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Relying On Others An Essay On Epistemology

It is because knowledge is a social good that our standards of reliability are higher than in other domains. Knowledge is constitutively social because reliability is defined in terms of the needs of an epistemic community. Sosa goes on to argue that the social nature of knowledge offers an explanation for why we value knowledge and how the pragmatic can encroach on epistemology.

The article is an important contribution to social epistemology. It isn't clear, however, how it connects with collective epistemology. Margaret Gilbert and Daniel Pilchman introduce some important methodological considerations. They begin by reviewing a long-standing relatively speaking debate over whether what are referred to as the beliefs of groups in common parlance are really beliefs or if they are mere acceptances. This debate reveals an underlying commitment to a certain methodology. This methodology privileges individual epistemology and assumes that whatever we have to say in collective epistemology must be modeled on individual epistemology.

Gilbert and Pilchman challenge this methodology and argue that "one should not assume that accounts and distinctions arrived at within individual epistemology are appropriately applied within collective epistemology" p. The last two articles in the volume take up the issue of judgment aggregation. Rachael Briggs, Fabrizio Cariani, Kenn Easwaran, and Branden Fitelson offer an account of coherence at the individual level -- one developed at length elsewhere Easwaran and Fitelson, -- and extend it to the case of groups.

Briggs et al. Likewise, they offer a coherence rather than a consistency based approach to the discursive dilemma. According to Briggs and colleagues, this results in the elimination of many instances of the doctrinal paradox.

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Christian List draws on formal results from the theory of judgment aggregation in order to answer the question "when does deference to supermajority testimony guarantee consistency, and when not? This is the much-discussed "discursive dilemma. He proposes necessary and sufficient conditions for achieving consistency while relying on super-majoritarian testimony and a condition for achieving what he calls k-consistency: something less than full consistency but where the inconsistency that is present is not too blatant.

Though short, the piece makes strides in unpacking the notion of rationality present in List and Pettit's book More importantly, in the final few pages List raises the important issue of correspondence. Consistency is only one aspect of rationality. The more pressing issue is whether reliance on a supermajority really leads us to truth.

The articles in this volume represent some of the major issues and debates in collective epistemology. For that reason it will serve as a great introduction to the field. The collection suggests, however, that there is a need for some further reflection on perhaps a refinement of terminology. As a new field, collective epistemology is struggling to find the terms and concepts appropriate to its subject matter. We see a hint of this struggle in Lackey's introduction. She begins by defining summativism in the following way: "According to summativism, collective phenomena can be understood entirely in terms of individual phenomena" 2.

For those familiar with the existing literature on group belief this definition will seem a little odd. On this way of understanding summativism, John Searle and Raimo Tuomela will, surprisingly, be summativists. The term "summative" was first used by Anthony Quinton , but summativism, as a theory of group belief, gets its clearest formulation though she rejects it as a plausible account of group belief in Gilbert's On Social Facts On a simple summative account of group belief, group G believes that p if and only if all or most of the members of G believe that p.

The account is referred to as "summative" because the group's belief, on this account, is a function of the sum of individual beliefs with the same content as that ascribed to the group. Searle and others have rejected summative accounts for a variety of reasons. Searle argues that collective intentionality cannot be reduced to individual intentionality. Rather, as individuals we have the capacity to "we believe" and "we intend. He does not appeal to a group mind or a group agent.

Likewise, Tuomela offers an account of group belief in terms of individual members in their positions within a group and within the right social and normative context accepting that p as the view of the group. This rejects summativism, as there is no requirement that all or most of the members believe that p, but yet it clearly still explains things in terms of individual phenomenon we-intentions are the intentions of individuals. Lackey opposes summativism to what she calls non-summativism, "according to which collective phenomena are not understood in terms of individual phenomena" 2.

This, too, is misleading. Gilbert offers a non-summative account, but it isn't clear she does so without appeal to individual phenomena. Joint commitments are not reducible to a sum of individual commitments, but they are formed by each individual expressing her willingness to be jointly committed with others as a body.

