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Is there any knowledge/wisdom/insight that cannot be expressed as a proposition?

Is there any knowledge/wisdom/insight that cannot be expressed as a proposition?

One thing I know is the difference between the taste of sangiovese and pinot nero -- a bit of wine-wisdom I've acquired over the years. But I certainly would be very hard put to express that knowledge in propositional form, at least in any informative way that could usefully convey my knowledge to you. Is there any proposition I could use to do that?

Of course, I can say -- taking a sip -- "this one is sangiovese", and -- taking another sip -- "that one is pinot nero". But that won't help you, unless you are sipping away from the same wines, and you are attending to the differences.

You need to experience the wines for yourself, and need to pay attention to them and learn to tell them apart. And developing that skill, that know-how, seems to require something other than picking up propositional knowledge-that about the wines.

Is it possible to prove the existence of ghosts? By prove I mean that the best

Is it possible to prove the existence of ghosts? By prove I mean that the best explanation for such and such an occurrence would be that it was caused by a disembodied spirit. Am I right in thinking that this would be impossible in principle, and that there would always be a more rational explanation?

The idea of a "disembodied spirit" is hardly a clear one. And no doubt some ways of trying to fill out this idea lapse into sheer incoherence. Understood in such a way, there just can't be any such things as "disembodied spirits". And non-existent beings can't do any causing!

But let's suppose we can spell out an internally coherent theory that purports to explain various occurrences by postulating the existence of things that, by the lights of our current scientific beliefs, do look decidedly ghostly. Well, it could in principle turn out that, by our best standards of theory assessment, this surprising theory in the end trumped rival theories. Why not? After all, similar things have happened often enough in the history of science -- meaning that initially whacky looking theories postulating weirdly spooky stuff (action at a distance! photons going through both slits!! many-dimensional strings?!?) can begin, given enough successes, to look to be the best game in town, and even come to be firmly accepted.

Though I think I'd stake my mortgage against a ghost story turning out to be a serious runner ...

Is it still possible today to consider the notion of "obviousness" as a

Is it still possible today to consider the notion of "obviousness" as a criterion of truth ?

All arguments seek premises that most people can agree to without needing further support, and in this sense the appeal to what is "obvious" remains alive and well. What people can agree to without further support often depends on the context, however: in the context of a weekend stroll, it may be obvious that there is a goldfinch nearby, whereas in the context of an official birdcount this may be less obvious.

It is more accurate to call obviousness a criterion of knowledge rather than a criterion of truth, since the obviousness of a certain claim may be part of what makes my state a state of knowledge but it is not a part of what makes it true. The fact that a bird ate the seed will be true (or false) regardless of how obvious it is to me. The fact that is is obvious to me may, however, contribute to my view counting as knowledge.

Note that obviousness may be a criterion of knowledge without being either necessary or sufficient for knowledge. Much of what we know (about the movement of the planets, for example) is not obvious, and some things that are obvious (the bend of the stick in the water) are not known.

A closely related term is "self-evident", and many philosophers think that foundational knowledge, such as the knowledge that is given to us in perception, must be self-evident knowledge -- revealing its truth in the very manner of its appearing. Other philosophers, rejecting the idea that knowledge has foundations, deny that there are any self-evident truths.

Can we learn anything from fiction?

Can we learn anything from fiction?

Yes. Lots.

That's the easy answer. The hard answer isexplaining how we could possibly learn anything true from a series offalse statements. One answer is that good works of fiction use falsestatements to describe deep truths about human nature, emotions,relationships, morality, and the meaning of life. They do so by creating a world of characters and events that does not actually exist but that shares enough common features with our world that we can learn from them. Most importantly, the fictions may share the deep (and general) truths about human nature, etc. with our world, and they may do so because the writer has a deep understanding of these truths.

Fiction also explores the boundaries of the possible and teaches us to think about these possibilities. Philosophy often works in this way. By considering what is possible but not actual we learn something about our world and ourselves. Science fiction and philosophical thought experiments sometimes differ only in that the science fiction tends to be better developed and better written.

