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January 7th, 2003
Professor Wiredu (pronounced Wheh-Reh-Do), from Ghana,
introduced himself. Doctoral Thesis work: Oxford, England.
Covered class schedule (Tuesday, Thursdays 3:30 to 4:45),
then launched into a minor lecture about the basis for the
entirety of the class, namely Epistemology.
Epistemology: The philosophy of the nature of knowledge.
1. Is knowledge possible? Went minorly into skepticism, discussed in a future class & the reading materials.
2. Limits of knowledge: what it is possible to know and what isn't possibly truly knowable.
Professor launched into the major divisions of the
study of philosophy, which with feedback of the class, he
grouped into the following categories:
- Philosophy of Value (includes the Philosophy of Ethics,
and the Philosophy of Aesthetics).
- Epistemology, or the Philosophy of Nature of
- Metaphysics, or the Philosophy of the Nature of Reality
(includes Philosophy of the Mind & Philosophy of
- Logic (includes the Philosophy of Math, or just plain
"Mathematics" as it's more commonly called).
- Philosophy of Language.
Philosophy of Epistemology: the search for the meaning of knowledge and the meaning of truth.
On the differences between theology and philosophy in
terms of God:
Theology is based upon the belief in the existence of God,
while philosophy has to build a rationalized argument to
the existence, non-existence, or to the impossibility of
the ability of anyone to prove there is a
He then goes on to state that the philosopher, when asking
or answering the question "Does God exist?" must first
explain all possibly debated terms: said philosopher's
understanding of what God is, then what the definition of
existence is, as part of the process of asking and
attempting to answer the question.
We base the majority of our knowledge on a basis of
causality -- that there is a direct correlation between
cause and effect, especially at the macrophysical level of
our lives. If we extend the causality to everything (and
all situations), the process of doing so is termed
Determinism. Under determinism causality falls into
the realm of metaphysics (rather than into the realm of
Philosophy of Logic), in that determinists say that all
choices are already predetermined by past events.
Free Will: the notion that we are cable of
choosing for ourselves from the possible choices, without
the presence of predeterminism.
Doesn't Free Will and Determinism conflict by
Aren't there multiple possible effects
(even under determinism) from any cause? Yes, although the
determinists argues that we can trace to an illusion of
identical causes when in reality there are subtle
differences in all different experiences, no matter how
similar they are.
One of the attempts by philosophers to resolve this
conflict by developing a theory (Philosophy of
Compatiblism), which states that both determinism and
free will can coexist validly. Alternatively, Hard
Determinists (believers of "hard determinism") say free
will is an illusion because determinism is stronger than
free will can be, and thus determinism is more
Another group says free will is more certain than
determinism or causality, claiming that causality is not
absolute; this group ascribes to Libertarianism, a
division of incompatibilism.
The philosopher is the person who raises such concepts
and attempts to answer them validly (causality,
determinism, free will, et cetera).
The attempt to
integrate these multiple, oft conflicting views is called
Epistemology: the search of the meaning of
knowledge, or more simply "What is it to know?"
January 14th, 2003
• Descartes name is often written in a variety of
different formats, including: Des Carte, De Carte,
DesCarte, DeCartes, DesCartes, or DeCarte in various
publications. This is because of the attempt to Anglicize
his name differently by various disciplines and
Chapter 1: Methods of acquiring knowledge.
Chapter 2: Descartes' basis -- Cartesian
Epistemology, basic concepts and the cyclic arguments
that he used (as well as the "givens" which Descartes
accepted) that invalidated his arguments -- in large
because of his own introduction of doubts within the
arguments he puts forth (such as the Evil Genius
The significance of Descartes' work ws the
self-examination from scratch and the self-centered ("I")
basis for the analysis of Epistemology: "I think
therefore I am" in the book "Meditations: First
Sensible Knowledge: that knowledge which
is acquired through our senses (physically), which at times
can deceive us. It is this deceptive nature that led
Descartes to pursue his "Meditations".
Categorical Imperative: (Immanuel Kant, 1724-1804)
Reason itself can discover the most rudimentary morality.
Rule your actions so as to analyze it for human-wide
embrace as a behavior, a general maxim of action. Basically
the same as the golden rule concept, taken in a larger
perspective. This is not part of epistemology.