Gilbert is a non-summativist not because she thinks the individual is irrelevant to understanding collective phenomena but because she thinks group belief and group knowledge and other group attitudes cannot be captured by summing up individual beliefs with the same content as that attributed to the group. What Lackey seems to want to capture with her use of the terms summative and non-summative is the distinction between methodological individualism and methodological collectivism.

Relying on others an essay on epistemology

These terms have a complicated history and have been defined in a variety of different ways. It isn't clear that adopting these terms to characterize the current debates is going to clarify things. Perhaps Lackey's avoidance of them, then, is a good thing. One thing that seems to divide the terrain is that there are folks in the current debate who think groups are the legitimate bearers of cognitive states, such as belief and knowledge and potential sources of information or loci of virtue , and those that don't.

We might call the former epistemic agent collectivists and the latter epistemic agent individualists. This distinction tracks certain ontological commitments. It is interesting to note that unlike individual epistemology, collective epistemology is unable to avoid metaphysics. Individual epistemology certainly presupposes that individual subjects exist, but they don't have to argue for or against their existence or the existence of beliefs.

A second thing that divides the terrain is whether group properties and states can be explained solely in terms of a collection of individual attitudes suitably interrelated or whether there is something irreducible about group attitudes. We might call the former reductionism and the latter anti-reductionism.

This distinction tracks certain methodological commitments. John Searle is an anti-reductionist about such phenomena as group belief. Group beliefs, according to Searle, cannot be reduced to a collection of individual "I-beliefs" suitably interrelated. Rather, they are constituted by "we-beliefs". These are sui generis states. They are states of individuals, however, not groups, and so he is an epistemic agent individualist.

However, much of our more mundane knowledge comes from the senses, as we look, listen, smell, touch, and taste the various objects in our environments.

But all knowledge requires some amount of reasoning. Data collected by scientists must be analyzed before knowledge is yielded, and we draw inferences based on what our senses tell us. And knowledge of abstract or non-empirical facts will exclusively rely upon reasoning. In particular, intuition is often believed to be a sort of direct access to knowledge of the a priori.

Once knowledge is obtained, it can be sustained and passed on to others. Memory allows us to know something that we knew in the past, even, perhaps, if we no longer remember the original justification. Knowledge can also be transmitted from one individual to another via testimony; that is, my justification for a particular belief could amount to the fact that some trusted source has told me that it is true.

In addition to the nature of knowledge, epistemologists concern themselves with the question of the extent of human knowledge: how much do we, or can we, know? Whatever turns out to be the correct account of the nature of knowledge, there remains the matter of whether we actually have any knowledge.

It has been suggested that we do not, or cannot, know anything, or at least that we do not know as much as we think we do. Such a view is called skepticism. We can distinguish between a number of different varieties of skepticism. First, one might be a skeptic only with regard to certain domains, such as mathematics, morality, or the external world this is the most well-known variety of skepticism. Such a skeptic is a local skeptic, as contrasted with a global skeptic, who maintains that we cannot know anything at all.

Also, since knowledge requires that our beliefs be both true and justified, a skeptic might maintain that none of our beliefs are true or that none of them are justified the latter is much more common than the former. While it is quite easy to challenge any claim to knowledge by glibly asking, "How do you know? Like any philosophical stance, skepticism must be supported by an argument. Many arguments have been offered in defense of skepticism, and many responses to those arguments have been offered in return.

Here, we shall consider two of the most prominent arguments in support of skepticism about the external world. The argument notes that some of our perceptions are inaccurate. Our senses can trick us; we sometimes mistake a dream for a waking experience, and it is possible that an evil demon is systematically deceiving us.

The modern version of the evil demon scenario is that you are a brain-in-a-vat , because scientists have removed your brain from your skull, connected it to a sophisticated computer, and immersed it in a vat of preservative fluid. The computer produces what seem to be genuine sense experiences, and also responds to your brain's output to make it seem that you are able to move about in your environment as you did when your brain was still in your body.

