Trying To Think
Tuesday, March 30, 2004
Week 4 (24th March)
Belief =
1. an epistemic state.
2. an intentional state. pictures and words are also intentional.
3. a propositional attitude. ie. an attitude towards a proposition (proposition = something that expresses content that can be true or false). Other propositional attitudess are desire, hope and fear, but only belief can be true or false. The others also have an affect, or phenomenal content.

Even though beliefs can influence perceptions ("theory laden theory of perception"), perception must in general be prior to belief, in order to form beliefs. Perception is of course inferential, with inference being made on the basis of expectations and beliefs.

Unconcious beliefs. Not enough room in consciousness for all our beliefs. If we stop being conscious of a belief, do we stop having it?

Dispositional Account of Belief.
Are beliefs just dispositions to act (or talk)? (disposition = tendency, inherent in the object, to behave a certain way in certain conditions). Do all beliefs -> actions? Depends on strength of belief, + action is not always directly or simply related (belief -> a cluster of dispositions). Can we eliminate talk of beliefs? (= doxastic eliminativism).

How are beliefs related?
Beliefs are inferentially promiscuous. Obviously the promiscuousness has limits, otherwise learning something would lead to learning all its ramifications. Also, we can hold inconsistent beliefs (but can we believe them if we know they are inconsistent?)
Doxastic holism: our beliefs and concepts are anchored in other beliefs and concepts
sub-doxastic states: encaspsulated beliefs, not ingerentially pomiscuous (eg. illusions. Even though we know the illusion, we still believe one line is longer, and cannot stop that perception).

doxastic eliminativism.
= no such thing as beliefs. Just a convenient, folk psych fiction. Should really talk about states in the brain, neuro-psych, etc.
Is this self-defeating? Can doxastic eliminativism be believed? Supporters would say "we predict doxastic eliminativism will be true", instead of "believe".

Thursday, March 18, 2004
Week 3 (17th March 2004)

Thoughts on essay writing:

And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate - but there is no competition -
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.
- T.S. Eliot, East Coker (No. 2 of 'Four Quartets')

- A philosophical account of knowledge details the necessary and sufficient conditions for knowledge. This is a conceptual analysis , not a way to work out how to get or evaluated knowledge. We want to describe the concept of knowledge in terms of other, related concepts. So we can include "truth" in our concept of knowledge (since a claim to knowledge implies that the proposition is true), even though the truth is in practice inaccessible.

Gettier-style problems
Russell: A man looks at the town clock, which has always been reliable in the past. The clock says 1 o'clock, so he claims to know that the time is one o'clock. However, the clock is actually broken, and stuck at one o'clock, so he doesn't have knowledge. As a final twist, it turn out that it really is one o'clock.
So, he has justified true belief, but not knowledge.
- Did he really have justification? Certainly it was not complete, but justification never is. Justification is in degrees, and the degree of justification -> degree of legitimate claim to knowledge (which does not mean a *correct* claim to knowledge).
1. The justification must be related to the truth to count as real justification. There must be a causal relationship. In Russell's clock example, the truth of the time and the justification for believing the time are not related; it is just a coincidence that they are the same. Examination of the justification shows that it is not the right kind. So knowledge is JTB caused and sustained by the facts of the world. This is supposed to be a problem with knowledge of universals (eg. "All human beings have brains"), because there are no facts in the world about these universals (really??).
2. Have a "Gettier defeater" as a fourth criteria of knowledge. In the Gettier counterexamples, there are always facts that, if known, would have prevented JTB. The fourth criteria could be something like "there are no facts that, if known, would be sufficient to remove the justification". I'll be arguing this in the essay still, and just remove the attacks on the concept of truth.

Alternatives to JTB
1. The concept of "objective truth" is not valid. eg. "replacement pragmatism", Rorty, etc. I think you can argue this point without becoming a pragmatist, and I think this is the buddhist position, but this needs more thought.
2. the concept of "conceptual analysis" is not valid. eg. "replacement naturalism", Quinne (who is, of course, a genius), etc. We should explain what knowledge is, not try to describe it in terms of other concepts. Eventually I guess we end up talking about neural nets. And then we stop talking. Normative concepts are about how things ought to be . Replacement naturalism says we should only just descriptive concepts.
3. Knowledge is not an interesting concept, because the truth is inaccessible (yes, this is the same argument that was frowned upon at the start of the lecture as "missing the point". I agree that it doesn't really miss the point, but arguing that takes some time). The interesting thing, and what we always seem to end up talking about, is justification.

