When Is True Belief Knowledge?

When Is True Belief Knowledge?

Richard Foley
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 168
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  • Book Info
    When Is True Belief Knowledge?
    Book Description:

    A woman glances at a broken clock and comes to believe it is a quarter past seven. Yet, despite the broken clock, it really does happen to be a quarter past seven. Her belief is true, but it isn't knowledge. This is a classic illustration of a central problem in epistemology: determining what knowledge requires in addition to true belief.

    In this provocative book, Richard Foley finds a new solution to the problem in the observation that whenever someone has a true belief but not knowledge, there is some significant aspect of the situation about which she lacks true beliefs--something important that she doesn't quite "get." This may seem a modest point but, as Foley shows, it has the potential to reorient the theory of knowledge. Whether a true belief counts as knowledge depends on the importance of the information one does or doesn't have. This means that questions of knowledge cannot be separated from questions about human concerns and values. It also means that, contrary to what is often thought, there is no privileged way of coming to know. Knowledge is a mutt. Proper pedigree is not required. What matters is that one doesn't lack important nearby information.

    Challenging some of the central assumptions of contemporary epistemology, this is an original and important account of knowledge.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4230-8
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
    • Chapter 1 An Observation
      (pp. 3-5)

      Someone glances at a clock that is not working and comes to believe it is quarter past seven. It in fact is quarter past seven. Her belief is true, but it isn’t knowledge. Out of this classic example comes a classic philosophical question: what must be added to a true belief in order to make it into a plausible candidate for knowledge?

      The answer is to be found in the observation that whenever someone has a true belief but does not know, there is important information she lacks. Seemingly a modest point, but it has the capacity to reorient the...

    • Chapter 2 Post-Gettier Accounts of Knowledge
      (pp. 6-8)

      Before leaving her office, Joan always places her laptop on the corner of her desk. Unbeknownst to her, the laptop has just been stolen and is now sitting on the corner of a desk in the thief’s apartment. Joan believes that her laptop is on the corner of a desk, and in fact it is, but she doesn’t know this.

      On Tuesday evening Mary went to sleep at 11 p.m. as is her habit, unaware that she had been given a sleeping potion that would cause her to sleep thirty-two hours instead of her usual eight. When she awakes in...

    • Chapter 3 Knowledge Stories
      (pp. 9-11)

      Contemporary theory of knowledge is driven by stories. The practice is to tell a tiny story, use it to elicit an intuition about whether the subject has or lacks knowledge, and then draw a moral for the theory of knowledge.

      Some of the stories are stripped-down versions of familiar situations. Others depict unusual circumstances, such as my story about Mary and her drug-induced sleep. Still others are beyond unusual—for example, stories about brains in vats.

      Sartre once remarked that in writing philosophy the aim is to discourage multiple interpretations, whereas in writing fiction the aim is precisely the opposite,...

    • Chapter 4 Intuitions about Knowledge
      (pp. 12-18)

      Intuitions about whether someone knows something vary from person to person and occasion to occasion. Epistemologists react differently to this variation. Many ignore it. Some use it to question whether the ordinary concept of knowledge is coherent.¹ Still others try to impose uniformity by dismissing recalcitrant cases as ones in which the subject lacks “real knowledge”² or insisting on such high standards of knowledge that little can be known.³

      My approach is not to be dismissive of intuitions about knowledge but at the same time to concede that they can be puzzling and even jumbled. Appealing to them is thus...

    • Chapter 5 Important Truths
      (pp. 19-31)

      To divide true beliefs that potentially rise to the level of knowledge from those that do not, theories of knowledge identify a dimension for making the division. Other conditions may also need to be satisfied, but this dimension does the initial work in qualifying a true belief as a plausible candidate for knowledge

      According to justification-based theories, the relevant dimension is the strength of the person’s evidence. According to reliability theories, it is the degree of reliability of the processes generating the belief. For tracking theories, it is how extensive the range of counterfactual situations is in which the person’s...