While this scenario may seem far-fetched, we must admit that it is at least possible. As a result, some of our beliefs will be false.

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In order to be justified in believing what we do, we must have some way to distinguish between those beliefs which are true or, at least, are likely to be true and those which are not. But just as there are no signs that will allow us to distinguish between waking and dreaming, there are no signs that will allow us to distinguish between beliefs that are accurate and beliefs which are the result of the machinations of an evil demon.

This indistinguishability between trustworthy and untrustworthy belief, the argument goes, renders all of our beliefs unjustified, and thus we cannot know anything. A satisfactory response to this argument, then, must show either that we are indeed able to distinguish between true and false beliefs, or that we need not be able to make such a distinction. According to the indistinguishability skeptic, my senses can tell me how things appear , but not how they actually are.

We need to use reason to construct an argument that leads us from beliefs about how things appear to justified beliefs about how they are. But even if we are able to trust our perceptions, so that we know that they are accurate, David Hume argues that the specter of skepticism remains. Note that we only perceive a very small part of the universe at any given moment, although we think that we have knowledge of the world beyond that which we are currently perceiving. It follows, then, that the senses alone cannot account for this knowledge, and that reason must supplement the senses in some way in order to account for any such knowledge.

However, Hume argues, reason is incapable of providing justification for any belief about the external world beyond the scope of our current sense perceptions. Let us consider two such possible arguments and Hume's critique of them. We typically believe that the external world is, for the most part, stable. For instance, I believe that my car is parked where I left it this morning, even though I am not currently looking at it.

If I were to go peek out the window right now and see my car, I might form the belief that my car has been in the same space all day. What is the basis for this belief? If asked to make my reasoning explicit, I might proceed as follows:. I have had two sense-experiences of my car: one this morning and one just now. The two sense-experiences were more or less identical. Therefore, it is likely that the objects that caused them are identical.

Therefore, a single object — my car — has been in that parking space all day. Similar reasoning would undergird all of our beliefs about the persistence of the external world and all of the objects we perceive. But are these beliefs justified? Hume thinks not, since the above argument and all arguments like it contains an equivocation. In particular, the first occurrence of "identical" refers to qualitative identity. The two sense-experiences are not one and the same, but are distinct; when we say that they are identical we mean that one is similar to the other in all of its qualities or properties.

But the second occurrence of "identical" refers to numerical identity. When we say that the objects that caused the two sense-experiences are identical, we mean that there is one object, rather than two, that is responsible for both of them. This equivocation, Hume argues, renders the argument fallacious; accordingly, we need another argument to support our belief that objects persist even when we are not observing them.

Suppose that a satisfactory argument could be found in support of our beliefs in the persistence of physical objects. This would provide us with knowledge that the objects that we have observed have persisted even when we were not observing them. But in addition to believing that these objects have persisted up until now, we believe that they will persist in the future; we also believe that objects we have never observed similarly have persisted and will persist. In other words, we expect the future to be roughly like the past, and the parts of the universe that we have not observed to be roughly like the parts that we have observed.

For example, I believe that my car will persist into the future. My car has always persisted in the past. Nature is roughly uniform across time and space and thus the future will be roughly like the past.

Therefore, my car will persist in the future. Similar reasoning would undergird all of our beliefs about the future and about the unobserved. Are such beliefs justified? Again, Hume thinks not, since the above argument, and all arguments like it, contain an unsupported premise, namely the second premise, which might be called the Principle of the Uniformity of Nature PUN. Why should we believe this principle to be true? Hume insists that we provide some reason in support of this belief.

Because the above argument is an inductive rather than a deductive argument, the problem of showing that it is a good argument is typically referred to as the "problem of induction. Such an argument would proceed as follows:. PUN has always been true in the past. Therefore, PUN will be true in the future. This argument, however, is circular; its second premise is PUN itself!

