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  1. 1. Philosophy Epistemology Intermediate 2
  2. 2. Philosophy: Epistemology (Intermediate 2) Acknowledgements SFEU (Scottish Further Education Unit) gratefully acknowledges the contribution made to this publication by Learning and Teaching Scotland who have granted permission to use material previously produced by HSDU. SFEU also thanks SQA for permission to reproduce parts of the Arrangement Documents. Scottish Further Education Unit 2
  3. 3. Philosophy: Epistemology (Intermediate 2) Contents Introduction 3 Statement of Standards: Unit Specification 5 Guidance on Learning and Teaching Approaches 7 Section 1: What is Knowledge? 9 Section 2 43 - Option A: Descartes’ Rationalism 43 - Option B: Humes’ Empiricism 77 Glossary 119 Scottish Further Education Unit 3
  4. 4. Philosophy: Epistemology (Intermediate 2) Introduction Scotland has long been recognised as providing educational opportunities to its citizens that encompass both breadth and depth. The need to educate the whole person, and not simply concentrate on immediately obvious practical skills, is also firmly embedded in all Scottish educational philosophy. As a result, education focuses on the dual objectives of providing citizens with practical skills and knowledge related to employment, and broader intellectual and social skills which enable them to participate fully in society and lead rich, fulfilling lives. It is also recognised that these broader skills are increasingly important as societies become more complex and ideologically diverse. Scottish society today has bee influenced by a wide variety of cultures and traditions, and it is therefore important that all its citizens are able to develop and express their own values and perspectives in a reasoned way. In addition, it is important that they are able to discuss and reflect upon perspectives and values which may be different from their own. This can only be accomplished through a process of reasoned debate and discussion which acknowledges shared human experiences and also the validity of alternative views. Developing a structured approach to all forms of discourse will contribute to this process. The opportunity for individuals to develop and discuss their own values and perspectives, and learn to appreciate those of others, is an important aspect of Scottish Primary and Secondary Education. For this reason the process of discussion, debate and reflection features in many areas of the curriculum from P1-S4. The Intermediate 2 Philosophy Course provides the opportunity for candidates to continue to develop the concepts and skills needed for productive social discourse and offers certificated progression in S5 and S6. The Course is also suitable for delivery in Further Education colleges and is appropriate for adult students who have an interest in philosophical issues. Candidates who gain a Course award will be in a good position to continue their studies of philosophical issues at Higher level or in Further Education colleges. Those who choose to progress to study alternative subjects will also benefit. Developing basic critical thinking skills and the ability to reason in a structured way is an important part of the Intermediate 2 Philosophy Course and these skills are of relevance in all subject areas. This will help candidates to develop as members of society who can express their own opinions and values confidently but also appreciate the opinions and values of others. The Course consists of four mandatory Units. The Critical Thinking in Philosophy Unit helps candidates to develop an understanding of good and bad arguments and develop basic reasoning skills. In the Metaphysics Unit candidates investigate aspects of a perennial philosophical debate and some of the positions adopted in relation to that debate. The Epistemology Unit focuses on questions surrounding the nature, sources and possibilities of knowledge. Moral Philosophy involves the study of issues and theories concerning moral judgements. Aims The Course aims to allow candidates to: • Develop basic critical thinking skills which are of importance in all areas of human life and discourse. • Develop knowledge and understanding of basic philosophical techniques, issues, positions and concepts which are relevant in many areas of human life and discourse. Scottish Further Education Unit 4
  5. 5. Philosophy: Epistemology (Intermediate 2) • Develop basic analytical and evaluative skills which help them to begin to examine the reasoning and assumptions on which the positions and theories they study are based. • Present their own ideas and opinions confidently and in a reasoned manner. • Gain insight from the ideas and opinions of others which may conflict with their own. • Engage personally with a range of important questions and issues in order to inform their own ideas and opinions in a way which contributes to personal and social development. Scottish Further Education Unit 5
  6. 6. Philosophy: Epistemology (Intermediate 2) Statement of Standards: Unit Specification This Unit is a mandatory Unit of the Intermediate 2 Philosophy Course, but it can also be taken as a freestanding Unit. This Unit offers progression for candidates who have studied an appropriate Intermediate 1 Course or Unit(s). It is also suitable as an Intermediate 2 level introduction for those who have no background in the subject. The issues studied in this Unit underlie many questions of both philosophical and general human interest such as: ‘Can we know what other people are thinking and feeling?’, ‘Can we know about things that we haven’t experienced?’ and ‘Can we be certain that the world will continue to work in the way it does now?’. Candidates develop the knowledge and skills necessary to understand and examine philosophical issues in the area of epistemology. They do this by investigating specific epistemological issues which arise from the question: ‘What is knowledge?’. They also examine the position adopted by either René Descartes or David Hume in relation to this question. The chosen position is studied with reference to specific extracts from the writings of the relevant philosopher. Specific philosophical questions, issues, positions and extracts are studied in this Unit but the critical thinking skills developed are relevant in a wide variety of contexts. These skills prepare candidates for the study of Philosophy at Higher or in Courses at Further Education colleges. Candidates will also be prepared for the study of any other subject which requires the critical analysis and evaluation of complex or abstract ideas. In addition, candidates will have demonstrated the skills necessary for entry into any field of employment where the ability to analyse basic issues and arguments and assess complex or abstract ideas, is required. Epistemology (Intermediate 2) In this Unit candidates study specific philosophical issues in the area of Epistemology. They also study aspects of the positions of either René Descartes or David Hume. The Unit is divided into two Sections and a brief overview of each Section appears below: Section 1: There is no choice of options in this Section of the Unit. All candidates must investigate the following question: What is knowledge? When investigating this question, candidates study a variety of issues and concepts in the area of epistemology. Section 2: In this Section of the Unit there is a choice of option to be studied. Candidates investigate aspects of either a specific rationalist or a specific empiricist epistemological position. The options are: Scottish Further Education Unit 6
  7. 7. Philosophy: Epistemology (Intermediate 2) Option A: Descartes’ Rationalism or Option B: Hume’s Empiricism Candidates must study all mandatory content in relation to their chosen option. The positions adopted by each philosopher are based on reasoning which can only properly be understood by examining the writings of the relevant philosopher. Candidates must therefore investigate the chosen position by studying key extracts from the writings of that philosopher. The key extracts are prescribed. Outcomes 1. Demonstrate an understanding of philosophical issues in the area of epistemology. 2. Critically examine a standard philosophical position in the area of epistemology. 3. Critically assess a standard philosophical position in the area of epistemology. Outcome 1 Demonstrate an understanding of philosophical issues in the area of epistemology. Performance Criteria (a) Describe the tripartite theory of knowledge. (b) Describe specific philosophical problems associated with the tripartite theory. (c) Describe specific aspects of the key philosophical positions of scepticism, rationalism and empiricism. Outcome 2 Critically examine a standard philosophical position in the area of epistemology. Performance Criteria (a) Describe specific aspects of the account of knowledge given by one specific philosopher. (b) Explain the reasoning on which these aspects are based. (c) Cite specific extracts from the writings of this philosopher in support of the explanation. Outcome 3 Critically assess a standard philosophical position in the area of epistemology. Performance Criteria (a) Explain the strengths and weaknesses of specific aspects of the account of knowledge given by one specific philosopher. (b) State a position on the persuasiveness of this account of knowledge. (c) Give reasons to support this position. Scottish Further Education Unit 7
