Epistemology is the study of knowledge and the justification of our beliefs. Epistemologists address questions like, "Why is my belief that the United States will continue to exist tomorrow justified whereas my friend's belief that there are leprechauns isn't?" The philosophy of science is a branch of epistemology.
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Epistemology (SEP entry)
I hope those who attended Anthony Coleman's stimulating convocation enjoyed it and left having begun to formulate some views both on the possibility of being alienated from knowledge and on what an account of it should look like.
Coleman thinks that in the examples that he discusses--the math example, Descartes' meditator, perhaps the case of Jane, etc.--we have cases of persons who have knowledge yet are estranged from it. In discussions with Coleman and members of the Philosophy faculty, and to some degree in PHI 110 today, I pushed the worry that in these cases these persons do not have knowledge. Consider the math example. Coleman says that the person knows the answer to the problem but remains alienated from that knowledge until he solves it for himself. But I wonder: does this person know the answer? On its face, it sounds like he's unsure, and consequently can't be said to know. So, too, with Descartes' meditator: Coleman thinks that he knows, e.g., that he has a hand but that he has alienated himself from his knowledge that he has a hand. But one is tempted to say that the meditator doesn't know: the doubts he has (extreme, to be sure) have undercut his knowledge.
It is worth (my) being clear about what concerns me, since I've come to appreciate that in my discussions with Coleman, I did a bad job isolating my worry. The reason why I'm inclined to think that these persons lack knowledge is that, contrary to what Coleman thinks, I'm not sure that these persons even believe what Coleman claims that they believe. And as Coleman notes in his paper, one can't know that p unless one also believes that p. The person whose friend completes the math problem: it sounds like he is inclined to believe his friend's answer but that he won't/can't quite believe it until he completes the problem for himself. Descartes' meditator: sure, he is inclined to believe that he has a hand. But until he can rule out the possibility of being deceived by the evil demon or the possibility that he is merely dreaming, he doesn't quite believe that he has a hand.
Or so I worry. Does anyone want to defend Coleman from this concern? Does anyone have different concerns? Observations?
In PHI 110, we've been reading responses to external-world skepticism by Jonathan Vogel and Fred Dretske. I wanted to offer up the opportunity for students to bat those responses around on-line. Questions? Comments? Has either succeeded in undercutting the skeptic?
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