PHL100: Epistemology Introduction
Epistemology is concerned with 3 primary questions:
- What is knowledge?
- How do we get knowledge?
- What justifies a belief and makes it knowledge?
Some background on Socrates
- ~470 - 399 BC
- Trial recounted by Plato in the Apology. Accused of "not
worshipping the gods whom the State worships and of corrupting
- Events of his execution in Plato's Crito and
Some Background on Plato
- 428-348 BC
- Relatively wealthy student of Socrates
- Was present at the trial of Socrates
- Founded the Academy
- Opposed, as did Socrates, the Sophists.
- Most notable student was Aristotle
- His school, and his dialogues, demonstrate the dialectic.
This dialetical method reveals the sense of Plato that
knowledge is socially found and communicated.
Knowledge in the Theatetus (selection)
- Socrates pushes Theatetus to try to define the essence of
knowledge -- that is, whatever makes all knowledge, knowledge.
- Theatetus's first answer is: knowledge is true belief.
- Socrates points out that sophists convince people using
any demagogery available to them. If they convince, say, a
jury to make a correct verdict, but do so with a false appeal,
this definition would mean that the jury had knowledge.
- Theatetus and Socrates consider the idea that knowledge
is true belief with an account (logos). They then
consider (in this selection) two notions of "account" or logos:
- The account (logos) is knowing the primitive parts of
a thing. But: Socrates points out that you don't really
understand a primitive part unless you know its role in
- Another sense of account is being able to distinguish
a thing. But: I am familiar with many things and am
unable to say how they are unique! This definition also
appears circular, since it seems to require that:
knowledge about x = correct belief about x along with
knowledge about what distinguishes x from other things.
- Socrates concludes that we do not yet know what knowledge
- HOWEVER: since Plato's time, philosophers have recognized
that knowledge is (at least) justified true belief.
The task then becomes discerning what justifies a true belief
and makes it knowledge.
Internalism and Externalism
Some later philosophers rejected the idea that we need to be able to
justify a belief in order for it to be knowledge, and proposed instead
that if a true belief is acquired in a way that is reliable (for
example) that is sufficient. This led to a useful distinction:
- (epistemic) Internalism: the view that, in order
for a true belief to be knowledge, we must be able
to explain why it is justified.
- (epistemic) Externalism: the view that a true belief can
be knowledge even if we cannot explain why it is justified, if
that belief arose in the right way. (This is typically because
one might argue that the source of the belief is reliable, even
if we do not know why.)