Answering those questions on knowledge

by Neil Rickert

Last week, I posted some questions.  Unsurprisingly, there was only one commenter who tried to answer.  In this post, I will provide my own answers.

1.  If epistemology provides a useful account of knowledge, why is it that many scientists find it useless?

The account of knowledge provided by epistemology has very little to do with how scientists see knowledge.  In his book “The Concept of Mind,” Gilbert Ryle already argued that knowing how is more basic than “knowing that” and he criticized the intellectualist tradition of defining knowledge in terms of propositions.  Most scientists would be more comfortable with Ryle’s view of knowledge.

2.  Why do scientists find mathematics to be of great value, while epistemology has difficulty accounting for mathematical knowledge?

In my opinion, mathematics is already a better theory of knowledge than epistemology.  Parts of mathematics were developed by scientists to serve their needs.  (I plan to expand on this idea in some upcoming posts about mathematics).

3.  Why are television programs such as “Sesame Street” considered by many to be of educational value, when they are entirely fictional and therefore have no true beliefs?

This is also consistent with Ryle’s view on “knowing how”.  Sesame street is about acquiring skills and enhancing one’s abilities.


2 Comments to “Answering those questions on knowledge”

  1. I’ll throw out a comment. 🙂

    1) I do not think question 1) is answerable, exactly, because it’s committing a complex question fallacy. It would seem that many scientists find epistemology useless because they do NOT find it to provide a useful account of knowledge.

    Even in areas such as philosophy of mind and philosophy of action, there are contemporary movements against ANY mental activity being described as propositions in the brain – such thinking is often attributed to folk psychology. While folk psychology has its defenders in both the scientific and philosophic communities, it has been losing support more recently. For the most part though, I would argue that scientists do not see epistemology as providing useful insights in areas of research they are interested in.

    2) Again, I would say this is a complex question fallacy. Specific epistemological theories may have trouble accounting for knowledge of mathematics, but that does not seem necessary to epistemology in general.

    3) I am now coming to a belief that I should go read your other posts, in case you are building off of them. It seems to me that all 3 of these questions make bold, conglomerated assumptions which we are forced to accept or reject as though they are a single proposition (i.e., complex question fallacy). My response would be to ask why are such TV programs entirely fictional?

    Well, I’m off to read your other posts and try to make more sense of this one. Toodles! 🙂


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