agit-prop, opinion manipulation and well-poisoning games Epistemology (the study of knowledge and its conditions) Intelligent Design knowledge Logic and First Principles of right reason Philosophy

L&FP 58: Knowledge (including scientific knowledge) is not a simple concept

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. . . as a result of which, once there is an issue, complex questions and limitations of the philosophy of knowledge — Epistemology — emerge. Where, in particular, no scientific theory can be even morally certain. (Yes, as Newtonian Dynamics illustrates, they can be highly empirically reliable in a given gamut of circumstances . . . but as Newtonian Dynamics [vs. Modern Physics] also illustrates, so can models and frameworks known to be strictly inaccurate to reality. Empirical reliability is something we can know to responsible certainty.)

So, it is important for us to understand the subtleties and limitations of knowledge and of knowledge claims.

As we have discussed previously, on balance, a good definition of knowledge (beyond merely one’s strong sense of certitude) . . . and particularly informed by Scientific, forensic and historical cases . . . is that:

knowledge is warranted, credibly true [and so, reliable] belief.

For, first, if we do not actually accept, we cannot know. If we [collectively] do not have a good and responsible reason to hold credibly true and reliable, we cannot know. Of course, having good warrant does not mean, consensus or even consensus of experts. If we do not have good reason in particular to hold claimed knowledge reliable and an accurate description of relevant entities and states of affairs of reality, we cannot know. Where, as Aristotle noted, truth says of what is, that it is; and of what is not, that it is not. But, given responsible usage as noted, what we claim to know is subject to being found to have limitations, errors and so needing to be corrected.

Knowledge is not empty dogmatism, even as we must acknowledge that there are certain limited points of knowledge that are self-evident or otherwise undeniably certain beyond correction. Then, too, post Godel, we must ever be aware of that which may be true but is beyond the reach of any given set of first principles or may be beyond our ken as finite, fallible thinkers.

To illustrate, consider a now fairly common denial of objective knowledge, that is of warrant sufficient that we are responsible to accept a warranted claim as known.

It turns out that the assertion or inference or implication or conclusion, there is no objective truth — in general, for morality, for any particular identifiable domain of thought, etc. — is actually precisely what it tries to deny: a claimed, warranted, credible truth. So it is self referential, incoherent and self defeating. The minimal first truth for any given identifiable domain of thought is, that objective knowable truth exists regarding that domain. It may be hard to unearth and validate but it is there. Nihilism or cynicism about knowledge and truth, fail. So do radical skepticism/global hyperskepticism or selective hyperskepticism, or radical relativism or subjectivism or emotivism, or attempts to dismiss knowledge claims as meaningless, etc. No, the narrator looking on at the blind men groping at an elephant implies objective knowledge on his own part. The abuse of this parable fails, too.

The steersman/kubernetes steers the ship . . .

Let’s add, that it is an error of our age, to grant skepticism seniority over knowledge. Often, rooted in the futile quest for utter, indisputable certainty, which by its very nature cannot succeed. Skepticism is not an intellectual virtue, though it has become the inferior substitute for one, prudence. Prudence, being the cardinal virtue of being habitually governed by responsible, rational, care-taking reasonable consideration on matters. Thus, it becomes the steersman/sailing master, the kubernetes of the virtues. A wellspring of wisdom.

These general results then set a context for onward understanding of and discussion regarding topics of scientific or general interest where there are disputes and the like.

Including of course on the main focus of this forum, Intelligent Design. That domain of scientific study that addresses the question, are there reliable, observable signs that strongly indicate design as key cause? To which, the well warranted (but hotly disputed) answer is, yes. For simple example we know the difference between complex text in English and randomly typed gibberish — ryja5ikjwrgdsueqgm,tuwtagmduktuk, or repetitive patterns sdsdsdsdsdsd.

So, knowledge is not simple and therefore no domain that is claimed to be knowledge can be simple. END

17 Replies to “L&FP 58: Knowledge (including scientific knowledge) is not a simple concept

  1. 1
    kairosfocus says:

    L&FP 58: Knowledge (including scientific knowledge) is not a simple concept

  2. 2
    kairosfocus says:

    F/N: For those who would deny objectivity to knowledge, let me build on this from the OP:

    the assertion or inference or implication or conclusion, there is no objective truth — in general, for morality, for any particular identifiable domain of thought, etc. — is actually precisely what it tries to deny: a claimed, warranted, credible truth. So it is self referential, incoherent and self defeating. The minimal first truth for any given identifiable domain of thought is, that objective knowable truth exists regarding that domain. It may be hard to unearth and validate but it is there. Nihilism or cynicism about knowledge and truth, fail. So do radical skepticism/global hyperskepticism or selective hyperskepticism, or radical relativism or subjectivism or emotivism, or attempts to dismiss knowledge claims as meaningless, etc. No, the narrator looking on at the blind men groping at an elephant implies objective knowledge on his own part. The abuse of this parable fails, too.

    Let’s add, that it is an error of our age, to grant skepticism seniority over knowledge. Often, rooted in the futile quest for utter, indisputable certainty, which by its very nature cannot succeed. Skepticism is not an intellectual virtue, though it has become the inferior substitute for one, prudence. Prudence, being the cardinal virtue of being habitually governed by responsible, rational, care-taking reasonable consideration on matters. Thus, it becomes the steersman/sailing master, the kubernetes of the virtues. A wellspring of wisdom.

    That is,

    The truth claim, “there are no [gernerally knowable] objective truths regarding any matter (so, on any particular matter),” roughly equivalent to, “knowledge is inescapably only subjective or relative,” is an error. Which, happily, can be recognised and corrected.

    Often, such error is presented and made to seem plausible through the diversity of opinions assertion, with implication that none have or are in a position to have a generally warranted, objective conclusion. This, in extreme form, is a key thesis of the nihilism that haunts our civilisation, which we must detect, expose to the light of day, correct and dispel, in defence of civilisation and human dignity. (NB: Sometimes the blind men and the elephant fable is used to make it seem plausible, overlooking the narrator’s implicit claim to objectivity. Oops!)

    Now, to set things aright, let’s symbolise: ~[O*G] with * as AND.

    This claims, it is false that there is an objective knowable truth.

    It intends to describe not mere opinion but warranted, credible truth about knowledge in general. So, ~[O*G] is self referential as it is clearly about subject matter G, and is intended to be a well warranted objectively true claim. But it is itself therefore a truth claim about knowledge in general intended to be taken as objectively true, which is what it tries to deny as a possibility. So, it is self contradictory and necessarily false.

    In steps:

    PHASE I: Let a proposition be represented by x
    G = x is a proposition asserting that some state of affairs regarding some identifiable matter in general including e.g. history, science, the secrets of our hearts, morality etc, is the case
    O = x is objective and knowable, being adequately warranted as credibly true}

    PHASE II: It is claimed, S= ~[O*G] = 1, 1 meaning true
    However, the subject of S is G,
    it therefore claims to be objectively true, O and is about G
    where it forbids O-status to any claim of type G
    so, ~[O*G] cannot be true per self referential incoherence
    =============

    PHASE III: The Algebra, translating from S:

    ~[O*G] = 0 [as self referential and incoherent cf above]
    ~[~[O*G]] = 1 [the negation is therefore true]
    __________
    O*G = 1 [condensing not of not]
    where, G [general truth claim including moral ones of course]
    So too, O [if an AND is true, each sub proposition is separately true]
    ================

    CONCLUSION: That is, there are objective moral truths; and a first, self evident one is that ~[O*G] is false, ~[O*G] = 0.

    Therefore, the set of knowable objective truths in general — and embracing those that happen to be about states of affairs in regard to right conduct etc — is non empty, it is not vacuous and we cannot play empty set square of opposition games with it.

    That’s important.

    Also, there are many particular objective general and moral truths that are adequately warranted to be regarded as reliable. Try, Napoleon was once a European monarch and would be conqueror. Try, Jesus of Nazareth is a figure of history. Try, it is wrong to torture babies for fun, and more.

    Ours is a needlessly confused age, heading for trouble.

    Knowledge is possible, actual, and in key parts, limited.

    KF

  3. 3
    kairosfocus says:

    F/N: A — perhaps, the — central issue in science is not a part of science at all: knowledge, the very meaning of Scientia. It is a question of core philosophy, epistemology. And yes, this entails the secondary nature of particular sciences in the old fashioned sense of domains of carefully established, coherently worked out and summarised knowledge. A sense, that lurks in the error of scientism, which pivots on confining well warranted knowledge to especially the natural sciences and close allies such as Mathematics, driven by a typically naive notion, “THE Scientific Method.” KF

  4. 4
    kairosfocus says:

    F/N: Dallas Willard, is sobering:

    To have knowledge in the dispositional sense—where you know things you are not necessarily thinking about at the time—is to be able to represent something as it is on an adequate basis of thought or experience, not to exclude communications from qualified sources (“authority”). This is the “knowledge” of ordinary life, and it is what you expect of your electrician, auto mechanic, math teacher, and physician. Knowledge is not rare, and it is not esoteric . . . no satisfactory general description of “an adequate basis of thought or experience” has ever been achieved. We are nevertheless able to determine in many specific types of cases that such a basis is or is not present [p.19] . . . .

    Knowledge, but not mere belief or feeling, generally confers the right to act and to direct action, or even to form and supervise policy. [p. 20]

    In any area of human activity, knowledge brings certain advantages. Special considerations aside, knowledge authorizes one to act, to direct action, to develop and supervise policy, and to teach. It does so because, as everyone assumes, it enables us to deal more successfully with reality: with what we can count on, have to deal with, or are apt to have bruising encounters with. Knowledge involves assured truth, and truth in our representations and beliefs is very like accuracy in the sighting mechanism on a gun. If the mechanism is accurately aligned—is “true,” it enables those who use it with care to hit an intended target. [p. 4, Dallas Willard & Literary Heirs, The Disappearance of Moral Knowledge, Routledge|Taylor& Francis Group, 2018. ]

    KF

  5. 5
    Lieutenant Commander Data says:

    Our knowledge works according to our own worldview and worldview is chosen according of our inner state. We chose freely our inner state(as basic catalysts: arrogance/hate or humility/love) so we can’t blame external agents for our own choice. Our conscience(i/morality) shapes the form of our knowledge .

  6. 6
    kairosfocus says:

    LCD, you surface the seven — self evident! — first duties of responsible reason, which run in a definite order: to truth, to right reason, to prudence [thus, warrant], to sound conscience, to neighbour, so too, to fairness and justice. KF

  7. 7
    Lieutenant Commander Data says:

    Therefore morality is higher in hierarchy than knowledge and we can’t extract the morality from knowledge .

  8. 8
    kairosfocus says:

    LCD, I suggest, perhaps it is even more mysterious. Take a diamond that has been beautifully faceted. Each facet draws on all the others and contributes to all the others, giving the gem its unique fire. Each is a microcosm of the whole, leads to and draws on the all. Or, did you know there is a kind of hologram, that if you break off just a piece you can see the whole 3 d image, just, not as detailed? I think this is like that, the facet-microcosm-holographic principle. Intrinsically, inextricably intertwined wholeness. KF

  9. 9
    relatd says:

    “Let’s add, that it is an error of our age, to grant skepticism seniority over knowledge.”

    Poorly written. In the present time, Marxists, Atheists and Anarchists have taken over social media to spread wrong messages. Period.

  10. 10
    relatd says:

    LCD at 5,

    Not logical. Are you immune to all outside influences? Who or what influences you?

  11. 11
    relatd says:

    LCD at 7,

    Again, not logical. Morality is spread by words, by imparting knowledge. We learn how to behave properly through instruction.

  12. 12
    Lieutenant Commander Data says:

    Morality is spread by words

    😆 To spread the butter on bread you have to have the butter first ,right ?

  13. 13
    kairosfocus says:

    Relatd, Marxism, its derivatives, anarchism etc all build on skepticism being held senior to knowledge. Marx for instance started from speaking of how the criticism of religion is the beginning of criticism, and with Fuerbach — you are what you eat [literally], for example — the criticism of religion is complete. This c 1845. The rest is sickening history, not yet finished. Notice, Marx’s trump card was that his variety of Socialism was SCIENTIFIC. As in, he postulated a whole scheme of evolution of culture via hegelian, class struggle based dialectic and successive orders of society proceeding by thesis-antithesis, synthesis ending in the golden age of Communism. Which of course never arrived. In context, having set up crooked yardsticks in place of straight, of course they wish to freely spread crooked messages and suppress any reference to there being a plumb line that is naturally upright and straight. Then, they will eventually fall out over which of the infinitely many possible brands of crookedness is to prevail, with who in domination. And of course, who will be Emmanuel Goldstein, subject of the two minute daily hate. Typically, expressed through confession by projection to the despised other: they are the haters and would be tyrants. Go look in a mirror, and here is a plumb line. KF

  14. 14
    kairosfocus says:

    F/N: I think Dallas Willard put his finger on the pivotal issue for a power-obsessed, agenda driven era that is dismissive of objectivity:

    To have knowledge . . . is to be able to represent something as it is on an adequate basis of thought or experience, not to exclude communications from qualified sources (“authority”) . . . . knowledge authorizes one to act, to direct action, to develop and supervise policy, and to teach. It does so because, as everyone assumes, it enables us to deal more successfully with reality: with what we can count on, have to deal with, or are apt to have bruising encounters with. Knowledge involves assured truth . . .

