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Wednesday, June 17, 2015


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I have yet to encounter a counterexample that convincingly refutes Plato's TJB definition of knowledge. Is Dolezal's case one such a convincing counterexample? I don't think so.

The following observations is in order: we are talking here about "propositional knowledge" and not such other variants of knowledge as "knowing how, what, who, etc.," which may or may not be reducible to the propositional case. Hence, according to TJB, the relevant notion of belief is "propositional belief": i.e., a belief relation between a knowing agent, a propositional content, and a temporal interval.

Therefore, the following is a consequence of TJB:

(*) If x knows that ____, then x Believes that ____.

where in the two placeholders '___' the exact same propositions must be inserted.

What about the Dolezal's case? Her case requires us to distinguish between two concepts of identity: biological identity vs. psychological identity. Biological identity refers to the identity of a person by virtue of biological circumstances of birth, which is determined by the biological identity of the parents (e.g., Caucasian, Black, etc.,). Biological identity is hereditary. Psychological identity, by contrast, refers to a certain prototype involving a common experience of a group of people, a common style of life such as looks, behavior, goals, etc. Psychological identity need not be hereditary, although it could be passed on from one generation to the next through culturization.

Now, let us consider the following two propositions, ignoring the well-known problems with first person reference:

P. My biological identity is Caucasian.

P*. My psychological identity is Black.

One and the same person can consistently hold both P and P* and I think this is exactly what happened in Dolezal's case. So Dolezal knows that P, and therefore believes that P; but simultaneously also believes that P*. I do not see this case as a convincing counterexample to TJB.


You are ignoring the fact that in the case as I have set it up, Dolezal knows that she is biologically white but believes that she is biologically black.


Then, as you say, she is irrational. However, a more charitable reading of her cognitive state would be as I proposed.


Your comments about knowledge and belief make sense. I agree that belief is tied to action. Sometimes, observing a man's actions is a good way to identify his beliefs.

Suppose "belief" is intellectual acceptance plus corresponding action or willingness for action. And "acceptance" is "mere intellectual assent" (i.e., "belief minus corresponding willingness to act").

Can we say that for ideal cases, knowledge = justified true acceptance plus willingness to act (i.e., JTB) but for less than ideal cases, knowledge = justified true acceptance without willingness to act?

In this way, we might distinguish between rational/responsible knowledge and irrational/irresponsible knowledge.

I'm also wondering what worldview would motivate a person to such irrationality.

Perhaps it's a brand of physicalism which says there is no self/person, or at least no enduring self/person. There's only the brain, nervous system, and attending body parts. This physical system changes from moment to moment. So the physical thing that once had certain features (e.g., light skin, straight light hair) is now a different thing with other features (e.g., tan skin, curly dark hair). There's no continuity of person, and thus no problem.

Or maybe it's postmodernism. There's no absolute truth, no truth as "correspondence with reality." Only power matters. If one can acquire more power by changing one's physical features, then do it. Get the power.

Or maybe it's sentimentalism. Only the gratification of desires and feelings matters. If one can gratify his desires and feelings by making certain changes, then do it. Truth doesn't matter.

Or maybe it's a combination of the above.

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