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Friday, March 07, 2008

Deflating Debates over Essential Properties

Suppose we have a debate as to the essential properties of something, or over whether some x is really an F. For example, let’s say there's a dispute between an epistemic internalist and an epistemic externalist as to what knowledge or justification essentially is. It seems to me that we can avoid debates such as this in the following way: Instead of arguing over whether knowledge requires accessibility or not, or whether a belief’s being the product of reliable cognitive faculties is sufficient to justify it or not, we could simply coin terms such as “knowledge_e” and “knowledge_i”, or “justification_e” and “justification_i”. Then we could say that knowledge_i requires accessibility but knowledge_e does not. And we could say, similarly, that being the product of reliable cognitive faculties is sufficient for justification_e but not for justification_i. So long as each of these notions is consistent, there is no a priori obstacle to their all having instances. We might, of course, be able to find evidence or devise arguments to show that, as a matter of fact, either knowledge_e or knowledge_i or both do not exist. And then again, we might not. What I want to know is why we should think there is some other thing, knowledge simpliciter, concerning which we are unsure of its essential properties. If there is no reason for supposing there is such a thing, we risk only the loss of much fruitless debate if we eliminate it from our ontology.


Richard said...

All this subscripting would seem to miss the point about why we care about these properties in the first place. The argument is about what form of justification (etc.) matters, and the proliferation of terms does not help us answer that. (Cf. Is Normativity Just Semantics?)

Quirinius_Quine said...

Hi Richard,

I agree that the proliferation of terms, all by itself, does not help us answer the question of which form of justification matters. For that one needs to adopt some notion of utility, value, or practical usefulness and then determine which of the subscripted terms expresses the concept or property which has the most utility, or is most valuable, or is most practically useful for some purpose. So my question is, if the procedure I just described (in very a very simplified manner) won't tell us which form of justification matters, what would? And why think that traditional debates about the essential nature of justification would fare any better?

Anonymous said...

Your procedure for determining which
justification---seems like definition to me--in other words the justification needed for knowledge e is that which is called for under the definition of knowledge e -if so, why not just say that justification is based upon how justification is defined in each case?
If you are asking is there one justification concept that is indubitable by all---seems like a longshot to me.
Knowledge simpliciter (versus secundum quid I assume) is a fact if you hold that all knowledge is characterized in individuals and groups as something that arises as the case, or admits of no doubt.
To whatever degree this is the case in regard to things--this then is simple unqualified knowledge.
One can argue that this is belief
only and not knowledge---because it could be subject later to doubt---but I argue that this is the case with any pretension to knowledge, even most fervently held things are perpetually subject to replacement or doubt.
Einstein replaced Newton. Thus knowledge is serial rather than monolithic---what arises as the case is often replaced by something else that is the case.
Further, Newton's scheme is still valid, but not because he had the one truth but because still valid from the Newtonian point of view.
Thus points of view are more valid and central to truth, than is some monolithic idea of truth.
So, truth, in my view, can be said to be characterized by having arisen as the case and without doubt and as something that can be
replaced by another truth, and by
being something that can be replaced by a different "is the case". Also, truth includes statements which contradict each other.
Your knowledge e and knowledge i could be said to contradict each other.

Pete said...


I'm disappointed that your response to Richard didn't involve asking whether he had matters_1 or matters_2 in mind.

Mike Almeida said...

To follow up Richard's point, maybe, the idea is to provide an analysis that captures the salient features of what we would ordinarily recognize as knowledge. If you get too far removed from that ordinary concept, you're no longer talking about anything we would recognize as knowledge.

Quirinius_Quine said...

Hi guys,

Sorry for taking so long to reply. I've been very busy with schoolwork, and still am, but I'll try to respond as soon as I can.