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Hello, I'm Sophie.

Hello, I'm Sophie. Despite the fact that Plato's epistemology considers that Knowledge is innate, are there any arguments that can support a social aspect of knowledge? I'm reading Theaetetus but I can't find strong enough arguments to include classical theories of Social Theory of Knowledge.

Hi Sophie!

In my opinion, Plato's views on knowledge shifted around in a number of important ways over his career, but you're right to say that he always treats knowledge as having at least some innate aspects. In Book V of the Republic, for example, he characterizes knowledge as a kind of power that is innately within us, but--as a power, rather than a state--this account also recognizes the possibility of developing that power, or allowing it to wither. Much of the discussion of Books VI and VII of the Republic concern how to develop this power--how to "empower it," as it were) through the right educational curricula and with the use of what Plato calls "summoners" (by which he means things that summon the exercise of this power, rather than the inferior cognitive powers of belief or sense perception. There is, accordingly, a social aspect (via education) even in Plato's account.

When philosophers these days talk about "social epistemology," it can mean various things. But a "social theory of knowledge" would seem to imply that knowledge is, by its very nature, a social phenomenon. The place to look for this sort of account (if I have understood you rightly) in the ancient world would be in the writings of the group known as the Sophists, some of whom seemed to think that knowledge was a (purely) social construction. I am not aware of too many contemporary philosophers who accept such a view, but I hope my answer has helped at least a little!

Hi Sophie! In my opinion, Plato's views on knowledge shifted around in a number of important ways over his career, but you're right to say that he always treats knowledge as having at least some innate aspects. In Book V of the Republic, for example, he characterizes knowledge as a kind of power that is innately within us, but--as a power, rather than a state--this account also recognizes the possibility of developing that power, or allowing it to wither. Much of the discussion of Books VI and VII of the Republic concern how to develop this power--how to "empower it," as it were) through the right educational curricula and with the use of what Plato calls "summoners" (by which he means things that summon the exercise of this power, rather than the inferior cognitive powers of belief or sense perception. There is, accordingly, a social aspect (via education) even in Plato's account. When philosophers these days talk about "social epistemology," it can mean various things. But a "social...

What is the difference between "knowledge" and "wisdom" from both a current and

What is the difference between "knowledge" and "wisdom" from both a current and a historical context.

What? You want a quickie bloggy-type answer for a question that would merit (at least) a whole book?

OK, but be warned: what you are looking for is much, much more complicated and richer than the following answer (or, perhaps any bloggy-type answer) could indicate.

Knowledge is usually conceived as simply being in the best--or at any rate, a sufficiently good--kind of position in one's cognitive relation to the thing in question. Knowledge is generally regarded as requiring something like a truth condition (if what you think is false, you don't know), a belief condition (if you don't believe something, you can't know it), and some other condition (usually called "justification" or "warrant") that shows why the true belief in question actually fulfills whatever other standards apply to distinguish between knowledge and other forms of true belief--after all, one can have true beliefs about something and still not know it. For example, if I believe something that's true, but for the wrong reasons, or based on faulty evidence, or if there is something wrong with the way I came to have that belief or with what makes me continue to believe it now.

It follows that one can know things, even if the things themselves are quite trivial, useless, or uninteresting. (Thanks to Ernest Sosa here for the example) Consider being in a dentist's office and there is nothing else to read, so you pick up a phone book and memorize some of it. If the phone book is accurate (and maybe you will need to check this in various ways), it seems like you might come to know that such-and-such is the number for ABC Bakery...and so on. But so what?

Wisdom seems to require something different. To be wise, it seems that maybe someone might needs to know some things, but perhaps they need to know really important things, rather than totally trivial things. Or, maybe wisdom consists in not knowing things, but being aware of that fact and behaving appropriately for one who is in that condition.

Historically, different philosophers have had some different things to say about the difference(s) between knowledge and wisdom, but let me recommend a couple of philosophical classics to consult (among many, and some others may be named by others who choose to answer your question and make other suggestions--my two are just two of my personal favorites):

Plato, Apology. Pay special attention to where Socrates distinguishes between what he calls his "human wisdom" with his opinion that "the god is truly wise."

