Monthly Archives: March 2011

A Haiku for the Gay Science

Resplendent dawn breaks
Lunatic’s lantern glowing
I’m looking for God

Brain teaser, with prize

Help! I can’t remember the name of the dog we just rescued! Be the first to figure it out, and post in the comments and you win a prize.

My wife and I went to the rescue shelter to find a dog to add to our family. We saw five dogs at the pound, here are their names: Hercules, Max, Dexter, Jean-Paul and Thor.

1. Two of the dogs are French Bulldogs and three are Boston Terriers.
2. Two of the dogs are puppies, the other three are full-grown adults.
3. Hercules and Max are the same age.
4. Jean-Paul and Thor are of the same breed.
5. Either Dexter or Thor is a puppy, but not both.
6. Max and Dexter are different breeds from one another.
7. We decided to rescue the French Bulldog puppy.

What’s the name of our dog?

Be the first to respond with the correct answer and you win a prize! The prize is… You get to pick the philosophic theme for my next “Philosoraptor.” I will come up with some sort of caption relating to the theme and then dedicate it to you!
(What did you expect, cash?)

Philosoraptor Tuesday! Mike, Enjoy.

As requested by Mike, I’m going to try and create my own philosoraptors. Enjoy!

Question One Continued: A priori knowledge, Gettier Problems, and Ayer

The PhilPapers Survey was a survey of professional philosophers and others on their philosophical views, carried out in November 2009. The Survey was taken by 3226 respondents, including 1803 philosophy faculty members and/or PhDs and 829 philosophy graduate students.

The PhilPapers Metasurvey was a concurrent survey of professional philosophers and others concerning their predictions of the results of the Survey. The Metasurvey was taken by 727 respondents including 438 professional philosophers and PhDs and 210 philosophy graduate students. (PhilPapers.org)

The PhilPapers Survey never asked me for my philosophical views, but that’s not stopping me. So here is my stab at the survey, one post at a time.

Question One

Is there a priori knowledge?
Current answer: Yes
Confidence in answer: 8 (on my subjective unjustified scale of confidence)
The question of whether there is a priori knowledge forced me to attempt to define knowledge. I defaulted to the position that knowledge is defined by a set of three necessary and jointly sufficient conditions. For there to be knowledge of some proposition p, 1) p must be believed, 2)p must be true, and 3) there must be some sort of justification by which p is believed to be true. Justified True Belief, or JTB, was the dominant epistemological model for the first 2,500 years of philosophy (this is a bit of an exaggeration, but it gets to the point). Then Edmund Gettier wrote a short article in 1963 entitled “Is Justified True Belief Knowledge”. Suddenly, it seemed that JTB was insufficient. Perhaps a fourth necessary condition was needed.

Last night, in preparation for coursework, I found an interesting wrinkle to this debate. Chapter 9 of Garth Hallett’s Linguistic Philosophy: The Central Story relates a debate between Bernard Williams and A.J. Ayer.1 Williams says,

What is necessary — and what represents the undoubted fact that knowledge differs from mere true belief — is that one or more of conditions should obtain, which relate the fact that A has this belief to the fact that, given the truth of p, it is no accident that A believes p rather than not-p. This formula is vague and over-generous, but it gets us, I think, on the right line.2

Ayer concurs with Williams that we need something like this vague “no accident” clause, but doubts that the vagueness could ever be fully resolved. He explains,

…that there are various different grounds on which claims to knowledge can be accredited, and I therefore suspect that if one is trying to define knowledge, in its personal aspect, on may have to be content with some such vague formula as my own “having the right to be sure.” If one ventures on anything more precise, one is likely to be faced with counter-examples… We are usually able to decide the question in particular cases, though even here there may be differences of opinion, but I have some doubt whether these particular decisions can be fitted tidily under any general rule.3

I myself attempted some sort of vague qualifier in light of Gettier examples, i.e. that there must be some sort of relation between the justification and that the belief is true. In other words, it can’t happen by accident. I agree with Williams that this vagueness heads us in the right direction for an account of knowledge. I am not quite in Ayer’s boat that the vagueness cannot be resolved. Perhaps we can allay the degree of vagueness without stumbling too far away from a true account of knowledge. Therefore, I am willing to stick to my definition of JTB as knowledge with the caveat that such a definition is admittedly vague and there may be borderline cases which prove JTB not fully adequate.

1 G. Hallett. 2008. “Wittgenstein versus Theoretical ‘Intuitions'” in Linguistic Philosophy: The Central Story. Albany: State University of New York Press.
2 Ibid. 74.
3Ibid. 75.

A priori knowledge: yes or no? An intuitive response

The PhilPapers Survey was a survey of professional philosophers and others on their philosophical views, carried out in November 2009. The Survey was taken by 3226 respondents, including 1803 philosophy faculty members and/or PhDs and 829 philosophy graduate students.

The PhilPapers Metasurvey was a concurrent survey of professional philosophers and others concerning their predictions of the results of the Survey. The Metasurvey was taken by 727 respondents including 438 professional philosophers and PhDs and 210 philosophy graduate students. (PhilPapers.org)

The PhilPapers Survey never asked me for my philosophical views, but that’s not stopping me. So here is my stab at the survey, one post at a time.