  8. 8. Philosophy: Epistemology (Intermediate 2) Guidance on Learning and Teaching Approaches In Section 1 candidates gain an understanding of some time-honoured issues in the area of epistemology. These issues are abstract in nature. Therefore care must be taken to illustrate them in a way that is accessible to Intermediate 2 candidates. The illustrations used are a matter for the professional judgement of the teacher or lecturer in light of the resources available and his/her knowledge of the prior experience of candidates. They might include discussing experiences or scenarios which will be familiar to candidates or investigating contemporary fictional treatments of the issues. For example, philosophical issues surrounding the problem of justification might be introduced through a discussion of optical illusions or popular films such as The Matrix and Total Recall. Care must also be taken to ensure that candidates have a sound understanding of all issues in Section 1 of this Unit. Candidates will need this understanding to critically examine the position chosen in Section 2 in a meaningful way. It is therefore recommended that centres deliver Section 1 before investigating either position in Section 2. For the same reason, it is also of vital importance that candidates are familiar with all content in Section 1. In Section 2, candidates study one option from a choice of two. The option chosen is a matter for the professional judgement of the teacher or lecturer in light of the resources available and his/her knowledge of the prior experience of candidates. Candidates must apply their understanding of the issues in Section 1 when critically examining and assessing this position. It is therefore important that teachers or lecturers maximise opportunities to integrate the understanding gained in Section 1 when delivering Section 2. Candidates must also critically examine and assess the account of knowledge on which the position chosen in Section 2 is based. This can be accomplished only if candidates engage with the writings of the relevant philosopher; summaries and paraphrases do not always contain the relevant stages of reasoning. For this reason, it is essential that candidates are very familiar with all prescribed extracts. It is also recommended that prescribed extracts are used to introduce key stages in the relevant philosopher’s reasoning. Summaries or paraphrases of the writer’s ideas are useful when filling gaps between key stages in the argument or to help overcome problems with understanding or language. However, they should not be used as a substitute for a study of the key extracts. For candidates who study this Unit as part of the Intermediate 2 Course, there are significant opportunities to integrate knowledge and/or skills in the remaining three Units. Understanding of issues and positions in the area of epistemology are also relevant when studying the Moral Philosophy and Metaphysics Units. In addition, the skills acquired during the study of the Critical Thinking in Philosophy Unit will help candidates to examine and assess the issues, positions and reasoning which they study in this Unit. Aspects of the skills of critical analysis and evaluation are relevant to all four Units in the Course. Candidates will have many opportunities to adapt and refine them in a variety of contexts while studying the Course. Scottish Further Education Unit 8
  9. 9. Philosophy: Epistemology (Intermediate 2) All of the content of this Unit can also be studied in the Higher Epistemology Unit. If a centre makes the judgement that the Higher Unit would be more appropriate for a particular candidate, the candidate can be assessed at that level. However, it should be noted that there is additional content and differences in the skills being assessed at Higher. Additional learning and teaching will be required to ensure the successful completion of the Higher Unit in these circumstances. If candidates go on to study the Higher Epistemology Unit there will be significant opportunities to build on and develop the knowledge and skills they have already acquired. However, it may be advisable to choose a different Option in Section 2 at Higher level. This will help to maintain student motivation and interest. It will also allow candidates to develop their knowledge and skills in a different context. Scottish Further Education Unit 9
  10. 10. Philosophy: Epistemology (Intermediate 2) Section 1: What is Knowledge? Contents Teaching Outline 10 Teaching and Learning Approaches 11 Guide to Resources 12 Knowledge Handout 1 13 – Knowing How and Knowing That Knowledge Handout 2 16 – The Tripartite Theory of Knowledge Knowledge Handout 3 22 – Sources of Justification: Rationalism – Problems of A Priori Justification Knowledge Handout 4 26 – Sources of Justification: Empiricism – Problems of A Posteriori Justification Knowledge Handout 5 31 – Scepticism Sample Activities 34 Suggested Answers 40 Scottish Further Education Unit 10
  11. 11. Philosophy: Epistemology (Intermediate 2) Teaching Outline The materials in this part of the pack are for Learning Outcome 1 of the Intermediate 2 Epistemology unit, introduced by SQA in 2006. This part of the unit is intended both to introduce students to the key philosophical issue of knowledge and its acquisition, and prepare them for the later study of an early modern philosopher working in this field – either Descartes or Hume. One of the innovations of the revised Intermediate 2 Philosophy is a greater emphasis on extracts from primary texts. It is expected that students will be able to demonstrate some familiarity with the text chosen, and be able both to explain and to evaluate the philosopher’s response to the philosophical questions under examination. Given that this will involve close reading of extracts in class with students, it is anticipated that this part of the unit will cover approximately one third of the work of the typical class, with the remaining two thirds being devoted to work on the chosen primary text. The rationale behind this part of the unit is that students must become familiar with a body of epistemological issues and concepts as a preparation for engagement with the texts of either Descartes or Hume. The unit thus introduces epistemology as one of the main branches of a discipline whose concern is the attempt to clarify and to justify our important beliefs (a centrally important belief being that it is possible for us to gain knowledge). Students are then introduced to an area of perennial philosophical concern – namely, the fact that many of the concepts which we employ pre-philosophically are in fact ambiguous. This is, of course, the case with regard to ‘knowledge’. It is intended that by examining why epistemology is important, and how the claim that we have knowledge is potentially ambiguous, students will come to think philosophically – asking questions such as ‘what does this mean?’, ‘is it true?’, and ‘how is this important?’. This part of the unit then shifts from the general to the particular, introducing the traditional tripartite model of propositional knowledge, and considering the three elements of belief, truth and justification. Philosophical terms are introduced as required. Students should be encouraged to learn and to apply these; while it will be adequate for assessment purposes that students can point out that belief, truth and justification are three conditions which must be met in order for us to have propositional knowledge, a good candidate will be able to explain that these conditions are individually necessary and jointly sufficient. It is the intention of these packs that the terminology of the subject will be taught alongside the substantive content – and that students will be encouraged to learn both. The Rationalism/Empiricism debate is introduced in terms of the problematic justification condition. The thinking behind this part of the unit is that irrespective of which of the philosophers teachers opt to study for the other two learning outcomes, it is necessary for students to have a grounding in the debate. Descartes makes a conscious decision to reject empiricism, and Hume to reject rationalism – and students should be aware of the putative strengths and weaknesses of the rejected position, as well as studying the philosopher’s argument for his preferred approach to the gaining of scientific knowledge. Once again an important element in students’ learning is the acquisition of a body of relevant and appropriate philosophical terminology – so that students can do more than merely recall a list of key points, and ‘strengths and weaknesses’. Scottish Further Education Unit 11
  12. 12. Philosophy: Epistemology (Intermediate 2) Finally, there is a brief introduction to three enduring epistemological problems: the problem of other minds; the reliability of authority; and the problem of induction. By this stage in their study, students should be able to relate these problems to the tripartite theory. Equally importantly, they should see how important beliefs which are central to our everyday lives may be revealed as philosophically interesting and problematic when we clarify them and question the possibility of their justification. Scottish Further Education Unit 12
  13. 13. Philosophy: Epistemology (Intermediate 2) Teaching and Learning Approaches Extensive guidance on teaching and learning approaches is provided in the Course Specification, and teachers are referred to these at This part of the pack introduces some simple scenarios which can be the basis for class discussion. These – and examples from film and television – tend to be particularly helpful in getting students to recognise both the importance, and the philosophical interest, of the issues covered in this study unit. Good students may identify examples of their own which are especially useful in class discussion, and which will help to consolidate understanding of the topic, and familiarity with the terms and concepts employed by epistemologists. Scottish Further Education Unit 13
  14. 14. Philosophy: Epistemology (Intermediate 2) Guide to Resources A number of texts have been published in recent years which introduce epistemology at a level appropriate to Intermediate 2. Particularly recommended are: Cole, P. (2002) The Theory of Knowledge. Hodder & Stoughton. Cardinal, D. et al (2004) Epistemology – The Theory of Knowledge. Hodder Murray. Most general textbooks are either pitched at the A level/first year undergraduate market, and/or they concentrate on epistemological issues which are beyond the narrower confines of Intermediate 2 Philosophy. The following may, however, be useful for teachers in preparing tutorials: Hospers, J. (1997) An Introduction to Philosophical Analysis. Routledge. Morton, A. (1996) Philosophy in Practice – An Introduction to the Main Questions. Blackwell. A fashion has recently grown for Philosophy Through Film. For students or teachers who have seen the ‘Matrix’ trilogy, the following unconventional text may provide useful material: Lawrence, M. (2004) Like a Splinter in Your Mind – The Philosophy Behind the Matrix Trilogy. Blackwell. There are dozens of websites, of varying scholarly quality, which discuss the philosophy behind The Matrix. The best is the official Warner Brothers site, which has material on the Brain in a Vat and other related philosophical topics. It is available at: Scottish Further Education Unit 14
