The meaning of Philosophy
Philosophy, a combination of Greek words – Philo – meaning ‘to love’ and Sophia – meaning ‘wisdom’, etymologically means ‘love of wisdom’. Since wisdom is abstract and has no empirical possibility, Philosophy is more practically defined as the systematic study of the four fundamental questions of human life. These four questions are concerned with: Metaphysics – the study of reality, Epistemology – the theory of knowledge, Ethics – the study of human conduct and lastly, Aesthetics – study of human sense of beauty and sublime.
Epistemology – Theory of Knowledge
Epistemology – the theory of human knowledge – deals with the evolution, configuration, process and soundness of human knowledge. It is concerned with the intellectual phenomena of comprehending, perceiving, knowing and thinking. Philosophy of knowledge is also called Gnoseology – derived from Greek words gnosis meaning knowledge and logos meaning study. Paul Gerard Horrigon defines it as “the science of knowledge studied from the philosophical point of view, or the science of knowledge in its ultimate causes and first principles.”
A question surfaces in Philosophy: what is knowledge and whether we have any knowledge. The notion of ‘Radical Skepticism’ holds that we do not know anything at all. Having lots of information available is not a good thing unless an individual can distinguish between good – useful, and bad – useless – information.
Knowledge and its types
Knowledge can be classified into propositional knowledge and ability knowledge – both of which are interrelated. First of all, propositional knowledge is also called knowledge-that – where a particular proposition is the case. For instance, it is being aware that Islamabad is the capital of Pakistan and planets make up the Milky Way.
Furthermore, there are two conditions for propositional knowledge. Firstly, it consists of the ‘truth condition’. This is when an individual knows something is true. If a person knows Islamabad is the capital of Pakistan, Islamabad has to be the capital of Pakistan – the proposition has to be true. Knowledge, therefore, requires truth and the person to know that the proposition is true. Secondly, knowledge requires belief. The person believes a proposition which is well-known. Knowledge comprises of the relationship between a person and a fact – which lies at the core of belief. If a person believes something to be true and it is true, he or she is in the market for knowledge.
Second of all, ability knowledge, also referred to as know-how, concerns with the appropriate skills of an individual in performing tasks accurately. For example, it could be a person’s knowledge regarding how to play the piano or drive a car.
Philosophically, knowledge is in opposition to the conception of ‘getting-it-right’. There is a lot more to knowing than just getting it right – there is more to knowing than having a true belief. True beliefs can be acquired in all random ways which do not warrant for knowledge. Knowing requires accessing the truth in the right kind of way.
The intuitions in regard to knowledge can be categorized into the ‘ability intuition’ and ‘anti-luck intuition’. Where the ‘ability intuition’ is concerned, the person knows the pathway to obtain the truth is through his or her abilities. Pertaining to the ‘anti-luck intuition’, the person knows it is not a matter of chance that he got things right. It is not luck that assists in getting things straight. A belief is formulated in the correct manner. For instance, taking into account 9/11, a Pakistani national is convicted of crime. If a prejudiced police officer accuses the victim just because he is Pakistani, without weighing the evidence and if his accusation is correct, it is the ‘ability-intuition’ that enabled the officer to accuse correctly. On the contrary, if another police officer weighs the available evidence which proves the Pakistani to be a criminal, it is the ‘anti-luck intuition’ that guided the officer’s decision. Thus, it was not out of pure luck that the second officer got his evidence straight.
According to the classical account of knowledge, ‘justification’ needs to be added to true belief in order to acquire knowledge. It is also known as ‘tripartite’ or ‘3-part account of knowledge.’ It traces back to antiquity, to Plato [427-347 BC]. According to this, three conditions have to be fulfilled. Firstly, the person has to have a belief; secondly, that belief has to be true and thirdly, that belief should be justified. Good and valid reasons have to be offered to support why an individual believes in what he does. Taking into consideration the aforementioned police officers, the officer who articulates his belief on the basis of evidence can provide valid reasons to justify the criminal case. Conversely, the officer who formulates his belief simply out of prejudice cannot offer valid reasons for the criminal case.
The Justified True Belief [JTB] Approach
In Philosophy, a belief is defined as an inner psychological state that is devoid of understanding of external spectators. The subject itself is unable to fully access what he or she believes. It exists in the head. Alternatively, the truth condition is a statement of fact that exists outside human cognition. It is different from a belief because a person’s belief about a certain aspect of the world may not hold true in reality. For instance, I may believe that there are over thousands of galaxies in the universe. My belief may be false. Where justification – also termed as warrant – is concerned, a person offers valid reasons to support his arguments for what he strongly believes to be the truth. There have been several conflicting theories surrounding the ‘justification’ element. Philosophers argue that beliefs are not justified if: firstly, they result from fear or remorse; secondly, they are a result of desires; thirdly, they are formulated from presumptions; fourthly, they are formulated in an inaccurate way and fifthly, they are determined on the basis of luck.
