Up@dawn 2.0

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Knowledge-Nagel Chapter 2 summary

After reading through chapter two of Nagel’s book Knowledge, I cannot help but question why some skeptics refuse to believe we can ever really know anything at all. Does this not halt our journey in seeking out answers? Does this not stop the abstract thought of what ‘if’s’? If I can never really know anything, then why pursue answers to questions? Why learn? Why feed my curiosity. To me it sounds like a way to put a stop to creative thinking.
For these reasons, I am a fan of Bertrand Russell’s ‘Inferences to the Best Explanation’ theory, specifically “(T)he principle of simplicity; other things being equal, a simpler explanation is rationally preferred to a more complex one.” (p.21). This allows room for further exploration yet acknowledges the possibilities of yes, there being an option for the answer to be something other then the simplest one. Yet by doing this you are openly admitting the simplest answer may not be the right one which is a problem, “Even if we grab that Inference to the Best Explanation is generally a rational strategy, we might feel that it seems insufficiently conclusive to ground knowledge as opposed to just rational belief.”(p.21). This is important when it comes to situation like a courtroom. Just because the answer may seem rational, that does not prove that is what actually took place. So how do we make a conclusion? How do we know when to go with the simplest answer and when to dig deeper and compare different possible solutions more closely? Does it depend on the consequence of the outcome? For example, Nagel uses an scenario in her book of a detective who finds evidence that points to a suspect (the butler). But what if the maid framed the butler? The simplest answer would be to say the butler is guilty, all the evidence shows that. but that could also mean putting an innocent man in prison. However, let us say I see a bowl with what looks like vanilla ice cream inside. It feels cold like ice cream and is white in color, but when I taste it? Lemon flavored, but nothing really happens. The only consequence is a slightly sour taste in my mouth. So how do we determine how skeptical we need to be and when?

1 comment:

  1. Radical skeptics in the tradition of Pyrrho definitely do block the road of inquiry, I'd agree, by refusing to entertain the possibility of fallible, correctible knowledge based on probability and inference. Russell's approach, like Charles Sander Peirce's "abduction," is more sensible.

    Moderate skeptics, though, see themselves as advancing inquiry by holding out for evidence and being scrupulous not to commit to knowledge claims too soon. They want to protect what George Santayana called "chastity of the intellect," not permanently, but until the right "match" between belief and evidence can be made. They'd say we should always be provisionally skeptical, but not obstinately and permanently.

    And then there's the pragmatic approach of Wm James, who insists that our volitional natures have a vital role to play in permitting us to act on beliefs in advance of evidence that might otherwise never come. A good pragmatist will be skeptical of the "will to believe" too, though!