Open thread, Dec. 8 - Dec. 15, 2014

I recently started reading up on the standard approaches to epistemology. Much of the primary discussion seems to be focused on the question "what constitutes knowledge?". The basic definition used to be that to count as knowledge it needs to be a belief, it needs to be justified, and it needs to be true. But there's the Gettier Problem which points out that there are cases that satisfy the above criteria but which we wouldn't normally consider "knowledge". Numerous alternative "theories of knowledge" have been proposed, new c... (read more)

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If they'd taboo the word "knowledge" would there be anything left to discuss?


If we want to have an AI that knows things we have to be specific about what knowledge is. If we have unrealistic naive concepts we will never get the knowledge into the AI.

If you want an university to teach knowledge, then it makes sense to have an idea of what the university is supposed to teach.

If you want to decide whether someone has depression, than it makes sense to ask what you mean with the sentence: "Alice has depression." Currently it migh... (read more)

6Stefan_Schubert5yI agree with this. However, there are philosophers who criticize this practice. For instance, Peter Unger recently published a vehement criticism of mainstream analytic philosophy, Empty Ideas []. One influential view is that we should not try to "analyze" pre-theoretical concepts, but rather construct fruitful, exact and simple "explications". If you have that view, definitions do not become interesting for their own sake. Rather, terms and concepts are a tool in the pursuit of knowledge, which can be more or less effective. See Carnap's dicussion in Logical Foundations of Probability, pp. 3-20 (esp. p. 7) []. That said, it is true that many philosophers continue to write papers on the Gettier problem in a very classical essentialist fashion, along the lines you are describing. The same goes for many other philosophical discussions (e.g. on truth, reasons, etc). I think that there is a selection effect at work here: those who think this is silly move on to other things while those who think that it isn't keep on doing it. This creates the illusion that more people think this is a good and interesting form of philosophy than is actually the case. Of course now and again some outsiders get so fed up with this that they write a book on it to attack it. Another similar example of this (in addition to Unger) is Ladyman and Ross's attack on mainstream analytic metaphysics [] (which treats questions like "is the statue and the lump of clay that is made of distinct or identical objects?). I suspect that many others feel, however, that although this kind of philosophy is a bit of a nuisance, there are other more pressing problems more worth focusing on. For instance, I suspect Nick Bostrom doesn't like this kind of philosophy, but as far as I know he hasn't spent much time criticizing it, thinking there are other probl
4crazy885yYes, philosophers tend to be interested in the issue of conceptual analysis. Different philosophers will have a different understanding of what conceptual analysis is but one story goes something like the following. First, we start out with a rough, intuitive sense of the concepts that we use and this gives us a series of criteria for each concept (perhaps with free will one criteria would be that it relates to moral responsibility in some way and another would be it relates to the ability to do otherwise in some way). Then we try to find a more precise account of the concept that does the best (though not necessarily perfect) job of satisfying these criteria. I personally find the level of focus on conceptual analysis in philosophy frustrating so I'm not sure that I can do justice to a defence of it. I know many very intelligent people who think it is indispensible to our reasoning though so it may well be deserving of further reflection. If you're interested in such reflection I suggest that you read Frank Jacksons, "From Metaphysics to Ethics: A Defence of Conceptual Analysis". It's a short book and gives a good sense of how contemporary philosophers think about conceptual analysis (in terms of what conceptual analysis is, btw, Jackson says the following: "The short answer is that conceptual analysis is the very business of addressing when and whether a story told in one vocabulary is made true by one told in some allegedly more fundamental vocabulary.") Off the top of my head, why might someone think conceptual analysis is important? First, conceptual analysis is all about getting clear on our terms. If you're discussing free will, it seems like a really bad idea to just debate without making clear what you mean by free will. So it seems useful to get clear on our terms. Myself, I'm tempted to say we should get clear on our terms by stipulation (though note that even this involves a small amount of conceptual analysis or I would be just as likely to stipulat

Open thread, Dec. 8 - Dec. 15, 2014

by Gondolinian 1 min read8th Dec 2014293 comments


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