The Likelihood of Knowledge (Philosophical Studies Series)


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For example, Elgin argues that it is essential to treat scientific understanding as non-factive. She cites a number of cases in which science has progressed from one theory to a better theory where, we would say, understanding has increased in the process even though the theories are, strictly speaking at least, false. A different kind of case that Elgin offers concerns scientific idealizations, such as the ideal gas law.

Scientists know full well that no actual gas behaves in this way, yet the introduction of this useful fiction clearly improved our understanding of the behavior of actual gasses. More specifically, Brogaard claims that we can distinguish between objectual and propositional knowledge just as we can distinguish between objectual and propositional understanding.

Moreover, while Brogaard grants that objectual understanding does incorporate a coherence requirement, this again fails to mark a value-relevant distinction between knowledge and understanding because the relevant counterpart—objectual knowledge i. So provided that we are consistent in our comparisons of objectual and propositional understanding on the one hand, and objectual and propositional knowledge on the other, Kvanvig fails to make a sound case for thinking that understanding is of greater value than knowledge.

In order to bring the luck-based challenge into focus, we can distinguish three kinds of views about the relationship between understanding and epistemic luck that are found in the literature: strong compatibilism e. Strong compatibilism is the view that understanding is compatible with the varieties of epistemic luck that are generally taken to undermine propositional knowledge.

Moderate compatibilism, by contrast, maintains that while understanding is like propositional knowledge in that it is incompatible with the kind of luck that features in traditional Gettier cases, it is nonetheless compatible with environmental epistemic luck. Incompatibilism rejects that either kind of epistemic luck case demonstrates that understanding and propositional knowledge come apart, and so maintains that understanding is incompatible with epistemic luck to the same extent that propositional knowledge is.

The received view in mainstream epistemology, at least since Gilbert Ryle e. Accordingly, if Hannah knows how to ride a bike, then this is in virtue of her propositional knowledge—viz.

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By reducing in this manner knowledge—how to a kind of knowledge—that, intellectualists such as Stanley have accepted that knowledge-how should have properties characteristic of propositional knowledge, see, for example, Stanley , of which knowledge-how is a kind. Furthermore, the value of knowledge-how should be able to be accounted for, on intellectualism, with reference to the value of the propositional knowledge that the intellectualist identifies with knowledge-how.

In recent work, Carter and Pritchard have challenged intellectualism on this point. One such example they offer to this end involves testimony and skilled action. For example, suppose that a skilled guitarist tells an amateur how to play a very tricky guitar riff. Carter and Pritchard argue that though the amateur can uncontroversially acquire testimonial knowledge from the expert that, for some way w that w is the way to play the riff, it might be that the expert, but not novice, knows how to play the riff. Further, they suggest that whilst the amateur is better off, with respect to the aim of playing the riff, than he was prior to gaining the testimonial knowledge he did, he would likewise be better off further—viz.

The conclusion Carter and Pritchard draw from this and other similar cases e. A potential area for future research is to consider what an analogue value problem for knowledge-how might look like, on an anti-intellectualist framework. Recall that, according to robust virtue epistemology, the distinctive value of knowledge-that is accounted for in terms of the value of cognitive achievement i.

John Hawthorne ; cf. Hawthorne primarily motivates this line of argument by appeal to the lottery case. Intuitively, we would say that such an agent lacks knowledge of what she believes, even though her belief is true and even though her justification for what she believes—assessed in terms of the likelihood, given this justification, of her being right—is unusually strong. Moreover, were this agent to use this belief as a premise in her practical reasoning, and so infer that she should throw the ticket away without checking the lottery results in the paper for example, then we would regard her reasoning as problematic.

Lottery cases therefore seem to show that justified true belief, no matter how strong the degree of justification, is not enough for acceptable practical reasoning—instead, knowledge is required. If the agent had formed her true belief by reading the results in a reliable newspaper, for example, then she would count as knowing the target proposition and can then infer that she should throw the ticket away without criticism.

It is more likely, however, that the newspaper has printed the result wrongly than that she should win the lottery. This sort of consideration seems to show that knowledge, even when accompanied by a relatively weak justification, is better at least when it comes to practical reasoning than a true belief that is supported by a relatively strong justification but does not amount to knowledge.

If this is the right way to think about the connection between knowledge possession and practical reasoning, then it seems to offer a potential response to at least the secondary value problem. A second author who thinks that our understanding of the concept of knowledge can have important ramifications for the value of knowledge is Edward Craig Simplifying somewhat, Craig hypothesises that the concept of knowledge is important to us because it fulfills the valuable function of enabling us to identify reliable informants. The idea is that it is clearly of immense practical importance to be able to recognize those from whom we can gain true beliefs, and that it was in response to this need that the concept of knowledge arose.