Immanuel Kant, "What Is Enlightenment?" Kan't official "target" is "enlightenment," but I think it is not unreasonable to think that he thinks of this as at least a kind of wisdom.

Hope this helps...

What? You want a quickie bloggy-type answer for a question that would merit (at least) a whole book? OK, but be warned: what you are looking for is much, much more complicated and richer than the following answer (or, perhaps any bloggy-type answer) could indicate. Knowledge is usually conceived as simply being in the best--or at any rate, a sufficiently good--kind of position in one's cognitive relation to the thing in question. Knowledge is generally regarded as requiring something like a truth condition (if what you think is false, you don't know), a belief condition (if you don't believe something, you can't know it), and some other condition (usually called "justification" or "warrant") that shows why the true belief in question actually fulfills whatever other standards apply to distinguish between knowledge and other forms of true belief--after all, one can have true beliefs about something and still not know it. For example, if I believe something that's true, but for the wrong...

What part does emotion play in the acquisition of knowledge? Does the role of

What part does emotion play in the acquisition of knowledge? Does the role of emotion vary across the different areas of knowledge (Natural Science, Human Science, History, The arts, Ethics and Maths) ? Thanks a lot for responses

I think your question presupposes that "emotion" is a fairly simple phenomenon, whereas I suspect that it is extremely complex. But let's sidestep that concern and just try a simple case out.

Scientist A believes that he will very much impress his lover if he unlocks the secret to some phenomenon. Scientist B has no such motivation (and, let us suppose, no other motivator that makes him as eager as A's desire to impress his lover), but works on the same problem.

In this case, it looks to me as if scientist A's success (if he achieves it) will be partly explicable in terms of his emotional motivation, whereas that would not be the case for B. Indeed, it seems reasonable to think that A's emotional motivation might provide stronger motivation than we would find in B. On the other hand, we might worry that A's emotional motivation might also cloud his judgment somewhat, and make him more likely to make mistakes. But this much seems obvious, such an "extrinsic" motivator can certainly function in such a way as to make the acquisition of knowledge more likely.

As a kind of generality, I think it is fair to say that those who have enthusiasm (from the Greek enthusiasmos, which essentially means to be possessed by a divine spirit) are more driven to the discoveries and acquisitions of knowledge than those who are not enthusiastic about their pursuits. I see no reason why this would differ across different disciplines. An excited and enthusiastic mathematician will not necessarily be smarter than a bored one, but I would expect the enthusiastic one to be more likely to advance knowledge. The same, I expect, would be true of historians, scientists, and even philosophers!

I think your question presupposes that "emotion" is a fairly simple phenomenon, whereas I suspect that it is extremely complex. But let's sidestep that concern and just try a simple case out. Scientist A believes that he will very much impress his lover if he unlocks the secret to some phenomenon. Scientist B has no such motivation (and, let us suppose, no other motivator that makes him as eager as A's desire to impress his lover), but works on the same problem. In this case, it looks to me as if scientist A's success (if he achieves it) will be partly explicable in terms of his emotional motivation, whereas that would not be the case for B. Indeed, it seems reasonable to think that A's emotional motivation might provide stronger motivation than we would find in B. On the other hand, we might worry that A's emotional motivation might also cloud his judgment somewhat, and make him more likely to make mistakes. But this much seems obvious, such an "extrinsic" motivator can certainly function...

Last week, I read a book called "Sophie's World" about a young woman who

Last week, I read a book called "Sophie's World" about a young woman who receives philosophy lessons in the mail from a secret source. Toward the end of the book, Sophie (the young woman) realizes that she is a character in a book, and her philosophy teacher proposes that her author might be a character in a book as well. Sophie's reality begins to change in preposterous ways, inviting characters from other books, sea monsters, etc., and we are introduced to a second girl who is reading about her, as we are reading about that girl. I "realized" with building panic that I, too, could be a character in a book, and felt sapped of free will. The fear evolved into a fear that nothing around me really existed, including (with intense regret) the minds and hearts of friends and family-- that it could all change or disappear against the "laws" of physics at any moment. How do we know that just because an experiment works once, it won't suddenly stop working? How do we know, for example, that a clock won't turn...