    • Chapter 6 Maximally Accurate and Comprehensive Beliefs
      (pp. 32-40)

      To know one must not lack important information. This test may not always resolve disputes over whether someone knows something, but it does suggest that as one’s grasp of a situation becomes more and more complete, it ought to become more and more difficult to deny that one has knowledge.

      Merely accumulating truths is not enough, however. One can acquire numerous truths about a situation and still not be in a position to know if the truths are unimportant. Moreover, how truths are connected is itself information, indeed, often crucial information.

      Two-thirds of the way through a mystery novel, it...

    • Chapter 7 The Beetle in the Box
      (pp. 41-45)

      An individualScomes into room and sees a small, sealed box on the table. She looks at the outside of the box from all angles but cannot see into it. There is nothing unusual about its weight. Nor does it make a special sound when shaken. Relative to what she is able to observe, there might be nothing at all inside, or there might be a coin wrapped in cloth so as to make no noise, or perhaps a marble or a key.S, however, believes that there is a beetle in the box, and she is correct. There...

    • Chapter 8 Knowledge Blocks
      (pp. 46-50)

      Fanciful stories about circumstances far removed from those in which we typically make ascriptions of knowledge have to be handled with care. The stories themselves are underdescribed, and the intuitions they elicit are various and malleable. Such stories can nonetheless be instructive, as the beetle in the box illustrates. In any remotely normal situation, whenShas a true beliefPbut does not knowP, there are important truths she lacks, but in the beetle case there are no such truths and yet she seems not to have knowledge. Why? Because there is so little significant information to be...

    • Chapter 9 The Theory of Knowledge and Theory of Justified Belief
      (pp. 51-56)

      SknowsPif her beliefPis true and she has adequate information, but she and her belief will usually have various other merits as well. In most cases, her cognitive faculties will have functioned properly, she will have used reliable methods, she will have been appropriately careful in gathering and deliberating about the evidence, and so on.

      Such merits are frequent accompaniments of knowledge but not prerequisites. IfShas a true beliefPand there is no important gap in her information, then except perhaps in a few highly unusual situations where knowledge may be blocked, she...

    • Chapter 10 The Value of True Belief
      (pp. 59-64)

      When knowledge is thought of in terms of adequate information, various puzzles become less problematic, including ones related to the value of true belief and knowledge. In this chapter, I consider issues about the value of true belief, and in the next related issues about the value of knowledge.

      Bernard Williams observed that belief is a psychological state that “aims” at truth. John Searle expresses the same point in terms of mind-to-world direction of fit. It is, he says, the “responsibility” of belief to match the world.¹

      Williams and Searle are speaking allegorically—beliefs are not the sort of things...

    • Chapter 11 The Value of Knowledge
      (pp. 65-69)

      If the primary aim of inquiry is the acquisition of true beliefs, where does this leave knowledge? Isn’t it more valuable than mere true belief? But if so, why? And if knowledge is really more valuable than true belief, does this mean that it rather than true belief should be the primary aim of inquiry? On some accounts of knowledge, it is surprisingly difficult to deal with such questions.

      If, for example, justification traditionally understood or some close cousin of it is thought to be the property that turns true belief into knowledge, and if it is assumed, as it...

    • Chapter 12 The Lottery and Preface
      (pp. 70-72)

      Despite surface similarities, lottery and preface cases seem to differ sharply with respect to what is known.

      Here is a lottery case.Shas bought a ticket in a one-thousand-ticket lottery, and she has compelling evidence that the lottery is fair. The winning ticket,T543, has just been drawn, but no one has yet seen the winning number.Sbelieves that her ticket,T345, is not the winner. Since she is aware there are one thousand tickets and only one winner, she has strong evidence for this belief. Moreover, she is correct. She has not won. Nevertheless, it would seem...