Monday, March 15, 2004
First short essay.
Basic idea: Truth is a criterion of the JTB defintion of knowledge. I dislike the idea of objective truth about the external world (for reasons given in metaphysics quotes, eg. "The meaning of a concept derives not from its reference to some independently real object, but rather through the circumstance that it recommends to us a particular way of looking at the world and suggests a certain appropriate form of action"). And so I attack this as a criterion, and suggest instead that undefeatable justification should be the criterion. This avoids Gettier problems as well.

Thursday, March 11, 2004
Lecture 2 (10 March 2004)

Learnt about a few distinctions:

1. a priori vs a posteriori. An epistemic distinction (ie. a distinction about how we know). A priori knowledge is known without experience, a posteriori can only be known through experience. eg. "2+2=4" vs "rain is wet".

2. analytic vs synthetic. A semantic distinction (ie. to do with meaning). Analytic statements have the truth or falsity contained within the statement, synthetic statements need reference to other facts. eg. "all bachelors are unmarried" vs "John is a bachelor".

3. necessity vs contingency. Necessary truths (or falsehoods) have to be true or false - it's not possible for them to be otherwise. Contingent truths may have been true or false; they happen to be either true or false, but it would have been possible for them to be otherwise. eg. "2+2=4" vs "dinosaurs are extinct"

Within necessity and contingency we have the logical (or "conceptual") and nomological (or "physical") distinction. If logical, the necessity or contingency covers all possible worlds, if nomological, it only covers worlds with the same laws of nature as ours. If something is nomologically necessary, it is true in all worlds with laws of nature like ours, if it is nomologically contingent, then it is possible in all worlds with laws of nature like ours (so there will be at least one with it true, and at least one with it false). "dinosaurs are extinct" is nomologically contingent, "water is wet" is nomologically necessary, but not logically necessary (it is possible to conceive of different laws of nature where H2O is not wet, although arguably it would no longer be "water" - more on this later).

Logical is the default and usual meaning of necessity and contingency.

Coextensiveness Thesis

a priori = analytic = logically necessary (and therefore nomologically necessary as well)
a posteriori = synthetic = logically contingent (nomologically ??? - work this out)

Arguments against Coextensiveness Thesis

Kant: some statements are a priori and synthetic eg. causation and maths. "every event has a cause" is a priori, but not true simply by virtue of the words.
Saul Kirpke: there are necessary truths that are a posteriori (eg. "Water is H20" - must be the case, but known by experience) and contingent truths that are a priori (eg. "The metre bar in Paris is one metre long" - depends on no other facts, but could have been otherwise).

Tuesday, March 09, 2004
Let's say that there's a society ruled by shamans, and that it's believed that these shamans control the weather. And let's say that we come along and prove, to the satisfaction of everyone in the society, that the shamans cannot, in fact, control the weather. The society is faced with a choice:
- keep using the word shaman to describe the leaders, but understand that this doesn't imply that they control the weather. ie. change the meaning of the word
- keep the word shaman as meaning "one who controls the weather", and acknowledge that as far as we know, there are no real shamans. The leaders would have to be called something else.

A skeptical approach to knowledge would argue that this is the decision we have to make with the word "knowledge". Either we should change the meaning of the word to mean something provisional and uncertain, or we can use it in the traditional sense, but with the understanding ("knowledge"??) that there is no such thing.

Against this skeptical view:
The definition of knowledge that it assumes does not cover the nuances of the word as it is used. From dictionary.com:

The sum or range of what has been perceived, discovered, or learned.
Specific information about something.
The state or fact of knowing.

To perceive directly; grasp in the mind with clarity or certainty.
To regard as true beyond doubt: I know she won't fail.
To have a practical understanding of, as through experience; be skilled in: knows how to cook.
To have fixed in the mind: knows her Latin verbs.
To have experience of: “a black stubble that had known no razor” (William Faulkner).
To perceive as familiar; recognize: I know that face.
To be acquainted with: He doesn't know his neighbors.
To be able to distinguish; recognize as distinct: knows right from wrong.
To discern the character or nature of: knew him for a liar.