Not sure you are going to feel much happier after you read my answer to your question, but let me try at least to tell you what philosophers generally do in response to this sort of question these days.

Your question raises the specter of what is called global skepticism--the idea that we can't or at least don't know anything at all. There are different sorts of responses one might have to this claim, but also different sorts of responses to the kinds of existential questions that you are associating with the skeptical threat.

So let's try first to do what most contemporary epistemologists actually don't do, and that is to grant the threat of skepticism and concede that we cannot remove it. OK, so you don't know anything! Well, the main reason you would think that is because you have in mind extremely high standards for what can count as knowledge. Alright, so maybe we can't meet such high standards. Does that mean it would be reasonable to worry that "a clock might turn into an ice cream cone," and all the rest of your worries? I suppose it depends on what you mean by "might." I assume what you mean is that it is what philosophers call an "epistemic possibility" that this could happen--in other words, it could happen for all you know. But that is because you don't know anything (according to the skeptical hypothesis), and so saying that such a thing could happen for all you know doesn't make that epistemic possibility anything very interesting or different from anything else you might imagine, since you don't know that either.

Put it a slightly different way: It seems reasonable only to worry about things that are more likely that mere possibilities. If the world really is the way we tend to think it is, then we have good reasons to acknowledge that all kinds of truly weird stuff might happen. I could get hit by lightening today. It could happen, right? But is it sensible for me to worry about that (genuine, though slight) possibility? Come on! Don't I have anything better to think about, for heaven's sake? Even if we accept that we don't know anything, why does it follow that we don't at least have some very good reasons to believe some things, rather than others, and why is reasonable belief not good enough to put the kinds of worries you mention to rest?

Briefly, to sum up this response, if the standards for knowledge are super high, then is anything really lost, from the point of view of practical reasoning, if we simply forget about knowledge but then go about our business in life by following what we at least have some good reasons to believe (from experience, from science, and so on--none of which we know on this hypothesis, but all of which still supplies good reasons for belief)?

So then you say, but how do we know that such reasons are good ones? Well, once we accept global skepticism, we don't know this. But why does global skepticism show that believing what we have good reasons to believe is irrational? I don't see why this inference is valid. Just because we don't know that some reason is a good one doesn't make it not a good one, and doesn't disqualify whatever evidence we have for thinking that it is a good one. Following evidence that we don't know is true, but which nonetheless qualifies as reasonably taken as evidence, is what rational people do all the time, even if they don't know anything!

So, even if you don't know anything, chill out! All is well and there is no reason to worry about things the way you describe such worries.

But maybe we should take a closer look at the premise I conceded above, namely, that the standards for knowledge are so high that we can't or don't know anything at all. Most contemporary epistemologists are what are called "fallibilists" these days. There are different ways of formulating what fallibilism is, but the basic idea is that wwe can know things even if the ways in which we come to know them (or, our evidence for them) falls short of guaranteeing infallibility. The idea is that we could have been wrong about something, but as long as we didn't get it wrong this time, and have done our epistemic business in all of the appropriate ways, then it counts as knowledge.

But wait! How can we know that we didn't get it wrong this time? Same reasoning applies here. Maybe we could have got it wrong that we didn't get it wrong...but as long as we didn't get it wrong that we didn't get it wrong...and so on. This may sound somewhat fishy to you (it does to most epistemology students when they first hear it), but the point is that fallibilists will simply not accept challenges to their knowledge based on the idea that something could have gone wrong.

One way to think of this is to imagine a fallibilist turning the challenge back on the challenger: OK, maybe something could have gone wrong, but why should I think it actually has gone wrong, and if you have no reason to offer me for thinking that it actually has gone wrong, why should I listen to your challenge, or take it seriously? Following this way of thinking about knowledge, then, why does the fact that someone wrote Sophie's World give me a reason to think that you or I are (only) characters in a book. "But it could be!" you say. And I reply, "Well, maybe, but why should I think that it is really that way, and if you don't give me some reason for thinking that it is really that way, then why should I take that scenario seriously or worry about it?" As a fallibilist, I would claim that I know it is not this way, even if there remains some sense in which it could be this way. But if I know it is not this way (because no one can give me any reason to think I am wrong), then I also know that there is nothing to worry about!

