About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Progress in philosophy not an oxymoron

by Massimo Pigliucci

A little while back I tackled the perennial question of whether, and in what sense, philosophy makes progress. But that was by means of a fictional dialogue between two robots, part of my “5-minute Philosopher” series, and it’s time to revisit the topic. The occasion has been provided by a lively meetup discussion I facilitated a few weeks ago, based on an article by Toni Vogel Carey that appeared in Philosophy Now magazine.

Carey sets up the discussion by arguing that philosophy stands somewhere between science and the arts, where the first one is the common paragon of a cumulatively progressive enterprise, while within the realm of the latter the whole idea of progress appears to be ridiculous. Although there is much that I agree with in Carey’s article, this set-up strikes me as questionable, particularly because the author counts mathematics as a science. Math is certainly useful to science (and so is logic and, sometimes, even art!), but it ain’t the same thing as science. The latter is concerned with empirically based hypothesis testing, while math makes progress more like logic (a branch of philosophy!), i.e. by a deductive exploration of the consequences of sets of axioms (in logic and philosophy these are called assumptions). So math and logic represent fields clearly characterized by cumulative progress which are not science, thereby undermining the idea that science is the paragon for progressive intellectual enterprises.

Moreover, some of my fellow meetupers even questioned the idea that art doesn’t progress. Yes, as Nobel biologist Francois Jacob (cited by Carey) said, “Beethoven did not surpass Bach in the way that Einstein surpassed Newton,” but the key qualification here is in the (same) way. Beethoven explored ways of composing hitherto unknown to musicians, which has to count as progress in a meaningful (though obviously not scientific) sense of the term. I pointed out during that evening’s discussion that the invention of perspective in Renaissance painting also was an unquestionable case of progress in art, as it made possible painting in ways that were simply not available before. I’m sure other examples can be easily found, especially by historians of music and art.

The heart of Carey’s article, however, concerns three general types of progress in philosophy, each accompanied by an example. The first one is what the author refers to as “progress as destruction.” A lot of what goes on in philosophical research is showing that someone else got it wrong, thereby moving the debate onto higher ground in logical space, so to speak. Carey’s example is Edmund Gettier’s famous demonstration that Plato was wrong when he defined knowledge as “justified true belief.” Gettier did this in a very short paper, using counterexamples. The one Carey provides is actually clearer than the one originally presented by Gettier. Imagine you were watching the final of the US Open a few years back and saw John McEnroe win the match point against Jimmy Connors. Assume further that it is indeed true that McEnroe won the Open that year. Apparently, you have a belief that is both true (McEnroe did win) and justified (you saw the final play). But it turns out that — because of a technical glitch — you actually saw a replay of a similar match point that had allowed McEnroe to beat Connors the year before! Gettier would argue that you have formed a belief that is both true and justified, and yet does not amount to knowledge. Now, put away the discussion of how one could fix Plato’s definition (no one has succeeded so far), because we need to proceed to Carey’s second type of philosophical progress.

This is progress understood as clarification, the sort of thing that Wittgenstein (himself not exactly a shining example of clarity) was presumably thinking of when he said that “Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language.” The idea is that philosophers understand certain issues better when they can analytically parse distinct meanings or applications of given concepts. Carey’s example is John Rawls’s analysis of rules within the context of rule- (as opposed to act-) utilitarianism. Rawls distinguished “summary” and “practice” concepts of rules, where the first one works as a heuristic that summarizes past decisions, while the latter examines particular cases of application of a given rule. Without getting into details, Rawls’ approach helped to make sense of the advantages of rule-utilitarianism over act-utilitarianism, at the same time that it also made clear that rule-utilitarianism is barely utilitarianism at all, and falls uncomfortably close to its chief rival, deontology (i.e., rule-based ethics).

The third and last situation considered by Carey is “progress as doubt,” in which philosophers provide a needed counter to over-enthusiastic practitioners of their own and of other disciplines (e.g., science), by pointing out just how much we really don’t know. Here David Hume’s famous problem of induction comes to mind. Hume argued very effectively that induction — on which much everyday reasoning and especially scientific inference are based — cannot be logically justified on independent grounds. (If you think you can get out of this by arguing something along the lines of “induction works” think again: that would be invoking inductive reasoning to support inductive reasoning, and you’d be open to one of the worst charges in philosophical reasoning, that of circularity.) One cannot avoid but think of Socrates, and of the Delphi Oracle’s statement that he was the wisest man in all of Greece, apparently on the basis that he knew that he didn’t know much.

