Theories of knowledge

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Theories of knowledge

“The concern with understanding human knowledge has been a central philosophical one. ”1“Like Rene Descartes, we have all ask ourselves at one time or another couldn’t everything I seem to see, hear, etc. Be illusory? Might I’ll in fact be dreaming all this? If so what do I really know of the outside world? “2 Knowledge is a vague concept according to Bertrand Russell. This is issue of what is knowledge, how do we know and how to classify what we think we know as knowledge. In order to help solve this problem knowledge have been classified into groups by philosophers.

These are procedural knowledge, personal knowledge, and propositional knowledge. Procedural knowledge is seen as ability or knowledge how, while personal is knowledge by acquaintance and prepositional is factual knowledge. Traditional epistemologists concentrate entirely on propositional knowledge, this is knowledge fact, and several of these traditional theories of knowledge are split in two groups, empiricist and rationalist. These philosophers believed their source of knowledge for the former is through experience and the latter through reason.

These theories cannot be seen as absolute for there can be found definite flaws in their projection. For this cannot be the only way of knowing if one is to consider the existence of intuition knowledge. However, aim of this essay is not to examine the right or wrong of these epistemological theories, but to evaluate how epistemological theories justify why philosophers’ beliefs and statements are to be classified as knowledge. This essay will be concentrating on the method of how we know that we know and justification of this for it to be truth and knowledge.

The theories of justification are the direction of this essay in order to understand to some extent the theories that are used to justify statements and beliefs in western philosophy. There are two main justification theories that are very popular among traditional and contemporary western philosophy. These are coherence theory of justification or coherentism and foundationalism. Both theories are seen as opposing theories of one another. By examining both theories one will get a little insight to western philosophy concept of justification of how one knows.

The first theory we will be looking at is the one of foundationalism. Foundationalism is any theory in epistemology that holds the view that beliefs are justified or known based on basic beliefs. The basic beliefs are said to be self justifying or self evident, that is, they enjoy a non-inferential warrant (or justification), i. e. , they are not justified by other beliefs. 3 Foundationalism or epistemic foundationalism of justification theory concentrates on the view that some beliefs are known or justified only because some main beliefs are already known or justifiably.

Typically , foundationalists have held the view that these basic beliefs are either justified by the phenomenal events or states, such as experiences, and therefore do not constitute beliefs such non-doxastic mental states, and they are simply not the type of statements or things that can be or rather need justification . Many questions arise from the concept of basic beliefs such as: How are basic beliefs justified and how can we justify other beliefs on basic beliefs? These questions will be dealt with later on in the essay.

Famous philosopher Rene Desecrates could be placed in the category of foundationalism with his belief of epistemology. He argued that we start with the obvious certainty which is clear and consist of distinct ideas. Secondly we are able to justify other ideas by deducing them from the obvious and thirdly both together gives us most of our common sense ideas. Descartes common view is that the foundational propositions must be results of subjective psychological states. He uses perception as a prime example. For one cannot , have a basic proposition of the form “I perceive X” or “There is X.

” This basic proposition must be in the form of “I seem to perceive X,” for to Descartes only these can be certain for instance I am think therefore I am, this would be seen as a basic belief and every other belief would be justified based on this. He continues to posits that since he is a thinking being he is therefore able to obtain knowledge and as a finite being there must be and infinite being who knows all things. This is Descartes justification of existence of God.

He did this by using his basic belief of himself existing and through his realization of him being deceive there must be an infinite being that help him come to this realization (belief). To further understand Foundationalism modern philosophers have created a metaphor for foundationalism.

This is seen as the pyramid metaphor. According to foundationalist each piece of knowledge relies on a pyramid,4 as shown in figure 1. For Descartes each piece of knowledge depends on a pyramid. P5 P4 P3 P2 Pppppppp P FIGURE 1: Illustrating the how basic belief justifies other beliefs “For example, you can know that you have heart disease only if you know some other claims such as your doctor report this and doctors are reliable this would be P.

