Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Facebook Philosophy: Epistemology

By Hanno, Lee and c.e.

Lee: The difference between cockiness and confidence is that confidence does not depend on the opinion or view of others, it comes from self assurance through knowledge and experience, unlike cockiness no matter what someone else says confidence will not fade away because there is no need to show off or prove something, it is already known.

Hanno: Hmm. I expect that confidence does not really exist, then. All of our conceptions of self are tied, at least in part, to the opinion of others, unless you are utterly delusional. Imagine you write a paper about things you think you know, and you think it is well written. You show it to your friends, and they say it is unreadable crap. OK, you are confident, you still know it is good. So you show it to your professor, and he blasts it, gives it a D. So you show it to a professor you respect. And he explains why its crap. At some point, don't you lose your confidence? And if not, are you not delusional?

Lee: That is a good point, however I think that if confidence stems from knowledge it must stem from true knowledge other wise it is false confidence. For us to actually know something it must first be true, the example you used could show that the person would not have had the experience of writing good papers nor knowing what they consist of, however you make a good point in the fact that the only way for one to know that your are doing something right is through the opinions, teachings, and guidance of others. But I think that once the person has that true knowledge of what a good paper consists of it would not matter what a professor or the persons friends would say, and I would argue that the person is not being delusional if the paper had been written in accordance to that knowledge. I guess I should have just said that confidence sustainability does not depend upon the opinions of others. But I am not arguing that conceptions of self are not tied to other people, only that once you know who you are and what you can do you dont need to show it off and no one can take it from you (ideally).

Hanno: How will you know you have true knowledge?
I say all thus, of course, as a cocky person.

c.e.: Why must knowledge be tied to truth? Certainly, can't I have a justified false belief? And don't we call that knowledge? I can thus "know" something, which is in fact false. And if knowledge is dependent upon truth (at you would have it then I can only "know" that which is known analytically, since even the synthetic is suspect, and certainly “facts", as they are commonly held, are suspect and generally grounded in assumptions. And as such, we "know" very little. And certainly, whether or not a paper is "good" does not fall into such a category.

That confidence is synonymous with delusion is no way entails that is does not exist. Indeed, we have every reason to believe that there are delusional persons, and if so, then that there are also─as per your argument─confident persons. And thus, confidence must exist.

Lee: well to me personally knowledge must be tied to truth, I would never call a false belief knowledge. There is a difference between believing something and having knowledge about something. For instance, a person believed that he knew his drink wasnt poisoned by his wife (she assured him it wasnt), and low and behold he found out that some men cant hold their arsenic after drinking it. It would be fair to say the he held a belief that the drink wasnt poisoned but it would not be accurate to say that he KNEW it wasnt poisoned. One cannot know that 2 + 2 = 5, only believe it.
4 hours ago

c.e.: Then you're redefining knowledge. And doing so in such a stringent fashion that we "know" very little. Indeed, you'll have to replace almost every daily usage of the word "know"with the word "believe". And that's fishy, to say the least. Our criteria for knowledge is far more lax than that. As such, science can never give us knowledge. It simply lacks the ability, as anything empirical must (on your view).

Hanno: Who is the one redefining knowledge? Perhaps it is you! And maybe we *know* very little.

Lee: Fine Chris Ill just go into epistemological arguments and bite the bullet. I think the notion that knowledge is justified belief in somethings standing on what it is actually true does not infringe upon empirical claims at all. As long as you don’t get into the nitty gritty dream argument that is. I am justified in my belief that 2 + 2 equals 4 because it would be a logical impossibility for it not to. So I can know that, I can also know that water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit because it does so every single time I raise it to that temperature and thus my justified belief can be called knowledge. Having a belief is a prerequisite for having knowledge, but whether or not that belief is true and having justification for believing it is true is what I believe constitutes as knowledge. I don’t think it prevents science from giving us knowledge at all.

In order to say you know something you must first have a belief, the belief must be true, and you must have justification for believing it is true. Thats where my notion of knowledge came from which is tied to my notion of confidence for better or worse.

Hanno: What lee says seems right. But we learn socially. Almost everything you think you know you learned from someone. Which is precisely why your confidence is social, too. The things you actually determine yourself are few and usually uninteresting. It would be narcissistically delusional to think you are right and everybody else is wrong about any topic the least bit interesting.

c.e.: 2 + 2 = 4 is not in the same category as water boiling at 212 F. One is confirmed merely by observation. It is necessarily the case that 2 + 2 = 4. There may be circumstances in which water does not boil at 212 F. Simply because you have never encountered that circumstance means not so much.