  15. 15. Philosophy: Epistemology (Intermediate 2) Knowledge Handout 1 Knowing How and Knowing That Philosophers are interested in knowledge. This will not surprise you – even if you have never studied any philosophy before, you will expect that philosophers are interested in gaining philosophical knowledge – just as historians seek historical knowledge, and mathematicians seeks mathematical knowledge, biologists seeks biological knowledge, and so on. Clearly a philosopher does want philosophical knowledge. But there is a more important point to make here. Historians and mathematicians and biologists want knowledge – but they don’t ask what ‘knowledge’ is. They take it for granted that there is knowledge, and then set out to find it. Philosophers are different. They ask questions such as ‘what is knowledge?’, and ‘is it possible to have knowledge that is 100% reliable – knowledge that is absolutely certain?’. This is what we are to be studying in the Epistemology unit of Intermediate 2 Philosophy. Let’s see how this fits in with a definition of ‘philosophy’. Philosophy is an activity. When we are doing philosophy, we are trying to do two things: 1. We are trying to clarify our important beliefs. 2. We are trying to justify our important beliefs. One of the important beliefs that we all have is that knowledge is possible – that we can gain knowledge by various means. One of the reasons for studying Intermediate 2 Philosophy is, after all, that you want to have knowledge of Philosophy. But you also want to have knowledge of many other things: whether it will rain today; what books you need for your course; when the class begins; who can tell you what you need to revise for the exam; where the exam will be held; and so on. We go through life taking for granted that knowledge is possible – and that gaining knowledge is straightforward – so that by the time we are in our teens, we have already learned an enormous amount (and that one of the most important differences between a 16-year-old person and a 16-week-old person is the massive amount of learning – ‘knowledge-acquisition’ – that the 16-week-old has ahead of him or her). If we think about the definition of ‘philosophy’ given above, we can see, then, that there are two tasks for philosophers: 1. Getting clear what it means to say that we have knowledge (this is the ‘clarifying’ part). 2. Proving that knowledge is possible (this is the ‘justifying’ part). Philosophers who deal with these questions are ‘epistemologists’. The word ‘epistemology’ was introduced into philosophy by a nineteenth century Scottish philosopher, James Ferrier. It is made up of two Greek words. In Greek ‘episteme’ means ‘knowledge’, and ‘logos’ means ‘explanation, or study’. So ‘epistemology’ is the study of knowledge. Scottish Further Education Unit 15
  16. 16. Philosophy: Epistemology (Intermediate 2) It may seem that the epistemologist’s questions aren’t worth asking. How can we doubt that we have knowledge? How can there be any question about what knowledge is? This raises an important point about philosophy. Philosophers tend to take nothing for granted. Philosophers will generally be very suspicious of the notion that ‘it’s just obvious’. What do we mean when we say that we have knowledge? Think about the ways in which we use the verb ‘to know’: 1. I know that David Hume died in 1776. 2. I know how to use this software. 3. I know who committed the ‘Jack the Ripper’ killings. 4. I know the quickest way to get from Glasgow to Edinburgh. 5. I know French. 6. I know France. This short list contains three different uses of the word to ‘know’. So if we are to clarify what it means to say that we have knowledge, then we will have to start by getting clear what are these three, and how they differ. Firstly, there is the use of ‘know’ in example 1: I know that … – where what comes after the word ‘that’ is a statement (also known as a ‘proposition’). In the case of example 1, we have three things: a) The proposition ‘David Hume died in 1776’. b) The person who is making the claim – ‘I’. c) The relationship between the person and the proposition – here a relation of ‘knowing’. Notice how this is different from example 2. In example 2, what is known is not a fact (a true proposition such as ‘David Hume died in 1776’), but rather how to do something. This is the kind of knowledge that we have when we have ‘know-how’. So if I know how to write HTML code on a computer, or how to bake a cake or solve simultaneous equations, then I have this kind of knowledge. Example 3 is really just the same kind of knowledge as was example 1 – what we call ‘propositional knowledge’. Whereas in example 2 the target for knowledge is some skill, such as a mathematical skill, or a baking skill, in examples 1 and 3 the target for knowledge is a proposition – ‘David Hume died in 1776’, or ‘The Prince of Wales was Jack the Ripper’. Example 4 can be thought of either as propositional knowledge, or as know-how. ‘I know the quickest way to get from Glasgow to Edinburgh’ could be set out as: a) I know how to get from Glasgow to Edinburgh by the quickest method. b) I know that the quickest way to get from Glasgow to Edinburgh is by hiring a helicopter. People who are training to drive black taxis have to ‘do the knowledge’. What this means is that they have to know their way around the city so well that they can pass a rigorous examination before getting a licence. Here again we can think of their knowledge in one of two ways: the Edinburgh taxi driver needs to know how to get from Waverley station to the Scottish Parliament; alternatively s/he has to know that Waverley Station is at Waverley Bridge, and the Scottish Parliament is at Holyrood. Scottish Further Education Unit 16
  17. 17. Philosophy: Epistemology (Intermediate 2) ‘I know French’ (example 5) is, of course, an example of know-how. What it means is ‘I know how to speak French’. Finally, example 6 is importantly different. ‘I know France’ means ‘I am familiar with France, having been there’. This is really a third way of using the verb ‘to know’: it is what philosophers call knowledge by acquaintance. If I say that I know the paintings of Gauguin, or that I know the man who wrote the book or know the Beethoven Violin Concerto, then this means that I am acquainted with – I have been in some kind of contact with the man (whom I have met), the paintings (which I have seen), or the music (which I have heard). Notice how our Edinburgh cabbie can also be said to have knowledge by acquaintance (of course: he needs to be very familiar with Edinburgh). Scottish Further Education Unit 17
  18. 18. Philosophy: Epistemology (Intermediate 2) Knowledge Handout 2 The Tripartite Theory of Knowledge As we have seen, the word ‘knowledge’ is used in different – though related – ways. Philosophers are interested in all these, but our concern in this course is with propositional knowledge. Propositional knowledge is knowing that. My knowledge that a straight line is the shortest distance between two points, or that the sun is shining outside my room as I write this, are examples of propositional knowledge. I have just claimed to have two pieces of knowledge. I know that: 1. A straight line is the shortest distance between two points. 2. The sun is shining outside my room. What are the conditions for my having propositional knowledge? Consider the following story: Fred is taking part in a psychology experiment. The experimenters tell Fred that they are giving him a powerful mind-altering drug, which will make all women look like his mother. Fred believes them, although the drug which they give him is actually only an ordinary aspirin. The point of the experiment is to test whether he will think that women look like his mother just because he expects them to do so. Fred’s mother is a telephone repair engineer, and has been called to fix a telephone in the psychology department. By mistake she walks into the laboratory where Fred is. ‘Ha ha’, says Fred. ‘Good trick – how did you find out that my real mother is a telephone engineer?’. Think about this story – and before turning the page, ask yourself: does Fred know that the woman is his mother? Scottish Further Education Unit 18
  19. 19. Philosophy: Epistemology (Intermediate 2) The answer is, surely, that Fred doesn’t know that the woman is his mother. He believes that the psychologists have given him a drug which really will have the effect that they claim (so that any woman who comes into the room will look like Fred’s mother). Because he believes this, he does not believe that the woman is his mother – even though it is true. It is a necessary condition for having knowledge that I have belief. A necessary condition is, as the term suggests, a condition which must be met (so that, for example, it is a necessary condition for being someone’s sister that you are female. If you are not female, then you just can’t be a sister). We need to be careful here. Sometimes people say things like: Well, I know that Iceland beat Scotland – but I don’t believe it. This seems to be suggesting that you can have knowledge and not have belief – that is, it seems to be suggesting that belief is not, after all, a necessary condition for knowledge. But someone who says, ‘I know that Iceland beat Scotland – but I don’t believe it’ is not making a sincere statement. This is an example of hyperbole – of exaggerating for effect. What the person who says this really means is something like: ‘I know that Iceland beat Scotland – but it’s a very surprising result’. Presumably football fans don’t want to say things in conversations with each other such as ‘I’m very surprised’. ‘I don’t believe it!’ – even when the evidence is staring you in the face – gets your point across more effectively. So however people use language in everyday speech, we cannot really claim to have knowledge that something is the case when we don’t believe that it is the case. Remember that what we are discussing here is propositional knowledge. Philosophers sometimes use the letter ‘p’ to stand for any proposition (in the same way that in algebra, ‘x’ and ‘y’ and ‘z’ can be used to represent any value). So ‘p’ could stand for ‘a straight line is the shortest distance between two points’, or for ‘the sun is shining outside my room’ – or for any other proposition. We can now bring all of this together, and say that: I cannot know that p unless I believe that p. Or, in other words, it is a necessary condition for my knowing that p that I believe that p. Now consider the following extract, taken from a website:1 ‘The facts are simple,’ says Charles K. Johnson, president of the International Flat Earth Research Society. ‘The earth is flat.’ As you stand in his front yard, it is hard to argue the point. From among the Joshua trees, creosote bushes, and tumbleweeds surrounding his southern California hillside home, you have a spectacular view of the Mojave Desert. It looks as flat as a pool table. Nearly 20 miles to the west lies the small city of Lancaster; you can see right over it. Beyond Lancaster, 20 more miles as the cueball rolls, the Tehachapi Mountains rise up from the desert floor. Los Angeles is not far to the south. Near Lancaster, you see the Rockwell International plant where the Space Shuttle was built. To the north, beyond the next hill, lies Edwards Air Force Base, where the Shuttle was tested. There, also, the Shuttle will land when it returns from orbiting the earth. (At least, that’s NASA’s story.) 1 Scottish Further Education Unit 19
  20. 20. Philosophy: Epistemology (Intermediate 2) ‘You can’t orbit a flat earth,’ says Mr. Johnson. ‘The Space Shuttle is a joke – and a very ludicrous joke.’ His soft voice carries conviction, for Charles Johnson is on the level. He believes that the main purpose of the space program is to prop up a dying myth – the myth that the earth is a globe. ‘Nobody knows anything about the true shape of the world,’ he contends. ‘The known, inhabited world is flat. Just as a guess, I’d say that the dome of heaven is about 4,000 miles away, and the stars are about as far as San Francisco is from Boston.’ Charles K. Johnson really believes that the earth is flat – and that NASA is part of a conspiracy which is trying to fool us all into believing that it is in fact a globe. Does Charles know that the earth is flat? Think about this before turning the page. Scottish Further Education Unit 20
