Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Truth, Knowledge, and Justification

I've recently been spending time working through all of Clark's writings (all of which I am aware, anyway) and transcribing the statements he's made which seem to me to be remotely related to meta-epistemology: relevant definitions, necessary and sufficient conditions for knowledge, and so on. I'm currently sitting on 110+ pages of material. I still have a few books to works through, but so far, the process has at least helped me to focus my own views. In this post, I just want to consider the meanings of a few key terms, terms whose meanings are generally too often taken for granted for my liking. 

I've written posts on the philosophic definition of knowledge that I prefer here and here. To state it briefly, knowledge is propositional belief in which the possibility of error is precluded. That is, to say I know a proposition is true is to say I cannot be mistaken in my claim that the proposition is true. This position is called infallibilism. 

[Note that I don't deny that "knowledge" can refer to other, less stringently conditioned belief states or whatnot. I just do not find these as interesting.] 

When I speak of [epistemic] justification, I have in mind what it is that allows us to know. Knowledge is different than opinion. How we can determine into what category a given belief falls depends on whether or not we are able to justify our belief, to provide the reason or reasons which rule out the possibility of error. If we are able to appeal to reasons according to which we can show a given knowledge-claim is true, then we say our knowledge-claim is justified. We do, in fact, know the proposition, for we have justification for our belief in it.

Finally - and I would consider this to be subject to polishing more so than the above - when I speak of truth, I intend to refer to the - not merely "a," as if there were more than one - entire set of consistent propositions, the concretes - propositions whose subjects refer to individuals or particulars and therefore can't function as genera - of which correspond to some other reality (propositional or non-propositional). This is a sort of hybrid between the coherence and correspondence theories of truth. 

[Note that how truths correspond to other realities is something we do not necessarily need to know in order to know a given truth. This paragraph has to do with what truth is, not with epistemic justification.]

It goes without saying that there is a lot more to the discussion than this. The very definitions I provide use terms which probably require further explanation (belief, proposition, possibility, error, reason, set, consistent, correspond, concretes). It wouldn't hurt, anyway. And obviously, I did not even attempt to explain the entire set of what I think can be known, what suffices as justification, or what is true. I have tried to make a beginning of this elsewhere on this blog. Although I think every proposition in this post can be known, is justifiable, and is true, it would require me to write a book to show why. I am still young enough and foolish enough to feel the temptation, but this will do for now. As Clark was so fond of saying, everyone has to start somewhere.


Max said...

That's good, so are you planning on writing a treatise about this? Like a summary of Clark's position? I think Gary Crampton did that. Anyway I suggest defining terms at just the right time so the reader doesn't get bored with a big glossary at the start.

Ryan said...

Maybe. If I did, I would probably write my own views. I've written several essays on Clark already. His views and mine overlap, but I have my own emphases.