Knowledge, Belief and Justification


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Presentation to IB Theory of Knowledge class.

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  • It is clear that knowledge is a type of information. Lets consider a variety of examples to start to clarify what exactly knowledge is…
  • Information – something factual. That weaker joint movements are one of the symptoms of MS. Data – statistics that 95% of girls at NLCS achieve A*-A grades or the equivalent at 9th formBelief – a child might have a belief in the tooth fairy.Faith - a religious person may think that God exists despite never having seen him.Opinion – it might be my opinion that Euthanasia is sometimes acceptable, even though it is illegal in this country.Wisdom – I might think that the quote from W.H. Auden is wise.Knowledge – I know that the current prime minister is David Cameron.What are the differences? Belief and faith are similar to each other because they both acknowledge a lack of evidence or an obvious gap between what can be proven and what they are willing to suggest is the case. People wouldn’t talk about a ‘leap of faith’ if theologian had already proven beyond any doubt that God exists.One might observe that factual information and data tend to be fairly mundane, in themselves, whereas the profound truths or wisdom, while they are far harder to prove true or false – can be considered far more important and important as pieces of knowledge than any statistic.
  • So we have looked at a lot of types of knowledge/ information. Lets now narrow these down into three main categories.Do you think three categories of question are enough? Are there any others you could add?Could any be taken away? Why?
  • Three categories may not really seem to do the questions justice. In this activity it may be that we say some questions appeals to more than one of the three types of knowledge.If we want to analyse different types of knowledge it might be helpful to be more specific.What categories might you divide knowledge up into?
  • We have seen a variety of different types of knowledge. But how exactly should we define it?Ask the girls – what is the experience of knowing something like?It is like having a belief. When you think you know something – you have an idea in your head about what is going on, and you think that it matches up to something out there in the world.
  • So, what is the difference between beliefs and knowledge? The answer, of course, is that beliefs can be false.
  • To our question of what is knowledge, we might answer like this: But this can be tested…
  • When Henry looks at the Barn, he sees a real barn, so his belief is true. He believes that what he is seeing is a barn, so he has a belief, both of which are required for knowledge. But we might hesitate before saying that he has knowledge because he is unaware of the fact that he is surrounded by fake barns. We want to say that his knowledge lacks the necessary justification.
  • This scenario shows the need we have for Justification if we are to have real knowledge.
  • Lets test this
  • Regarding the second of these options: Think about people who have religious, or near death experiences, in which they claim to gain knowledge about their purpose on earth or about some aspect of God. These are certainly beliefs, which may or may not be true, but they are not justified in the conventional sense if those that have them are suddenly and intuitively aware of them. We might want to say that people like this do have knowledge of sorts, but the justification is weak, as it is not enough to convince someone else, especially if they have a contradictory worldview eg. Athiesm.
  • To go back to our current conclusion -that knowledge is justified true belief- Gettier went further to try to show that this definition was not accurate. And I will give his short article out so that you can read and decide for yourselves if you think his reasons for rejecting justified true belief as knowledge are reasonable.
  • It was weak because there was such a high change of him being tricked into believing that a fake barn was real, because if he had looked out at any other time he would most likely have seen a fake barn, believed it to be real, and then had a false belief instead of knowledge.Many people agree that Gettier’s counterexamples were effective ways to criticise or reject this definition of knowedge, so let us turn our attention back to the nature of justification.
  • To get a clearer picture of how justification works Lets looks at some types of justification
  • Having a belief implies that the person thinks something is true, and believes it to be justified, even if, in fact, it is not true.
  • Knowledge, Belief and Justification

