeptics I
Dissecting the skeptics II

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28 Comments:

Blogger Markku April 28, 2012 11:48 AM  

Again we arrive at the problem of ignoring Gettier, because his examples indeed contained justifications that were valid at the time of claiming knowledge, but became invalid after finding out the whole truth, and not just the truth about the specific proposition. I can see no way around the problem except to further qualify "justified". However, doing that now would be a fighting withdrawal.

Blogger Markku April 28, 2012 11:54 AM  

Also, I would like to hear an answer to a Greg Koukl's question regarding scepticism?

Could you be mistaken about how you feel? Could you even in theory be thinking that you are happy, when in reality you are feeling sad?

Anonymous Anonymous April 28, 2012 12:20 PM  

VD may have already hit this...Delavagus' entire argument is a knowledge claim, which claims a person cannot know anything, which means Delavagus cannot know anything about what he is claiming. It is therefore self-refuting.

You cannot claim to know something about which you also claim it is impossible to know about.

Another example is the agnostic claiming you cannot know if God exists. This is self-refuting, because the agnostic is claiming to know about something, i.e. the existence of God, which he says you cannot know.

Knowledge claims about things the person says we cannot know are one of the most common self-refuting arguments. The fact people engage in these arguments is indicative of their ignorance to logic.

Delavagus has joined this club.

Blogger Vox April 28, 2012 12:29 PM  

VD may have already hit this...Delavagus' entire argument is a knowledge claim, which claims a person cannot know anything, which means Delavagus cannot know anything about what he is claiming. It is therefore self-refuting.

Actually, Delavagus addresses this in his second post. Which I will be addressing presently. But there is still one more to go concerning the first one.

Anonymous NorthernHamlet April 28, 2012 12:29 PM  

this time he elects not to do so and accepts the limitations that he previously ignored.

1. See if they ignore their own definitions
2. See if they follow limitations that they previously said they would ignore.

Anonymous Suomynona April 28, 2012 1:41 PM  

Vox - We do very much have a warrant for crowning our possession of justified true belief as knowledge for two reasons. First, because knowledge is not defined as "self-aware justified true belief", second, because he did not pose the question "how can we know that we know?"

You are only in possession of this knowledge because your superiority complex and self-interests tricks your mind into imagining the justified true belief, you damned, dirty hater! Then you go to Hate Camp where nobody has any fun at all.

Ultimately, all brain function is controlled by badness. We cannot trust our own brains, therefore we must do what the leftists tell us to do, because they always know better.

Anonymous FHL April 28, 2012 2:16 PM  

in a Borat voice: Very nice! I like!

@ Suomynona
"Ultimately, all brain function is controlled by badness. We cannot trust our own brains, therefore we must do what the leftists tell us to do, because they always know better."

Ah, but of course, we all is nothing but a dirty lie... they're humble enough to claim that they're not good either...they "know" they have no knowledge... so therefore- more systems needed! More forms! More checks! More laws! Don't complain! This is freedom! Smile! The system requires you enjoy your freedoms! We have laws and checks against sour dispositions you know! Where's your form?

Heh, it would almost be hilarious if it weren't so true...

Anonymous FHL April 28, 2012 2:27 PM  

edit: typo, that should be "we all 'know that' is nothing but a dirty lie"

But it oddly works just fine without that correction as well...

Anonymous FHL April 28, 2012 2:47 PM  

Ha! I just read over these again and found this gem:

From Part II
"Delavagus: Immediately, in other words, we’ve fallen into the difficulty of needing to justify that which makes justification possible.

Vox: Instead of giving up the philosophical definition of knowledge as intrinsically worthless due to what he has admitted is the impossibility of providing any established justifications for true beliefs..."

It's like: "I can just keep asking 'why?' That is why."
to which the reply is: "O, but why?"

And the entire charade unravels.

Anonymous jm April 28, 2012 5:12 PM  

Never thought I'd see the day when, here at VP, the Agrippan Trilemma becomes a bigger priority than the NFL Draft.

Anonymous VD April 28, 2012 6:01 PM  

Never thought I'd see the day when, here at VP, the Agrippan Trilemma becomes a bigger priority than the NFL Draft.

First, the draft isn't over. Second, the Vikes took Kalil and got some secondary help, as expected. What's to discuss?