To complete my little argument then, we might also reject the skeptical premise, in which case, chill out--there is nothing to worry about.

Conclusion: Either way, chill out. There are some truly scary things out there, but clocks turning into ice cream cones is not reasonably thought of as one of them! Now, climate change...hmmm, yeah, that worries me!

Not sure you are going to feel much happier after you read my answer to your question, but let me try at least to tell you what philosophers generally do in response to this sort of question these days. Your question raises the specter of what is called global skepticism--the idea that we can't or at least don't know anything at all. There are different sorts of responses one might have to this claim, but also different sorts of responses to the kinds of existential questions that you are associating with the skeptical threat. So let's try first to do what most contemporary epistemologists actually don't do, and that is to grant the threat of skepticism and concede that we cannot remove it. OK, so you don't know anything! Well, the main reason you would think that is because you have in mind extremely high standards for what can count as knowledge. Alright, so maybe we can't meet such high standards. Does that mean it would be reasonable to worry that "a clock might...

Even if there is overwhelming evidence in opposition of solipsism, it still

Even if there is overwhelming evidence in opposition of solipsism, it still cannot be disproven to 100% certainty. Is it just the nature of any conscious entity to have to have faith in their surroundings being external and objective to the mind, while still viewing them subjectively, in order to just live their lives? Or can one really live their entire life suspecting solipsism?

Whether one thinks there is overwhelming evidence in opposition of solipsism may depend on what one takes evidence to be. Arguably, if evidence is just the way things seem, construed in the most minimal, least question-begging way possible, then there is no evidence in opposition to sopipsism at all. Things might seem just this way, and yet there be nothing in the universe other than my own experiences. Why suppose that in addition to those experiences, those things of which one does have knowledge, there is some other stuff about which one has no knowledge at all? It seems hard even to form a conception of what such other stuff might be like, since conceptions seem to be formed from the material of experience itself and unsuited to picture for us this myserious others stuff of which we know nothing.

Personally I don't buy into that sort of soplispistic reasoning. But I expect that a solipsistic worldview could be made consistent with the beliefs one needs to live a normal life. The loaf of bread is really just a bundle of experiences, etc. However it would take a lot of work and a lot of philosophical nous to spell it all out properly.

This is not a disproof, so much as a way to think about what is obviously wrong with solipsism: To whom do you take yourself to be asking this question? (What would it be like to take solipsism really seriously in the practical domain?)

Knowledge is usually said to be justified true belief (with some caveats).

Knowledge is usually said to be justified true belief (with some caveats). However, it seems that a great deal of what we "know" is actually knowledge we have received from third parties - our parents, our teachers, authors of books and websites, friends, and so on. If we define justification so broadly that it encompasses things we learn from third parties, what is to stop us from assuming that anything we learn from anyone else (or any specially qualified individual) is knowledge? Does this mean, according to the justified true belief understanding of knowledge, that most of what we think we know is not actually knowledge?

Your question engages the epistemology of testimony, which has recently gotten lots of attention among epistemologists.

But let's try to get a bit clearer on what the issue is. First, please understand that justification comes in degrees. If someone I don't know runs up to me and tells me that the president has been assassinated, I have some justification for believing it. But I certainly can't be said to know it, because that kind of testimony is not enough justification to "clear the bar." So epistemologists don't ever really accept that knowledge is justified true belief, where by "justified" they mean to count any level of justification as sufficient.

Secondly, one way to think about justification through testimony is to ask whether there is other evidence available. Back to my stranger telling me about the assassination. I notice that there is a TV store nearby and can see what is playing on the screens. I see no evidence of an assassination. Now how good is the justification the stranger provided? But if I see breaking news of an assassination, well...that is more (and more reliable) testimony (in most cases--not counting the "news" channels that really aren't!).

Finally, we might consider what we know about the source of the testimony. Do wwe have reason to believe that the person providing it has relevant expertise (such as a teacher)--or is it just heresay? So we need to judge the quality of the testimony and the qualifications of the one giving it. These are relevant to the question of how much justification the testimony confers.