  21. 21. Philosophy: Epistemology (Intermediate 2) The problem with Charles Johnson’s claiming to know that the earth is flat is that it is not. He may sincerely believe that the earth is flat, but his belief is a false belief. In the middle ages everyone believed that the earth was stationary. They would have claimed, if asked, to know that the earth was stationary. We now know that it is moving around the sun at about 30 kilometres per second (ie. about 18½ miles per second). Note how Charles Johnson meets one of the necessary conditions for having knowledge: he has a belief (and it is a sincere belief). But even though he satisfies this condition, he still does not have knowledge that the earth is flat. What this shows is that while the belief condition is a necessary condition for knowledge, it is not a sufficient condition. A sufficient condition for knowledge – as the term suggests – is a condition which, if met, guarantees that we have knowledge. Think back to the ‘sister’ example earlier. It is a necessary condition for being a sister that you be female (you cannot be a non-female sister). But being female is not sufficient, because you could be an only child. So being a sibling is a further necessary condition (and again, this one by itself is necessary but not sufficient). There are two individually necessary and jointly sufficient conditions for being a sister: • being female • being a sibling. Notice how we can define a sister as being ‘a female sibling’. All sisters are female siblings – and all female siblings are sisters. The ‘flat earth’ example shows that a further necessary condition for having knowledge is that the proposition in question is true. This is the truth condition. The proposition ‘the earth is flat’ is false – and so it cannot be an object of knowledge. Now take a moment to think about how Fred (the participant in the psychology experiment) and Charles Johnson (the President of the Flat Earth Society) are alike, and how they differ. Do this before turning the page. Scottish Further Education Unit 21
  22. 22. Philosophy: Epistemology (Intermediate 2) Fred and Charles are alike in that neither has knowledge. Fred does not know that the telephone engineer is his mother, and Charles does not know that the earth is flat. The two differ, in that Charles has a belief – but what he believes is false. Fred does not believe that the woman is his mother – but what he does not believe is true. We now have two individually necessary conditions for knowledge. Are these jointly sufficient (in the same way that being a sister and being a sibling are jointly sufficient for being a sister)? It may seem surprising, but in fact it is possible to have a true belief but not have knowledge. To see this, consider the following case. Suppose I have been given some mind-altering drug without my being aware of it (it has been slipped into my coffee this morning). The effect of the drug is to make me go through the rest of the day compulsively making predictions, which I will sincerely believe to be true. I tell you that I know the numbers which are going to come up in next Saturday’s lottery draw: 5, 11, 13, 28, 33, 34. I am so certain that these numbers are going to come up that I force you to write them down – which you do to humour me. On the following Sunday, you happen to notice the previous evening’s lottery results, and the numbers look strangely familiar. You go to find the scrap of paper on which you copied down my forecast, and there are the very same numbers that are in the newspaper: 5, 11, 13, 28, 33 and 34 (no-one won the jackpot, which was £10 million). Amazed (and a little sorry for having mocked me), you ring me to ask how I knew that these numbers would come up. By now the drug has worn off – but I still don’t know that I was drugged. ‘How did you know that these numbers would come up?’, you ask. ‘Well’, I reply, ‘I just felt it in my water.’ Note how, like Charles Johnson, I had a sincerely held belief. Unlike Charles, my belief turned out to be true. Would you say that I knew that these numbers would come up in the lottery? Think about this before turning the page. Scottish Further Education Unit 22
  23. 23. Philosophy: Epistemology (Intermediate 2) The answer is, surely, that I did not know. A lucky guess, or a hunch that turns out to be true, is not knowledge. The key question in this last example is: ‘how did you know that these numbers would come up?’. The answer ‘I felt it in my water’ is just not a satisfactory answer to that question (nor is ‘I just did’. Think of the number of times that you have replied to the ‘how do you know?’ question by saying ‘I just do’). To have knowledge, we need to be – to use a common expression – ‘in a position to know’. If the national lottery was actually rigged, and if I was a national lottery official, then I might be ‘in a position to know’ what numbers were coming up next Saturday. In answer to the question ‘how did you know that these numbers would come up?’, ‘the thing is rigged, and I’m in on it’ is a satisfactory answer (at least from an epistemological point of view). ‘I just did’ is not a satisfactory answer – it does not provide justification for a claim to have knowledge. So I can have a true belief yet not have knowledge. The belief condition and the truth condition are individually necessary, but are not jointly sufficient for knowledge. A third condition must also be met – the justification condition. This condition is met when I can give a satisfactory answer to the question ‘how do you know?’. So knowledge is justified, true belief. The three conditions – the belief condition, the truth condition and the justification condition are individually necessary and jointly sufficient for knowledge. Finally, it may have occurred to you that the term ‘satisfactory answer’ is a little unclear. What makes an answer to this question a satisfactory answer, and how can I be sure that my answer is satisfactory? This question is a major one for philosophers such as Descartes and Hume – both of whom recognise that what we may take to be justification may in fact not after all be justification. Think of the people who thought that the earth was stationary. What more justification would you need than the fact that you can see it and feel it to be stationary? The history of humanity is to a great extent a history of our discovering that we have got things wrong – that what we had taken ourselves to know (sometimes with great confidence) was in fact wrong. Clearly, when we have had false beliefs which we took to be knowledge, we were mistaken in thinking that these beliefs could be justified. This leaves us with an unsettling question: what are the errors which we are making today, and which future generations will discover? Scottish Further Education Unit 23
  24. 24. Philosophy: Epistemology (Intermediate 2) Knowledge Handout 3 Sources of Justification: Rationalism The justification condition is the most troublesome of the three conditions for knowledge – and much philosophical effort has gone into answering the question of how we can ever justify our knowledge claims. One way of answering the ‘how do you know?’ question is by using reason. Think of the following statement: Everybody who is a sister is female. How do you know that everybody who is a sister is female? One way would be to check sisters – to see if any of them were male. You could check lots and lots of sisters; once you’d realised that all of the sisters that you had checked were female, you might come to the conclusion that all of them are. There are two things to notice about this: 1. It is not absolutely guaranteed to be reliable (if you haven’t checked every single one of them, can you be certain that there are no non-female sisters?). 2. You don’t need to do this anyway. The truth of the claim that all sisters are female does not need to be checked in this way. ‘Everybody who is a sister is a female’ is an example of a truth which can be known independently of experience. The philosophical term for this is that it is an a priori truth. A priori truths are known to be true prior to experience. Before doing any checking, we know that all sisters are female. This is true by definition. If we take, by contrast, the statement: Everybody who is a sister is shorter than seven feet tall. We can’t check this for truth or falsity just by thinking about it. This statement is an a posteriori statement. A posteriori statements are known to be true (or false) as a result of experience – in this case, as a result of checking to see whether there is evidence of anyone having been a sister, and having been 7 ft tall or more. So a priori knowledge is knowledge which we gain just by thinking. The justification condition is met merely by reflecting mentally on the meanings of the words ‘all’, ‘sisters’, and ‘female’. Here are some more examples of knowledge which we arrive at a priori: • All bachelors are unmarried. • If Dundee is south of Aberdeen, then Aberdeen is north of Dundee. • If Dundee is south of Aberdeen, and Edinburgh is south of Dundee, then Edinburgh is south of Aberdeen. • Anyone who is 7 ft tall is more than 6 ft tall. Remember that the key question with which we are concerned is the justification question – the ‘how do you know?’ question. In the case of the statement ‘all bachelors are unmarried’ we can answer this by doing some simple reasoning: Scottish Further Education Unit 24