Anonymous Clay April 28, 2012 6:58 PM  

I know this is TOTALLY OT, but if you get the chance, read aboubt William Barksdale from Mississippi, during the War of Northern Agrresion.

Just read a book. It was great.

Anonymous WaterBoy April 28, 2012 7:07 PM  

Anonymous: Another example is the agnostic claiming you cannot know if God exists. This is self-refuting, because the agnostic is claiming to know about something, i.e. the existence of God, which he says you cannot know.

Incorrect. The agnostic, in the theological sense, only claims it is not possible for him to know if God exists. He makes no claim about whether or not it is possible to know anything at all. The claim may still be wrong, but it is not self-refuting.

Anonymous zen0 April 28, 2012 7:26 PM  

Why Philosophers cannot be relied upon to get anything done faster than civic workers

Anonymous zen0 April 28, 2012 7:28 PM  

War of Northern Agrresion.

Grrrrrrrrr!

Anonymous kh123 April 28, 2012 8:42 PM  

Of course, when it's Science - with an 11% accuracy for describing tangible things correctly - it's quite justified.

Anonymous zen0 April 28, 2012 9:47 PM  

The difference between philosophy and doggerel, is that philosophy does not rhyme.

Anonymous Cornucopia April 29, 2012 1:28 AM  

Delavagus could, of course, simply wave his hand a third time and declare, for the sake of argument, that we shall agree that assuming something is true is a rational reason to believe it is true, but this time he elects not to do so and accepts the limitations that he previously ignored.


Some externalism seems to come pretty close to doing just that.


Nor do I see any reason to take exception to his assertions about self-evidence and coherence theories, even though I note in passing that he doesn't actually provide any reason to invalidate the former beyond citing Ambrose Bierce and his opinion that self-evidence seems to reflect cultural traditions.


I don't exactly see the prejudice against self-evident things either. A regress that "bottoms out" becomes simple recursion, and there isn't necessarily anything infinite about it. It really comes down to whether we can base our justification tree in propositions simple enough to know self-evidently that they are true.


So, if an individual possesses knowledge, defined as justified true belief, then reason dictates he possesses it regardless of whether he happens to be aware of the validity of the justification for his true belief or not.


Hmmm, but if he is unaware of its justification then it's not justified true belief. What you seem to be doing here is interposing an outside observer who knows whether or not the believer's belief is justified. Then that would be the observer's knowledge about the believer's belief but only because he is aware of the justification for the believer's belief.


Whether we are in possession of the justification for the true belief or not, whether we even know the belief is true or not, we very much have a warrant for crowning our possession of justified true belief as knowledge for two reasons. First, because Delavagus did not define knowledge as "self-aware justified true belief", and second, because he did not pose the question "how can we know that we know?", but rather "what, if anything, do we know?" And the correct answer to that question, according to his chosen definition, is beliefs that are both true and justified, regardless of whether we know they are true or how they are justified.


I would repeat my point above about this being the hypothetical observer's knowledge, not the believer's knowledge, since he is not aware of the justification. According to this interpretation, knowledge would simply be a matter of guessing things, and the more you guessed, the more "knowledge" you would acquire (along with a whole lot of unjustified false beliefs). Among other things, this "knowledge" would be utterly useless, since the only correlation it had with the actual truth would be entirely fortuitous.

Anonymous VD April 29, 2012 2:35 AM  

Hmmm, but if he is unaware of its justification then it's not justified true belief.

Untrue. Would you similarly argue that if he doesn't know if the belief is true, then it's false? Remember, we're dealing with truth here. There isn't any "outside observer" to interpose, as the full extent of the entire universe is involved already. There is no outside. This relevant question here is not "can the believer can justify his belief?", but rather "is the believer's belief justified?". That's why it is called "externalism". The problem is that you and Delavagus don't appear to actually understand it.

I would repeat my point above about this being the hypothetical observer's knowledge, not the believer's knowledge, since he is not aware of the justification.

And I will repeat that is irrelevant and that this is why it is called "externalism". You're confusing two different things here. The observer's knowledge is of the justification. The believer's knowledge is of the justified true belief.

Among other things, this "knowledge" would be utterly useless, since the only correlation it had with the actual truth would be entirely fortuitous.