Your question engages the epistemology of testimony, which has recently gotten lots of attention among epistemologists. But let's try to get a bit clearer on what the issue is. First, please understand that justification comes in degrees. If someone I don't know runs up to me and tells me that the president has been assassinated, I have some justification for believing it. But I certainly can't be said to know it, because that kind of testimony is not enough justification to "clear the bar." So epistemologists don't ever really accept that knowledge is justified true belief, where by "justified" they mean to count any level of justification as sufficient. Secondly, one way to think about justification through testimony is to ask whether there is other evidence available. Back to my stranger telling me about the assassination. I notice that there is a TV store nearby and can see what is playing on the screens. I see no evidence of an assassination. Now how good is the...

Can facts tell us everything we need to know about the world? What else is there

Can facts tell us everything we need to know about the world? What else is there to know besides facts?

Epistemologists sometimes distinguish between different kinds of knowledge, and then they debate whether all of these kinds really are different, or whether they can (some or all) be reduced to a single kind. The kind of knowledge you seem to have in mind is generally called "propositional" knowledge (where what is known is a proposition, such as 'the cat is on the mat' which you would probably count as a fact). Our cognitions of facts may have propositional content (this is sometimes also debated), or perhaps our cognitions of such things may be encoded in a different way--such as with a visual image, map, or blueprint, etc.) So some epistemologists prefer to talk about "informational" knowledge, rather than propositional knowledge, because perhaps the information that is known is not encoded propositionally. But anyway, I assume it is this sort of knowledge that you have in mind.

But I also think there are other kinds of knowledge that might be distinguished from "factual" knowledge. Here is one that has received lots of attention lately (though mostly from people in the philosophy of mind, rather than epistemology): Think about what it is like to have a headache. You know what that is like--but it what you know a fact? Well, it doesn't seem to be a proposition, or even propositionalizable. ("Having a headache is like ___.") Is it information? Well, perhaps, but the "encoding" involved seems to consist in having had the experience itself. If you have never actually had a headache, you won't know what it is like, and once you have had a headache, you will, and for that very reason. To have a headache is to know what it is like, and to know what it is like is to have had one. This doesn't quite look the same as other kinds of "factual knowledge." (By the way, there is an interesting conundrum that followwss from this sort of thought about God's alleged omniscience--Does God know what it is like to have a sinful desire? Hmmmm....)

Here's another: Do you know how to swim, ride a bike, change a tire? Most adults do. Isn't that a kind of knowledge? Seems so. But is it factual? Doesn't seem so--I could read a complete book listing all the facts about swimming or riding a bike and still not know how to do these things. (Another one here for God: Does God know how to ride a bike? Wouldn't ione need to have a body that is--at at least was at some time-- appropriately configured for a bike, and also have the actual experience/skill in order to know how? Not sure what to say about this one, either...)

One more kind of knowledge that is sometimees also considered is called "knowledge by acquaintance." Do you know Kim Yu-Na, the figure skater?" (I wish I did!) Not sure this really is knowledge, but we do talk about it as if it is.

Anyway, this may be a few examples to consider.

Epistemologists sometimes distinguish between different kinds of knowledge, and then they debate whether all of these kinds really are different, or whether they can (some or all) be reduced to a single kind. The kind of knowledge you seem to have in mind is generally called "propositional" knowledge (where what is known is a proposition, such as 'the cat is on the mat' which you would probably count as a fact). Our cognitions of facts may have propositional content (this is sometimes also debated), or perhaps our cognitions of such things may be encoded in a different way--such as with a visual image, map, or blueprint, etc.) So some epistemologists prefer to talk about "informational" knowledge, rather than propositional knowledge, because perhaps the information that is known is not encoded propositionally. But anyway, I assume it is this sort of knowledge that you have in mind. But I also think there are other kinds of knowledge that might be distinguished from "factual" knowledge. Here is...

Skeptical hypotheses (Descartes' evil demon, for instance) seem to rely on the

Skeptical hypotheses (Descartes' evil demon, for instance) seem to rely on the following proposition: it is possibly that I am being systematically deceived (that all of my sensory impressions are actually infelicitous, say). My question is: is his proposition known a priori ? or is it empirical?