  25. 25. Philosophy: Epistemology (Intermediate 2) 1. There are two necessary conditions for being a bachelor – these are (a) being unmarried, and (b) being a man. 2. These two conditions are, therefore, individually necessary and jointly sufficient, so that: 3. We can define a bachelor as an unmarried man – and substitute ‘unmarried man’ for bachelor. 4. The statement can therefore be rewritten as ‘all unmarried men are unmarried’ – and this just has to be true. This is an example of what philosophers call ‘conceptual analysis’. To analyse is to break something down into its component parts. We break down a concept by finding its necessary and sufficient conditions. In the statement ‘all bachelors are unmarried’, the subject (what the statement is about) is ‘all bachelors’, and the predicate (what is being claimed about the subject) is ‘are unmarried’. The predicate is here contained in the subject – and we just have to think about the meaning of the statement to see that it is true. Its meaning guarantees its truth. A statement where the meaning guarantees the truth in this way is called an analytic statement. In an analytic statement, the meaning guarantees the truth (and we see this by analysing the concepts which it contains – in the above case, by analysing the concept ‘bachelor’). Any statement which is not analytic is synthetic. Some philosophers have come to think of reason as the most reliable source of justification – as the best way of answering the ‘how do you know?’ question – because truths which are a priori discoverable are absolutely certain. Think of the following piece of knowledge: A straight line is the shortest distance between two points.2 This statement is true. I believe it – and you should believe it. If I am asked ‘how do you know?’, my response will be that we just need to think about the statement to grasp its truth. So it is justifiable a priori. There is another point to make about the statement, though. It is not only true: it is true and could not possibly not be true. It is, to use the philosophical term, necessarily true. This term – not to be confused with ‘necessary conditions’, which we came across earlier – is used to describe all those statements which are true and not possibly not true. Notice that we do not get the same certainty when we move from a priori to a posteriori truths. The statement: The edge of my desk is a straight line. is true – but it is not necessarily true (it is only contingently true). The world could have been such that the edge of the desk was curved (I have another desk which is curved). Philosophers sometimes express this by imagining other possible worlds, which are just like this world except for some particular detail. 2 On a plane surface – which should be assumed in what follows. Scottish Further Education Unit 25
  26. 26. Philosophy: Epistemology (Intermediate 2) There could be another world in which every single detail is just as it is in this world, but this desk has a curved rather than straight front. Crucially, though, there is no possible world in which there are straight lines which are not the shortest distance between two points (or where there are non-female sisters or married bachelors). So a priori discovery of knowledge is the discovery of knowledge which is – apparently – absolutely impossible to doubt. It is true in any possible world – necessarily true; true and not possibly not true. Rationalists (whose name comes from the Latin word ratio, which means reason) see reason as the most reliable source of justification because rationally (ie. a priori) discoverable knowledge passes the ‘possible worlds’ test, and so is just impossible to doubt. Problems of A Priori Justification There is, however, a problem with a priori justification. To see this, consider two possible ways in which I might answer the question: ‘what day is it?’: 1. It is Tuesday. 2. Either it is Tuesday or it is not. Both (1) and (2) are true as I write this. Statement (1) is a posteriori (I need to observe something – the masthead of today’s newspaper, the introduction given by the news announcer on the radio, the clock on my computer, etc.) in order to know that today is Tuesday. It is also contingently true that today is Tuesday: the world could have been different (at various times in history calendars have been revised – so this could have happened, with the result that today is Thursday). Statement (2) is, of course, a priori. I just need to think about it to see that the statement ‘either it is Tuesday or it is not’ is necessarily true – true and not possibly not true. But here is the problem: it is always the case that either it is Tuesday or it is not Tuesday. What this shows is that statement (1) is informative, but statement (2) is really not informative. Statement (2) is in fact useless, trivial knowledge. What I want to know if I ask you what day it is, is whether I have classes today, whether the cheque which I paid into my bank has cleared, whether my favourite television programme is on this evening, and so on. If you tell me that it is Tuesday, I can infer from that the answers to these and many other questions (to ‘infer’ is to form a belief. If today is Tuesday and my favourite programme is on television every Tuesday, I infer from that that my favourite programme is on today). If you merely tell me that either it is Tuesday or it isn’t, then I can really do nothing at all with that information – even though it is necessarily true. Here’s another example of the apparent uselessness – the triviality – of necessary truths which are a priori discoverable. Consider the following statement: Nothing can be bigger than itself. Clearly this is a priori and necessary. No mountain can be bigger than itself, no river deeper than itself, no elephant heavier than itself, and so on. If we apply this to alien life forms on other planets, we get: No aliens are bigger than themselves. Scottish Further Education Unit 26
  27. 27. Philosophy: Epistemology (Intermediate 2) This is a true statement about aliens on other planets. Do you find this useful, or interesting, or informative? Reason, in short, is limited in what it can give us as knowledge. It can tell us how the universe has to be – all straight lines have to be the shortest distance between two points, it always has to be either earlier or later than 6pm, all red roses have to be red, all sisters are female, and all aliens are no bigger than themselves. But surely what we really want to know is: are there alien life forms on other planets? What mathematical knowledge do they have? What kind of vegetation does their planet sustain? Are there males and females, and do they have family units which resemble ours? It is a fascinating thought that if they are intelligent, then these aliens will have much the same geometrical knowledge as we have – but beyond that, a priori truths about them are rather trivial and unimpressive. If all that they know about us is that if we exist, then none of us is bigger than ourselves, then they really don’t know anything interesting or useful about us – do they? Scottish Further Education Unit 27
  28. 28. Philosophy: Epistemology (Intermediate 2) Knowledge Handout 4 Sources of Justification: Empiricism If reason only gives us trivial knowledge – knowledge of what has to be the case, rather than of what happens to be the case – then perhaps we ought to rely rather on the senses, and on a posteriori knowledge. A posteriori knowledge may be only contingent (true, but could conceivably have been false – false in other possible worlds), but it is useful – informative – knowledge. It seems in any case natural to us to rely on the senses as the basis for justifying our claims to knowledge. We have expressions such as ‘seeing is believing’; our sense of sight is particularly important in this respect (think of the expression ‘I have seen it with my own eyes’; what we are doing here is justifying a knowledge claim a posteriori). From our earliest moments, we learn about the world through touch – and later through seeing, hearing, smelling and tasting. As the 17th century French philosopher René Descartes puts the point: Surely whatever I had admitted until now as most true I received either from the senses or through the senses. (Meditation 1) So the most natural way for us to meet the justification condition for knowledge is via observation – via the senses. Philosophers who employ sense experience as the source of justification are empiricists (the word ‘empiricist’ comes from the Greek word for ‘experience’). Scottish Further Education Unit 28
  29. 29. Philosophy: Epistemology (Intermediate 2) We saw earlier that the statement ‘everybody who is a sister is female’ is: • a priori • analytic • necessarily true. Now consider the statement: My sister is over five feet tall. Here we have an example of a statement which differs in all three respects from the last statement. Firstly, the statement is a posteriori. Clearly, if I am asked ‘how do you know that your sister is over five feet tall?’, I cannot respond by saying ‘well, just think about it’. I would have to measure her, or ask her, or get her to stand beside something which I know to be five feet in height, so that I could look and compare. So I know that my sister is a female sibling without having to observe anything – but I do need some kind of observation in order to know that she is some particular height. The statement is also not analytic. Remember how we were able to break down the concept ‘sister’ into its necessary and sufficient conditions – and, by this conceptual analysis, discover that all sisters are female. Although it is a necessary condition for my sister’s being a sister that she be female, it is clearly not a necessary condition for her being a sister that she be over five feet tall. So the statement ‘my sister is over five feet tall’ is synthetic. That is to say that the statement synthesises – joins together – the subject (‘my sister’) and a predicate which is not contained in that subject (‘over five feet tall’). So whereas the predicate ‘female’ is contained in the subject ‘sister’, the predicate ‘over five feet tall’ is not contained in the predicate – it adds new information. Finally, the statement ‘my sister is over five feet tall’ is contingent. That is to say that if it is true, then it is contingently true, and if it is false, it is contingently false. For a statement to be contingently true is for it to be the case that it could conceivably have been false (there are possible worlds in which my sister is under five feet in height). Scottish Further Education Unit 29
  30. 30. Philosophy: Epistemology (Intermediate 2) Here are some more examples of knowledge which we arrive at a posteriori: • Some bachelors are happy men. • Dundee is south of Aberdeen. • The population of Dundee is smaller than that of Aberdeen. • Anyone who is 7ft tall is too big to get into a Mini. You should compare these examples with the examples of knowledge arrived at a priori – on p. 24 of this unit. One of the advantages of this kind of knowledge is that it is informative. A sociologist may find it interesting that in our society some men are both unmarried and happy. If you are in Aberdeen, and want to get to Dundee, then it is useful to know that you need to head south (the a priori knowledge that ‘either Dundee is south of Aberdeen or it is not’ is really useless knowledge, if what you want to do is get to Dundee). If you are planning the distribution of census forms in the north east of Scotland, or arranging to give Britain’s tallest man a lift in your Mini, then it is clearly helpful to know that Aberdeen is bigger than Dundee, and that the man won’t fit into your car. Scottish Further Education Unit 30