Gettier Style Case
Through the course of history, there have been a few philosophers who have doubted the ‘belief, truth and justification’ - JTB approach. One such prominent philosopher was Edmund Gettier. He published an article in 1963 titled “Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?” He presented his rationale – Gettier Counterexamples or Gettier style case – in opposition to the JTB approach. According to Gettier, it is not possible for knowledge to be only justified true belief.
One of the counterexamples of Gettier problem is famously known as ‘Smith’s Job.’ In this scenario, Smith and Jones have applied for a job. Smith believes Jones will get the job because the president of the company told him so. Smith also believes that Jones is carrying ten coins. Smith devises a proposition that ‘the man with ten coins will win the job’. However, Smith’s belief turns out wrong as he gets the job instead. He is also, without realizing, carrying ten coins. The Gettier problem poses a question: is Smith’s belief knowledge?
Another counterexample is ‘Jones’ Ford.’ Smith believes Jones owns a car because he can recall Jones giving him a ride once. Smith also has a friend named Brown, whose whereabouts he is not familiar with. He frames up disjunctions such as: either Jones owns a Ford or Brown is in Barcelona, Boston or Brest-Litovsk. Smith’s belief about Jones’ Ford could be wrong, considering that Jones may have rented or borrowed a Ford or recently sold it. Taking this into account, Smith’s belief is false. However, it turns out, by mere luck that Brown is in Barcelona. Gettier problem raises the question: is this knowledge?
It is for this very reason that a fourth condition was added by Gilbert Harman, to the justified true belief account. It holds that there will be no false lemmas or assumptions. Nevertheless, this has also been subject to doubt.
Therefore, the questions arise regarding what knowledge is if not justified true belief and whether knowledge is true belief in addition to something devoid of justification. An individual could have a justification and true belief. Then again, it might just be a matter of luck. This gives a rise to further questions such as: what is it that excludes that kind of luck? What do we need to add to true belief to exclude luck, if not justification? It can, therefore, be said that knowledge is not justified true belief. The Gettier cases hold that true belief could be a matter of pure luck. Knowledge is not acquired through luck. Secondly, it is not apparent that a person can add another condition to justified true belief account of knowledge to resolve an issue.
Rene Descartes’ theories
Rene Descartes – 1596 – 1650 – demonstrated the notion of Radical Skepticism – which is the view that we do not know nearly as much as we think we do. It is not possible to acquire knowledge – we do not know anything and we could never know anything. Radical skeptics appeal to the concept of skeptical hypothesis – scenarios that cannot be differentiated from daily routine but where are making mistakes. Skeptics say that these scenarios cannot be avoided and we cannot be aware of our daily routines because we could be victims of the skeptical hypothesis.
Brain-in-a-vat is one example of the skeptical hypothesis. It says that we go out into the world and interact with people. We socialize with the entire environment. However, none of that actually happens. In fact, our brains have been taken out of our skulls, put in a vat of nutrients and fed with unreal experiences. BIV drifts out in the world, thinking it is intermingling, perceiving and doing things. However, nothing of the sort is actually happening. The brain is being harvested with experiences.
Descartes, in his book “Meditations of Philosophy”, has emphasized upon the conception of Continental Rationalism. Continental Rationalists believe in reason which provides the ultimate basis for knowledge. Descartes presented skepticism of methodical doubt as methodological philosophy. His arguments for methodic doubts are: deceitful five senses, dreams and malicious demon.
He states our five senses cannot be entirely trusted because they deceive us. If human means of knowledge is experiential, senses are doubtful. Our senses may or may not deceive us. Anything that is beyond doubt is part of knowledge.
The second methodic doubt concerns dreams. Our whole life may just be a dream; we might be living inside a dream. In truth, we are all in a dream. There is a possibility that we might be deceived by someone who has connected us to a computer and is transmitting signals in order to cultivate our minds with fake experiences. This may not be the real world at all; the real world is being reflected inside a dream.
The third methodic doubt deals with the malicious demon. Our brains are connected to a computer and signals are being sent to us that direct our behaviour, thoughts, actions and perceptions. The mind is connected to electric wires which enable us to think the world is real – which might otherwise be false. If we are connected to a computer, we can never tell whether the world exists in reality. Descartes related, “ As I desired to give my attention solely to the search after truth, I thought…that I ought to reject as absolutely false all in regard to which I could suppose the least ground for doubt, in order to ascertain whether after that there remained aught in my belief that was wholly indubitable.”
The problem of skepticism has been labeled as what Professor Duncan Pritchard of University of Edinburgh termed epistemic vertigo. He states that when you contemplate the nature of knowledge, elevate to a reflective mode of thought and ponder over what knowledge is and what the extent of knowledge is, it ceases to become apparent that we really do have as much knowledge as we think we do. If we are unable to rule out the skeptical hypothesis, much of what we think is under threat.
How can knowledge be acquired?