The matter of how to identify this functional role has received increasing recent attention. Kvanvig identifies closure of inquiry as the relevant function. However, these accounts all accept explicitly or tacitly a more general insight, which is that considerations about the function that the concept of knowledge plays in fulfilling practical needs should inform our theories of the nature and corresponding value of knowledge.

This more general point remains controversial in contemporary metaepistemology.

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Turri b. Third, epistemic justification comes in degrees, from weak to strong. On this traditional approach, we are invited to think of justification as measured by how probable the belief is given the reasons or evidence you have. One convenient way to measure probability is to use the decimals in the interval [0, 1]. A probability of 0 means that the claim is guaranteed to be false.

A probability of 1 means that the claim is guaranteed to be true. A probability of. The question then becomes, how probable must your belief be for it to be knowledge? Obviously it must be greater than. But how much greater? Suppose we say that knowledge requires a probability of 1—that is, knowledge requires our justification or reasons to guarantee the truth of the belief.

Call such reasons conclusive reasons. The strong conception of knowledge says knowledge requires conclusive reasons. We can motivate the strong conception as follows. But all is not well with the strong conception, or so philosophers have claimed over the past several decades.


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The strong conception seems to entail that we know nearly nothing at all about the material world outside of our own minds or about the past. For we could have had all the reasons we do in fact have, even if the world around us or the past had been different. This conflicts with commonsense and counts against the strong conception. But what is the alternative? This is the weak conception of knowledge.

Most epistemologists accept the weak conception of knowledge. For any point short of 1 would seem arbitrary. Why should we pick that point exactly? The same could be said for a vague range that includes points short of 1—why, exactly, should the vague range extend roughly that far but not further? This leads to an even deeper problem for the weak conception. It brings into doubt the value of knowledge. Can knowledge really be valuable if it is arbitrarily defined? A closely related problem for the weak conception presents itself. Suppose for the sake of argument that we settle on.

Suppose further that you believe Q and you believe R , that Q and R are both true, and that you have reached the. Thus the weak conception entails that you know Q , and you know R. But the weak conception cannot sustain this judgment. For the probability of the conjunction of two independent claims, such as Q and R , equals the product of their probabilities. This is the special conjunction rule from probability theory. BonJour BonJour concludes that the weak conception fails to explain the value of knowledge, and thus that the strong conception must be true.

So far, in common with most of the contemporary literature in this regard, we have tended to focus on the value of knowledge relative to other epistemic standings. A related debate in this respect, however—one that has often taken place largely in tandem with the mainstream debate on the value of knowledge—has specifically concerned itself with the value of true belief and we will turn now to this issue. Few commentators treat truth or belief as being by themselves valuable though see Kvanvig ch.

True beliefs are clearly often of great practical use to us. Imagine someone who, for no good reason, concerns herself with measuring each grain of sand on a beach, or someone who, even while being unable to operate a telephone, concerns herself with remembering every entry in a foreign phonebook. Such a person would thereby gain lots of true beliefs but, crucially, one would regard such truth-gaining activity as rather pointless.

After all, these true beliefs do not seem to serve any valuable purpose, and so do not appear to have any instrumental value or, at the very least, what instrumental value these beliefs have is vanishingly small.

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It would, perhaps, be better—and thus of greater value—to have fewer true beliefs, and possibly more false ones, if this meant that the true beliefs that one had concerned matters of real consequence. At most, then, we can say that true beliefs often have instrumental value. What about final or intrinsic value? One might think that if the general instrumental value of true belief was moot then so too would be the intuitively stronger thesis that true belief is generally finally valuable.

Nevertheless, many have argued for such a claim. One condition that seems to speak in favor of this thesis is that as truth seekers we are naturally curious about what the truth is, even when that truth is of no obvious practical import.

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Accordingly, it could be argued that from a purely epistemic point of view, we do regard all true belief as valuable for its own sake, regardless of what further prudential goals we might have e. Baehr 5. Curiosity will only take you so far in this regard, however, since we are only curious about certain truths, not all of them. To return to the examples given a moment ago, no fully rational agent is curious about the measurements of every grain of sand on a given beach, or the name of every person in a random phonebook—i. Still, one could argue for a weaker claim and merely say that it is prima facie or pro tanto finally good to believe the truth cf.

David ; Lynch , where cases of trivial truths such as those just given are simply cases where, all things considered , it is not good to believe the truth. After all, we are familiar with the fact that something can be prima facie or pro tanto finally good without being all-things-considered good. For example, it may be finally good to help the poor and needy, but not all-things-considered good given that helping the poor and needy would prevent you from doing something else which is at present more important such as saving that child from drowning.