  31. 31. Philosophy: Epistemology (Intermediate 2) Problems of A Posteriori Justification There are some problems with a posteriori justification. 1. Everyone has had experience of optical illusions – such as the road which appears to shimmer on a hot day. Other senses are also liable to be tricked in this way (when you put your hand inside a polythene pocket, static electricity makes the surface of the plastic feel ‘furry’). So there seems to be an element of unreliability about at least some of our observation-based knowledge. Can we be certain that we always know when our experience is illusory? 2. Hallucination can lead us to see or hear things which just aren’t there at all. In his play Macbeth, Shakespeare shows us how mentally disturbed Macbeth is as he prepares to murder King Duncan by having him hallucinate a dagger. Macbeth tries to grasp the dagger which he thinks he sees – but can’t, because there is no dagger there. As with illusions, there is a question here: can we be certain that we always know when our experience is the result of a hallucination? 3. Human beings can see colours that dogs can’t. This is because of facts about human brains and canine brains, and the proportion of the two which is dedicated to visual perception (dogs have a more acute sense of smell than humans, because more of their brains deal with smell). We tend to assume that what this shows is that our perception is more ‘reliable’ than dogs’ perception. Surely what it shows is that perception is ‘species-specific’. How do we know that there aren’t aliens, elsewhere in the universe, who are more highly evolved than we are (and perhaps have senses which we don’t have at all – like the sense of echolocation which bats have)? Wouldn’t the aliens encounter the world differently from the way in which we do – and wouldn’t they think that their perception was more reliable than ours? 4. As well as being species-specific, our perception is ‘theory-laden’. What this means is that what we see or hear depends upon a set of background assumptions – ‘theory’. Take, for example, a musical score. A trained musician will ‘see’ a melody – and ‘hear’ it in his head. For someone who can’t read music, the score will simply be spots and symbols on a piece of paper. There is evidence that people from cultures very different from our own have learned to see the world differently from the way in which we do – so that again a ‘theory’ is at work in leading us to interpret what we see. We may be completely unaware of this, of course. If we are, then we may well take our experience to be just what anyone else’s would be. 5. Some philosophers have questioned whether we can be certain that any of our sense- based experience of the world is reliable. The contemporary American philosopher Hilary Putnam asks us to imagine a science-fiction scenario: ‘… imagine that a human being (you can imagine this to be yourself) has been subjected to an operation by an evil scientist. The person’s brain (your brain) has been removed from the body and placed in a vat of nutrients which keeps the brain alive. The nerve endings have been connected to a super-scientific computer which causes the person whose brain it is to have the illusion that everything is perfectly normal. There seem to be people, objects, the sky, etc.; but really, all the person (you) is experiencing is the result of electronic impulses travelling from the computer to the nerve endings. Scottish Further Education Unit 31
  32. 32. Philosophy: Epistemology (Intermediate 2) The computer is so clever that if the person tries to raise his hand, the feedback from the computer will cause him to ‘see’ and ‘feel’ the hand being raised. Moreover, by varying the program, the evil scientist can cause the victim to ‘experience’ (or hallucinate) any situation or environment the evil scientist wishes. He can also obliterate the memory of the brain operation, so that the victim will seem to himself to have always been in this environment. It can even seem to the victim that he is sitting and reading these very words about the amusing but quite absurd supposition that there is an evil scientist who removes people’s brains from their bodies and places them in a vat of nutrients which keep the brains alive. The nerve endings are supposed to be connected to a super- scientific computer which causes the person whose brain it is to have the illusion that ...3 The question is: can you be certain that you are not a brain in a vat? 3 Putnam, Hilary (1981) Reason, Truth and History (Cambridge, Cambridge). Scottish Further Education Unit 32
  33. 33. Philosophy: Epistemology (Intermediate 2) Knowledge Handout 5 Scepticism Putnam’s ‘brain in a vat’ is thought by many philosophers to lead to scepticism. The sceptic doubts our ability to gain knowledge. In other words, the sceptic doubts our ability to satisfy the justification condition for knowledge. Scepticism comes in various forms (and in various strengths). 1. Local scepticism is scepticism about some particular type of knowledge claim. For example, the atheist is sceptical about claims to knowledge of God and the divine will. Others are sceptical about claims to have knowledge of the supernatural, or of right and wrong. 2. Some sceptics have claimed that the only thing that we can know is that knowledge is impossible. This is extreme scepticism. More moderate forms of scepticism will merely argue that our ability to know is much less than we may be tempted to think – and that we must treat knowledge claims with caution. Other Minds One form of local scepticism is scepticism about other minds. How do you know that other people have minds – that they have an inner mental life which is similar to your own? In the film ‘Alien’, one of the astronauts is discovered to be an android. He looks just like a normal human being; his behaviour suggests that he experiences the world in the ‘normal’ way, that he feels pain, and happiness, and boredom, remorse, worry … But the appearance is deceptive: he is programmed to behave in just the way that a normal human being behaves – but in fact he is no more capable of feeling pain or pleasure than is the hard disk inside your computer. This leads to the sceptic’s question: how do you know that the person sitting beside you has a mind? Clearly asking them is not enough – so what would be sufficient evidence? Scottish Further Education Unit 33
  34. 34. Philosophy: Epistemology (Intermediate 2) Authority One of the most common ways in which we answer the ‘how do you know?’ question is by appealing to authority. This is the kind of justification we provide whenever we say something like: ‘well, so-and-so told me – and he is in a position to know’. If Neil Armstrong tells you that walking on the moon is easy, then we can probably say that we know that walking on the moon is easy – because he has done it, and so he’s in a position to know. There is a problem, though. The Greek scientist Ptolemy (c.90-c.168 AD) was for centuries hailed as an authority on astronomy. Ptolemy stated that the Earth was at the centre of the universe. If anyone had thought to ask ‘how do you know that the Earth is at the centre of the universe?’, then ‘because Ptolemy says so’ would have been thought to be a satisfactory answer – it would have been thought to meet the justification condition. We now know that Ptolemy was wrong. This raises a sceptical problem: how do we know that the people whom we take to be authorities really are authoritative? The problem of the reliability of authority doesn’t only affect subjects such as astronomy. Much of our knowledge is knowledge from authority. How do you know that Ptolemy really existed? How do you know that he stated that the earth was at the centre of the universe – or that people agreed with him? How do you know that Neil Armstrong really did walk on the surface of the moon? Once you come to think about it, you will likely find that a very large proportion of your ‘knowledge’ relies on authority to meet the justification condition. Induction As we have seen, there are grounds for sceptical doubt regarding the reliability of the senses. There also seems to be a limit on the kind of knowledge that we can gain from observation, assuming that it is generally reliable. If I go to look at the swans in my local park, I can see that they are all white. In fact, I have only ever seen white swans. I might be tempted to conclude from this that all swans are white. In Australia, the swans are black – so that in fact the claim that ‘all swans are white’ is false. This raises a question: how many white swans do I need to see before I can safely conclude that all swans are white? This may seem a trivial point – but science needs universal claims (claims about what is always the case). Astronomers tell us that all planets have elliptical orbits. How do we know that this is the case? Until recently, only nine planets were known to exist – and they have all been observed to have elliptical orbits. Would you accept the claim that ‘all swans are white’ from someone who had seen only nine swans? The problem of induction can be summarised as follows: ‘Some’ does not entail ‘all’. The word ‘entail’ refers to a relationship between statements. If one statement entails another, then the truth of the first statement guarantees the truth of the second statement. In other words, it is not possible for the first statement to be true and the second statement false. Scottish Further Education Unit 34
  35. 35. Philosophy: Epistemology (Intermediate 2) Examples of entailment: • x is a triangle entails x has shape • All men are mortal and Socrates is a man entails Socrates is mortal • Either Connery is First Minister or McConnell is and Connery is not First Minister entails McConnell is First Minister. Now we can see why the observation of only a limited number of swans can’t confirm for us that all swans are white. Swan #1 is white Swan #2 is white Swan #3 is white Swan #4 is white Swan #5 is white … does not entail All swans are white. Another way of putting this is to say that it does not logically follow from the fact that some swans are white that all swans are white. One observed black swan can confirm that ‘all swans are white’ is false – but no finite number of observations of white swans can confirm that all swans are white. The more swans we see which are white, the more probable it is that all swans are white, and the more probable it is that the next observed swan will be white. But we never get the kind of certainty that we have in the case of ‘all triangles are three-sided figures’. That statement is a priori, analytic, and necessary. Note how induction operates with regard to two types of statements which we might want to make: i. ‘Universal’ statements based on observation – such as ‘all swans are white’. ii. Statements about the future based on observation – such as ‘the next swan observed will be white’. The eighteenth century Scottish philosopher David Hume points out a worrying example of a statement about the future which is based on observation, and which cannot be guaranteed to be true: ‘The bread which I formerly ate, nourished me … but does it follow, that other bread must also nourish me at another time …? The consequence seems nowise necessary.’4 4 Hume, David An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding §4 Part II. Scottish Further Education Unit 35