    • Chapter 13 Reverse Lottery Stories
      (pp. 73-77)

      Reverse lottery stories, which focus on the fortunate holder of the winning ticket, raise different issues.¹ Here is an example. Imagine again a fair lottery with one thousand tickets. The winning ticket has been selected, but there will be no announcement of the winner until tomorrow.Sherself did not witness the drawing and has not heard a report from any of those who were present, nor has she seen the script for tomorrow’s announcement. She nonetheless believes that she has been lucky and her ticketT345has won. Moreover, she is right. She has in fact won. Despite having...

    • Chapter 14 Lucky Knowledge
      (pp. 78-80)

      It can be tempting to assume that the explanation for why a subject lacks knowledge in reverse lottery stories must have something to do with its being a matter of luck that she has a true belief about the winning ticket, but this is a temptation to be resisted. What matters is whether her true belief is surrounded by adequate information, not whether she has been lucky.

      Here is another lottery-like story to help illustrate this point. Imagine one hundred people in a room, each of whom knows that he or she is about to take part in an experiment....

    • Chapter 15 Closure and Skepticism
      (pp. 81-85)

      Acknowledging that luck is not incompatible with knowledge makes it easier to deal with other puzzles as well.

      Consider a variation of the barn story. The story begins like the original: George is touring farm country and is charmed by the old barns he is seeing; he pulls his car over to the side of the road to appreciate the latest he has happened across; and, as he looks out the window, he has a true belief that he is looking at a barn. In this version of the story, however, there are no barn facades in the region. During...

    • Chapter 16 Disjunctions
      (pp. 86-87)

      Disjunctions create difficulties for many philosophical views. So, it is worth asking whether they create any special problems for the view that knowledge is to be understood in terms of adequate information.¹

      Suppose a fair coin has been flipped and lies covered on the back ofS’s hand. LetPbe that the flipped coin has landed heads andQthat it has landed tails.Sdoes not believePand does not believeQ, but she does believe (PorQ). Suppose it isPthat is true, that is, the coin has landed heads. AlthoughPis a...

    • Chapter 17 Fixedness and Knowledge
      (pp. 88-90)

      SupposeSbelievesPbecause of a Ouija board. Even ifPturns out to be true, she need not knowP, since there are any number of important truths aboutPand how she came to believe it that she may lack. On the other hand, she may later be in a position to knowPif she comes to observe its truth firsthand or hears reliable testimony about it or acquires evidence from which she can reasonably infer its truth. A true belief that arrives in the world without the status of knowledge is not fated to be...

    • Chapter 18 Instability and Knowledge
      (pp. 91-94)

      Consider a story that raises issues not of fixedness but instability.

      Recall Sally, whose beliefs are as accurate and comprehensive as it is humanly possible for them to be. She has true beliefs about the basic laws of the universe as well as complete as possible information about its history, and using these laws and information, she can explain virtually everything that has happened, is happening, and will happen. Moreover, she has accurate and comprehensive beliefs about how it is that she came to have such accurate and comprehensive beliefs.

      Now retell the Sally story so that a demon has...

    • Chapter 19 Misleading Defeaters
      (pp. 95-98)

      Once the assumption that justification is a necessary component of knowledge is discarded, the Gettier game can no longer be played. In its place, I have recommended a different game: when a subject has a true belief but seems not to have knowledge, look for some key aspect of the situation about which the subject lacks true beliefs.

      Defeasibility theorists make a strikingly similar recommendation. When confronted with cases in which a subject intuitively lacks knowledge despite having a justified true belief, they too recommend looking for a truth about the situation that the subject lacks, but because they are...

    • Chapter 20 Believing That I Don’t Know
      (pp. 99-101)

      WhenSknowsP, there are no important truths about the situation she lacks, but is the truth that she knowsPitself an important truth about the situation? If it were, then in order to knowP, she would have to believe that she knows it.

      This is not a requirement, however. The kind of importance relevant to assessments of knowledge is importance with respect to the subject’s having adequate information, where both intellectual and practical considerations can play a role in determining what counts as adequate. The truth thatSknowsP, however, need not strike us as...

    • Chapter 21 Introspective Knowledge
      (pp. 102-105)

      In everyday contexts it sounds odd to say of someone that she believes she has a headache, and equally odd to say she knows. This has encouraged some philosophers to conclude that it is inappropriate to talk of either belief or knowledge in such cases.¹

      An alternative diagnosis, however, is that the “owner” of a headache is in such a superior position compared with others with respect to determining whether she herself has a headache that it is usually enough to say of her that she has a headache and unnecessary, and hence odd sounding, to add that she believes...

    • Chapter 22 Perceptual Knowledge
      (pp. 106-109)

      In the 1988 filmRain Man, inspired by the autistic savant Kim Peek, Dustin Hoffman plays a character, Ray, who has unusual talents as well as unusual defects. One of his talents is that without counting he can visually ascertain the number of objects in large sets. In a memorable scene, a box of toothpicks spills on the floor of a restaurant. He looks at the spill for an instant and declares “82, 82, 82.” His brother Charlie, played by Tom Cruise, dismisses Ray, saying that there are far more than 82 toothpicks on the floor. Ray immediately responds, “A...

    • Chapter 23 A Priori Knowledge
      (pp. 110-112)

      Some kinds of knowledge are not readily understandable in terms of adequate information if for no other reason than they seem not to be linked with specific truths. Knowledge of people, places, and things and knowledge how are examples.

      Sknows Jimmy Carter from the time she spent working in the White House. She lived for a year in an apartment near the Eiffel Tower and in that year came to know the seventh arrondissement of Paris. She regularly sees her boss in the firm’s parking lot and hence knows his car. In addition, she knows how to ski, how...

    • Chapter 24 Collective Knowledge
      (pp. 113-118)

      The difference between individual and collective knowledge is the difference between individual belief and collective acceptance. Just as an individual knowsPif she believesP,Pis true, and there is no important gap in her information aboutP, so tooPbelongs to the collective stock of knowledge of a group of individuals ifPis collectively accepted by the group,Pis true, and there is no important gap in the group’s collective information aboutP.

      Although two kinds of knowledge have the same structure, there are complex questions about their relationship. Some of these questions revolve...

    • Chapter 25 A Look Back
      (pp. 121-123)

      I have repeatedly urged caution about the practice, common in contemporary epistemology, of using tiny stories to elicit intuitions about knowledge, but I have resisted taking the next step and declaring a “pox” on the entire practice. Perhaps in part out of conservatism or even sentimentality—I too was trained in the practice—but also, I trust, for less complacent reasons. I have been trying to illustrate that there is a project worth doing that makes use of stories and the intuitions they produce, but it is a project in which the constant refrains are “not so fast” and “not...

    • Chapter 26 Epistemology within a General Theory of Rationality
      (pp. 124-133)

      The history of epistemology in large part can be read as an attempt to come to grips with two questions, what is it to have justified beliefs, and what is it to have knowledge? Parts 1 and 2 have been concerned with the latter question, but a complete epistemology needs also to address the former as well as the relationship between the two.

      Chapter 9 provides some of the groundwork. Once the assumption that justified belief is a necessary condition of knowledge is abandoned, the Gettier game can no longer be played, and the way is cleared for a reorientation...

    • Chapter 27 The Core Concepts of Epistemology
      (pp. 134-136)

      With the concepts of epistemically rational and justified belief situated within a philosophically respectable and perfectly general theory of rationality, and with knowledge understood as true belief plus adequate information, epistemology is reoriented.

      The core concepts of the reoriented epistemology are true belief and epistemically rational belief. Knowledge and justified belief are derivative concepts¹ explicated in terms of these core concepts together with human goals, needs, and values, which explains why the standards of both knowledge and justified belief become more demanding as the stakes go up. In the case of knowledge there cannot be important truths of which one...

  6. Notes
    (pp. 137-148)
  7. Index
    (pp. 149-153)