The Graduate Forum

an interdisciplinary forum at New York University 

January 27, 2010
Presenter: Dean Chapman
Respondent: Miranda Holmes-Cerfon
Three problems in epistemology

I presented on three major problems in epistemology. The second and third below are central to my research. I partly explained some of my views with the solutions I favour.
I also tried to say how, for me, an interest in physics and mathematics led to an interest, and research, in philosophy. And we all did a little metaphilosophy.

The JTB thesis

Traditionally, it was thought that if you believe that something is the case, then if that is indeed the case and if your belief is justified, then your belief counts as knowledge. Many held that knowledge is just justified true belief (JTB). But in 1963 Edmund Gettier argued forcefully and convinced very many philosophers that the JTB thesis is false.

A problem in the epistemology of logic

Surely you often gain knowledge by argument, e.g. by making deductive inferences—coming to know the conclusions you infer. It can seem very plausible that for this you need to know your premises, your premises need to entail your conclusion, and moreover you need to know that they entail your conclusion. But if all three of those are in fact necessary, then arguably you in fact can never gain knowledge by inference. (We read Lewis Carroll’s ‘What the tortoise said to Achilles’ for a start on this.)

A problem in the epistemology of perception

From two quite plausible claims, it would seem to follow that we have no perceptual justification for our ordinary beliefs about the world, such as the belief that Here is a hand. 1) You need justification against being a brain in a vat (in the matrix, say) before you can have any perceptual justification about the world; 2) Yet you could have justification against being a brain in a vat only by first having perceptual justification. I favour denying (1), though taking this line is not without difficulties.











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