Archive for ‘epistemology’

March 9, 2015

What does truth have to do with knowledge?

by Neil Rickert

Nothing.  Nothing at all.

Well, that’s the quick answer.  But now some more detail.

Commenting on my previous post, Philomath asked:

If everyone agrees on something do that make it true?

He clearly saw this question as relevant to my posts on knowledge.  My title question arises from this.  My own view of knowledge is such that there are no truth criteria for having knowledge.

There’s an old  saying:

  • if the only tool you have is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail.

The version of this for philosophy is:

  • if the only tool you have is logic, then every problem looks like a proposition.

Philosophers — or, at least, analytic philosophers, attempt to discuss everything in terms of propositions and the truth values for those propositions.  I see that as a mistake.

March 7, 2015

Knowledge vs. belief

by Neil Rickert

[I seem to have taken a long vacation from blogging.  It’s time to get back into the swing.]

I’ve posted before about my dislike for the view that knowledge is justified true belief.  I have recently seen a couple of blog posts that are related, so I’ll comment about those.

Infinite worlds

The first is:

The author begins with:

In an infinite universe we would be absolutely ignorant, if my calculation is right.

The author does not give an argument to support that assertion.  He seems to take it as self-evident.  And I guess I’m not quite sure what he means by “absolute” here, as that qualifier does not seem to fit.  I presume him to be going by the assumption that knowledge is justified true belief.  And, with that assumption, presumably knowledge of an infinite world would require infinitely many beliefs.

December 5, 2014

Learning and knowledge

by Neil Rickert

Here’s a recent youtube video about attempts to revolutionize education (h/t Larry Moran).

There wasn’t anything that I found surprising in this video.  Over the years, I’ve been in several discussions of a similar nature.  Those discussions have also mentioned correspondence classes which did not seem to get a mention in the video.

This does relate to the nature of knowledge.  If knowledge were really justified true belief, then the methods which failed to revolutionize education should have worked.  For those are the methods that would provide the student with a large accumulation of true beliefs.

This is why I often express disagreement with “knowledge = justified true belief”.  That characterization of knowledge is not compatible with how we actually become knowledgeable.

March 23, 2014

On vjtorley on ways of knowing

by Neil Rickert

Recently, in a post at the Uncommon Descent blog, vjtorley made a post critical of Jason Rosenhouse:

Here, I shall comment on part of vjtorley’s post.

I’m actually a bit puzzled by the whole post.  I read Jason’s blog often enough to doubt that he is claiming that science is the only way of knowing.  I guess I’m also a bit troubled by the expression “ways of knowing” which seems a bit too vague.

Torley begins with:

People who hold the view that “there is a non-scientific source of knowledge about the natural world, such as divine revelation or the historical teachings of a church, that trumps all other claims to knowledge,” are a menace to science. That’s the claim made by mathematician Jason Rosenhouse, in his latest post over at his Evolution Blog.

As I see it, the significant part is “that trumps all other claims to knowledge.”  I don’t see Jason as saying that science is the only way of knowing about the the natural world.  I only see him as denying that what comes from religion can trump science.

February 15, 2014

From nihilism to knowledge

by Neil Rickert

I’ve been planning to post this for a while.  However, I have been struggling with exactly how to present it.  So I guess I should just blurt it out, and not worry.  The reason for my hesitation, is that I know it will be misunderstood by some readers.

This is related to earlier posts on convention and posts on categorization.

I shall be quoting two short segments from Genesis 1.  There is no religious reason for this, and I will be giving a non-standard reading of what I quote.  My reason for quoting is that the quoted text will be familiar to many.  And it happens to fit with the topic.

Epistemic nihilism

There’s a kind of epistemic nihilism, in which a person’s head is full of facts but he does not believe any of them.  This sometimes explored as a way of investigating the extremes of skepticism.

November 24, 2013

Science works; ergo God

by Neil Rickert

I obviously do not believe what is suggested by the title.  That title is my simplified way of describing what vjtorley has recently posted at the Uncommon Descent blog.  The tl;dr form of the title, as used by vjtorley, is:

The UD post uses a method of argument that we mathematicians refer to as Proof By Exhaustion.

There are actually two different versions of “proof by exhaustion”.  The main version is where one proves a result by exhausting all possibilities.  It is much like a case statement in a computer program.  That’s the version that is defined by the linked Wikipedia page.

The other version of “proof by exhaustion” is the one used by vjtorley.  That is where the argument is so tediously long, that you are exhausted by the time that you have finished reading it.  In fact, you are so exhausted, that you were too tired to notice all of the glaring holes in the argument.

November 13, 2013

Convention (7) – Relativism

by Neil Rickert

When I mention my ideas about the role of conventions in science, I am often accused of being a relativist or a social constructionist or a post-modernist.  Those seem to all be related.  I am not any of those.  Today’s post will look at why my ideas about conventions do not have any relativist implication.

What am I

I’ve just said that I am  not a relativist or a social constructivist or a post-modernist.  So perhaps I should say something about what I am.  It’s not easy to say what I am, because my views don’t fit any of the standard labels.

In his book “Science and Relativism“, Larry Laudan presents a discussion between four philosophers of science, whom he labels as a positivist, a realist, a pragmatist and a relativist.  I disagree with all four of them.  For each of them, there are places where I agree with what they say.  But, overall, I do not see science the way that any of them see it.

November 11, 2013

Convention (6) – Essentialism

by Neil Rickert

Today I want to look at “essentialism” as a possible alternative to the use of conventions.  And then, toward the end of the post, I’ll briefly consider some other possible alternatives.

With today’s post, I will continue to use the hypothetical that I introduced in my previous post.  That is to say, I will assume that small animals are classified into two species, which I shall call “cats” and “dogs”.  There is no assumption that I am talking about what we usually call “cats” and “dogs”.  I’m just borrowing those names for convenience.


The idea of essentialism, is that what makes an animal a cat is that it contains the essence of cathood.  Likewise, what makes an animal a dog is that it has the essence of doghood.  The name “essentialism” comes from this reference to essences.

November 10, 2013

Convention (5) – objections

by Neil Rickert

In this post I’ll respond to some of the objections raised by John Wilkins, as best I understand them.  John raised objections during our discussions in comments to his blog post “Are species theoretical objects“.  I want to be clear that I am not picking on John.  It is my impression that many philosophers have similar views, and I have come across that sort of disagreement in discussions elsewhere.

I’ll start with a quote from that discussion, which I think reasonably summarizes John’s position.

As to conventions, again we may mean different things. I am basing my understanding on a read through of Lewis’ Conventions a while back. Consider correctly driving on the left side. Yes, if we all did the same things we’d all be driving on the left, but there is no fact of the matter which is best, left or right. In the same way, we may all choose to classify using the same conventions, but there need be no fact of the matter tracked in virtue of it being a conventional classification. If all we are doing is following conventions, then the ranks or categories so constructed are flatus vocus. There is nothing “out there” that is being tracked.

November 9, 2013

Convention (4) – Biological species

by Neil Rickert

This series of posts on convention originated with my comment to a post by John Wilkins, that I see species as being determined by convention.  See the first post in this series for links.  John disagrees with me, and gave reasons for his objections.  I plan to discuss those objections in the next in this series.  Today’s post will discuss why I take the designation of species to be conventional.


Biological classification is an example of categorization.  I take categorization to be a dividing up of the world into manageable parts.  This is often described as “carving the world at the seams.”  However, there aren’t enough seams to account for how we carve up the world.

As an example, consider the dividing of the USA into fifty states.  Some of the state borders are along rivers.  Some are survey lines.  We could perhaps think of rivers as natural diving lines, or seams, except that we often don’t use them even when rivers are available.