A brood comb

….philosophical and other notes….

Another Issue With Knowledge As Justified True Belief

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on May 5, 2007

I guess it is unproblematic that knowledge can be communicated.
I can know that P because I read that P in some reliable source; or I can know that P because some reliable person told me that P.

I might for example read in some encyclopedia that Luanda is the capital of Angola. I take it that if Luanda is capital of Angola, I did learn something and I now know that Luanda is capital of Angola. Or maybe some friend just returned from Angola, and he tells me that information. Again, I think it is clear that I come to know that Luanda is the capital of Angola.

Now for the complication…

Suppose that my friend which came from Angola doesn’t understand Portuguese. What he was told was in fact that Luanda is the biggest city, and he thought that he has been told that Luanda is the capital. It doesn’t seem right to say that my friend knows that Luanda is the capital of Angola, as his belief is unjustified and based on misunderstanding.

How does this affect my case? I was justified in believing that my friend is telling me a fact about Angola. What he told me is true. So, in some way, I have a justified true belief that Luanda is the capital of Angola.

But surely it is weird to say that I know, and to say that my friend doesn’t know. After all he is the one that told me.

Maybe one should speak about history of justification? Any other ideas?

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5 Responses to “Another Issue With Knowledge As Justified True Belief”

  1. Tanasije, you have an interesting thought there: I may have true knowledge and this true knowledge may be well justified, but my holding it to be what it is, may very well be unjustified. In fact it’s a regress argument. We are getting automatically into it, I think, when we want to define knowledge in terms of what’s the case AND in terms of propositional attitudes. Traditionally there are two meanings of “knowing”:

    I. Knowing in terms of an epistemic operator = W (‘if Wp, then p’) – but this gives no hints as to what I actually know, because p may remain unknown after all.
    II. Knowing in terms of a doxastic operator = G (‘if Gp, then possibly p’) – but this gives no hints as to what the case actually is. Here the regress appears again, but there’s no need to care about this, as every knowledge in the doxastic sense is a bit “blurred”.

    For a much more detailed analysis you could read the fourth chapter of Franz von Kutschera’s Einfuehrung in die intensionale Semantik. Only in German, I think.

    I don’t believe, that we can make justice to every meaning of “knowing” in terms of an one-size-fits-all predicate as “justified and true” would be.

  2. Thanks for the comment Stamatios,

    Good point, if we want to justify the justification we get into regress.
    I wonder even if we do need further justification. I think that if my (reliable) friend that has returned from Angola tells me that Luanda is capital of Angola, that is all the justification I need.

    I wonder if one can define special cases for knowledge via communication. Something like:

    A knows that P, if
    1)B told A that P
    2)A is justified to believe what B says
    3)A believes that P
    4)B knows that P

    But, I’m inclined to agree with you that one can’t make justice to meaning of “knowing” through this kind of definitions.
    I’m more inclined to think of “knowing” as a notion coming before “belief”, and that it mainly serves to distinguish knows/doesn’t know (in sense something is taken as a fact, and a person can either know or not know it).
    I think “belief” comes only later, when we become aware of more complex cases (i.e. possibility that what we “knew” turned out to be wrong).

    I wonder if the failing on false belief tasks of small children might be used to argue something in this direction… i.e. might be that children can figure out knows/doesn’t know distinction before they figure out right/wrong belief distinction.

    Thanks for the reference and for the pointers Stamatios, I will try to find something, though hopefully in English.

  3. Maybe I’m missing something but this seems very simple to me: you are mistaken in considering your friend reliable, because he doesn’t understand Portuguese, so your belief is not justified.

  4. Hi Robin,

    I was thinking this: If my friend ,who is reliable (has been reliable source of information so far, I don’t know of any reason why he would lie to me, etc…), comes from Angola and tells me that Luanda is the capital, it seems to me that is enough justification, even if I don’t know how he got to that info.
    What I mean is… take the case where there is no complication (e.g. my friend was told that Luanda is the capital), but everything else is the same. I think that I would be able to say that I know that Luanda is the capital, without inquiring into how my friend got to the information.

  5. OK, I see your point, but I think the problem lies in the concept of reliability, not that of knowledge.

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