There are certainly other examples one could line up following Carey’s approach. Quine’s criticism of the previously universally accepted distinction between synthetic and analytic statements; Popper’s proposal that scientific hypotheses have to be falsifiable, followed by a Duhem-Quine inspired argument showing that falsification doesn’t work; the increasing sophistication of different versions of utilitarian ethics (from Bentham to Mill to Singer); the various moves and counter-moves in the debate in philosophy of science between realists and anti-realists; and so on.

What all of these modes and examples of progress in philosophy have in common is that they use analysis to parse and explore the logical space in which philosophical discourse exists. One begins with a given set of assumptions and works out their implications, until someone points out a problem with some of those implications which requires either the addition of other postulates or the abandonment of the initial one and their replacement by another set that may work out better. In this sense, philosophical analysis, again, is much more similar to mathematics than to science, and the discipline of logic represents a great example of it, both because it is a branch of philosophy that has clearly made progress, and because it can be said to actually include mathematics, at least in the sense that math is also about the application of deductive reasoning to uncover the properties of systems of axioms. That said, of course, I do not expect my colleagues in the math department to move in with us, though they would certainly be welcome...


  1. Philosophy attempts to interpret the universe, so to speak. To some extent both science and art fall within philosophy. Philosophy examines the doings of scientists and artists and tries to determine the validity of what they do. And philosophical theories can’t help but be modified by new findings from both the sciences and the arts.

    The sciences are intellectual and impersonal. Science generalizes the observer. Its results should be the same no matter who performs the experiment. And it’s not interested in a particular example or specimen. The scientist tries to identify, classify and compare the particular specimen with the data she’s already collected, and fit this new example in and relate it to all the information she’s already collected and is developing.

    The artist on the other hand doesn’t necessarily care how her subject relates to anything else. She just wants to know it, in a very personal way, both intellectually and emotionally. She particularizes and expresses her feelings and her personal experience and point-of-view. She contemplates and verifies her impressions; for she doesn’t want any preconceived notions to make their way into her piece. She’s after an emotionally objective and universal statement. She offers the world her interpretation of and her feelings about her subject; her valuation, if you will, of it.

    The problematic of the scientist is to determine whether her ideas or theories are true of false. The problematic of the artist is to determine whether her emotional assessment and ideas are satisfactory or unsatisfactory. And her piece ain’t done until she feels satisfied. So Einstein’s theory is more accurate or more true than Newton’s; and maybe Picasso’s Guernica expresses the brutality and utter anguish of war a little better (and is thus a little more satisfying) than much of what came before it.

    There is certainly a development of values and interests in art. An art student who paints like Monet or Raphael may create pieces someone will want to hang over their couch, but they’re not exactly current. Marcel Duchamp said, art has a 25 year life and after that it dies. Of course that is not necessarily true, but he makes an important point. For the most part the art of today reveals more about our world at this moment in time, than the creations of long ago.

  2. The idea of progress in any of these fields is like anything else - dependent on the observer. In this case you have what seems to be progress in every field, in the sense that each stage retains a bit of a previous stage and adds something.

    But it might be worth comparing progress in art, music, science, and math with fashion, a decidedly cyclical venture. Art and music appear closer to fashion than science or philosophy but in each area, as with fashion all that is going on is good old-fashioned problem-solving. With fashion, the designer's shared problem is the need to create a new look in order to sell new clothing, and react with the needs of the environment a.k.a the clothes-wearing public. Not close enough to fashion to understand what in the latest retro look represents progress, but if people who create were behind it, then I'm satisfied the 2012 look fixes what was wrong with the 1982 version.

