Socrates famously said “I know that I know nothing”. Well, he maybe said it. Who really knows? That was thousands of years ago. But the basic principle stands, we should be skeptical about what we are sure of in this world.
Today, in “30-Second Philosophies” I read about how philosophers have debated what knowledge is. Apparently, the standard account was pretty simple, for someone to know something it must meet three conditions:
- You must believe it
- It must be true
- Your belief that it is true must be justified
Kind of makes sense, though I definitely feel like I know some things that I don’t believe, particularly when it comes to mental health issues. But overall, it makes sense. You don’t “know” something if it is false and you don’t “know” something if your belief isn’t justified. Saying the sun is purple or saying you believe the sun is yellow because it is round like a lemon and all round things are the same is not knowledge.
Unfortunately, a lot of politico-religious beliefs in our society really ignore the second two points. Belief has become all that matters and truth and even justified belief has been thrown out the window. Really though, this has been going on for a long time. This standard account of knowledge was a replacement for the old standard, that knowledge is “revealed” by some divine force that just so happens to agree with whatever the people in power say.
In some ways, we still live in a world where many people believe knowledge is revealed and not justified. That truth is kind of irrelevant. I’m not sure how to address this. If two people cannot even agree on a middle ground of what is appropriate knowledge then where do you begin?
This really wouldn’t be an issue if we didn’t have systems in place that allowed people to have power over others. If knowledge was confined to just personal decision making then at least a lack of truth or justification wouldn’t directly harm others. Of course, I would love to help others get out of Plato’s cave but it least they wouldn’t be dragging people in with them or attacking those who try to leave.
Putting down an explicit definition certainly makes me reflect on the things that I “know”. The largest hurdle is really justifying a belief that things are true. Where is the threshold for a justification to be good enough to extract truth?
While I can say that I believe my partner loves me and point to many experiences to justify it, isn’t it possible that this is a big con that she’s pulling on me?
I also believe that a Basic Income Guarantee would be a net gain for society and can point to studies and theories to back it up, but the world is complex and dynamic and isn’t it possible I may be wrong?
I make a lot of decisions off of beliefs with varying degrees of justification. So where is the threshold? Is there some sort of mathematically stable point that applies to all situations, or is the answer an unsatisfying “it depends”?
Again, I’m left with more questions than answers, which I love. Because I “believe” that increasing my knowledge and challenging myself will make my life better. I hope at least that belief ends up being justified strongly enough to reflect truth.
Feel free to reach out at any of the ways below while I take a Facebook break!
Email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Questions: pneiger.sarahah.com or www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH
Also, I wrote a book about a cross-country bicycle ride I did!
“Wandering Oak: A Rite of Passage”