When I use the word, I mean something that I actually have. If I find I don't have any knowledge, I'm happy to stop using the word, but it seems to be working ok so far. In society, when someone says "I know X", we don't take it to mean that they cannot be wrong; only that they think that they cannot be wrong. They may still be able to listen to arguments about "X", which further implies that the assertion can be provisional.

Other definitions of knowledge:

n : the psychological result of perception and learning and reasoning [syn: cognition]
Source: WordNet ® 1.6, © 1997 Princeton University

artificial intelligence, information science: The objects, concepts and relationships that are assumed to exist in some area of interest. A collection of knowledge, represented using some knowledge representation language is known as a knowledge base and a program for extending and/or querying a knowledge base is a knowledge-based system.

Knowledge differs from data or information in that new knowledge may be created from existing knowledge using logical inference. If information is data plus meaning then knowledge is information plus processing.

A common form of knowledge, e.g. in a Prolog program, is a collection of facts and rules about some subject.

For example, a knowledge base about a family might contain the facts that John is David's son and Tom is John's son and the rule that the son of someone's son is their grandson. From this knowledge it could infer the new fact that Tom is David's grandson.

Thursday, March 04, 2004
PHIL 256; seminar 1 (3 March 2004)

Inspirational Quote:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
- T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding, Four Quartets

Meet Catharine (lecturer), Ruth and Luke who are getting married in 2 weeks, two Emmas, the sceptical Edward and Seth, David (works with timber) and Peter (talkative, but a nice guy). Also the disagreeing Kat. Too many people to get all the names.

Types of Knowledge.
It seems that "knowledge" is actually within a domain. "Scientific knowledge" is a bit like the current working theory, empirical findings, and scientifically methodology. But the word "knowledge" in logic means knowing the rules and conventions of the current logic (eg. law of the excluded middle). In maths, we know tautologies like 2+2=4, and things that are proved true in the system really are true in the system. This knowledge is real, but only in the domain, with its assumptions and conventions.
From here, we could talk about the nature of theories ...

Theories are accepted as an answer to some specific questions, which have been posed against a background of common assumptions, and with respect to specific alternatives. In addition, available methodological and empirical techniques influence what level of description one can give a physical system and consequently influence the types of legitimate questions one can pose. The bottom line is that theories are tied to a particular scientific community, operating during a particular time, with particular players.
(Hardcastle, How to Build a Theory in Cognitive Science, p10)

.... and make, I think, a good argument that knowledge works as long as it is practical knowledge, aimed at answering a particular question in a particular context. In this way of looking at things, "The Earth is flat" was real knowledge for a time, because it fit all the available information and worked. However, new information was possible; people looked for it, and found it. After that point, it was the simpliest hypothesis, and still perhaps the best for the average person, but other knew better.
Is there a way to get past this relativity? Is there a "fact of the matter" about the shape of the earth? Can this be known in an objective, absolute, will-never-be-proved-wrong-and-here's-why sort of way?

Truth cannot be out there - cannot exist independently of the human mind - because sentences cannot so exist, or be out there. The world is out there, but descriptions of the world are not.
- Rorty, "Contingency, Irony, Solidarity" (1989)

From here, we can move onto talking about the buddhist notion of conventional truth, and the emptiness of absolute truth.

Understanding based on apprehension by any of the six unimpaired faculties is true by the standard of everyday experience, while any remaining reified concepts (vikalpas) are false according to this same criterion ... Things do not exist according to the seven alternatives when ... they are subjected to analysis. In the other hand, they do exist insofar as they are taken for granted in the context of everyday experience. (Emptiness of Emptiness, pg 160, 178)

because it is empty of self or of what belongs to self, it is therefore said: 'The world is empty.'
- Samyutta-nikaya IV, 54.

Other points:

- moral knowledge. Just because there is disagreement does not mean morality is not a candidate for real knowledge. But how are we to decide amongst the various moral assumptions? Well, we would have to look at other assumptions ... can we get to some "bedrock" assumptions? If not, why not?

- "if you believe with conviction that 2+2=14, can you say you know it? If not, what are you missing?" This is a tricky question, with 2 parts:
A) you might really mean "4" when you say "14". You would have to really misundertand the whole hindu-arabic number system thing; difficult, but not impossible, that you would have learnt the numbers by rote without understanding the structure in them, and have mixed up "4" and "14". So it is real knowledge, but like speaking a different language to most people.
B) this is the only fact about arithmetic that you know (or you only know a couple, that aren't really related). Your conviction is therefore difficult to understand, and misplaced. You think you know about arithmetic, but in fact you don't. This can be shown by introducing new facts about arithmetic, or making deductions from the facts you already know, which will show your earlier belief to be inconsistent. It is not real knowledge, and this fact is easily shown in the system that the knowledge is about.