Accordingly, we need another argument to support our belief that PUN is true, and thus to justify our inductive arguments about the future and the unobserved. The study of knowledge is one of the most fundamental aspects of philosophical inquiry. Any claim to knowledge must be evaluated to determine whether or not it indeed constitutes knowledge.

Such an evaluation essentially requires an understanding of what knowledge is and how much knowledge is possible. David A. Truncellito Email: truncell aya. Epistemology Epistemology is the study of knowledge. The Nature of Propositional Knowledge Having narrowed our focus to propositional knowledge, we must ask ourselves what, exactly, constitutes knowledge.

Belief Let us begin with the observation that knowledge is a mental state; that is, knowledge exists in one's mind, and unthinking things cannot know anything. Truth Knowledge, then, requires belief.


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Justification Knowledge, then, requires factual belief. The Gettier Problem For some time, the justified true belief JTB account was widely agreed to capture the nature of knowledge. The No-False-Belief Condition We might think that there is a simple and straightforward solution to the Gettier problem. The No-Defeaters Condition However, the no-false-belief condition does not seem to be completely misguided; perhaps we can add some other condition to justification and truth to yield a correct characterization of knowledge.

Causal Accounts of Knowledge Rather than modifying the JTB account of knowledge by adding a fourth condition, some epistemologists see the Gettier problem as reason to seek a substantially different alternative. The Nature of Justification One reason that the Gettier problem is so problematic is that neither Gettier nor anyone who preceded him has offered a sufficiently clear and accurate analysis of justification. Internalism Belief is a mental state, and belief-formation is a mental process.

This raises the "regress problem," which begins from observing that there are only four possibilities as to the structure of one's justified beliefs: The series of justified beliefs, each based upon the other, continues infinitely. The series of justified beliefs begins with an unjustified belief. The series of justified beliefs begins with a belief which is justified, but not by virtue of being based on another justified belief.

Foundationalism Let us, then, consider each of the four possibilities mentioned above. Coherentism Internalists might be dissatisfied with foundationalism, since it allows for the possibility of beliefs that are justified without being based upon other beliefs. Externalism Accordingly, one might think that focusing solely on factors internal to the believer's mind will inevitably lead to a mistaken account of justification.

The Extent of Human Knowledge a. Sources of Knowledge Given the above characterization of knowledge, there are many ways that one might come to know something. Skepticism In addition to the nature of knowledge, epistemologists concern themselves with the question of the extent of human knowledge: how much do we, or can we, know? Humean Skepticism According to the indistinguishability skeptic, my senses can tell me how things appear , but not how they actually are.

Numerical vs. Qualitative Identity We typically believe that the external world is, for the most part, stable. If asked to make my reasoning explicit, I might proceed as follows: I have had two sense-experiences of my car: one this morning and one just now. Hume's Skepticism about Induction Suppose that a satisfactory argument could be found in support of our beliefs in the persistence of physical objects.

If asked to make my reasoning explicit, I might proceed as follows: My car has always persisted in the past. Such an argument would proceed as follows: PUN has always been true in the past. Conclusion The study of knowledge is one of the most fundamental aspects of philosophical inquiry. Epistemic Justification: Essays in the Theory of Knowledge. Armstrong, David, Belief, Truth, and Knowledge. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. A defense of reliabilism. BonJour, Laurence, The Structure of Empirical Knowledge. A defense of coherentism. Chisholm, Roderick, Theory of Knowledge , 2nd edition.

Theory of Knowledge , 3rd edition.

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Chisholm was one of the first authors to provide a systematic analysis of knowledge. His account of justification is foundationalist. Descartes, Rene, Meditations on First Philosophy. Reprinted in The Philosophical Writings of Descartes 3 volumes. Cottingham, Stoothoff and Murdoch, trans. Descartes presents an infallibilist version of foundationalism, and attempts to refute skepticism.

Dancy, Jonathan and Ernest Sosa eds. A Companion to Epistemology. Oxford Academic.

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