Do you not see that you're arguing in a circle here? You're also forgetting that the knowledge is already true. Furthermore, you can't reasonably bring pragmatism into the equation now... if you're going to do that, then you need to go back and accept coherence theory and recognize that there is no reason to claim the "justified true belief" definition in the first place.

Anonymous Cornucopia April 29, 2012 3:01 AM  


This relevant question here is not "can the believer can justify his belief?", but rather "is the believer's belief justified?". That's why it is called "externalism". The problem is that you and Delavagus don't appear to actually understand it.


But what justifies his belief? Externalism doesn't obviate the requirement for justification. It only lessens the requirement for direct access to justification. The knower doesn't directly know that he knows. There are only "reliable mechanisms" in place that convince him that what he knows is the truth. You suggest that even that isn't required, which goes a bit beyond externalism. According to this, knowledge is merely shooting in the dark.

Anonymous Cornucopia April 29, 2012 3:05 AM  

Although I will add that from what I've read--and hinted at above--some externalists have extremely lax requirements for "reliable mechanisms," but suggesting that guessing is one of them would, I think, destroy externalism as a serious theory.

Blogger Vox April 29, 2012 7:35 AM  

The knower doesn't directly know that he knows.

That is irrelevant given the scope of this argument, which only concerns what he knows. That's precisely what I pointed out when I noted that Delavagus "did not define knowledge as "self-aware justified true belief", and second, because he did not pose the question "how can we know that we know?", but rather "what, if anything, do we know?"

You suggest that even that isn't required, which goes a bit beyond externalism. According to this, knowledge is merely shooting in the dark.

Yes, which you will note further undermines the attempt to define knowledge as "justified true belief". It absolutely isn't required. Remember, I have no attachment to that definition. I am beginning to suspect that I may even be able to show that it is intrinsically idiotic, in the correct sense of the word "idiot".

Blogger Markku April 29, 2012 9:08 AM  

Yes, which you will note further undermines the attempt to define knowledge as "justified true belief". It absolutely isn't required. Remember, I have no attachment to that definition. I am beginning to suspect that I may even be able to show that it is intrinsically idiotic, in the correct sense of the word "idiot".

Going back to my previous example, would you say that if X believed that his wife cheated on him because the voices in his head told him so (or he divined it from tea leaves), and the wife did in fact cheat on him, then that X knew it? If not (and I think not), then the word "justified" is required and it is indeed the justification that the believer has for his belief.

Blogger Galt-in-Da-Box April 29, 2012 9:49 AM  

Be reasonable, comrade...STFU & drink the Kool-Aid or get gaveled!

Blogger Galt-in-Da-Box April 29, 2012 9:58 AM  

Yeah, the fuckin Papist Johnny-Rebs started it by firing on an American fort, but itwawaz "tha wawar agayin Narthurn Uhgreshun", y'all.
Retard smart!
Bubba'll probably show similar genius by starting ANOTHER civil war by firing at a troop convoy or DHS vehicle this summer & call it "tha wawar t' git thayat dayam naggar outa tha white house".

Blogger Vox April 29, 2012 10:02 AM  

Going back to my previous example, would you say that if X believed that his wife cheated on him because the voices in his head told him so (or he divined it from tea leaves), and the wife did in fact cheat on him, then that X knew it?

Why not? If the predictive model works, it works. I'd have a low confidence in it, of course.

Blogger JACIII April 29, 2012 12:21 PM  

Yeah, the fuckin Papist Johnny-Rebs started it by firing on an American fort, but itwawaz "tha wawar agayin Narthurn Uhgreshun", y'all.
Retard smart!
Bubba'll probably show similar genius by starting ANOTHER civil war by firing at a troop convoy or DHS vehicle this summer & call it "tha wawar t' git thayat dayam naggar outa tha white house".


Evidence of a government education.

Anonymous 691 May 01, 2012 3:22 PM  

After rereading all three of Delavagus's post, I wonder if what he intends to ask with his question "What, if anything, do we know?" is something along the following lines:

"Given a set of beliefs, which ones are true?"

or,

"Here are my beliefs (or your beliefs), find the set of true beliefs and the set of false beliefs"

He criticizes externalism here for "not answering the question" and later on for being "uninformative." As such, I think he misinterprets externalism as arguing for something it has no intention of doing and trying to answer a question it has no intention of answering.

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