What we call knowledge is justified belief. We cannot be guaranteed that G or e are right in any absolute sense. We can only have good evidence to support them. We could be wrong. And as such, we may have knowledge, which is in fact false.

And once we realize justification comes in degrees, it's up for debate as to what constitutes a good(tm) justification. It's not immediately obvious that "My father loves me", and "The mass of a proton is 1.672 621 637(83) × 10−27 kg", differ in kind, or merely by relative uncertainty.... See More

Uncertainty is there. And as such, the line you are drawing between knowledge and belief is either not present, which I will concede is false, or often blurry and prone to smudging, which I will hold is true.

Empiricism can never guarantee truth. It lacks the ability to do such. But it can give us good reason to believe. And when we feel justified in our beliefs, then we call it knowledge. Whether or not we are justified, which justifications are good ones, etc., is still up in the air.

Hanno: There are lots of reasons to think that mere justified beliefs do not constitute knowledge. And not even true justified beliefs, for which you can speak to Dr. Furman, as his dissertation deals with just that claim. For example, I might look up at Big Ben, and the clock says 12:00. So given the belief that Big Ben is an accurate clock, I may be justified in believing that it is 12 o'clock. But we would not call that knowledge if it turned out that Big Ben stopped working, unbeknownst to me. And even if it happened at that moment to be 12, but the clock stuck on 12, I would have a justified true belief, but it is missing something, because it is just by accident that the clock has the right time (a stopped clock is right twice a day). True justified belief plus something extra = knowledge. Thanks to GE Moore for the example.

But be that as it may, my belief that Big Ben is usually right is socially constructed. And if everyone around me told me that Big Ben was not working, or that it was wrong, I would be an idiot to keep having confidence in its verdicality.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


By Hanno

Last year we started doing a series of lectures using film as the background for questions in Philosophy, which we called 'filmosophy.' It is easy to use film to raise philosophical issues when you choose philosophically oriented films, such as the classic 'The Seventh Seal.' I, however, also wanted to explore philosophy in films that were not so obvious, and I wanted to do that for two reasons: First, I thought the audience for heavy films would be small, so the group that shows up would be small, and we were looking for something with more appeal. And second, it is more of challenge to show that there are Platonic overtones to, say, Starship Troopers, than to show questions about the meaning of life in The Seventh Seal. After all, no one thinks Starship Troopers has any philosophical content, while everyone who has seen the later knows there is philosophical content to the Seventh Seal.

I was going to do 'The Truman Show,' Jim Carey's movie about a guy whose whole life is a reality show, only he does not know it. I may still, at some point. But I thought of three others I would rather do:

The Mind/Body Problem and 'Ghost'
The Metaphysics of Time and 'Back to the Future'
Horror and 'Night of the Living Dead'

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The End of Philosophers

Simon Critchley, a philosopher at the New School for Social Research, presents a fascinating and funny examination of how many of the great philosophers met their ultimate end. Critchley is the author of The Book of Dead Philosophers (2008), an examination of the philosophical concept of death.

Daniel Dennett on Philosophy Blogs

Dennett wrote this brief essay as the judge of the 3 quarks daily prize in philosophy. Worth a read.

I wish philosophy blog postings were more like the best science blog postings: short, jargon-free, and lively (if wit is too much to hope for, as apparently it is). Philosophers emerge from a training in which their writing efforts are almost always addressed to a captive audience: the grader is obliged to read the student’s essay, however turgid and ungainly, because that is the student’s right; then later, the others in the field with whom one is engaged in intellectual combat are obliged to read one’s latest sally simply because scholarship demands it. “You don’t know the literature” if you haven’t managed to claw your way through the books and articles of the competition. Moreover, writing something that is somewhat challenging to read, or even unpleasantly difficult to slog through, is seen by some as an enviable sign of depth. It is, I fear, the only way many philosophers can prove to colleagues and students–and to themselves–that they are doing hard work worth a professor’s salary.

Blogs, one might think, would be the ideal antidote, since nobody has to read your blog (not yet–the day will soon come when keeping up with the latest blog debates is the first rule for aspiring philosophical quidnuncs.) Alas, however, it seems that there is a countervailing pressure–or absence of pressure–that dissipates the effect: the blog genre is celebrated as a casual, self-indulgent form of self-expression. Easy to write, but not always delicious reading. (Remember, I tell my students, it is the reader, not the writer, who is supposed to have the fun.)

