Thoughts on knowledge

Last updated March 20, 2018

Those are the two basic approaches to knowledge: coherentism and foundationalism.

If you take the coherentism route, you’ll dip your toes in the acidic lake of postmodernism. Everything is relative, nothing is reliably foundational. Nothing can be known as truly true and really real. No one who preaches coherentism truly practices it.

If you take the foundationalism route you have to live with justifications like:

  • “I can’t not believe it.”
  • “I can’t explain it, but it helps explain other things.”
  • “Doubting it presupposes it.”
  • “I immediately perceive it.”

“What is knowledge?”

Knowledge is:

1) justified (warranted)

2) true (corresponding to reality)

3) belief

To avoid the Gettier problem, we perhaps need a fourth condition (if not already entailed by #1):

4) mental faculties and environment suitable for the acquisition of truth

“Does one have to claim knowledge to dispute a knowledge claim?”

Yes. It is hard to dispute the justification of any knowledge claim without operating with a model/structure of justification.

“Is warranted true belief always inferential?”

No. Inferential knowledge is dependent on non-inferential knowledge:

“If nothing is self-evident, nothing can be proved. Similarly if nothing is obligatory for its own sake, nothing is obligatory at all.” (C.S. Lewis)

“Can empirical science alone justify knowledge?”

No. I agree with the atheist Sam Harris:

“We must smuggle in an ‘unscientific prior’ to justify any branch of science.” (#)

“Do you take any ‘naked’ knowledge claims seriously?”

Yes. I would take seriously any person who says, “I know it’s evil to molest children and good to seek their well-being, but I can’t explain why. I can’t not believe it, I just know it, and it seems immediately clear to me. No argument is needed, however helpful supporting arguments may be.”

“Can you prove the non-existence of something?”

With a modest definition of proof — showing that something is more probable than not — you could make a good case that you in fact have X children, not X + 1.

You can also demonstrate that a concept is incoherent or self-defeating, and therefore implausible. There are no married bachelors in space.

“Are epistemic foundations necessarily arbitrary?”

What counts as “arbitrary” is measured against what is considered obvious or self-evident. This standard is often a smuggled epistemic good. Not everyone puts their epistemic cards on the table.

One helpful standard for what should count as non-arbitrary, I submit, would be explanatory power. This related list from William Lane Craig is helpful. But even that assumes truth will be coherent and cohesive and explanatory. You can’t avoid presuppositions.

“Do you consider belief in God to be ‘properly basic’?”

Yes. It belongs to a larger set of non-inferential knowledge, similar to other things based on immediate perception or intuition. Compare: morality, beauty, rules of logic, the uniformity of nature, existence of other minds, existence of the external world, the reality of the past, and the capacity of language to communicate real meaning.