The support of these beliefs provides for your belief that you have heart disease illustrates that your first belief is epistemic dependent on these other two beliefs. ” 5 Epistemic foundationalism is one view about how to answer these questions. Foundationalists maintain that some beliefs are properly basic and that the rest of one’s beliefs inherit their epistemic status (knowledge or justification) in virtue of receiving proper support from the basic beliefs. Foundationalists have two main projects: a theory of proper basicality (that is, a theory of non-inferential justification) and a theory of appropriate support.

6 There are several arguments that philosophers use in order to strength this theory. Two such arguments are the regress argument and humans natural judgments examples. What is this regress argument that is used by foundationalism? The regress argument in epistemology is a belief that a claim best way to have reason is to have argument form which claim follows. For example 1. The toy is chewed on 2. The baby chewed on the toy 3. The baby is teething This argument is entirely dependent on each premises, for if one is to ask the question who or what chewed on the toy the answer would be the baby; why because the baby is teething.

The baby is teething so she chewed on the toy. To further examine this issue one would realize that as the set of propositions increase more infinite the justification, and is where do it all end. To foundationalist this is seen as begging the question, as well as circular reasoning, and use this as and a reason to reject the coherenism theory. Foundationalists aim to rectify this problem by establishing that some beliefs are self justified. Another argument for is the idea of natural judgments.

Why is the sky blue? Why is red called red? This are just two questions that supports foundationalism for, how can you justify why red is called red and why is the sky blue, though in some empiricists or rationalist would justify this scientifically this in itself still isn’t a justification for scientific method do fail. This is not however, the aim of this essay , but to evaluate the justification theories. Foundationalist basic belief can correct this or answer this question, by saying that red is called red because of a basic belief that red is this color.

However, the issue of this is not whether or not basic belief justify why the sky is blue , but the bigger picture is why how can a belief be self justified as well as what would constituents self justification? This epistemic dependence naturally raises the question about the proper epistemic structure for our beliefs. Should all beliefs we hold be supported by other beliefs and are some beliefs rightfully believed by being apart from receiving support from other beliefs? What is the nature of the proper support between beliefs?

Modern opposing theory Coherenists refute this theory and further support their theory to correct the regress problem. They ask question like, should all beliefs be reliant on some self justified belief? To what extent does this basic belief create proper support for other belief? Coherentism or coherence theory of justification treats a belief to be justifiably held as longs as the belief coheres with a set of beliefs. These set of beliefs are used to form a coherent system. This theory raises several questions about the method of epistemic structure of belief.

Modern coherenism is called the raft or circle by many philosophers, each belief is represented by a stick and connects with others to create a raft (sytem of beliefs) Coherenism is the theory that posits that a belief is justified if and only if it is justified by some other beliefs; it coheres with a comprehensive system of beliefs. These are a set a beliefs and not members, this is so for they are all mutual explanatory and consistent, where consistence plays key aspect to this theory. In order for a belief to be considered to be coherent, the belief to which makes up the system has to cohere with one another.

In typically coherenism theory three components are usually involved these are: logical consistence, explanatory relationship as well as various inductive relations. However, how does this explain or justify beliefs so that one can acquire knowledge or simply to know that one knows? The strongest from of this theory say that belonging to these system of beliefs is a necessary condition for a belief to be justified and by standing together these beliefs found in the system is sufficient enough to stand on its own to justify a belief.

Coherensim uses several arguments to support this theory one such is the argument of increase probability. Similar to an the inductive argument the more the premises increases the greater the probability of the conclusion to be true, coherenism posits that the more beliefs that are in a belief system the more probability or the better justification of these set of beliefs, but this is still a probability . C. I. Lewis uses the example of a case where a number of witnesses report the same the about an event, for example: a wedding.

According Lewis the “congruence of the reports establish a high probability of what they agree upon. ”7 Though hundreds may recall the events, these witnesses may be unreliable and their accounts complete independent of one other. The example is meant to make a generalization that which unreliable sources can operate independent of one another and still come up with the same findings. Therefore, beliefs and statements which are unreliable that can be tied under similar context and create justify beliefs. Another argument that is in support of is that only beliefs can justify beliefs.