It is hard to see how blogs could survive without Google. If you are interested in the problem of reference in property dualism, or Buddhist anticipations of virtue ethics, or whatever, you can swiftly find the small gang who share your interest, and join the conversation without having to go through the long initiation process that introduces the outside reader to the terms, the state of the art, the current controversy. That means, however, that those who don’t share that interest will find nothing to appeal to them on those websites.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Oh the places you will go...

For those of you who are still unconvinced of the beauty in librarianship, I give you this job posting that came across the wire today:


Grateful Dead Archivist

The University Library of the University of California, Santa Cruz, seeks an enterprising, creative, and service-oriented archivist to join the staff of Special Collections & Archives (SC&A) as Archivist for the Grateful Dead Archive. This is a potential career status position. The Archivist will be part of a dynamic, collegial, and highly motivated department dedicated to building, preserving, promoting, and providing maximum access both physically and virtually to one of the Library's most exciting and unique collections, The Grateful Dead Archive (GDA). The UCSC University Library utilizes innovative approaches to allow the discovery, use, management, and sharing of information in support of research, teaching, and learning.

Under the general direction of the Head of Special Collections and Archives, the GDA Archivist will provide managerial and curatorial oversight of the Grateful Dead Archive, plan for and oversee the physical and digital processing of Archives related material, and promote the GDA to the public and facilitate its use by scholars, fans, and students.

See the full description here

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Commercialization and Art

By Hanno

I read an argument not so long ago that runs something like this: Movie studios are now owned by large corporations, and these corporations bought the studios when they realized the profits that could be made through blockbusters. These movies make millions and millions of dollars. So the corporate culture is geared now less to making good movies, and more to making the next blockbuster. But blockbusters require two things: major stars and special effects, both of which are expensive. Hence, studios are making fewer more expensive movies, hoping to strike it rich.

Further, these movies must appeal to as many people as possible, and hence must aim at the lowest common denominator, things everyone wants to see. Therefore, they are splashy, lots of explosions, filled with pretty people, and not thought provoking or controversial. They do not challenge the system, they embody it. Independent films have no chance in today's market.

Now I wonder just how true these claims are. First, one may note that there has always existed a tension between the desires of the artist and the desires of the consumer (or the people who pay for the art). An artist who produces for the consumer seems to not be true to the artistic nature of the medium, i.e., they are not being true artists. They are, in a real sense, selling out, chasing the buck.

As plausible as this argument sounds, the reality is more grey. The fact is that artists have always had to pay attention to the desires of the person or people paying for the art work. The Beatles were a commercial group, and their manager choose the look, the music and more with an eye to what sells. The Who, the Sex Pistols, and many more, made music with a conscious eye towards what would sell. They ceded power to their managers to help make this choice, and the manager did more than just get gigs. He would choose which songs to put on the album, for example. Pete Townsend pitched his concept album Tommy to his manager, aware that the manager was not interested in concepts of self, rock opera, mysticism, but in what sells, and Pete let himself be guided by that. 'Pinball wizard' is what made the whole thing work, a pop song about a guy who plays pinball. The bands that make it big do not work with a manager, but for him. And yet, no one can deny the artistic nature of the product. Apparently, art and commercialization are more closely connected than we thought.

The same is true in days of old, where it was not the masses that choose the music, but the patrons of the art, whose taste in art was as suspect as any of the masses. Bach, Beethoven, Rembrandt and many more, worked by commission, or by the whim of the patron, whose tastes they could not ignore.

And the same is true for movies: many classics were produced with commercial interests in mind. 'Star Wars' is a both a blockbuster and a classic movie.

And yet, no one (save Josh) can deny that popular culture can produce popular trash, from Louisiana's own Brittany Spears to the Bay City Rollers to Pat Gibson . So when then does pop destroy art? Does it at all?

Second, I read that there are fewer independent movies, fewer low budget movies, fewer artist movies, fewer thought provoking movies than before, But I wonder just how true that is. Are movies worse, different than before? SteveG argues in his own blog that the blockbusters lack tragic heros, and hence they have been on the decline. Yet if we think about it, there are tragic hero's in today's moves. DiCaprio in Blood Diamonds comes to mind. Is he right? Has the commercialization of the movie industry (and notice that that term 'movie industry' is old, it was an industry already in the '30s!) destroyed tragedy? And with it, the thought provoking movies of old?