I've been racking my brains over this one -- it's a tricksy little question! -- and I'm still not sure what the answer should be. Of course Nicholas Smith would be correct, if the question was about the proposition that I am being systematically deceived. But it isn't. I take it that the question is how we know that it is possible that I am being systematically deceived.

Admittedly, Descartes himself does ultimately conclude that this isn't even so much as possible: but he reaches this conclusion via a rather idiosyncratic and unconvincing argument, resting on the nature of God; and, in any case, even he acknowledges that it certainly does seem to be possible. He sets up his methodological scepticism in the First Meditation (as I'm sure you know), pointing to things like optical illusions, dreams, and the possibility of an evil demon. Many of the same points could be made about each of these arguments: but, for simplicity's sake, I shall just take the one about illusions.

So, for instance, he says that, when we look at a tower in the distance, we might take it to be round. But we then get closer, and we now find it to be square. So it turns out that we've been in error in at least one of our judgments, presumably the earlier one. But then how can we be so sure that we are not similarly in error in our current judgments too, and not only here but right across the board? The thing that is driving the argument is the fact that a certain object is appearing to be round, but the very same object is also appearing to be not-round. And it would be a contradiction for one and the same thing actually to be both round and not-round. (We certainly know that a priori). So we can conclude that some of our perceptions or judgments must be false; and that's what opens the door to global scepticism. If some of them are false, then perhaps all of them are false.

But is it really that simple? The tower looked round at time t1, and it looks square at time t2. But maybe it was round at t1, and is square at t2. How can we be so sure that it hasn't simply changed with the passage of time? If we can't be sure of that, then we can't be sure that either of these judgments was erroneous after all. And, if we can't be sure that any of our judgments are erroneous, then it's not clear how we could know that any of them even could be erroneous. And, if we can't know that, then it seems that perhaps we can't know, after all, that it's possible that all of them could be erroneous together. If we can't establish the reality and (a fortiori) the possibility of error, then we'll have nothing to extrapolate globally to establish the possibility of systematic deception. Now, for my part, I do feel entirely confident that we can indeed know that error is possible. But what I'm much less confident about is precisely how we can know this. Simple sense-perception alone certainly won't be enough to establish it.

Well, that's about as far as I've got. We can only know that systematic deception is possible, if we can know that error is possible. That is to say, we can only know that all of our beliefs might be false, if we can know that some of them might be false. And we could know that some of them might be false, if we knew that some of them actually were false. But how do we know that? If I'm forced to give an answer, I guess I'd plump for 'empirical' over 'a priori'. But, ultimately, I just don't know what to think about this. Nice question!

I think it is not known at all! It is a hypothesis that no one (including Descartes) actually believes, much less knows. So I don't think your question actually applies...

What is the difference between intellectually knowing something, and emotionally

What is the difference between intellectually knowing something, and emotionally knowing something? What I mean is, sometimes we know things rationally, but we haven't actually come to grips with it. Say a man's father died, and he, at first, reacts with apathy. "Oh, that's terrible," he says, but doesn't feel much. Then, when he sees his dead father lying in the coffin, it suddenly hits him, and he bursts into tears. He knew his father was dead all along, so what's different? Is it really just the visual impression, or are there different levels of knowledge in the mind?

Your question cannot be answered without some specification of what knowledge is--what counts as knowledge. This topic is extremely controversial among epistemologists. But I think one aspect of your question allows at least a part of an answer to it.

Epistemologists may not agree on the entire analysis of knowledge, but most agree that whatever is known must be true, and most agree that in order to know something you at least have to believe it. The real controversies tend to begin when epistemologists debate what is now often called the "warrant" condition, which is the purposely vague expression used to denote whatever else is needed for knowledge, other than true belief--or to put it slightly differently, whatever it is that distinguished knowledge from other species of true belief.

Now think a little bit about the (relatively uncontroversial) belief condition. What does it mean to believe something? One thing belief is often supposed to include is a dispositional component. Part of what it means for me to believe there is a truck coming down the road towards me is that I am disposed to step off the road surface to get out of its way. If I am not so disposed (assuming I am not seeking to be killed or injured by the truck), then we might wonder if I really believe the truck is coming at me.

