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The problem of knowledge

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The traditional criteria for propositional knowledge are of three parts namely “justify”, “true” and “belief”. For a proposition to be taken as knowledge claim, one has to prove that it has been a duly justified true belief. In the justification part, the person is being required to provide some sort of explanation in rendering his point. For instance, a person’s belief that he would win a lottery tomorrow is not justified even if it turns out to be true because his belief is not grounded to any justification.

It is apparent that the person’s belief is merely a belief. It basically says nothing of any importance to epistemology. How can we possibly have any knowledge of A, for example, if the only reason we can provide as to why there is A is because we believe that there is?  In contrast, a belief that is supported by justification is not considered as futile in the realm of epistemology. Why do we believe that we will have red walls if we paint our walls with red paint? It is because of the fact that if walls are covered by any paint, the color of the paint we used to brush our walls with will show on the walls’ surface.

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Justification, moreover, leads someone to accept what is true.

According to Aristotle truth can be summarized into stating that, “to say of something which is that it is, or of something which is not that it is not, is true.” A belief should have been true for it to be considered knowledge. If someone declares that all men only love women romantically speaking is being mistaken by any evidence that explicitly states that there is this particular man who is in love with another man. That, then, debunks the proposition that all men love only women in the light of romance. Another criterion of the traditional propositional knowledge is the belief. In epistemology (the study of theory and nature of knowledge), it is not the belief that we have in our country, for instance, is its concern. It is the belief that is dealt on when to believe. To illustrate this, let us assume that we believe that the sun is the center of our solar system. In this case, we have to think that the proposition “the sun is the center of our solar system” is true. To think based on a justified true belief is a knowledge claim.

Paying a close analysis of these criteria, we cannot help but notice that the propositional knowledge posits a problem that is deeply rooted in the question postulated by the source and grounds of our knowledge claims. The criteria presented above do not, however, guarantee knowledge to bear truthful claim even if a belief is said to be a justified true one. There could be cases that a belief has a justification and turns to be true but it just so happens because the criteria have been satisfied. In other words, there is still no sufficient proof that we can use in order to support our claim that a knowledge claim is indeed true.  It may happen because of luck. Take the situation in the movie The Matrix, as our example. In the said movie, people believe that the year is 1999. They have no slightest doubt that the year they come to believe as true is not the real one. Since we can have a justification that the year last year (by following the trend of thought of most people) was, say, 1998, therefore, it is justified to claim a belief that the current year is 1999. Conversely, the world that people have believed is not parallel to the “true” world which is the illusory simulated reality (world). In the movie, even people’s thought are being manipulated by the intelligent machines. There is no way by which people there can know the truth unless they take the role of Neo who has the ability of seeing the reality.  Those who have been connected to the Matrix all of their lives are not aware that there reality is not the exact reality. Hence, they are living in a lie. The three criteria of propositional knowledge will not be useful. The whole system (of the Matrix) is indeed logical, and the belief that people have in relation to their world is not being challenged because all things seem so real. All things that they believe to be real are justified in that close system. The problem that we can deduce from the cases being presented in the movie is “how do we know if we really know that something is real?” If the criteria for any knowledge claim will never guarantee us of truth, how can we ever resolve the issue concerning reality?

Plato and Rene Descartes are both rationalists in terms of their views on epistemology. For them, knowledge is only possible if it is based on self-evident and absolutely certain principles. Although they have different perspective on to how to arrive at knowledge, they believe that there must be a total negligence for the possibility that knowledge can be acquired through the use of sense perception. Plato states that a firm foundation for a belief or opinion, i.e., it must be based on “undoubtable” principles of thought, is needed for us to declare that a belief or an opinion is considered as knowledge. These foundations confirm us that a belief or opinion is justified and hence true. On the other hand, Rene Descartes pronounces that we have to go back to a kind of statement or belief that cannot be doubted in order for us to know whether the beliefs we have are justified or not. He advocates the notion, according to his method of meditation, that there is just one belief that we cannot be faltered and that is none other that the fact that we think. To assert that we all think is also to admit that we all do exist. Our knowledge of the sensible world is not merely a product of our own minds but of the things that God has put in our minds. God is perceived because there could never be no other way to know that we are all imperfect (the senses that we have can be deceitful, hence we are not perfect) but to recognize that there is a perfect thing that is God. Clear and distinct knowledge (such as mathematical reasoning and quantifiable physics) is being supported by the idea of God. It is only in the acceptance that God is never to deceive us that we can acquire knowledge based on the terms of mathematical and quantifiable physics. It is merely on our appeal to rationality that we can have knowledge.

Descartes and Plato support the a priori approach to knowledge. It means knowledge beyond our senses. Though it can be seen that there approach to knowledge has made a great deal of importance in the course of philosophy, it, however, disqualifies the knowledge that we can acquire in the basis of the usage of our sense perception. The rationalist epistemology fails to provide substantive reference to the area of natural science. Natural science, of course, uses mathematical concept and quantifiable physics, but it does not debunk the indispensability of the empirical (based on observation or experiences with the help of sense perception) data in theorizing. It is indeed very much problematic for us to totally accept Plato and Descartes’ theory (given that they are both rationalists) if we do believe in the advancement of natural science and its influence in our physical world. We cannot just find sufficient evidence that would dismantle all the scientific progress that we have witnessed in our daily life. The knowledge that we have been using in the world is not only basically founded in the realm of reasoning. It is evident that sense perception can influence the flow of our reasoning and it does not indeed necessarily mean that we have to blame the senses that we have if ever we commit mistakes in making use of them. Science has resolved the problems being brought about by the mere reliance on the senses by allowing reason mediate the course of scientific experimentations.

John Hospers’ (1996) idea concerning the “strong sense of knowing” (philosophically stringent sense) or the “strong knowledge” is founded by his view that if we can have an absolutely conclusive evidence for a proposition, then it would be strong knowledge. A “strong knowledge is something that must be true that one must believe because it offers absolute conclusive evidence. It is “when there is nothing more that I or anyone could discover that would cast the slightest doubt on the statement (p. 48)” and when all the evidences required supporting a statement that we could have a “strong knowledge”. Hospers’ states that absolute conclusive evidence is needed such that there will be no room for any possibility of uncertainty. In this light, Hospers believes that “to know in the strong sense is without shadow of doubt (p. 49)”.

Descartes and Hospers, although they have similar notion of eradicating doubts in order to claim any knowledge, have main differences in their approaches. Descartes does take into account the possibility that there could be an evil genie that functions to deceive him into thinking that what he perceives is true. The perception of a tree based on pure senses is not to be believed as true. Descartes believes that we can also have knowledge of the world by means of our intellect. Hospers’ view, however, is different from that of Descartes. He does not neglect the capability of our sense perception to stipulate knowledge. He even goes on to arguing that the evil genie example of Descartes is not potent in refuting the sense perception’s stipulation of knowledge. There is no great deal of difference between knowing that you have perceived something by the help of the so-called evil genie and knowing that you perceive something in the basis of the so-called good God of Descartes. If we ever believe that there could be an evil genie and a good God that deliver us to the thought that there could be something that exists aside from us, then, the problem resides in the question of how to distinguish which of them is the good God. If the evil genie is just as tricky as the good God, how to know which one is doing the trickier tactics is the question. At this point, we can see that Hospers does not bow to the idea that there could be an evil genie and a good God. He argues that “if criteria for a table are possessed by an X – then X is a table (p. 49)”. So if we perceive something and that something characteristics of a table by definition, then that is a table and that we have knowledge that that something is a table and it exists.

Studying epistemology is not just relevant for philosophers. People rely on knowledge in the daily course of living to function well and properly adapt to the environment. Epistemology which focuses primarily on the means of acquiring knowledge is also concerned in differentiating the truth from falsehood. Reckoning this, we can see that in studying epistemology, we can have a firm ground for our method of knowing things and through the use of this foundation, we can be certain that what we believe is not merely based on whims that would eventually lead us to falter. Also, through our careful investigation of our means of acquiring knowledge and by comparing it to another approach, we can have a better understanding of our own epistemological pursuit. In this regard, we will not easily fall into believing that what has been handed to us by tradition can be automatically accepted as true. Epistemology offers other means of viewing the world.


Hospers, John. An Introduction to Philosophical Analysis. 4th Edition.

     Prentice Hall, 1996.

Plato. The Republic. 3rd Edition. Trans. C. D. C. Reeves.

     Hackett Publishing Company, 2004.

Descartes, Rene. Meditations and Other Metaphysical Writings. Trans. Desmond M. Clarke.

     Penguin Classics, 1999.

The Matrix.  Directed by Larry Wachowski and Andy Wachowski, produced by Joel Silver,           Andy Wachowski and Larry Wachowski and written by Larry Wachowski and Andy Wachowski. DVD. Warner Brothers and Village Roadshow Pictures. 1999.

Cite this The problem of knowledge

The problem of knowledge. (2017, Feb 21). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/the-problem-of-knowledge/

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