I have made no secret of my disdain for the idea that knowledge is justified true belief, as is often asserted in the literature of epistemology. In this post, I want to say more about my own view of what constitutes knowledge.
I recently posted a parable, “The blind man and the cave” in to illustrate what is required in order to have knowledge. To my surprise, one of the comments dismissed everything that I thought important in that parable, and insisted that knowledge is just facts.
All the blind man needs to know is WHAT he is measuring (a fact), and then know the measurement (a fact). Then the facts that he gains (height of the cave) will be the newly acquired knowledge because he understands the facts based on previous facts learned.
That leaves me wondering why philosophers seem to miss (or gloss over) what I see as important.
Of course, I understand that philosophers are interested in studying justified true belief. However, to do that they ought to saying something about “justified”, about “true” and about “belief.” There are theories of truth within philosophy, but to me they seem to be little more than exercises in circular reasoning. There is also some sort of account of what “justified” entails, but this is what Gettier challenged. In my view, Gettier’s challenge has not been satisfactorily answered.
As for “belief”, this is often described as an intentional attitude. And that should make intentionality an important requirement for knowledge. However, many philosophers say little about intentionality, other than that they see it as important. Other philosophers deny the importance of intentionality, and consider it to be little more than a stance that we take.
Take a statement such as “Roses are red.” This is often said to be a representation, because it represents something about the nature of roses (or of some roses). You cannot have representations without a representation system. There needs to be a system of conventions that connects the representation to what is represented. In this case, there needs to be a categorization convention, such that the roses constitute that category. And there needs to be a naming convention, to assign the name “roses” to things in that category. Likewise, there needs to be a categorization convention to select a category of hues, and a naming convention that assigns the name “red” to hues in that category. Those conventions are, in effect, part of what defines the representation system in which we express statements such as “Roses are red.”
You could not have representations without a representation system. Only by being systematic in how you represent, can you know what is represented. And if there is now way of knowing what is represented by X, then it makes no sense to say that X is a representation. The representation system and the representations are complementary to one another.
The growth of a person’s knowledge requires that the representation system be extended to as to allow new facts that were previously not representable. It might also require that a person acquire new facts. The extending of the representation system is something like perceptual learning.
The parable of the blind man and the cave was intended to illustrate the idea of a representation system. For the blind man, the scaffold that be build in the cave formed part of the basis for his representation system, and that was what allowed him to know the shape of his cave.