    1. 1. ‘Mediocre minds usually ‘The most important truths are Can you come up dismiss anything which likely to be those which… with a worthy reaches beyond their own Society at that time least wants to quote aboutunderstanding’ –Francois de hear.’ –W.H. Auden knowledge? La Rochefoucald ‘Never assume the ‘The criterion of truth is that it works obvious is true’ -William even if nobody is prepared to Safire acknowledge it’ –Ludwig von Mises Knowledge and Justification ‘Education is ‘Shall I teach you what knowledge is? ‘Where there is shouting learning what When you know a thing, to recognise there is no true you didn’t even that you know it; and when you do not knowledge’ – Leonardo know you didn’t know a thing, to recognise that you do not know it. da Vinci know.’ –Daniel J. Boorstin That is knowledge.’ -Confucius ‘A very popular error –having the courage of one’s‘Nothing in all the world is ‘There are many who convictions; more dangerous than rather it is a matter of having know many things, yet sincere ignorance and the courage for an attack are lacking in wisdom’ - upon one’s convictions.’ conscientious stupidity’ – Martin Luther King Democritus -Anon
    2. 2. What is Knowledge?
    3. 3. Write down an example for each of the following: What are the differences between them?
    4. 4. Three Types of Knowledge1. Questions that have one correct answer. Example: ‘How many atoms of Hydrogen are there in a water molecule?’2. Questions that have many possible answers but which require justification and reasoned judgments. Example: ‘What is the best way to counter the debt problem in the developing world’?3. Questions that have no correct answer, but depend totally on the person answering the question. Example: ‘What is your favourite food?’
    5. 5. For each of the following questions decide which of the three categories the answer fits into.• How many planets are • Does violence on there in the solar system? television contribute to• When was the French violence in the Revolution? community?• Is it wrong to kill? • Was Hitler a good leader?• What is the colour of the • Can a male Doctor know nearest wall? more about childbirth• Does God exist? than a mother of ten children?• Are you happy? • What is the name of the• Is 1 + 1 always 2? current monarch?
    6. 6. What is knowledge?We have seen a variety of different types of knowledge.But how exactly should we define it?In order to try to answer this question, lets go back to the most basic starting point for knowledge.
    7. 7. False BeliefsIdentify something that you have been told, which you believed at the time, but which you now recognise as false.How did you find out the truth?
    8. 8. A conclusion that we might draw…Possible conclusion 1:Knowledge is True Belief
    9. 9. But is this always the case?Consider the following scenario…
    10. 10. A man called Henry is driving through a prairie.
    11. 11. During this drive, he passes a number of edifices.
    12. 12. These resemble barns, but are in fact 2 dimensional cardboard cut outs, or fake barns.
    13. 13. But Henry has been concentrating on the road, and happens not to look out of his window whenever he passes a fake barn.
    14. 14. Henry and the Fake BarnsHenry continues to drive, It is not a 2 dimensional and at one point card-board cut-out, glances out of his car But a fully functioning window. barn.He sees a barn.But this is not like the other fake barns,this is the only real barn in fake barn land.
    15. 15. Henry and the Fake BarnsHenry doesn’t think much about this.He thinks he sees a barn. Do you think Henry has knowledgeBut if he had looked out at any of the barn that he sees? other moment on his drive through fake barn land, he would have seen a fake barn, and believed that it was real. There is a barn
    16. 16. Henry and the Fake BarnsHenry clearly has a true belief –But is this really knowledge?What do you think?
    17. 17. When Henry looks at the Barn, he sees a real barn, so his belief is true.He believes that what he is seeing is a barn, so he has a belief, both of which are required for knowledge.But we might hesitate before saying that he has knowledge because he is unaware of the fact that he is surrounded by fake barns.We want to say that his knowledge lacks the necessary justification.
    18. 18. JustificationIt seems that Justification is an essential component of knowledge.
    19. 19. A conclusion that we might draw…Possible conclusion 2:Knowledge is True, justified Belief
    20. 20. “Knowledge is justified, true belief”This was what Plato thought…
    21. 21. Tasks:1. Does the ‘justified, true belief’ definition fit out understanding of the term ‘knowledge’? Or does it wrongly include or exclude anything? Can you think of a situation where either:• Someone might have justified, True, Belief, but we wouldn’t say they knew something?• Or someone did not have justified, true, belief, but we would say they knew something?
    22. 22. Edmund GettierEdmund Gettier wrote an article which provides several examples of examples of beliefs that are both true and justified, but that he claims we should not call ‘knowledge’Cases of this sort are now called ‘Gettier-counter- examples’
    23. 23. Validity and JustificationPerhaps we should not talk about certain knowledge – but rather about ‘weak’ or ‘strong’ justification.For example, we might say that Henry had ‘poor’ justification for claiming to have knowledge that there was a barn on the prairie.It was ‘poor’ because there was such a high chance of him being fooled as he did not know about the fake barns.
    24. 24. Types of JustificationTask: Which do you think are a) the most and b) the least reliable forms of justification?
    25. 25. Below is a list of dubious things that I might claim to know, andanother list of reasons that I might give to support these piecesof knowledge. Match the reasons to the claims: Knowledge Claims Justification1. the sky is blue Value Judgment2. that 1+1=2 Faith3. that it is wicked to murder a person Memory4. that I have a fear of spiders Authority5. that I went out for a run yesterday. Intuition6. that what the doctor said is true. Divine Revelation7. that women are more emotional than men Sense perception8. exactly what God wants of me Logic9. that I am going to heaven Self-Awareness10. that a lake is more beautiful than a sewage Common Knowledge works Instinct11. that I love my brother
    26. 26. A problem with Justification • Justification is subjective.Implications of having a belief: • This is problematic because from the knower’s perspective there is very little to distinguish belief from knowledge, and arguments to the contrary appear circular, • because they assume what they are attempting to prove.
    27. 27. Some tentative Conclusions…• Perhaps contrary to what you have so far found in your formal education, certainty and truth are not easily found.• Justification is a matter of degree• However it is possible to begin making initial definitions about what knowledge is.• ‘Justified true belief’ may not be fool-proof but it is a positive step