[lit-ideas] Re: Can You Imagine 2 + 2 = 5?

  • From: Donal McEvoy <donalmcevoyuk@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Tue, 20 Nov 2007 21:13:28 +0000 (GMT)

--- Robert Paul <rpaul@xxxxxxxx> wrote:

> Andreas re 2 + 2 = 5
> > Certainly. I've seen people "clearly know" (not just imagine) an 
> > incorrect number.
> Could you fill this out a bit? There's some relation (don't ask me to 
> say exactly what it is) between knowledge and certainty; but it doesn't 
> follow from someone's being absolutely certain that x, that x.
> Robert Paul
> speaking from experience

I might add: say we assume that D knowing x means 'x is true', because if x
is false then - whatever D _thinks/believes_ - D has not _truly known it to
be true_ but merely believed or thought it. On such an assumption 'to know x'
entails 'x is true'. By fiat - by a kind of conception or definition of what
it is to _know_ (as opposed to merely think/believe). 

If we accept this fiat, and accept that 2+2=5 is false, then it will be
impossible for anyone to 'know 2+2=5'. Why? Because on this conception we
simply cannot 'know' a false proposition. Simple. If hardly profound.

If we do not accept this fiat, then it is possible to accept that D can
'know' [eg. 'believe with certainty'] a false proposition like '2+2=5'.

The point is not to muddle these conceptions. The point is to examine their
respective merits.

I take Andreas to be using the second conception and see nothing wrong in
this - it is after all the more Popperian conception, whereas the first is
definitely opposed by Popper. His explanation of why it is wrong may be said
to be the most fundamental thread running through all his work. 

For Popper there is certainty of belief in the sense we may believe x must be
right. But this certainty is merely one of belief - it does not transfer to x
ie. make x certain as truth. Therefore our belief and the truth must be
separated out. 

Popper also argues there is no way we can show any of our beliefs to be
certainly true. Therefore, insofar as 'D knows x' involves a mental state, we
may as well treat 'knowing' as a form of belief - one that may or may not be
true.(Provided we abandon the pointless 'fiat' to the contrary)we can never
assume that 'to know x' means 'x is true'. 

Therefore we can 'know' false propositions. And all knowledge is guesswork.
No claim we make as to the truth is ever _demonstrably certain_ - and this is
so even if our claim happens to be true. The search for certainty is
therefore an irrelevancy (one perpetuated by traditional philosophy). The
real point we should pursue is truth - it is this pursuit that best advances
knowledge, not the pointless pursuit of a chimerical 'certain knowledge'.

This is a simple but nevertheless revolutionary and profound reworking of
traditional epistemology - and in Popper's work [there are other important
figures, of course] you will find it brilliantly argued.   

Ergo:- The question is not so much the relation between 'knowledge and
certainty' as RP says - it is the relation between 'knowledge and truth'.


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