How does our approach to knowledge about the past differ from our approach to

How does our approach to knowledge about the past differ from our approach to knowledge about the future, keeping in mind that there is an element of uncertainty in both?

Our knowledge of the past derives from perception, memory and inference, in the sense that these are answers to the question, 'How or by what means do you know?' (There are other ways, for example report or testimony). But our knowledge of the future has in it no elements of memory or perception. So as one might therefore expect it is harder to come by knowledge of the future, and we have less of it per hour, if you want. We typically can know more about a past hour than about a future hour, though by no means all of the past hours, for example those in past centuries. If I know p, and p is a proposition about the future, I cannot know it by memory, special cases apart. (A special case would be that I come to know that I am going to Africa next summer - a piece of knowledge about the future - by remembering that I am going to Africa next summer. 'How do you know?' 'I just remembered it . . .' makes sense as a conversation.)

It seems to me, in spite of the assumption you make, however, that in some cases there may not be an element of uncertainty in either knowledge of the past or the future. There is no uncertainty that the cat will be roughly where it is on the sofa in one attosecond - cats don't move that fast - and there is no uncertainty that the cat has been sitting there for the last five minutes, as I have been watching it for the whole time. There is an interesting mistake (I myself think it's a mistake, anyway) to be avoided in this area. Why are there asymmetries in time with respect to knowledge? I am not sure the question put just like that makes sense. Why can we remember the past but not the future, for example? The simple answer is that if I remember something, then it must already have happened, so memory of the future is a contradiction. My own view is that even the alleged logical asymmetries between past and future are much more slippery than they seem at first glance, and we must be careful to get our tenses right. It is certainly true, for example, that the past exists, in the sense that past events have occurred - and what other sense are we considering? But then so does the future exist, in just the same sense: future events will occur.

I have been reading Robert Nozick’s Philosophical Explanations (a difficult text

I have been reading Robert Nozick’s Philosophical Explanations (a difficult text indeed) and have a question about his theory of knowledge; specifically, Nozick concedes to the knowledge skeptic that we cannot know, say, if we are a brain in a vat on Alpha Centauri (our experience of the world would be identical, says the skeptic, to what it is now, so we cannot know); but he then also notes that it does not follow that I cannot know, say, that I am typing on my computer. If I understand correctly, Nozick holds that my belief that I am typing tracks the fact that I am typing; I would not have the belief that I am typing if I were not typing. This, however, seems problematic to me; it seems to beg the question, i.e. assume the “fact” that I am typing is indeed a fact. Isn’t this what we precisely do not know according to the skeptic? What if I see a perceptual distortion, for example, a pencil wobbling like rubber when I place it between my thumb and index finger and quickly move it back and forth? My...

This doesn't seem at all clear. First of all, the argument assumes that, to know whether we know, on Nozick's account, we would have to know whether a certain counterfactual is true. But this isn't obvious. Water is H2O, but it doesn't follow that, to know whether something is water, you have to know whether it is H2O. Similarly, even if knowledge is (say) Nozick-style tracking, it does not follow that, to know whether you know, you have to know whether you track Nozick-style. That might follow if Nozick's account is construed as providing some kind of conceptual analysis, but even then there are issues that tend to go under the heading "The Paradox of Analysis".

Second, even if the foregoing is waived, I don't see why we can't know "whether the subjunctive condition Nozick deems necessary for knowledge is fulfilled". Surely we do have lots of knowledge about possibility, necessity, and counterfactuals. Of course, the epistemology of modal knowledge is a vexed issue, but so is the epistemology of everything else.

It possible to look at the world optimistically or pessimistically without

It possible to look at the world optimistically or pessimistically without sacrificing accuracy?

I'd certainly agree that qualities like goodness and badness aren't really features of the world as it is in itself, so much as attitudes that we project onto it. And it does indeed follow from this that such attitudes are neither accurate nor inaccurate, since there is no objective quality out there to which they might either conform or fail to conform. So, if optimism and pessimism simply meant regarding the world as mostly good or mostly bad, then they would not generate any inaccuracy. But there's more to optimism and pessimism than that: they also tend to give rise to specific expectations about the future. Optimism might lead you to believe that you're going to win the lottery, land your dream job, find your soulmate, and live happily ever after. Pessimism might lead you to believe the opposite. And those beliefs about future events certainly will be objectively accurate or inaccurate, depending on how things actually turn out. My suspicion is that excessive optimism and pessimism are both likely to generate false beliefs in this way.

