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How can I determine whether something is or is not the case?

How can I determine whether something is or is not the case?
emanswen
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Posted Jul 12, 2009 - 11:59 PM:
Subject: How can I determine whether something is or is not the case?
I tentatively believe that externalism is a better way to go than internalism in the analysis of the concept of knowledge on account of the Gettier counter-examples (and some other considerations), but I also think that accepting externalism sort of avoids a question which the internalist wants (perhaps in vain) to answer - that is, from a first-person point of view, how can I determine whether or not something is the case?

There are certain states-of-affairs1 which I cannot conceive of as not being the case; namely, those described by statements which are 'logically true' or by statements which are commonly called 'analytic'. All other states-of-affairs, which I can conceive of as being the case, I can also conceive of as not being the case.

For these latter states-of-affairs, I might come up with some kind of general schema designed to help me to determine whether a particular state-of-affairs is the case or not:

(A) If y, then x is the case

where y might be something like

the belief that x is intuitively certain, or was produced by a reliable cognitive process, or coheres with my other beliefs, etc.

There are two problems with this approach:

1. Unless y is one of those states-of-affairs which I cannot conceive of as not being the case, I will be compelled to ask, "How can I determine whether or not y is the case?", which leads me back to the original question. Generally, the plausible candidates for y are not states-of-affairs which cannot be conceived of as not being the case; Descartes tried to take this route but is generally considered to have been unsuccessful.

2. Unless (A) is one of those states-of-affairs which I cannot conceive of as not being the case, I will be compelled to ask, "How can I determine whether or not (A) is the case?", which leads me back to the original question.

So, it seems as though, if the question cannot be answered by relying on some logical or 'analytic' truth(s), then the question cannot be answered except by reverting to some sort of dogmatism; that is, if I want to determine whether or not something is the case, I must be dogmatic in some way - either by dogmatically directly asserting some particular epistemic criterion or criteria, or by dogmatically asserting that certain things are the case, and deriving epistemic criteria from that assumed knowledge, or by some combination of both.

In other words, we must simply assume that what we most strongly believe to be the case is in fact the case, and determine whether or not a particular state-of-affairs is the case by calculating how likely it is to be the case given that body of beliefs.

Perhaps this is more a diagnosis of the main problem with internalism than an answer to the question - I have not yet properly got my thoughts together on this topic. Any thoughts?

1 Perhaps not the appropriate term in this particular context, but I think the idea is clear.
yasseford
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Posted Jul 13, 2009 - 5:49 AM:

This problem with epistemology makes me hesitant to differentiate between knowledge and belief. It seems that no a posteriori proof is verifiable outside of our own phenomenological experience (and therefore it is fallible), so why differentiate between knowledge and belief?



I think we can say definitively that there exists knowledge, when we consider something like Kant's model of noumena/phenomena, whereby all we know is (1) phenomena and (2) the fallibility and subjectivity of our own perspective, and these two variables logically suggest noumena, though it is impossible to experience it.So, since nothing outside of analytic statements is infallibly verifiable, the only practical way to live is to conclude that our beliefs are states-of-affairs.
emanswen
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Posted Jul 14, 2009 - 4:56 PM:

yasseford wrote:
This problem with epistemology makes me hesitant to differentiate between knowledge and belief. It seems that no a posteriori proof is verifiable outside of our own phenomenological experience (and therefore it is fallible), so why differentiate between knowledge and belief?


I would still make a distinction between belief and knowledge, as I maintain that beliefs can be false while knowledge is by definition a species of true belief (and therefore cannot be false). Even if we cannot verify whether or not a belief is true or false, it does not change the fact that it actually is true or false.

So, since nothing outside of analytic statements is infallibly verifiable, the only practical way to live is to conclude that our beliefs are states-of-affairs.


Our beliefs certainly are states-or-affairs - my believing that p is a state-of-affairs - but is what you meant to say that we must conclude that our beliefs truly describe states-of-affairs?
yasseford
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Posted Jul 22, 2009 - 5:04 AM:

emanswen wrote:


I would still make a distinction between belief and knowledge, as I maintain that beliefs can be false while knowledge is by definition a species of true belief (and therefore cannot be false). Even if we cannot verify whether or not a belief is true or false, it does not change the fact that it actually is true or false.


I believe that there is objective, true knowledge (redundancy for emphasis). I think our subjective experience of stimuli implies an objective noumena (as Kant used the term). However, I'm of the scientific mindset that if something is not verifiable, we cannot describe it to be knowledge. Because nothing is 100% verifiable, the term "knowledge" as we define it has no practical value. We can take things on faith (that is why science denotes commonly shared empirically-motivated beliefs as being theories), and it would be impractical to live a life otherwise. However, other than describing what knowledge is, using the term in a practical sense would seem to be inaccurate, as what one is really referring to is a belief.


emanswen wrote:
Our beliefs certainly are states-or-affairs - my believing that p is a state-of-affairs - but is what you meant to say that we must conclude that our beliefs truly describe states-of-affairs?

Yes, this is what I meant. Apologies.
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