  36. 36. Philosophy: Epistemology (Intermediate 2) As Hume’s example shows, we go through our everyday lives assuming that the future will resemble the past – that water will quench our thirst and not kill us, that a chair will support our weight if we sit on it, that the world will be outside when we open the curtains in the morning. We couldn’t live without making inductive assumptions like these. But as Hume points out, the observational evidence which we have does not guarantee that any of these claims are in fact true. Scottish Further Education Unit 36
  37. 37. Philosophy: Epistemology (Intermediate 2) Sample Activities 1. Matching Exercise Read each of the following and write in the box provided ‘P’ for ‘Propositional Knowledge’; ‘H’ for ‘How to … Knowledge’, or ‘A’ for ‘Knowledge by Acquaintance’. The first two have been done for you. Answers are on p. 42. 1. I know Inverness A 2. I know that Inverness is the capital of the Highlands P 3. I know how to play this game 4. I know some classical music 5. I know that E = mc2 6. I know how to prove that E = mc2 7. I know the scientist who proved that E=mc2 8. I know that there are three conditions for propositional knowledge 9. I know shorthand 10. We know where you live Scottish Further Education Unit 37
  38. 38. Philosophy: Epistemology (Intermediate 2) 2. Interpretation Suggested Answers are on p. 42. Jones is interested in buying a Ford. He visits a used car dealer, and chooses a Ford Fiesta, priced at £4,000. He pays the dealer in cash, and is handed the keys to the car. There are two things which Jones does not know: i. The car dealer is a crook, and the car is stolen. Under Scottish law, he can’t legally transfer ownership of the car to Jones – so that even though he has paid for it, it is not Jones’ car. ii. While he has been at the car dealer’s, Jones’ elderly aunt has died. She has left her Model T Ford to Jones in her will. Questions a) Does Jones believe that he owns a Ford? b) Is it true that Jones owns a Ford? c) Does Jones know that he owns a Ford? d) (i) If you think that the answer to Q(c) is ‘yes’, what is it, in addition to Jones’ believing that he owns a Ford, and its being true that he owns a Ford, which leads you to conclude that he knows that he owns a Ford? (ii) If you think that the answer to Q(c) is ‘no’, then what question should we ask Jones, in order to demonstrate that he does not know that he owns a Ford? Scottish Further Education Unit 38
  39. 39. Philosophy: Epistemology (Intermediate 2) 3. Completion Exercise Suggested Answers are on p. 42. Fill in the blanks to complete the following statements. The first two have been done for you. a. A Priori truths are known to be true just by thinking. b. Knowledge which depends upon experience is known as a posteriori knowledge. c. It is a ____________ condition for being a father that an individual is a parent. d. It is a ____________ condition for being a parent that an individual is a father. e. In the statement ‘tigers have stripes’, the ____________ of the statement is ‘tigers’, and the ____________ is ‘have stripes’. f. An _____________ statement is one in which the meaning of the statement guarantees its truth. g. A statement in which the meaning of the statement does not guarantee its truth is known as a ________________ statement. h. A statement which is _______________ true is one which is true, and not possibly not true. i. A statement which is _______________ true is one which is true, but could conceivably have been false. j. To _______ is to form a belief. Scottish Further Education Unit 39
  40. 40. Philosophy: Epistemology (Intermediate 2) 4. Revision Crossword (Clues on p. 40 and Solution on p. 41) 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 Created with EclipseCrossword — Scottish Further Education Unit 40
  41. 41. Philosophy: Epistemology (Intermediate 2) Across 4. The part of a statement that claims some property is possessed by the subject. 6. Known as a result of observation. 7. Type of statement in which the predicate is contained in the subject. 11. If a condition must be met, then it is a ... condition. 12. Type of scepticism which denies that we can be certain that other people have mental lives. 13. To arrive at a belief. 16. He doubts that some particular type of knowledge is possible. 17. One of the three conditions for knowledge. 19. The kind of knowledge that is involved in knowing that. 20. The part of a statement which is not the predicate. 21. One of the ways of answering the ‘how do you know?’ question. 22. To break something down into its component parts. 24. True and not possibly not true. 25. Type of justification in which we appeal to someone else’s knowledge claims. 26. This necessary condition for knowledge is met when we can give a satisfactory answer to the question ‘how do you know?’ Down 1. Actually true, but the world could have been such that it is false. 2. Known just by thinking – without the use of the senses. 3. Philosopher who employs experience as the source of justification. 5. One of the activities of philosophy is to do this to our beliefs. 8. The meaning of a word. 9. Putnam asks: could you be this? 10. The problem of ... is the problem of knowing whether the future will resemble the past. 14. The study of knowledge. 15. Perception which depends on background assumptions is said to be this. 18. Type of scepticism which denies that any knowledge is possible. 23. Type of statement which can’t be tested for truth merely by considering the meanings of the words. Scottish Further Education Unit 41
  42. 42. Philosophy: Epistemology (Intermediate 2) 1 C 2 O A 3 N E P T M R I P I 4 5 N P R E D I C A T E I O G L R R 6 E A P O S T E R I O R I 7 8 A N A L Y T I C R C 9 T O B I I L N R F S 10 11 12 Y I N E C E S S A R Y O T H E R M I N D S T N E I R D P N 13 14 U U T I N F E R E 15 E C T N P 16 17 18 T H L O C A L S C E P T I C B E L I E F I E V S X 19 P R O P O S I T O N A L T T 20 N R T S U B J E C T R 21 Y M R E A S O N 22 23 A N A L Y S E O M 24 A Y N E C E S S A R I L Y T R U E D N O E T G 25 N H A U T H O R I T Y E T 26 J U S I F I C A T I O N C Created with EclipseCrossword — Scottish Further Education Unit 42
  43. 43. Philosophy: Epistemology (Intermediate 2) Suggested Answers 1. Matching Exercise 1(A); 2 (P); 3(H); 4(A); 5(P); 6(H); 7(A); 8(P); 9(H); 10(A). 2. Interpretation a) Yes he does. If we were to attach a lie detector to Jones and ask him ‘do you own a Ford’, then he would answer ‘yes’, and the machine would register that he was telling (what he took to be) the truth. b) Yes it is. He owns a Model T Ford. c) The belief and truth conditions are both satisfied, but not the justification condition. The evidence which Jones takes to be evidence that he owns a Ford is actually evidence that he owns a Ford Fiesta – and, under Scots Law, he does not own a Ford Fiesta. d) i) Your answer here would need to be that he meets the justification condition – but Jones’ belief that he owns a Ford is only true by an enormous coincidence. Note also that Jones thinks that he knows that he owns a Ford Fiesta. He does not believe that he owns a Model T Ford. d) ii) A good question to ask would be ‘how do you know?’. This is generally a good question to ask, incidentally. In this case, when we ask the question of Jones we discover that even though he thinks he meets the justification condition, he actually does not. 3. Completion Exercise a. A Priori; b. a posteriori; c. necessary; d. sufficient; e. subject; predicate; f. analytic; g. synthetic; h. necessarily; i. contingently; j. infer. Scottish Further Education Unit 43
  44. 44. Philosophy: Epistemology (Intermediate 2) Section 2 Option A: Descartes’ Rationalism Contents Page Teaching Outline 44 Teaching and Learning Approaches 45 Guide to Resources 46 Descartes Handout 1 47 – Why is Descartes Important? Descartes Handout 2 49 – The Project and Descartes’ Method Descartes Handout 3 55 – Mistrust of the Senses Descartes Handout 4 58 – The Dreaming Argument Descartes Handout 5 61 – The Evil Genius Argument Descartes Handout 6 67 – The Cogito Descartes Handout 7 70 – God Sample Activities 72 Suggested Answers 76 Scottish Further Education Unit 44
  45. 45. Philosophy: Epistemology (Intermediate 2) Teaching Outline The materials in this part of the pack are for Learning Outcome 2 of the Intermediate 2 Epistemology unit – the Descartes option. The unit builds on knowledge of epistemology which students have gained in their prior study of the ‘What is Knowledge?’ part of the unit. The revised Intermediate 2 Philosophy syllabus introduces two innovations: i. Students are now expected to be familiar with the primary text (and there is a specified edition: Descartes (1998) Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy trans. Donald A. Cress. Hackett (ISBN: 0872204200). ii. The ‘wax’ example from Meditation 2 has been removed from the syllabus, and the ‘Trademark Argument’ for God’s existence from Meditation 3 is now included. This part of the pack reflects both of these changes. Scottish Further Education Unit 45
  46. 46. Philosophy: Epistemology (Intermediate 2) Teaching and Learning Approaches Extensive guidance on teaching and learning approaches is provided in the Course Specification, and teachers are referred to these at The preceding part of this pack (‘What is Knowledge?’) introduced some simple scenarios as a possible basis for class discussion. These may now be reinforced via discussion of Descartes: both the ways in which his epistemology instantiates the problems encountered in this earlier study, and – where appropriate – his likely responses, in the light of the evidence provided by the text. Scottish Further Education Unit 46
  47. 47. Philosophy: Epistemology (Intermediate 2) Guide to Resources There is an extensive secondary literature on Descartes which may be useful for teachers and students at Intermediate 2. For teachers who are preparing to teach Descartes for the first time, the following texts may be especially useful: Arrington, R.L. (1999) A Companion to the Philosophers. Blackwell. Cottingham, J. (1993) A Descartes Dictionary. Blackwell. Nadler, S. (ed.) (2002) A Companion to Early Modern Philosophy. Blackwell. Williams, B. (1978) Descartes – The Project of Pure Enquiry. Penguin. Wilson, M.D. (1978) Descartes. Routledge. Various texts on the History of Philosophy include summaries of Descartes’ Meditations which may with profit be studied by students at this level. One of the most widely read is: Warburton, N. (1998) Philosophy – The Classics. Routledge. A highly recommended history of philosophy is Kenny, A. (1998) A Brief History of Western Philosophy. Blackwell. A classic history of philosophy text, with detailed synopses of the key texts, is: O’Connor, D.J. (1964) A Critical History of Western Philosophy. Macmillan. Finally, a text which discusses Descartes’ epistemology in the context of popular films: Falzon, C. (2002) Philosophy Goes to the Movies. Routledge. Some of the videos in the RITE series ‘The Examined Life’ may be useful as the basis for class discussion – especially (1) ‘What is Philosophy?’; (6) ‘What is Real?’; (7) ‘How Do We Encounter the World?’; (10) ‘Does God Exist?’; and (12) ‘Is Reason the Source of Knowledge?’. Details of these videos can be had from: Resources In Education Ltd Cross Tree Walton Street Walton-in-Gordano Clevedon Somerset BS21 7AW Tel. 01275 344931 Scottish Further Education Unit 47
  48. 48. Philosophy: Epistemology (Intermediate 2) Descartes Handout 1 Introduction: Why is Descartes Important? René Descartes (pronounced ‘day-cart’) was born in 1596, just south of Tours, in the Loire region of France. Descartes is often referred to as ‘the father of modern philosophy’. This may seem a strange description of a man who was 20 years old when William Shakespeare died. Descartes was critical of the philosophy and science of his day (at this time, philosophy and science are not thought to be different areas of enquiry). This philosophy had remained largely unchanged for two thousand years – being based on the pioneering work of the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, who lived in the fourth century BC. In departing from this essentially ‘Aristotelian’ philosophy, Descartes framed the main issues which have dominated Western philosophy (and so epistemology) since. Descartes was educated, from the ages of 10 to 18, at the Jesuit college of La Flèche; while there he began to think that, with the exception of mathematics, most of the subjects which he was being taught were too uncertain to count as genuine knowledge. Descartes was to go on to be a brilliant mathematician (you may have studied Cartesian coordinates in Maths classes; ‘Cartesius’ is the Latin version of Descartes’ name – and the coordinates are his invention). For our present purposes, what is much more significant is Descartes’ very early conviction that non-mathematical knowledge lacked certainty. Throughout his life, Descartes remained committed to discovering a method for making scientific progress. Descartes left La Flèche in 1614, and went first to study Law at the University of Poitier, and then to join the Dutch army as an unpaid gentleman soldier (he wanted to travel, and to learn more about ‘the great book of the world’). In 1619, Descartes had a formative experience. While sleeping in what he later described as ‘a stove-heated room’, he had three vivid and prophetic dreams. These dreams gave him a vision of a unification of all knowledge. Descartes’ ambition was now established: he would set out to achieve this unification of all knowledge. What would a ‘unification of all knowledge’ involve? Descartes is aiming for knowledge of life, the universe and everything – to borrow the title of a Douglas Adams novel. This is what having ‘all knowledge’ will involve. To explain the ‘unity’ part of his ambition, Descartes compared knowledge to a tree. Scottish Further Education Unit 48
  49. 49. Philosophy: Epistemology (Intermediate 2) All of the various fields of knowledge – metaphysics, physics, medicine, ethics – would be parts of the same tree. Just as in a tree, where the leaves depend upon branches, which in turn depend upon the trunk – which depends upon the roots, so Descartes envisaged some areas of knowledge being more fundamental than others (metaphysics would be the roots, he thought). Descartes’ goal in life is set out in the opening sentence of the text which we study for this unit – Meditations on First Philosophy, which was first published in 1641. In that opening sentence, Descartes declares that the goal of this book is to establish something ‘firm and lasting in the sciences’. Scottish Further Education Unit 49
  50. 50. Philosophy: Epistemology (Intermediate 2) Descartes Handout 2 The Project and Descartes’ Method The Project As already noted, in the opening sentence of the Meditations, Descartes sets out his project: his reason for writing the book, and what he hopes to achieve: Several years have now passed since I first realised how numerous were the false opinions that in my youth I had taken to be true, and thus how doubtful were all those that I had subsequently built upon them. And thus I realised that once in my life I had to raze everything to the ground and begin again from the original foundations, if I wanted to establish anything firm and lasting in the sciences.5 Descartes here refers to an experience which is a common one. As we go through life, we discover that we have been in error about various things – that what we have taken to be justified true beliefs were, in fact, false beliefs. This raises a question: which of the beliefs that I have now, will I later discover to be false? Note also how Descartes refers to what ‘I had subsequently built upon them’. Recall the ‘tree’ analogy – where one belief is the basis for my having a further belief, or set of beliefs, with the latter beliefs depending on the former one. If the former belief is false, then it will be an inadequate support for those beliefs which depend upon it. This is to be a key thought in Descartes’ epistemology. 5 Cress (trans.) p.59. Scottish Further Education Unit 50
  51. 51. Philosophy: Epistemology (Intermediate 2) Descartes’ approach to the problem of still accepting as true, beliefs which are in fact false, is to get rid of all of his former beliefs, and start again – ‘build anew from the foundation’. This is explained by Descartes using the analogy of a basket of apples: Suppose [a person] had a basket full of apples and, being worried that some of the apples were rotten, wanted to take out the rotten ones to prevent the rot spreading. How would he proceed? Would he not begin by tipping the whole lot out of the basket? And would not the next step be to cast his eye over each apple in turn, and pick up and put back in the basket only those he saw to be sound, leaving the others? (Replies 7, AT 7:481) Here the basket = the mind, and the apples = all of my former beliefs. Descartes’ point is that if I merely pick apples out of the basket to check to see whether they are good – and put them back if they are – then I can never be sure that I have actually found what rotten apples there are, as I could easily miss some. The best approach, therefore, is to tip out all of the apples, and return them to the basket only if they were clearly good apples. In just the same way, those who have never philosophised correctly have various opinions in their minds which they have begun to store up since childhood, and which they therefore have reason to believe may in many cases be false. They then attempt to separate the false beliefs from the others, so as to prevent their contaminating the rest and making the whole lot uncertain. Now the best way they can accomplish this is to reject all their beliefs together in one go, as if they were all uncertain and false. They can then go over each belief in turn and re-adopt only those which they recognize to be true and indubitable. (op.cit.) Recall Descartes’ project: it is to produce something ‘firm and lasting in the sciences’. Descartes does not doubt that many – perhaps most – of the apples are good. To be certain that he has only good apples in his basket, he must start out by treating all of them – good and bad – as if they were bad. By adopting this approach, he is being really rigorous, and so ensuring that no suspect apples/beliefs are allowed to remain. It may seem to you at this point that Descartes is being unnecessarily stringent. Is it really necessary that he check all of his former beliefs for truth, as the ‘basket of apples’ analogy suggests? For Descartes this is indeed necessary. At the time that he was writing, there was in Europe a growing school of thought which cast doubt on the possibility of our gaining any reliable knowledge at all. One influential sixteenth century French writer, Michel de Montaigne, had denied our ability to gain knowledge via human enquiry. This is a form of scepticism. One of Descartes’ objectives is to show that such scepticism is not warranted: Meditations on First Philosophy is an anti-sceptical text. So the opening sentence of the book is very important, in setting out Descartes’ anti- sceptical objective. Aristotle had not succeeded in providing a firm and permanent structure in the sciences – but this, Descartes insists, is no reason for giving up, and turning to scepticism. Scottish Further Education Unit 51
  52. 52. Philosophy: Epistemology (Intermediate 2) The Method The task which Descartes has set himself is a huge one: he has to check all of his former beliefs – what he has simply accepted until now as being true – for truth or falsity, allowing only the true beliefs into his new ‘structure in the sciences’. Descartes writes the Meditations as if he is keeping a diary (there are six Meditations, written as if they were completed on six consecutive days). Today is the day, he suggests at the beginning of Meditation 1: at last he has some free time on his hands to carry out this enormous epistemological task. Even though he does have this ‘assured leisure in a peaceable retirement’, Descartes will need a shortcut. The number of his former beliefs will be so great, that the task will be impossible otherwise. Regarding the need for a shortcut, Descartes notes that: … I will not need to show that all my opinions are false, which is perhaps something I could never accomplish.6 Descartes must also be really rigorous. He must take great care not to accept as true any of his former beliefs which are actually possibly false. So there are two requirements: i. a shortcut ii. rigour. 6 Cress (trans.) p.59. Scottish Further Education Unit 52
  53. 53. Philosophy: Epistemology (Intermediate 2) Regarding the second of these requirements, Descartes notes that: … reason now persuades me that I should withhold my assent no less carefully from opinions that are not completely certain and indubitable than I would from those that are patently false.7 To ‘withhold my assent’ means ‘to refuse to accept as true’. ‘Indubitable’ means ‘not able to be doubted’. If a belief is ‘not completely certain and indubitable’, then there is some possibility that it is false. The word ‘completely’ is important here. If there is any doubt at all – even though this doubt is really far-fetched – then the belief is not completely certain and indubitable. To say that a belief is certain is to say that we have a belief which is justified, and the justification is 100% reliable – ie. there is no possibility of error. Under these circumstances, the belief will be impossible to doubt – ‘indubitable’. To say a belief is ‘patently false’ is to say that its falsity is obvious – and we don’t need to think about it to see that it is false. The claim that ‘there are some circular triangles’ is manifestly false: if I believe that it is possible for some object to be both circular and triangular at the same time, then my belief is just absurd. So in addition to certain beliefs, Descartes has distinguished two further categories of belief: beliefs which are not completely certain and indubitable. and beliefs which are patently false. In other words: uncertain beliefs and false beliefs. 7 Cress (trans.) p.59. Scottish Further Education Unit 53