    I think philosophy had a more of a problem justifying its existence than other fields, and that was solved early on by offering the world at large an ethical Ouija board. So now that all fields have a high degree of utility, where's the cycling coming (apart from the trivial cases where we have to start over due to catastrophe). The cycling is coming from simple processes in each field that are used over and over again to address each new finding. The new finding, as any Discovery Channel expert will tell you, almost always come from something external, that allows the practitioner to graft an earlier known and mature process onto something new.

    Do the 'fields' make progress? Well they certainly lurch.

  3. Or, as in Naturalism Without Mirrors (Huw Price), the mirrors (the idea that philosophy, mathematics, science, or language are representations of nature separate from nature itself) are shattered.

  4. The one Carey provides is actually clearer than the one originally presented by Gettier.

    Not really. Maybe I misunderstand the whole thought experiment, but in my opinion it would only mean that the belief was not justified because you saw the wrong match. Problem solved.

    1. Alex, yes that's the instinctive reaction, but it misses the point. You are providing an explanation for why the conclusion isn't knowledge. But it is a justified true belief, which establishes that the two are not equivalent.

    2. It may not convince you, but no, I do not see the belief as justified. If I were in that situation, and you told me afterwards that I saw the wrong match, I would conclude that my conclusion on who had won had no justification (and thus I did not know who won this year's).

      Considering a belief formed on the basis of false assumptions justified seems too absurd to be able to show the definition of knowledge to be absurd.

    3. Most tackled this by stating that the justification is not the problem, but that the example was coincidentally true. Then, they would try to give a new definition that has to have some kind of causal relation. But, like Massimo stated, trying to give necessary and sufficient conditions for knowledge always ended in failure, probably because Gettier problems are notoriously formulaic and easy to make. Personally, I always felt that it is just another example of how we cannot give necessary and sufficient conditions for our concepts (although I know many would say different).

    4. Alex,

      I think you are still missing the point. You are taking the scientist's "god's eye view" which is usually not available to human epistemic agents. The hypothetical tv watcher is both correct and his belief and justified in holding it. And yet, it clearly isn't knowledge, which establishes that knowledge cannot (just) be justified true belief.

    5. Ah, I understand what the idea is now. But that is still silly. What view except god's eye could we possibly be taking when evaluating epistemology? If "justified" in this context means "made sense to the person in question under the circumstances", regardless of whether it was actually, well, justified, then it is emptied of all content. If we may not test the justification against an objective standard, then any conclusion based on no matter how insane a troll logic can be considered justified. After all, the example of watching the wrong match is not qualitatively different from any other non-sequitur where the reasoner may be equally unaware that they are committing a mistake in their reasoning.

      Now I suspect the obvious counter will be that my position amounts to considering "justified" to be synonymous with "true". Well, yes, with the caveat that in the realm of induction and empiricism we can only ever hope to approximate truth by building ever sounder inferences and models. But that seems to be what rationalism amounts to: if all your assumptions are true, if you take all evidence into account that could possibly be available to you, and if all your reasoning is correct, then you will arrive at a conclusion that is as close to truth as is currently possible to make, i.e. you have produced knowledge to the best of humanity's current ability.

      Or in other words, if you believe that there can be justified beliefs that are false, then you should either examine why you are a rationalist or clarify why using inapplicable evidence would still make a belief justified. (On the other hand, it should be utterly unsurprising that there can be unjustified beliefs that are true, but that does not make them knowledge but merely lucky guesses.)

    6. Hi Alex,

      Re: 'if you believe that there can be justified beliefs that are false... .'

      Take, for instance, a fair, thousand-ticket lottery. You purchase one and only one ticket. The probability that you shall win is .001. Thus, I believe you shall not win, and I am justified in this belief (note that I am aware that the lottery is fair and of the relevant background information.)

      However, you win. Hence, I had a justified false belief.

    7. Eamon: I am justified in this belief

      No, you are not. You are justified in the belief that there is a very high likelihood of me not winning.

      But I see the problem, of course. A better example would perhaps be if you saw me falling out of a window in the 20th level of a tall building, not knowing that directly under the window there currently happens to be a cleaner's machine that rather unexpectedly saves my life. In that case, you would say that you were justified in concluding that I would die, based on the information available to you. And I would say yes, in at that moment you were justified to conclude so.

