[lit-ideas] Re: Pirots and Squarrels: Grice on Ethology

  • From: Donal McEvoy <donalmcevoyuk@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: "lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx" <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Tue, 30 Apr 2013 15:51:15 +0100 (BST)

 From: Omar Kusturica <omarkusto@xxxxxxxxx>

>The fact is that the verb 'know' is just not used in English language in the 
>sense of false knowledge.>

Even if true, this, I still suggest, is besides the epistemic point - for the 
verb 'know' as used in English may here be a poor guide to the actual epistemic 
status of 'knowledge'. 

But I want to suggest that it is just not true that "the verb 'know' is just 
not used in English language in the sense of false knowledge" : what may be 
true is that the standard use of the verb 'know' is not in connection with 
'knowledge' that is simultaneously posited as untrue (though it may be used in 
ways that are compatible with 'knowledge' that may be untrue or which is 
possibly mistaken). 

Even the first person present tense use of 'know' does not always preclude the 
possibility that what I 'know' is untrue: "As far as I know..." is a standard 
English phrase where 'know' is used in the first person present tense in a 
sense that does not logically preclude the possibility that my first person 
'knowledge' may be mistaken or untrue - all that standard usage may preclude 
here is that I cannot assert that I presently 'know' x while simultaneously 
believing x false. It is quite compatible with standard usage that even in the 
first person present tense I can assert I 'know' x, because I believex with 
adequate 'justification', even though I may admit that 'x' (contrary to my 
belief and its grounds) may be false. The idea that standard English usage 
operates with a foolish conceit as to the infallibility of what I 'know' is not 
one derived from understanding the sense of standard English usage (or the 
people who speak standard English): any
 contrary suggestion is philosopher's make-believe. When I claim to 'know', I 
may be claiming that my relevant belief is genuine (and that I have grounds 
adequate for it to be genuine) without claiming that I 'know' with 
incontrovertible certainty: in other words, my use of 'know' even in the first 
person present tense may be understood in the sense of my being sincere and 
rational in my belief and not in the sense that I am an idiot with no critical 
sense of my own fallibility.

So if I say "I know that my car is red though it is actually blue" I may be 
offending against standard usage. But there are many cases where I do not 
offend against standard usage by using 'know' in relation to false belief. "Why 
did Mr. Smith, now on trial for attempted murder of his wife, cut the brake 
wires on his car? Because he knew that his wife would use the car to go 
shopping later that afternoon. How did he know this? Because it was her usual 
habit on a Saturday. But he also knew it because he checked with her and she 
confirmed she was going shopping later. Of course, we now know that the police 
had got wind of his plot and intervened before his wife took her usual trip in 
the car. In fact, his wife knew of the plot before she confirmed to Mr. Smith 
that she would be making her usual shopping trip." Here what Mr. Smith 'knows' 
turns out to be false and is known to be false when we speak of it, yet 
speaking of what Smith 'knows' here is neither
 ironic nor does it offend against standard usage in English. In case it is not 
obvious, this is an example where the use of the verb 'know' is in connection 
with 'knowledge' that is simultaneously posited as untrue (albeit its untrue 
character is not known to the 'knower').
No dictionary definition trumps the actual facts of usage here. While Shaw's 
"false knowledge" is well researched, I am reluctant to rely on this literary 
kind of use - as it has a potential paradoxical or ironic character. The 
remarks above rely on standard English when it is being used in neither an 
ironic nor paradoxical nor strained sense.

If we can get past the false suggestion that standard usage confines the use of 
'know' and 'knowledge' in ways that preclude fallibility, we may get to the 
considerations that indicate why all human knowledge is indeed fallible.

Beautiful dreamer

Other related posts: