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Theory of Knowledge: 'Knowledge First' Epistemology

After many failed attempts to construct an analysis of knowledge, some philosophers began to wonder whether knowledge was resistant to analysis, and why that might be so. In this Wireless Philosophy video, Jennifer Nagel (University of Toronto) looks at the reasons why philosophers like Linda Zagzebski have thought that knowledge can’t be reductively analyzed, and explores the “Knowledge First” approach of Timothy Williamson.

Speaker: Dr. Jennifer Nagel, Associate Professor, University of Toronto.

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  • blobby green style avatar for user Oywer Ooko Leo
    What is a continent? Is it a single land mass?
    (1 vote)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user Sam
    Can someone please help me here? So it sounds like after all the videos in the serious we've concluded the "knowledge" is merely defined as an awareness of truth/fact? Right? It almost sounds like he's saying "knowledge" and "truth" are synonyms practically speaking.

    I'm also super confused how after all these video and theoretical elucidation Williamson's ends up concluding "If you see that the barn is on fire you know that the barn is on fire" lol. How is that any different than "if you see a barn on the side of the road you know it's a barn on the side of the road" even when driving in Fake Barn County? Wasn't this already explained in a previous video?
    (1 vote)
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    • leaf green style avatar for user Dustin Berg
      "Knowledge" and "truth" are no more synonymous than air and breathing. In regard to your question about the barns, it appears that you're misappropriating Williamson's conclusion to a similar, but separate, example. Williams is essentially just asserting that you seeing the barn on fire, and subsequently knowing that it was, in fact, a barn, then you are justified in your belief of p (There is a barn on fire).
      Whereas with the latter case, it was supposed to serve as a counterexample to cases reliant upon causality. Basically, the argument was that there are instances where the causal condition is satisfied, but the S cannot know p due to the presence of natural chance.
      (1 vote)

Video transcript

my name is Jennifer Nagel I teach philosophy at the University of Toronto and today I want to talk to you about knowledge first epistemology knowledge first epistemology marks a reversal from the kind of epistemology that got started with Edmund Gettier in 1963 which is now looking back sometimes called belief first epistemology let's explore that label belief first epistemology starts with belief and asks what you have to add to it in order to get knowledge everyone notices right away that false beliefs don't look like knowledge so the equation generally starts out as knowledge equals true belief plus X we've seen from the last few videos that there are many proposals for X but it's very hard to come up with one that stands up under pressure and isn't open to counter examples some candidates for X got very complicated other candidates for X were simpler but generated counterintuitive results after 30 years of struggling to come up with a good story about what had to be added to belief to get knowledge some philosophers started to wonder whether belief first epistemology was a bad idea in a 1994 paper entitled the inescapability of getting your problems epistemologists Linda's exits key argued that we were never going to come up with a good analysis of knowledge as true belief plus something else where the something else can't smuggle in the idea of knowledge which would make the analysis circular and can't already guarantee the truth of the belief which would mean the right-hand side of the analysis had a big redundancy the JTB or justified true belief analysis wasn't redundant justification and get ears picture really is something interestingly different from true belief because he thinks you can have a justified false belief we also know that JTB isn't a circular analysis JTP doesn't already sneak in the idea knowledge because it's possible to have justified true belief without knowledge for example in get ears classic cases which are counter examples to the JTP theory SAG's upski argued that get ears result could be generalized she provides a general recipe for producing counter examples to any would be reductive analysis of knowledge here's how it works let's say X is whatever you're supposed to add to true belief to get knowledge could be anything any mix of conditions like justification causal links to the fact you name it for convenience we'll call your X warrant to make sure the analysis isn't redundant it has to be possible that we could have a warranted false belief and in fact exits key showed that it has to be possible to have a warranted false belief which is false just through bad luck rather than for some systematically describable reason take that basic story and then she argued you can just add one more stroke of luck which makes the key proposition turn out to be true after all and that's going to be your effective counter example to the proposed analysis of knowledge so looking at a broken clock bad luck typically you form a warranted false belief about the time but then good luck you happen to be looking at this clock at just the right moment that's how you devise a counter example to a proposed reductive analysis says X Keys general recipe for creating counter examples was powerful enough to raise serious doubts about the whole project of producing an analysis of knowledge many philosophers then wondered why knowledge was so resistant to analysis here's one idea sometimes a concept resists analysis because it is basic like a prime number which can't be factored into simpler components perhaps philosophers went wrong in thinking that belief was one factor in knowledge a factor to which other independent ingredients had to be added perhaps knowing is more primitive and believing is a spinoff from it this is actually an old idea perhaps as old as Plato but in recent years it's been revived by Oxford philosopher Timothy Clemson everyone agrees that believing is a mental state Williamson argues that knowing is also a mental state in its own right and not just a compound of believing plus non mental factors like causal connections Williamson agrees with the majority view that knowing entails believing so if Alice knows that it's raining she also believes that it's raining and you might think this has to mean that believing is just an ingredient in knowing together with other factors that would make believing something more basic a building block that's included in knowledge but also in other conditions like false belief think of water it's more common and more basic than orange mocha frappuccino in which it figures as one ingredient among many if there were no water there'd be no orange mocha frappuccino black wise if no one had any beliefs there would be no knowledge this ingredient model is not the only one to follow however maybe the relationship between belief and knowledge isn't like the relationship between water and orange mocha frappuccino think instead about the relationship between the geometrical concept of the circle and the looser everyday concept of being somewhat rounded rounded things are more common in reality but the concept of the circle is more basic it's simpler and we understand roundedness as some kind of approximation to circularity anything that's a circle will be rounded but it's not because circles are made up of roundedness plus other ingredients which are independent of circularity well Williamson sees belief as some kind of approximation of knowledge or attempt at knowledge an attempt that can fall short of the mark in many ways knowing sets the standard that believing should ideally meet and believing a proposition P is pretty much a matter of treating that proposition as if you knew it on his view knowledge is the most basic concept in epistemology belief is a spin off when you've hit knowledge you've hit bedrock and can stop digging if epistemologists weren't allowed to do anything other than propose reductive analyses of knowledge then supporters of the knowledge first program would have to stop doing epistemology fortunately the study of knowledge doesn't have to mean cutting knowledge down into more basic components you can also look at how knowledge relates to everything else and indeed try to build up and construct new series of evidence rational action and other matters of interest indeed taking knowledge as basic doesn't have to stop you from making some observations about its general nature as long as you're not trying to break it down into ingredients here's a core claim Williamson has defended knowledge is the most general fact of mental state I'll explain these terms mental states are states of an agent or sentient being States like wanting hoping seeing fearing and thinking these states explain what we do as agents what's special about fact if mental states is that they can only tie an agent to a fact or truth many mental states are non factum hoping and believing for example can connect someone to either a truth or falsehood you can hope that you're invited to the party when you are not or you can believe that the party is on Friday when in fact it's on Saturday whatever you know by contrast has to be true knowing isn't the only fact of mental state here are some other examples Williamson mentions seeing being aware remembering being happy that something is the case or regretting that something is the case all of these linked only two truths although you can hope that you will be invited to the party even when you won't be you can only be aware that the party is at alice's house if it is true that the party is at alice's house what unites factus mental states according to Williamson is that they all entail knowing if you see that the barn is on fire you know that the barn is on fire if you really remember that Alice invited you to the party then you know that Alice invited you to the party fact of mental states are genuinely different from each other you can be aware that the party is at Alice's house even when you can't see that the party is at Alice's house and you can remember that something happened without being happy that it happened on this view olfactive mental states other than knowing are just more specific ways of knowing so seeing that something is the case is a way of knowing through vision and remembering that something is the case is a way of knowing through memory the state of knowledge is the overarching the most general fact of mental state knowledge first epistemology is controversial not everyone agrees that the project of analyzing knowledge will never work and there are active debates about whether important concepts like the concept of evidence can be well handled by knowledge first theories whether or not you like the knowledge first idea many questions remain open here