As commonly understood and reinforced here, 2 + 2 = 4 is taken as meeting the

As commonly understood and reinforced here, 2 + 2 = 4 is taken as meeting the test for absolute certainty. This appears to be true in a formal or symbolic sense but is it true in reality? When we count two things as being the same and add them to two other same things do we really get four identical things? Perhaps, perhaps not; it may depend on one's identity theory. Do we know with absolute certainty when we have one thing and not two? What am I missing?

I don't myself have a view on whether 2+2=4 is absolutely certain. I suppose it's as certain as anything is or could be. But the question here is different. It's whether that certainty is undermined by doubts about what happens empirically.

As Gottlob Frege would quickly have pointed out, however, the mathematical truth that 2+2=4 has nothing particular to do with what happens empirically. It might have been, for example, that whenver you tried to put two things together with two other things, one of them disappeared. (Or perhaps they were like rabbits, and another one appeared!) But mathematics says nothing of this. That 2+2=4 does not tell you what will happen when you put things together. It only tells you that, if there are two of these things and two of those things, and if none of these is one of those, then there are four things that are among these and those. It's hard to see how one's theory of identity could affect that.

Is there any kind of knowledge that could be called certain?

Is there any kind of knowledge that could be called certain?

One suggestion that philosophers have come up, for measuring people's degrees of certainty, is to relate it to their willingness to place bets. Of course, there are all kinds of factors that undermine this approach: in the real world, some people avoid gambling altogether for ethical or religious reasons; some might not regard it as worth the effort of betting at all, when the prospective reward is tiny; and, in certain cases, it is hard to conceive who could possibly qualify as the arbiter of whether the bet had been won or lost. But, abstracting away from all of those problems, suppose that we agree that a person's betting inclinations are an accurate guide to their level of confidence. If someone is only willing to place a bet on the truth of a certain proposition when the offered odds are very long, that shows that they are very unconfident. They need the prospect of a very large return to justify risking their stake. On the other hand, if someone is willing to place a bet at very short odds, that shows that they are very confident indeed. They know that they stand to lose a large amount of money if things go wrong for them, and that they won't win much even if things go right: but they're still prepared to go for it anyway, because of just how confident they are that things will go right.

If we take this as a measure of degrees of confidence, then we need to ask how much confidence constitutes 'certainty'. Is a confidence-level of 99% enough to qualify? Or 90%? Or even less? But maybe you're talking about absolute certainty. But we have an answer to that too. If you would be willing to bet absolutely everything you own on the truth of a given proposition, for the prospect of only a tiny reward if you are right, then it seems fair to say that you are absolutely certain of its truth. And personally -- although I can't really envisage how this would ever come up! -- I think that I probably would be willing to bet absolutely everything I own on the truth of a proposition like '2+2=4'. I really am that confident in it.

Now, I've been treating the notion of 'certainty' as a subjective matter, relating to a particular individual's level of confidence. But I'm thinking that perhaps this isn't quite what you had in mind. Is there such a thing as 'objective certainty'? Are there propositions that are certain in themselves, independently of whether anyone feels certain about them? I'm not quite sure what that would even mean. But a better question might be: are beliefs like '2+2=4' demon-proof? This from Descartes: is it possible that there might be an evil demon who could persuade me that 2+2=4, despite the fact that, absolutely speaking, this is false? I have to suspect that, yes, that is indeed just about barely possible. But, as Descartes himself put it: "Why should this alleged 'absolute falsity' bother us, since we neither believe in it nor have even the slightest suspicion of it?" I'm inclined to agree.

Who can direct me to the philosopher whose work addresses the relationship

Who can direct me to the philosopher whose work addresses the relationship between knowledge and emotion?

One book you might be interested in is Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain by Antonio Damasio (although Damasio is a neurologist, not a philosopher).

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