That is to say that there is nothing that can hold a belief but a another belief. In order to hold a belief one would have to have a previous belief and this belief would help to justify the current belief. The theory of coherence justification as several flaws that are going to evaluated. One such flaw is the regress argument which despite their responses is still an issue in this theory. The idea of circular reasoning in order to justify a belief is one that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

The use of the raft as a metaphor in modern coherernism call for great objection , if each belief is a stick, where does these system of beliefs end and where does it beginning when does it stop? Also beliefs shouldn’t be justified by how based on another belief. For justification of A is justified by B and by C and C by A, there is no obvious conclusion of this. Another argument against this theory is that coherenism is not feasibly method of justify belief and statements. For if as humans we possess plenty of justified beliefs, then we should have a system of beliefs, but this is not so for most if not all persons.

All our beliefs does not coheres as the coherenist projects it to be and therefore we could not have this system of beliefs that the theory postulate. Coherenism is not the only theory of justification that has its flaws earlier on we raise the question has to how the concept of basic belief really helps with the issue of justification. Basic beliefs make no sense for a belief to be justified there must be some reason that makes it true. Therefore they must possess some quality that enables for it to be true.

Therefore in order for basic beliefs to work one need to know how this it’s self is justified. Also the idea of basic belief is not sufficient enough to stand as a justification for other beliefs for if these basic beliefs have no direct method of justification, it cannot stand the test or up hold the other set of beliefs. It simple is not sufficient enough to support other beliefs. Also if there is a case where some beliefs can be basic, issues arises as to what beliefs can and cannot not classify has basic beliefs.

Can one state that the Tom loves Jane as a basic belief? Both theories of justification as fall short of justifying beliefs that are not associated with knowledge fact. Western philosophy is mostly concerned with proposition knowledge, but other knowledge such as intuitional knowledge shouldn’t be tossed aside. These theories did not provide a suitable method of justification. How do you justify what our gut feeling tells us is it is not knowledge as well and more emphases should be placed on the method of justification of other types of knowledge.

Both theories have failed to this for they are branches of empiricist and rational thinking and have no regards for the way of life of non- western people. Theories of justification are used to help one know that they know. To justify ones beliefs or statements for it to be true and then become knowledge. Both foundationalism and coherentism are opposing theories for justifying beliefs. Foundationalism pyramid and use of basic belief help one to understand belief that seem to have no premises, by stating that this belief are self justified.

Also these basic beliefs then are used as justification for other beliefs thus creating method of justify ones beliefs. This theory has come upon many criticism of how to justify these basic beliefs as well the insufficiency of these beliefs to support others. Whilst on the other hand coherenism theory speaks of a system of beliefs which justify each other. The larger the system of the beliefs the better the justification. This also had criticism by deducing circular reasoning as well as the creation of the regress problem. Both theories has yet to establish method of knowing for other types of knowledge.

Reference Bewaji . J. A. I. An Introduction to the Theory of Knowledge, a Pluricultural. Nigeria: Approach. Hope Publication Ltd, 2007 Alston William. Has Foundationalism Been Refuted? Edited by Goodman. F. Michael and Snyder A. Robert. Contemporay Readimg in Epistemology. New Jersey:Prentice-Hall Inc 1993 Chisholm Roderick. One Version of Foundationalism. Edited by Goodman. F. Michael and Snyder A. Robert. Contemporay Readimg in Epistemology. New Jersey:Prentice-Hall Inc 1993 Author. Document Title. URL or DOI. Sosa Ernest. The Raft and the Pyramid. Edited by Sosa Ernest and Kim Jaegwon.

Epistemology- An Anthology. Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers Inc. 2000 Turri John. On The Regress Argument for Infinitism. DOI-10. 1007/S11299-007-9270-X Haack Susan. Evidence and Inquiry. http://www. jstor. org/stable/2108388? origin=JSTOR-pdf Audi Robert. The Structure of Justification. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,1993. Foundationalism,” Princeton. com, Powered by CC-BY-SA, http://www. princeton. edu/~achaney/tmve/wiki100k/docs/Foundationalism. html Poston Ted, “Foundationalism”. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. http://www. iep. utm. edu/found-ep/.


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  • University/College: University of Arkansas System

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  • Date: 5 November 2016

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