Question One

The Question:

A priori knowledge: yes or no?
Accept or lean toward: yes 662 / 931 (71.1%)
Accept or lean toward: no 171 / 931 (18.3%)
Other 98 / 931 (10.5%)

My Intuitive Answer and Whether I’m Confident in My Answer: Yes (8)


Well, the survey doesn’t start with an easy one, like “Does truth exist?” Part of what is interesting about this essay is that the questions are short and the terms are not defined for us. So a lot of the answer has to do with what we mean by knowledge and what we mean by a priori. Philosophers use these terms in different, albeit often related, ways. So with my intuitive answer comes my intuitive and unrefined definitions (we’ll see if I keep them over time). By knowledge, I mean a 1) belief that is 2) justified in such a way that the justification leads to my understanding that the belief more likely true than not true, and 3) the belief is true. As I am somewhat aware of the Gettier Problem, I attempted a qualification in 2 to make justification more explicitly a relational attitude between my having assented to the belief and the likelihood that the belief is in fact true. I have no idea if this is adequate… suggestions? As for a priori, I take this to be a kind of judgment made without reference to anything empirical.

So, my intuitive answer is yes. I think there is at least one “justified true belief” that is non-empirical. My intuitive examples would come from the laws of logic, like the law of identity, the law of non-contradiction, the law of the excluded middle. These laws are not known empirically, but are preconditions for empirical things to be empirically known. How so? Any justification of some proposition P requires that 1) P ≡ P and 2) P v ~P. Otherwise,the justification could not lead us to understand P is true and ~P is false. To say the laws of logic require a posteriori justification would result in a fallacious begging of the question. So, if there is knowledge at all, then there must be a priori knowledge. Further, we can affirm that there is knowledge, since the denial of the proposition “There is no knowledge” could not be a knowledge claim. This alone may not be problematic, but then one would know that the proposition “There is no knowledge” could not be a knowledge claim. Thus, I think there is at least one thing which would count as knowledge and that if there is at lease one thing that would count as knowledge, then there must be a priori knowledge.

I am fairly confident in my intuitive answer and the “on the fly” argument that I provided to justify my belief that it is true. I would rate my confidence on a 1-10 scale (1 being very little confidence and 10 being 100% certain) at about a 8, since I am not positive that my definitions are free of problems (especially considering the Gettier Problems mentioned earlier).

As this is one of my first posts, I want to take a moment to give you an idea of how my future investigations will proceed. I will monitor the comment thread on this post to see if any good points and challenges are made. If so, I will update and revise as necessary.

Each question on this survey will receive an initial “Intuitions” post. I will then follow up over the weeks with posts under the following headings:

Good arguments for counter-positions

Reassessment of my intuitions in light of counter-arguments

Challenging the counter-arguments

Challenges to my own arguments

Concluding Remarks and “Final” Answer

How This Answer Effects Other Answers I Have Given So Far (i.e. if I finally conclude that there is a priori knowledge, and then later conclude that I accept “scientific anti-realism” I might consider whether the two beliefs conflict).

As this blog develops, I hope contributions from my readers will continue to spur updates, revisions, and reassessments. There are 30 or so questions on the survey and I anticipate that some of them will have to be treated in multiple parts. Should this blog gain momentum (and this was not just a fleeting idea I had yesterday night after reading a post on “Common Sense Atheism”) and I manage to get through all of the questions, I will try to come up with more to ask, or I will rely on my readership, if I gain any. I suspect that I could spend a life-time on just one or two of the survey questions if I really wanted to, so I am not worried about the short length of the survey itself. But, I also don’t want to limit this blog to just the PhilPaper Survey. It’s just a tool that I am using to start investigating my own world-view. Because, “The unexamined life isn’t worth living.” Right?

Best,

Daniel

A New Direction: Finally this blog has a purpose

If you notice, I have deleted the few posts that I made over the last three years. You didn’t notice because no one saw my blog. I think this new project will breathe life into my blog… and hopefully, you will find it interesting enough to read (and add comments and suggestions).

The Problem: Do you feel as though you have a world-view, but it is sloppy, unjustified, and inconsistent? I do. I often find myself defending various positions and waffling on major issues. So I have decided to dedicate this blog to resolving this problem.

The Means: Methodology is never easily established, especially since I have not really explored my beliefs about proper methodology in any detail. But here is my tentative plan:

Philpapers released a survey on major philosophical issues. Respondents were faculty and graduate students. I never had a chance to take the survey, so I am taking it now… and I am taking it more slowly than anyone else. I am going to spend time working through each survey question, explore related questions and issues. I will try to keep the blog organized by the questions, though I suspect that over time new topics will emerge, and other topics will blend together.

The End: The aim is simple, to work through my beliefs one post at a time and explore the issues, revise my positions, and refine the arguments by which I justify my beliefs.

Eventually, I hope to refine and rework my arguments through researching these topics along with anyone who might be willing to offer critiques or suggestions. So, if you find yourself interested in these topics, please join me in exploring them. It might just bring your own world-view into focus.

I’m in no rush to come to any conclusion or to become dogmatic in my positions. This is an open inquiry and the field of investigation is so vast that I know I won’t have it all worked out by the end (of my life). This is just an admission of humility, something I think is lacking within my field these days.

Enjoy!

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