- Can beliefs be non-propositional? If by "belief" we simply mean a tendency to act in a certain way, then obviously they can. If a belief is meant to be a statement about the world, then I think they have to be propositions.

- From the book: "proposition - The meaningful truth-bearer expressed by a declarative sentence; sentences in different languages can express the same meaningful proposition." For example, "The cat sat on the mat" expresses a proposition.

This seems like a clumsy definition; aren't "meaningful truth-bearer" and "meaningful proposition" tautologies?

What this seems to be saying is that we can extract the "real meaning" of the sentence, and this is language independent. Obviously we can never say this "real meaning" - we might try with some tricky formal logic, but that's just another language. But there must be a real meaning, otherwise how could we translate between languages? Surely a translation is about reading a sentence, getting the meaning, and putting that into another sentence? Of course, normal sentences have a meaning that depends on the context, so the same sentence may be translated differently in different contexts. The proposition expressed by a sentence depends on the entire culture behind it. Since all cultures share the same physical world, and have the same perceptual and cognitive makeup, your meaning and my meaning should be translatable from your culture to mine, if we can get someone that knows them both.

The definition seems to assume a complex logical structure of truths and relationships, kept in my head and expressed linguistically. If we look at how NNs represent knowledge, then we can see how this is almost the case, but not actually. We don't have propositions in our heads (except those expressed linguistically), we have something more like probabilities and tendencies. These are not linguistic, and expressing them linguistically is a tricky cognitive task that I would like to know more about. Changing meaning into propositions is arguably the great advantage our language compared to the language of (most?) other mammals.

I'm still troubled by the concept of non-linguistic meaning - I think this may be a nasty piece of reification. Needs more thinking. At some stage, we want to know what meaning is made out of, and I think the definition of proposition in the book is a misguided attempt to forestall that difficult work.

Some buddhist quotes, for comparison:

Our words are like the reflection of a face in a mirror - there is no real connection between the refected image and the face, but the image nevertheless serves a specific purpose for the person using the mirror. (Candrakirti, on Commentary, page 54)

Metaphysical language is incapable of justifying its claim to capture truth in a complex of ontological and epistemological propositions, for the objects to which it refers are entirely without practical consequences and are thus devoid of all reality .... Language is not grounded in itself, but rather in it use or application (Commentary on Emptiness of Emptiness, pg32, 36)

In conventional, day-to-day situations, whether a concept or word is valid or invalid is a matter to be determined entirely on the basis of its application, but the tendency of conceptual thought is to depart from strictly context-bound usage and to impute a metaphysical sense to everyday objects. The word real, for example, in its most concrete application, expresses the fundamentally practical concept of "being in accordance with appearance or claim", "genuine", "functional", or "efficacious". In this sense, when a carriage is said to be real, this means simply that it will perform in accordance with our expectations of what a carriage should do … a second and equally pragmatic sense of real lies in its reference to "actual existence" as opposed to "merely possible, apparent, or imaginary existence". In addition to these two meanings - or more specifically, through a very subtle process of extrapolation from them - the word real has also assumed a metaphysical import which has nothing to whatever to do with its concrete application in any actual or possible state of affairs in the world … the carriage is in possession of an essence or a quality of intrinsic being that in some way transcends its function within the context of everyday life …The essence of the carriage is not revealed through any examination of its parts, for each of them is itself merely a composite of other parts, and these as well dissolve under closer inspection. (Commentary, pg 51-52)

The meaning of a concept derives not from its reference to some independently real object, but rather through the circumstance that it recommends to us a particular way of looking at the world and suggests a certain appropriate form of action. … Yet the use of certain expressions … poses a special sort of difficulty in that the expressions seem to entail a quasi-ontological claim in their apparent reference to a transcendent reality analogous to the mundane carriage … Despite their normal appearance, such concepts are actually divorced from any conceivable application within the sociolinguistic matrix governed by everyday states of affairs. They embody an ontological claim that can neither be avoided, nor justified, nor interpreted in any intelligible manner. (Commentary, pg 53-54)

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