Posts Tagged ‘knowledge’

Research Programs

In fallibilism on 20/08/2011 at 6:48 am

Feminist theory, Freudian psychoanalysis, and Marxist interpretations of texts speak more about their respective research programs than of the text. Upon reading their work, a small portal briefly opens so I can catch a small glimpse through a dense fog how the world must look like to them — everything revolves around gender inequalities, sexual turmoil, class struggle.

Of course, this isn’t limited to three research programs. I single them out only because they are the most egregious examples. All research programs have this affliction. Everything is understood in light of theory. Just this morning I caught myself understanding a literary critic as expressing, while couched in different language, the same problems and working within the same research program found in evolutionary epistemology. I misread a text so I can understand it better.



In fallibilism, justificationism on 08/08/2011 at 2:41 pm

Two undefeated chess grandmasters meet at a chess tournament. No ties are accepted: this is a mental fight where only one can win. Each believes that they will win the match, and in fact has good reasons to believe that they will win: they each have defeated all previous games. For one of them their belief is true, for the other their belief is false, yet the winner cannot be said to know. True belief (mere opinion, doxa) does not make knowledge (episteme). We want a way to sort out true from false beliefs, and not just accidentally stumble upon truths like one of the grandmasters. To cut a long story short, we need some reliable way of sorting out true from false beliefs.

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The ‘Grounds Clause’

In gettier, justificationism on 03/08/2011 at 9:36 am

I begin with the ‘grounds clause’ and then expand on whether the two clauses satisfy a proper definition of knowledge in light of the justificationist program.

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The ‘Responsibility Clause’

In gettier, justificationism on 03/08/2011 at 12:03 am

Take the term ‘justified’ as one of the following:

  1. S adopts a belief in an epistemically responsible manner (call this the ‘responsibility clause’).
  2. A relationship between the proposition believed and the grounds on which it is believed by S (call this the ‘grounds clause’).

As I will show, both clauses are needed in a plausible account of knowledge. The justification clause in the traditional doctrine that knowledge equals justified true belief must have these two components (1, 2). Furthermore, if 1 and 2 are satisfied, then the belief and truth clauses are reducible to the grounds and responsibility clauses — they will be necessarily believed and be true. The first part of this two-parter will show that the responsibility clause is not sufficient for a justificationist account of knowledge.

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In critical rationalism, popper on 29/07/2011 at 1:10 am

Peter Singer’s 1974 article in the New York Review of Books, Discovering Karl Popper is extremely favorable of Popper’s philosophy of science–except for three paragraphs in the middle, which are highly informed criticism. I’ve reproduced them below along with some limited comments in light of that criticism.

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Stating the Obvious

In fallibilism on 20/07/2011 at 1:46 am

We may certainly define truth by reference to the criteria of efficacy; such a definition is not self-contradictory and does not lead into an infinite regress; nevertheless, it is arbitrary; to accept it requires an act of faith and therefore the principle credo ut intelligam operates over the entire field of knowledge; this is hardly more than to say that we are incapable of producing an epistemological absolute or that our intelligence is finite: not exactly a world-shaking discovery. (Leszek Kolakowski, Religion: If There Is No God– : On God, the Devil, Sin, and Other Worries of the So-Called Philosophy of Religion, p. 79)


Status Lymphaticus

In experiments, fallibilism, justificationism, skepticism on 28/06/2011 at 12:28 am

Through the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s, children were frequently having heart attacks after being administered anesthetic. As Mosher says,

A thymic death is one of the supreme tragedies of surgery. An apparently healthy child dies during the administration of an anesthetic, during or after an uncomplicated tonsil and adenoid operation, or, as recently happened, during a simple circumcision. Again, as reported by one of our medical examiners, a child was standing on the edge of the sidewalk. A runaway horse dashed by and the child dropped dead. At autopsy the condition known as status lymphaticus was found; that is, there was an enlarged thymus and a hypertrophy of all the lymphoid structures of the alimentary canal … This slight pathology was all that was found to explain the unexpected death. (Harris P. Mosher, “An Original Communication,” “A Clinical and Preoperative Study of the Thymus in Children of the Tonsil and Adenoid Age,” The Laryngoscope Vol.36. Jan. 1926.)

Upon examination of the child’s body, the thymus was frequently found larger than expected. Everything else was normal. Since the thymus is pretty close to the heart, doctors decided to routinely radiate the thymus in children to shrink it in size.

From 1924 to 1946, it was the policy of the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary in Boston to apply prophylactic irradiation in every case in which an “enlarged” thymus gland was diagnosed in infancy. … Whenever the width of the superior mediastinum was at least half the width of the heart the gland was characterized as `enlarged’ or `suspicious,’ and the child was given radiation treatment… (M.L. Janower & O.S. Miettenen, “Neoplasms after Childhood Irradiation of the Thymus Gland,” Journal of the American Medical Association Vol.215: 753. 1971.)

It turns out that there was no ‘slight pathology’ of an enlarged thymus: medical cadavers actually had smaller glands than on average. Chronic stress leads to the thymus becoming smaller, and these men and women before death were under extreme amounts of stress. Cadavers were, for one hundred and fifty years, collected from poor houses. These were people that were near death without access to proper medical care. The auxiliary hypothesis “Children that died immediately after being administered anesthetic have an enlarged thymus” was wrong–dead wrong.

All the evidence corroborated status lymphaticus as a cause of heart attacks, and yet it also corroborated the theory that doctors were misapplying anesthetic to children. No one thought to figure out the correct proportion for children. Thousands of children died.

What are we wrong about right now?



In justificationism, skepticism on 27/06/2011 at 10:46 am

Jonathan Schaffer’s The Debasing Demon [.pdf] was an immense pleasure to read. Some highlights:

I will draw three lessons from the debasing demon. The first lesson is that all knowledge is imperilled by sceptical doubt, even knowledge of the cogito. This clarifies the range of scepticism. The second and related lesson is that anti-sceptical strategies relying on a residue of knowledge immune from doubt cannot succeed. The debasing demon leaves no residuum. The third lesson is that deception and debasement do not exhaust the forms of sceptical doubt. In that sense, there are more demons in epistemic hell than are dreamt of in epistemology. (Schaffer, 228)

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