    What happens when warrant and wider prudence, thus truth, are not on the side of your preferred agenda and power game?

    The answer in the age of radical revolution echoes Pilate’s notorious, What is truth. Even as, he was knowingly about to do grave injustice.

    KF

  15. 15
    Lieutenant Commander Data says:

    “So a god has snatched from me my all
    In the curse and rack of Destiny.
    All his worlds are gone beyond recall!
    Nothing but revenge is left to me!”

    “Till heart’s bewitched, till senses reel:
    With Satan I have struck my deal.
    He chalks the signs, beats time for me,
    I play the death march fast and free.”
    Karl Marx

    Today we have other satanists that run the show. They are allowed to do harm because people departed from God and suffering it’s the only road back home.

  16. 16
    kairosfocus says:

    F/N: Some issues on scientific knowledge claims:

    https://www.colinmcginn.net/scientific-knowledge/

    No doubt scientific knowledge is impressive and enchanting: science has learned so much of interest about the world, with many practical applications. The human brain is lucky to be able to obtain and contain such knowledge. It looks like the best knowledge on planet Earth; if there were a competition for Best In Know, it would be declared the winner. Cognitively, it is our pride and joy. And yet it has come in for criticism, especially by philosophers of science, not all of it motivated by epistemic envy. It postulates unobservable entities, which by definition can’t be detected by the senses; it uses inductive reasoning, which is not (allegedly) a valid form of inference; it has a disturbing tendency to get refuted as time goes by; it is often hard to understand, which renders it undemocratic; it takes years to learn, which makes it expensive and elitist; it is unnatural, like ballet or speaking a foreign language; and it is vulnerable to political influence and corruption. Epistemologically, it is not as fine, upstanding, and humanly accessible as one could wish, despite its undeniable interest and utility. Some have even supposed that scientific knowledge is strictly impossible: Popper maintained that we can never know a scientific proposition to be true, only that it has not so far been falsified. Our attitude to a scientific theory can only be that it has hitherto withstood attempts to prove it false, not that it is actually true. Induction is fallacious, according to Popper, so we can only justify the belief that so far we have not found a counter instance (Popper tends to be popular with practicing scientists). Others have used the speculative nature of science to insinuate that scientists are not always rationally motivated. Paradigms hold them in thrall, status matters, and scientific revolutions are suspiciously like political revolutions. Still others have declared science to be largely fictional on account of its dealings with the unobservable—all such things being on a par with fictional entities. Science is not all it is cracked up to be, according to these critics.

    What has not generally been pointed out is that scientific knowledge compares unfavorably with other forms of human knowledge. Here we could mention knowledge of language, psychological knowledge, and knowledge of one’s own history and local geography.[1] We learn all aspects of our native language easily and equally (no difficulty and elitism), producing a smooth and shared linguistic competence, encompassing semantics, syntax, and phonetics, with no reliance on elaborate experiments or expensive equipment, and not subject to refutation by later research. Popper would be proud of it.

    This is some of the consideration behind my comment that no scientific theory can attain to moral certainty, as opposed to its empirical reliability.

    KF

  17. 17
    kairosfocus says:

    F/N: Feyerabend on the anarchist’s theses in his reconstructed exchange with Lakatos, For and against Method, p. 113 on:

    he will demonstrate from history that there is not a single methodological rule that does not occasionally inhibit science and not a single ‘irrational’ move that may not further it, given the right circumstances. He will rely heavily on anarchistic utterances by revered scientists such as the following utterance by Einstein: “The external conditions which are set for [the scientist] by the facts of experience do not permit him to let himself be too much restricted, in the construction of his conceptual world, by the adherence to an epistemological system. He, therefore, must appear to the systematic epistemologist as a type of unscrupulous opportunist …. ” Using all these bits and pieces of propaganda to maximum effect, he will try to convince his audience that the only universal rule that can safely be in agreement with the moves the scientist must make to advance his subject is anything goes.

    Something to loosen us up.

    KF

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