      But that is not at all a discussion about knowledge or no knowledge, because it only ever rises to the level of an assumption (as I have yet to die when you see me disappear from view, or you have yet to learn the results of the lottery, in the other example).

      More importantly, after being told of the existence of that machine under the window you should realize that the belief I would die was not actually justified because it was based on a faulty assessment of the situation. Again, if you go with the "it made sense to me then" definition of "justified" in discussions of epistemology, then every conclusion is justified if you just find the right lunatic for it - hooray for postmodernism.

    8. Alex,

      Perhaps I should provide some definition of what I mean by 'justified'.

      Crudely, some belief p is justified for some subject S if and only if the available evidence e makes the probability of p being true greater than .50 and S believes p on the basis of e.

      In other words, S's belief in p is justified if and only if S believes p on the basis of e and P(p|e) > .50

      So, if we operate with this definition, I am justified in believing you will not win the lottery.

      But you ostensibly want to deny this and instead say that what I am justified in believing is not that you will win the lottery but rather that "there is a very high likelihood of [you] not winning."

      However, if you insist on pressing this line, I wonder under what conditions one can justifiably claim to know anything. Of course, you would agree that one can justifiably claim knowledge of the conclusions of logical and mathematical proofs, or certain analytically true statements (e.g., 'All blue stones are blue'), yes?

      Well, our scientific knowledge (the entire edifice of modern Darwinian evolution, thermodynamics, astrophysics, everything) is not like the knowledge of logical and mathematical truths, and the lottery example is analogous to all our scientific knowledge. E.g., we know the earth revolves around the sun only to a very high degree of probability- we could be wrong modern Darwinian evolution could be wrong, though it is ridiculously improbable that is.

      In short, if you reject the definition of 'justified' above, with the exception of logical and mathematical truths, I am not sure you can identify any justified belief (true or otherwise).

    9. And yet, it clearly isn't knowledge, which establishes that knowledge cannot (just) be justified true belief.

      @Massimo: It sounds like you are still on board with this objective 'knowledge' and 'truth' stuff. You honestly do not believe this stuff is dependent on the observer, or the consumer of the information??

      Keep going with the tennis story. And couch potato tells 3 people at work the next day who know not 'the truth' (or anything about tennis). These 4 have a shared truth. For a while.

      Couch potato and one of the co-workers find out a different truth held by the rest of the 99.999 of those following the game. They hear tell in the East of completely different scores, a miraculous discussion with a line judge, etc.... A religious event occurs. Yes, Couch potato hath seen the light.

      But what possible evidence do you have that McEnroe played in either Open this or last year. You have none. What you do have is no reason to believe he didn't. That is a belief.

  5. It’s probably not as simple as this but it’s how I recall the story: Michelangelo discovered the art of ancient Greece and perspective drawing, and as Massimo points out, it inspired generations of artists and the artistic movement (as opposed to the scientific one) that was a part of the Renaissance. A few centuries later you have artists like Gauguin saying Greek art (and its ideas of form and beauty) is not what we’re moving towards; it’s what we’re moving away from. And I heard the composer John Cage claim Beethoven pretty much ruined western music. Rather than compete with the camera artists like Picasso and Braque invented cubism and Kandinsky went completely non-representational. But Pollock’s drips are complicated and chaotic like Times Square on a Saturday afternoon. You can look at them and imagine you’re out in the middle of nowhere watching a meteor shower in a star studded night sky, a frantic school of fish swimming by, or a drop of water magnified underneath a microscope with a bunch of organisms floating in it. You can listen to John Coltrane and Bill Evans and imagine the music echoing the rhythm of your breathing combined with the beating of your heart and then feel your mind soar with the sound of Miles Davis’s trumpet. I think it was Louis Armstrong that said, “Talking jazz is like dancing architecture”. But there are people like Leonard Bernstein and Wynton Marsalis who have found ways to put into words what they are after when they’re making music. Virginia Woolf pointed out that the thing that made Shakespeare so great is that we know absolutely nothing about him, unlike other artists, none of his prejudices or biases found their way into his work.