At this point one might wonder why it matters so much to some epistemologists that true belief is finally valuable. Why not instead just treat true belief as often of instrumental value and leave the matter at that? The answer to this question lies in the fact that many want to regard truth—and thereby true belief—as being the fundamental epistemic goal, in the sense that ultimately it is only truth that is epistemically valuable so, for example, while justification is epistemically valuable, it is only epistemically valuable because of how it is a guide to truth.

Accordingly, if true belief is not finally valuable—and only typically instrumentally valuable—then this seems to downplay the status of the epistemological project. There are a range of options here. The conservative option is to contend that truth is the fundamental goal of epistemology and also contend that true belief is finally valuable—at least in some restricted fashion.

Marian David , falls into this category. In contrast, one might argue that truth is the fundamental goal while at the same time claiming that true belief is not finally valuable. Sosa often compares the epistemic domain to other domains of evaluation where the fundamental good of that domain is not finally valuable. Perhaps the epistemic domain is in this respect like the coffee-production domain?

Another line of response against the thesis that true belief is finally valuable is to suggest that this thesis leads to a reductio. Michael DePaul has notably advanced such an argument. According to DePaul, the thesis that true belief is finally valuable implies that all true beliefs are equally epistemically valuable. Though this latter claim, DePaul argues, is false, as is illustrated by cases where two sets each containing an equal number of true beliefs intuitively differ in epistemic value.

Additionally, Nick Treanor has criticized the argument for a different reason, which is that contra DePaul there is no clear example of two sets which contain the same number of true beliefs. Another axis on which the debate about the value of true belief can be configured is in terms of whether one opts for an epistemic-value monism or an epistemic-value pluralism—that is, whether one thinks there is only one fundamental epistemic goal, or several.

Kvanvig e. This is important because if the range of goals identified were all truth-related, then it would prompt the natural response that such goals are valuable only because of their connection to the truth, and hence not fundamental epistemic goals at all. More precisely, if an epistemic-value monism that does not regard the fundamental epistemic goal as finally valuable can be made palatable, then there seems no clear reason why a parallel view that opted for pluralism in this regard could not similarly be given a plausible supporting story.

On this line of thought, if digitally acquired e. However, recent work at the intersection of epistemology and the philosophy of mind suggests there are potentially some new and epistemologically interesting philosophical problems associated with the value of technology-assisted knowledge. These problems correspond with two ways of conceiving of knowledge as extending beyond traditional, intracranial boundaries e.

According to the extended mind thesis EMT , mental states e. This thesis, defended most notably by Andy Clark and David Chalmers , should not be conflated with comparatively weaker and less controversial thesis of content externalism e. What the proponent of EMT submits is that mental states themselves can partly supervene on extracranial artifacts e. But it is initially puzzling just why, and how, this should be.

After all, even if we accept the intuition that the epistemic value of traditional intracranial knowledge exceeds the value of corresponding true opinion, it is, as Engel , Lynch and Carter have noted, at best not clear that this comparative intuition holds in the extended case, where knowledge is possessed simply by virtue of information persisting in digital storage.

Mere true belief is more likely to be lost, which makes it less valuable than knowledge. However, there are other ways in which the technology-assisted knowledge could have import for the traditional value problems. In recent work, Michael P. Lynch argues that, given the increase in cognitive offloading coupled with evermore subtle and physically smaller intelligence-augmentation technologies e.

Lynch suggests that while coming to know via such mechanisms can make knowledge acquisition much easier, there are epistemic drawbacks. He offers the following thought experiment:. The electronic communication grid that allows neuromedia to function is destroyed. Suddenly no one can access the shared cloud of information by thought alone. Lynch 1—6. They argue that the greater the scope of epistemic dependence, the more valuable it becomes to cultivate virtues like intellectual autonomy that regulate the appropriate reliance and outsourcing e. Thanks to Earl Conee, Alan Millar and several referees at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy for useful comments on earlier versions of this entry.

Value problems 2. Reliabilism and the Meno Problem 3. Virtue Epistemology and the Value Problem 4. Understanding and Epistemic Value 5. The Value of Knowledge-How 6. Other Accounts of the Value of Knowledge 7. Weak and Strong Conceptions of Knowledge 8. The Value of True Belief 9. Reliabilism and the Meno Problem The first contemporary wave of work on the value problem largely concerned whether this problem raised a distinctive difficulty for reliabilist accounts of knowledge—i. Virtue Epistemology and the Value Problem So far this discussion has taken it as given that whatever problems reliabilism faces in this regard, there are epistemological theories available—some form of virtue epistemology, for example—that can deal with them.

Performance Normativity Framework Dimensions of evaluation thesis Any performance with an aim can be evaluated along three dimensions: i whether it is successful, ii whether it is skillful, and iii thirdly, whether the success is because of the skill. Ahlstrom-Vij, Kristoffer and Stephen R. Oxford University Press: — Brady, Michael S. Chisholm ed. Schneewind trans. Carter, J. Battaly ed.

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