« The Art of Living | Main | Of Meat and Meaning »

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


Very interesting analysis. A couple of thoughts.

1) You note that in ordinary language one might quite intelligibly say regarding some proposition p:

(*)I don't believe that p; I know that p.

You take this to suggest that knowledge *excludes* belief and, therefore, JTB's thesis that the former is included in the later is false.

However, I think that you might be misinterpretation the common sense evidence to which you appeal. One who says (*) does not mean that they know that p, but do not believe it. Rather, (*) is a shorthand for something like the following:

(**) I do not *merely believe* that p; I know that p.

Thus, they are not denying belief while affirming knowledge. Rather they are denying *mere belief* and affirming something stronger; i.e., knowledge.

2) I am not convinced that you have offered compelling reasons to think that 'accept-as-true' is a common genus of both knowledge and belief and, hence, in some sense conceptually more fundamental. My reservation has to do with the fact that acceptance is a pragmatic notion and, hence, is often relativized to a specific purpose.

For instance, we may agree that John knows (and, hence, believes) that 2+3=5, but he may accept as a premise the contradictory proposition *it is not the case that 2+3=5* for the sake of an argument or an indirect proof. Hence, knowledge does not entail acceptance, at least for a specific purpose.

If we were to accept your anti-JTB approach outlined above, we would turn both knowledge and belief into pragmatic concepts. Are you willing to accept such a consequence? I do not!

Thanks for the comments, Peter.

As for your first point, the lingusitic evidence could be read both your way and mine. I wasn't arguing from ordinary language; I was making the point that the view I sketched is consistent with ordinary language, not ruled out by it, though, if you are right, not ruled in by it either.

There is an interesting issue here. People say things like 'Religion is practice, not doctrine' when they should say 'Religion is not mere doctrine, but practice too.' The issue would be whether (*) fits the same schema.

I don't see that acceptance is a pragmatic notion. To accept a proposition is to affirm it; to reject a proposition is to deny it. What's pragmatic about that?


I do not think that the linguistic evidence about (*) can be read the manner you suggest. In every case that I can think about a speaker would not intend to deny belief, while affirming knowledge; rather the phrase is used to affirm something stronger than merely believing.

"I don't see that acceptance is a pragmatic notion."

If acceptance is not merely a synonym for belief, then so far as it is distinguished from it, it seems to me to be pragmatic. I gave an example regarding knowing 2+3=5, but accepting the opposite for a given purpose. The same can be said about belief.

"To accept a proposition is to affirm it; to reject a proposition is to deny it."

But then acceptance/rejection are simply synonyms for believe/disbelieve and, hence, cannot be said to be conceptually prior to belief. So I claim this:

(a) Either your notion of acceptance is synonymous with the notion of belief or it is not;

(b) if it is synonymous, then it cannot be a deeper conceptual notion;

(c) if it is not synonymous, then it is a pragmatic notion;


(d) It cannot serve the purpose of both being a common component to belief and knowledge as well as preserving the non-contextual conception of knowledge proposed by JTB.


If you asked me whether my father is dead, and I said, 'I believe he is,' your would take that to mean that I did not know that he is. So this is a clear case in ordinary language in which believing that p entails not knowing that p.

What do you mean by pragmatic?


Your father-example does not show that believing that p alone *entails* not knowing that p. Rather it shows that believing that p is not a sufficient condition for either knowing that p or for not knowing that p.

Hence, if I hear you say 'I believe my father is dead', I cannot infer anything regarding whether you know he is dead or do not know. Therefore, even in ordinary language I would not take such an assertion to tell me anything about what you know. That is exactly what the JTB view entails.

I will respond in a separate post about acceptance versus belief and my claim that when the two are not viewed as synonymous, then the former is a *pragmatic* notion.

“Your father-example does not show that believing that p alone *entails* not knowing that p. Rather it shows that believing that p is not a sufficient condition for either knowing that p or for not knowing that p.”


If to 'know' p entails having experiential knowledge of p, then Bill believing p entails Bill not having experiential knowledge of p AND someone (other than Bill) does know p. In other words, unless someone (other than oneself) knows p, one cannot truly be said to believe p because we don’t really believe p, we believe the person who claims to have experiential knowledge of p, that is, the one who knows p.

For example, suppose my sister, who has been attending to my father through an illness, calls and tells me (p) ‘Dad is dead’. Presumably, she ‘knows’ p and I believe her, because of which I completely assent to the truth of p. On the other hand, suppose my father just went out for a walk several years ago and no one ‘knows’ what happened to him. In such an instance, I don’t think I can really say I believe p. I can assume p is true or make an informed inference that p is true, but absent a witness with experiential knowledge of p, the assent to truth isn’t complete as it was when I believe p on account of my sister’s testimony. For instance, if X were to tell me he swears he saw my father at the mall, such testimony would not overturn my belief that p is true based on my sister’s testimony, whereas it would challenge my assumption of the truth of p in the case of my father just wandering off.

So to me, belief in p, while maintaining the same complete assent to the truth in p as knowing p, excludes having experiential knowledge of p while mandating someone knows p. In other words, we can’t claim to believe p lest someone claims to know p, nor can we claim to believe p if we have experiential knowledge of p. So unless someone told Bill p, he can’t be said to believe p AND if Bill has experiential knowledge of p, he can’t be said to believe p.


The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo
Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 10/2008



November 2023

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
      1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8 9 10 11
12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25
26 27 28 29 30    
Blog powered by Typepad