Knowledge depends

Jie Gao at Edinburgh University made this comment on my “No True Scotsman” post:

“Hi Daniel, you have raised a very interesting thought. Indeed, a similar view has been argued by some other philosopher before! In the early 1990s, Crispin Sartwell attempted to call into question the traditional view that justification is a necessary condition for knowledge. He notes that we are often willing to ascribe knowledge in instances of very weak of even absent justification. Sartwell offers the example of a man who correctly believes his son is innocent of a crime in the face of overwhelming evidence against him, basing his belief solely upon the fact that the young man is his son. Sartwell claims that, in practice, we would likely say that he knows his son is innocent, despite the fact that the evidence he possesses does not support an attitude of belief. And recently, his claim has been supported by results of experiments. Davide Sackris and James Beebe report results of studies in which participants attributed knowledge to subjects who lacked good evidence but had true belief. Their paper is available here. Hope you would enjoy it! ”

I think I found it here instead.

It validates my suggested definition, and it goes further in an interesting way. People are more prone to attribute knowledge to people if they do harm than if they did good.

This reminded me of Marc Anthony’s Eulogy of Julius Cesar.

The evil that men do lives after them;
the good is oft interred with their bones.


Socrates knowledge is a “no true Scotsman” fallacy.

In Theaetetus, Socrates develops an account of what knowledge is which goes something like this. You have knowledge when you believe in something, that something is true and you have a justification for believing it. This is the classic account of what it means to know something.

I have a simpler description which fits better with how we think we know things today. You have knowledge when you believe in something and that something happens to be true.

I consider the addition of justification akin to a “no true Scotsman” fallacy.

Here is an example of a “no true Scotsman” fallacy.
Person A: “No Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.”
Person B: “But my uncle Angus likes sugar with his porridge.”
Person A: “Ah yes, but no true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.”
To claim that my simple definition is “not true knowledge” follows the same pattern. A good justification will improve the credibility of the knowledge, but even without any justification, it is still knowledge.
Person A: “No one can know a fact without justification.”
Person B: “But my uncle Angus is Scottish and he knows that he is Scottish and says he just knows it without any justification .”
Person A: “Ah yes, but if it had been true knowledge, he would have a justification for it.”

I originally stated this 2012-12-10 in a philosophy discussion hosted by Coursera for the department of philosophy at EdinburghUniversity.