    We made progress when Mark Twain and Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote about Negros in a way that made it easy for whites to empathize with them and realize they’re smart, funny and kind people who are as dignified as anyone. We made progress when Steven Spielberg filmed Amon Goeth out on his balcony eyeing a Jewish woman in the scope of his rifle in such a causal way, as if he’s your brother-in-law on his back porch and it’s a squirrel in the crosshairs of his pellet gun. In normal times you have this weird but relatively harmless situation with a squirrel. If the times are crazy like Hitler’s Germany, then it’s not a squirrel, it’s a woman.

    We know what we are after with science and for that reason alone science is easier than art and philosophy. Analyzing the material world, how this stuff compares with and relates to that stuff is straightforward when compared with understanding why it was ok for Amon Goeth to step out on his balcony with a rifle. Sociologists and psychologists may one day come up with a theory on that but for now all we can do is play it over in our heads and try to give it form in a painting or a poem and speculate.

    With art and philosophy we’re still trying to figure things out. I’ve heard the idea of “action” broken down into an analysis of means and ends. Science is knowledge of the world as “means” and art is knowledge of the world as “ends”, while philosophy is the study of the whole system.

  6. "I do not expect my colleagues in the math department to
    move in with us, though they would certainly be welcome"

    That is undoubtedly true, but would the math department
    welcome the philosophers moving in with them, although
    they would (and do) welcome the physicists. I think the
    difference might have to do with the matter of proofs.
    The human brain makes too many mistakes too easily and there
    needs to be some checks and balances to counteract human
    frailties like cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias.
    Just thinking without experimental evidence or formal
    theorem proving is not good enough (and even that may be

    1. Math departments would probably welcome logicians, decision theorists, and philosophers of mathematics.

  7. There are quite a few interdisciplinary departments consisting of mathematicians, logicians, philosophers, computer scientists, and others. See, for example, Cal Berkeley's Group in Logic and Methodology of Science, Carnegie Mellon's philosophy department (notably their programme in Logic, Computation, and Methodology), and UCLA's Logic Center.

    1. I should add that quite of a few of the affiliate faculty (yes, even the philosophers) in the above and similar departments are doing research funded by DoD contracts, NSF grants, and private concerns such as Intel, IBM, Raytheon, and many others.

  8. Alex,

    your own contribution to this discussion shows that the whole thing is not "still silly." It is a logical problem having to do with epistemology. While different in nature from scientific problems, it is a serious one nonetheless. Though, as I said, I sympathize, since I had a very similar reaction the first time I heard of Gettier's paper.


    you keep confusing ontology with epistemology. I may never be able to know for sure whether McEnroe defeated Connors, but there is a *matter of fact* about whether it happened or not. And I wager that you do believe in objective reality, that's why you probably don't have a habit of jumping off the roof of tall buildings...

    1. @Massimo - Do you mean
      @Massimo: It sounds like you are still on board with this objective 'knowledge' and 'truth' stuff. You honestly do not believe this stuff is dependent on the observer, or the consumer of the information?? ??

      Probably should have said:
      @Massimo: It sounds like you are still on board with this objective 'truth' stuff vs. 'knowledge' .

      But by way of reply, Western philosophy simply places too much emphasis on the difference between the two. I believe in my reality, you believe in yours, we probably feel the same way about such jumps without the right lifesaving equipment. But no, I do not believe in objective reality, neither would any self-respecting scientist or philosopher who thought about the situation for a while. An objective reality is clothred in the unknown, and even if the unknown were stripped, there are too many conditionals with which we are well familiar. No matter how many times I trip over a rake left in the wrong place, it is possible that the rake is an illusion. No matter how well a Wikipedia writer may sell Zurek's Quantum Darwinism as a possible proof of objective reality, there is the possibility that the thing that evolves and the environment are subject to other rules we do not understand - not because we do not have the evidence, but because we have no interest in the evidence.

      No matter if everyone believes we put Armstrong and Aldrin on the moon, there is always a possibility that we were scammed into thinking it so. The phrase conventional wisdom exists for a reason.

      No matter how hard we try, we can only point to shared realities. Compatibilist solipsism, if you like. Reality, like beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and thus it is a social phenomenon.