Epistemologically, knowledge is the relationship between the ‘knower’ and the ‘known’ – where the knower is a cognitive human subject who necessarily wants or seeks to understand and known can refer to anything corporeal, an object and a non-human entity as well. There are five ways to make the relationship between the knower and known possible. These are namely: experience, reason, intuition, authority and instinct.
Experience is the first form of knowledge. It is limited to empirical cognition – five senses. Empiricists believe experience provides the ultimate basis for knowledge. Empiricism is knowledge of five senses – sight, smell, touch, taste and hearing.
Nevertheless, there is no universal validity for senses owing to various reasons. Animals have different perceptions. Senses are likely to deceive us, such as optical illusions. Hence, senses cannot provide us with indubitable knowledge. Deception is inevitable; in spite of this, we are aware that we are being deceived. Therefore, experience is fallible; it is not the ultimate basis for knowledge.
The second form of knowledge is reason-based approach. Rationality is a faculty of mind which is responsible for categorization, abstraction and inference. The levels of human rationality are classified into inductive and deductive reasoning. Induction is a process whereby premises provide irrefutable grounds for the truth of conclusion. Unlimited conclusions are derived from limited premises. For example, a scientist experiments with 100 teapots containing water and they all boil at 100˚ C. The problem with induction is the inductive leap. The scientist concludes that water, thus, boils at 100˚ C. For this reason, induction is always prone to error. It cannot provide absolute knowledge.
There are three philosophical presuppositions of inductive leap. Firstly, temporal succession refers to a process whereby we presume the identity between the past and the future. This involves believing that laws of nature will operate tomorrow as they operate today – they deal with regularity of time. Future is similar to the past; otherwise it is a miracle – which is a manifestation that future is dissimilar to the past. This aspect is in opposition to inductive leap. Secondly, there is an invariant regularity in the structure of cosmos. We think the universe is regular in its operation; however, the universal law is actually invariant. Lastly, there are limitations to human knowledge. Human knowledge is not conclusive. There are some things in life which are not comprehensible – they are beyond our understanding. We, therefore, have to take leaps to derive immediate conclusions. For instance, in religion, faith is a leap.
Deductive reasoning is where premises provide conclusive grounds for the truth of conclusion. In this case, if premises are true, conclusion has to be true as well. For example, in Mathematics, it is an established rule that if A = B and B = C, then A = C. The dilemma of deduction, nonetheless, is that leads to contradictions between formal natures of arguments, informal arguments and fact. The rule of ABC cannot be denied because it is a Mathematical fact. Conversely, if a person states that pillow = kitchen and fridge = lounge, then pillow = lounge, his argument is valid but not true. There is, hence, a conflict between statements of facts and formal arguments.
Intuition, the third form of knowledge is immediate – without mediation, self-evident - devoid of external justification – and necessary – that cannot be otherwise – knowledge. Intuition is knowledge of whole, rather than of parts. World is a totality of facts, not objects. Human senses are empirically limited and we cannot experience an object in totality. We can only conceive things within empirical evidence. The distance between the knower and the know leads to knowledge of part. Overcoming that distance leads to wholesome reality. This may be done by becoming one with object of knowledge and is termed as embodied experience. Our intuitive modes make us innately capable to intuit. A predicament exists with intuitive knowledge as well. Although intuition exists above rationality, there is no justification for it. It can neither be verified nor falsified. Knowledge which transcends agreement cannot be predicated universally. Universal predication of knowledge is not possible without agreement. This is why intuition only exists in art, literature and music. Imagination is the modification of intuition. Believing in an intuitive person is like considering that person a manifestation of God because that person demands blind faith. Intuition can be of anything. This again raises the question: how is knowledge acquired?
The fourth form of knowledge is authority. This could exist in forms of tradition, religion, culture, power, rule, control, God or discipline. God answers what ought to be and what ought not to be. Tradition – a practice that necessarily precedes theory - embodies the experiences of different generations. Furthermore, repetition of practice is necessary otherwise traditions become outdated. According to Scottish historian, Veeko, three common traditions are marriage – a methodological procedure, worship – belief in supernatural power and funeral. On the other hand, culture is an unwritten expression. It has no language, it is learned. It is highly variable and likely altered, exploited and modified. It exerts authority over body and soul. We cannot disobey it or go beyond it. Discipline is a form of knowledge that determines us but of which we are unaware. There is no direct relationship between the knower and known if authority is deemed to be an epistemological domain. The issue with authority is that it leads to suppression. It is overwhelmingly dominating.
The last form of knowledge, instinct, is an innate capacity of knowledge that can be modified on an evolutionary scale. It equates us with animals because animals act instinctually. The issue with this is that it is shared with animals and can be conditioned. It is, nevertheless, necessary for sustenance. In order to persist as human beings, we have to execute our instincts. The only difference between humans and animals is that we can suspend our instincts. It involves an unconscious execution.
Having considered the theories of knowledge, it can be said, in conclusion, that there is no absolute form of knowledge. It is up to us how we derive knowledge. There have been different theories in this regard and it is entirely dependent upon individuals how they choose to seek knowledge.