Your case tempts me to respond that even though the person has received the information that his father is dead, he does not yet believe it, since at least some of the dispositions in accordance with which we would expect him to act in certain ways appear not (yet) to be present. It is one thing to have (access to) certain information, and another thing actually to believe that information. Being in a state of denial seems to me to be an example of at least impaired cognitive function at the level of belief. One can't know something without believing it, at least in the dispositional sense. So in your case, it looks like it can't count as knowledge until, as you put it, it "hits him."

Whether or not this is really the correct diagnosis of the case, however, will depend upon just how much we build into our account of belief in terms of relevant dispositions. That seems to me a matter of likely controversy, and so it could be that another place to attack this case would be in terms of the warrant condition. As I said, there are lots and lots of different accounts of what warrant consists in (for just a few examples: being completely justified, having one's belief generated or sustained by reliable true-belief-forming processses, or having the belief produced by reliable cognitive processes that are functioning properly within an environment to which they are well suited). One might say that the person's justification cannot be complete unless and until the person recognizes all of the evidence as evidence, and perhaps the initial under-reaction shows that he has not yet achieved that level of justification. Or perhaps the person's cognitive functions are not fully adequate (do not count as functioning properly) until their representation of the fact to him are sufficient to qualify as "hitting him."

Just to muddy the waters a little further, it also seems quite possible to me that someone can know something at a different time than he or she manages to respond to what he or she knows at an emotional level. Just because I am stunned into a kind of non-response to something at first does not necessarily indicate a lack of knowledge; it might instead indicate a lack of readiness to respond or react to what I know at the emotional level. So I think this is also another way to see your case.

I guess if you want the gist of my response in a nutshell, it seems to me that the case is somewhat underdetermined, as presented, which is why it seems to me there are several reasonable reasonses that can be made to it.

Your question cannot be answered without some specification of what knowledge is--what counts as knowledge. This topic is extremely controversial among epistemologists. But I think one aspect of your question allows at least a part of an answer to it. Epistemologists may not agree on the entire analysis of knowledge, but most agree that whatever is known must be true, and most agree that in order to know something you at least have to believe it. The real controversies tend to begin when epistemologists debate what is now often called the "warrant" condition, which is the purposely vague expression used to denote whatever else is needed for knowledge, other than true belief--or to put it slightly differently, whatever it is that distinguished knowledge from other species of true belief. Now think a little bit about the (relatively uncontroversial) belief condition. What does it mean to believe something? One thing belief is often supposed to include is a dispositional component. ...

Is it possible for somebody to know nothing?

Is it possible for somebody to know nothing?

It depends on your theory of knowledge, but several theories would support the idea that someone with ordinary cognitive capacities could actually know nothing. Obviously the most important such theory is the one known as "global skepticism," which holds that absolutely everyone knows nothing! We might have justified beliefs, even justified true beliefs, according to this theory, but never justified enough to qualify as knowledge.

Other theories might hold that a person would know nothing if that person's cognitive capacities were sufficiently damaged or defective. So a "reliabilist" about knowledge is one who thinks that we have knowledge only if we have a true belief that is generated or sustained in a way that reliably produced true beliefs. This obviously requires that the knower have the capacity to produce true beliefs reliably, so one who did not have such a capacity could never know anything (even if he or she might still sometimes have true beliefs). Obviously, this would have to be an extreme case of cognitive defect, however. Other cases, according to different theories, can be concocted, but most would be either rare or purely theoretical possibilities. Most theories of knowledge hold that all or nearly all of us (other than extremely defective cases) have plenty of knowledge.

It depends on your theory of knowledge, but several theories would support the idea that someone with ordinary cognitive capacities could actually know nothing. Obviously the most important such theory is the one known as "global skepticism," which holds that absolutely everyone knows nothing! We might have justified beliefs, even justified true beliefs, according to this theory, but never justified enough to qualify as knowledge. Other theories might hold that a person would know nothing if that person's cognitive capacities were sufficiently damaged or defective. So a "reliabilist" about knowledge is one who thinks that we have knowledge only if we have a true belief that is generated or sustained in a way that reliably produced true beliefs. This obviously requires that the knower have the capacity to produce true beliefs reliably, so one who did not have such a capacity could never know anything (even if he or she might still sometimes have true beliefs). Obviously, this would have to...

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