      For human entities, it comes down to two things that commonly held to be invariant - death and taxes . Their perceived invariance thus make them symbols of reality. But both words can be translated into the word 'change'. Re death, the consciousness of a person may simply be abandoning one 'physical' shell for another. Re taxes, immaterial human blood is transferred from one entity to another (both of them very much alive). In 'Money' Martin Amis used probably less than 10 pages scattered about the book to sell the latter idea. As usual, the only thing we can be sure of is change.

      Let Bohm remove 'matter' or stuff from our ontology and replace in with an order that governs interplay, we will still always have an external thing to worry about that could muck it all up. And by it I mean any possible object one can conceive of.

      And as for wagers, let's focus on the original wager well over a year ago that you were more likely to come around to my way of thinking than v.v. Based on both of our writings since, I'm in the lead, as you now talk about human and non-human points of view. The only 'rightward' shift on my side has been a distancing from Many Worlds simply due to recoiling at the possibility of a live spleen playing chess against a garbage can using someone else's dreams as a chessboard, each pawn actually a major war in human history, the knights are soap bubbles, and the King and Queen are exact replicas of Adam and Eve.

      Also, I think I bet a bottle of the winner's favorite libation last time. You didn't bet anything in this one.

    2. Just to clarify, ManyWorlds by itself does not get you to that chess game. You also need informational pathways between worlds to pull that off, and of course someone somewhere needs to have an interest in doing so.

      In the "That's What I'M Talking About" department, this weekend's New York Times Book Review is loaded with information-based spirituality. The lead - Kunzru's Gods Without Men" describes the world as I believe it 'actually is'. I could spend hours on the wedding ring that has been twisted into 'The Lemniscate of Bernoulli' a.k.a. the horizontal '8' that represents infinity. It is on page 9 and describes a couple with a good marriage try too hard to make it better and I think wreck it. On vertical page 8 is Julia Flynn Siler's reconstruction of a human account of Hawaii. With Alaska, these two states can serve as physical edge conditions for what we think of as the United States, as well as symbolic ones - witness Obama v. Palin 2008. While the actual presidential race was between two men, I do not believe it was an accident that the polarizing people involved here were from different sexes and these edge states. A 'mixed race' person took the Oval Office, representing a compromise between groups of petty gods who fight their wars using petty gods who fight their wars using people as proxies, but the proxies are getting pissed about the pain and may rebel using 'rationality'.

      Just like this past week, it was no accident that Ohio - physically near the center of the US, electorally representative of the US, produced no comforting outcome, but a few US 'possessions' produced very clear results a few days later.

      Just like in 9-11 soon to be mythology, it is no accident that the 9 represents the highest digit in a counting system used globally, the 11 represents machine usage of same. (I would have used 10, but nobody's perfect) or that the last US State quarter issued prior to 9/11 (Vermont) has Twin Trees - I mean towers - and no other quarter comes close.

      An event is shaped by a deterministic past, an extremely subjective infinitesimal of a present subject to a variety of forces that include temporal vectors, and a deterministic future going in the opposite direction. This is science, not woo. As we have no reason to believe the backwards time flow, we don't bother with it, but assuming our flow is the only flow is as silly as assuming we can carry on without having to worry about both animal and machine liberation, to take a coin from the 60s and 70s.

      While I don't have any more evidence today than 10 years ago that consciousness reduces to some sort of point, I think the nature of the point is that it maps to other things not in the membrane we seem to occupy.

      Sorry for the rant, and I will understand if you choose not to publish.

    3. Massimo,
      Alex is arguing a good point. I think he’s right. The knowledge about the results of the tennis match based on what the viewer saw on TV was unjustified because TV is not a reliable source of knowledge. It’s not the same as direct and immediate experience of the match. The people at the match who saw the final point, the scoreboard and the presentation of the trophy had real undeniable knowledge of who won the match, more real and reliable than the people who saw it on TV.

      If I am walking in a field and I see what appears to be a rabbit, but then (as I walk closer to it) I realize it is in fact a tree stump, my initial conclusion was false and based on insufficient information. Had I not walked toward the thing I was looking at, I would not be justified in concluding I’d seen a rabbit, because from a distance one thing can appear to be another. Television images can be manipulated. A TV show can give a mistaken impression (like seeing something from a distance can). All thought requires verification. The conclusion by the guy who is watching the match on TV has not been sufficiently verified.

      One other point . . . Philosophy makes progress via analysis of immediate experience, via more subtle and clear descriptions of our perceptions and our ways of knowing. It also makes progress by way of a social dialogue; our values (and our ethics) are developed in this way.

    4. Patrick,

      I don't think so. Again, your response assumes a god's eye view of things (you eventually find out that the television had a malfunction). But that view is never available to science or to anyone else, which means that we are constantly in the situation of having justified true beliefs that nonetheless do not amount to the same thing as knowledge.

    5. For the life of me Massimo I don’t get it when you say I’ve adopted a god’s eye view of this . . . Like Alex, I’m empathizing the situation wasn’t properly verified. I don’t care how the match actually turns out. I’m saying though you may be reasonably sure of what you see on TV, however just as your eyes can play tricks on you when you’re looking at something from a distance, the TV can be an unreliable source of information. Therefore further verification is necessary. I guess what I am saying (and perhaps Alex would agree) is Edmund Gettier was right and Plato’s justified belief is not true knowledge. All knowledge is hypothetical and requires verification. I guess Plato never thought of that.

    6. Patrick, take your pick, if you agree with Gettier than you do get it. If you don't get what I mean by a god's eye view, then you don't agree with Gettier.

      The tv event example is supposed to be one in which we do have the "god's eye view," in this case we have people who were actually at the game. The point is that a scientist never has that luxury, so that if knowledge remains defined the way Plato did one has to agree that there is no such thing as knowledge. Which is *not* the conclusion that I (or Gettier, I presume) draw.

    7. Massimo,

      Let's see if I can sum it up rightly. For Gettier justified true belief is not equal (not sufficient) to knowledge. Because we can have false belief. The problem is, we cannot know whether our belief is true or false. We don't have a God's eye view. We have always start from true belief, that's why we believe it, because it is true. We certainly don't believe in smtg wrong. This means our false belief is a true belief. And only by way of justification we can test our true belief. If it is justified then it is knowledge.

      Justification itself can vary from an observation, experiment, mathematical calculation or simply a statement from smbody authoritative (parents, friends, priests or scientists).

      The real problem is how can we claim to have knowledge, if it could derived from a justified false belief, which we cannot know that it is false? That's why Gettier ask: is justified true belief knowledge?

  9. According to Collinwood there are to types of progress:

    1) Progress as a simple succession of events.

    2) Progress as a solution of new problems without unloving the already solved solutions.

    In that sense the utilitarian theory example that you gave is correct.

  10. A big part of the problem is that philosophy is basically a swiss-cheese discipline. Take ALL BRANCHES OF HUMAN KNOWLEDGE, subtract natural sciences, mathematics, law, medicine, art & engineering, and the remainder is philosophy. Good luck finding a definition of it in terms of necessary & sufficient conditions. Good luck arguing that philosophy *as a whole* either does or does not make progress. Does epistemology make progress? Almost certainly. Does political philosophy? Eh... more questionable, at least.

    1. Ian,

      philosophy is not defined by subtraction, since modern philosophy is a discipline that inquires on both general themes (epistemology) and themes arising from specific disciplines that were once the province of philosophy (e.g., philosophy of science, of language, etc.).

      And yes, I do think that political philosophy makes progress. Rawls' work -- regardless of whether one agrees with it or not -- is progress in comparison with everything that had been done before in that area.

  11. a bricolage: Philosophy makes progress as a novel twist produces a laugh. If it is new then it is classical. The vanguard defines the cannon as a merely trivial boundry cycles of states in a system. i smell emergent properties...

    why does it remind me of the problem of supervenience and the phantasmatic point of a (non)confined recursive inverse homologous to the comma divide in a chiasmus: ab,ba.

    Knowledge is rhizomic as binary. A concrete example is a lightknob that pushes on or off or twist to gradients of illumination. So we have a strobing bulb of wavering intensity.However it is still merely trivial boundries in cyclic states in some system x.

    ps. Art is just a variable quantity hence ahistorical non-discursive. b/c why ? its predicated as a universal or that which resist instantiation.


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