Epistemology

Arguments for the value of knowledge

I am in the process of writing a book at present, its title is unofficially “Knowledge or Superstition?”, and its primary goal is to define what is the value of knowledge and how we value knowledge in this era of our short lives as an earthling species. Over the years, epistemologists and philosophers of ethics have presented various problems with which we can define what is knowledge, always starting with “belief”.

Justified Belief and True Belief

A justified belief is a belief supported by some form of evidence. Evidence itself is relative to every human being, and what some may find convincing evidence, others would cast off as mere chimeric nonsense. The reality is that knowledge cannot be circumstantial. If epistemology wills itself a science of knowledge, it cannot deal with conjectural notions of knowledge, in the sense that we can only define the closest proximity of knowledge we have, with regards to the circumstances we are in.

The Gettier problem is one of those which I find particularly interesting, in that it defies logic and reason altogether to form an idea of what constitutes a justified belief. Granted, Edmund Gettier, the man responsible for such an epistemological problem, has renounced the premise given by it.

I’ve still seen it used by individuals to play with words in a very post-modernist sense.

Ex.:

Subject A sees object B and thinks it to be a cow, due to the shape it has.

Subject A doesn’t see a cow, but rather a lamb, and therefore justifiably believes that what he has just witnessed is a lamb away from its herd.

However, what Subject A doesn’t know is that behind that tree over there is indeed a cow. Therefore, there is a cow where subject A is looking.

Was his belief that he was seeing a cow initially justified? Of course not. But epistemologists have been arguing about this back and forth like we constantly argue whether the tree which falls in the forest makes a sound, if no one is there to hear it. It is, to my estimation, pointless prattle that serves little else than to inflate one’s intellectual ego. What’s next, then?

My book makes the following suggestion:

A knowledge should not be extracted and put into a circumstance. A belief can be such, but a fact is not in itself knowledge. If Wittgenstein could propose similarly that the World is the totality of Facts, one’s awareness of the facts is not in itself knowledge. I can say without hesitation that I know the Earth not to be flat.

Another situation that I could use which happened just this week.

On July 14th, about 30 years ago, the temperature in montreal was 33.6°C.

This year, on July 14th, it is 33.7°C, temperature strikingly similar to 30 years ago, where the great Saguenay flood happened.

This most ominous of news was reported by the weather channel Meteo Média, here in Quebec. A superstitious person would probably see any form of raining associated with this news as tidings of floods, via correlation. Would any such person be justified in their belief if it turned out to rain enough to flood the Saguenay once again? Would that therefore constitute knowledge that when it is July 14th and the temperature is around 33.6, great floods happen?

I would expect an “Of course not!” from you, but epistemologists tend to actually scratch their heads on that. Now, of course, I may have to explain myself as to why I think this is nonsense, out of respect for epistemology.

Laws of Epistemology – “Un premier jet”

Well, as I said before, to exist, it requires that reason be violated via “reasonable doubt”, which is the proposition that that which exists simultaneously in two places is possible. It’s sort of the “Schrödinger’s cat” of epistemology. It plays with the mind through thought experiments, but it achieves very little in the way of knowing what is knowledge (pun not intentional).

Gettier’s problem of John and Smith going for the same job, counting coins in their pockets, and each of them having 10 coins, ending with Smith’s belief that “the person who has 10 coins is getting the job” becoming a “justified true belief” is ludicrous. Rather, I give the proposition that such problems are problems unto themselves. In order to calculate knowledge or to at least give qualitative arguments to how knowledge is gained, I propose the following thing:

A. The knowledge must be gained with the express purpose of gaining it. Nothing more, nothing less.

B. It must not arise from confirmation bias, e.g. I must not be seeking the knowledge in order to confirm what I think I already know. Rather, this knowledge should appear to me as independent of my own thoughts and perspectives, unless they are necessary to its acquaintance.

C. If I need to question this knowledge, I should ensure that I do so once I have completely understood all of its notions. Pre-emptively countering this knowledge is merely using what I already know to ascertain that I need not know any more than I currently do. That, is superstition and it verily dilutes what we consider to be knowledge.

D. In order to acquire this knowledge, once we have taken into account that we do not acquire it to beat someone else with it or to confirm what we think we already know, we must test what we think of it against others who have acquired it. Without such epistemological falsification, our knowledge can never be complete.

E. We should guard ourselves of being misguided into losing our understanding by fear that he who disagrees with us might be right. If we know and understand this knowledge, the person who doubts it must make a case from within the knowledge, not outside of it. As knowledge is contained, like physics, within atoms.

F. Atomic facts are facts upon which other facts rely. They are the simplest expression of a fact. If the atomic fact is wrong, then every other fact within this one must also be wrong. Facts that depend on the Atomic fact can be proven to be wrong, but they will not diminish the impact of the primal fact.

G. Such is evident within science, where the theory of evolution has been constantly “evolving” across the centuries, with the core principles remaining intact and additions and suppressions being made to it. Therefore, when we claim to know something, we must understand its core, its basic and simplest expression. Once we have this, we may begin to make abstractions of this knowledge, and thus begin rational discourse into new realms of epistemological inquiry.

H. Know, that in all cases, there is no greater epistemological frontier than the self. Only our ego, our mind and our prejudice can keep us from learning new things or understanding how others have come to their conclusions. It is thus against epistemology to write off any piece of knowledge as nonsense right off the bat. Like science, it must be given our honest and entire attention. Once it is found to be rubbish, it can be discarded.

I. While there are things we know, others may not know them. We should never presume that knowledge acquired by the self is existent within others. Therefore, before we begin to argue with another on a given subject, we should always ensure that the basics are understood by both party. If such is not the case, a crash course should be given on them, and if understanding has been acquired, rational discourse may begin – not otherwise.

J. Both parties in rational discourse must know at least the basics of a subject, in order to interact intellectually on the same level – at least on levels neighboring one another. It is a violation of epistemological inquiry to tackle together a subject that has not been truly understood. As any divergence will inevitably result in defenses of chimeric claims unrelated to the subject at hand, meant only to quell rational discourse.

K. Finally, upon ending the discussion, disagreements should be laid out for both parties to see and understand, so that if this discussion must re-occur, breakpoints where disagreements occured should be followed forthwith or discarded until both parties have sufficient knowledge on the subject to continue discoursing rationally. If this cannot be achieved, further discoursing should cease.

L. Should insults be thrown any which way, discussion should cease at once. There is no point in washing one’s shame from the insults nor to pursue the other in such a way. If communication devolves in a series of pointless arguments, meant solely to show who is right, then discussion should be aborted if it cannot be brought back on the rails.

I lay these laws out solely as an indication to whoever would like to speak with me on such a notion, what I consider to be a proper way to discuss the nature of knowledge.

In closing

Knowledge can only defined where it can be defined independently from perspectives. In situations where conjecture is required for it to exist, this knowledge should be considered a “justified belief”, as I have already said, knowledge depends on atomic facts. If “atomic facts” are ever-changing, then they are not knowledge. If an “atomic fact” is revealed to be anything else, then it should never have been defined as such, and it was a mistake to do so.

To be fair, however, such a high standard for knowledge can only happen within science. Everything else comes very close, and to a key, absolute statements on knowledge can only go so far. As such, the laws I have written about are largely conjectural and should not be taken as the only means by which something can be known. They can be used to identify a trail to follow, however.

Which, as far as I am concerned, most of human history has been collating potential trails to follow, up until we reap the fruits of our labor.

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