Si Fallor Sum: (Augustine) a precursor to
Descartes, he stated "If I err, I exist", written as Si
Fallor Sum in Latin.
Descartes forwards a "Methodological Skepticism" based on
his tear-down and reconstruction of knowledge in a
Light of Knowledge: that which our minds
have grasped in such a clear way that it can not be
doubled. Included in this realm is Cogito Ergo Sum ("I
think, therefore I exist").
Having established himself (his existence), Descartes
sets out to desolve his own "Evil Genius" argument via
proving the existence of God (as an omnipotent and
all-good being). Descartes' proof (paraphrased): "that I,
as an imperfect being, can conceive of a perfect being, a
God, which means that this thought must have in originated
in God, therefore God must exist."
The fallacy is in the basis for this supposed proof -- does
conception of perfection implicitly imply existence of said
perfection? Is Descartes' vision of what God is even
valid: is God perfectly good even we accept his existence
(vs. to being the embodiment all things, including evil)?
Q: Was Descartes a skeptic?
A: No. He starts with
skepticism for the sake of the basis of argument and then
beats the skeptic arguments as the method of the
construction of his theories.
Descartes is a departure from the philosophies of the
middle ages, but still drags certain mentalities of the
middle ages with him into his theories -- specifically, his
perception of God, as a being of perfection having all (and
only) positive attributes, and no negative ones.
Anselm's Definition of God: I define God
as the greatest possible, conceivable being (i.e. - the
greatest being the ability of humans can conceive of). And
thus God must exist, for if you can imagine God and God's
non-existence, AND existence is a higher state than
non-exitance, then the highest imaginable state is God's
Q: If God is all powerful, all good, why does he
create a world filled with imperfection? (question from a
Modern philosophy's answer: to create free will in humans,
which is a contradiction to perfection, since perfection is
a mandatory choice rather than a free choice among possible
Evil comes in two forms:
Moral Evil - the evil of humans, suffering
induced by one human onto another, and
Physical Evil - that which causes needless
suffering at the physical level without recourse to human
intention or action (i.e. - earthquakes, disease, cancer,
Levels of Doubt/Levels of Fallibility (Skepticism) as
addressed by Descartes:
- Perceptual Illusion -- not accurately interpreting that
which we sense
- Dream -- are we sure reality is real?
- Evil Genius theory
Conditions Required for Knowledge as addressed by
- Requires that the belief is beyond doubt.
- Requires that the knowledge is factually true.
- Requires that the knowledge is supported by some
justification in your belief of the "truth".
READING ASSIGNMENT: READ CH 3.
January 21st, 2003
Good alternative definitions of philosophy:
- The critical and rational examination of the most
fundamental assumptions that underlie our lives.
- Ancient Greeks: Philosophy is the scientific knowledge
of all things gained through consideration by the natural
light of reason, of their fundamental reasons and causes.
- "Philosophia est rerum divinarum et humanarum
causarumque quibus hae res continentur, scientia" (Cicero,
translates as: philosophy is the science of divine things and
the human causes through which all these things are
- The Love of Knowledge. More specifically
philosophy is a thoughtful examination of reality,
especially problems involving ideals, truth, reason,
discourse, and duty, accompanied by an attempt to put first
things first and expose illusion.
- That basic set of assumptions that gives meaning to one's thoughts.
Test is this Thursday (January 23rd).
Test results will count towards your grade only if they are
beneficial. Getting a good grade on this test will exempt
you from having to write one of the short papers.
Subjects for the test
Descartes' Logical Progression:
- 1 Sentence: Definition of Philosophy and branches of Philosophy
(please least at least 10 branches).
[Follow links for answers]
- 2 Sentences: Definition of Philosophy
of Epistemology (something beyond "Philosophy of
[Follow link for answer]
- 1 Sentence: What is skepticism?
[A: the introduction of sources of possible doubt, fallibility of truth of knowledge]
- Answer the following question: Having operated with
methodological skepticism, is Descartes a skeptic himself
(Y/N & explain your answer).
[Follow link for answer]
- Explain the scope of Descartes' skepticism -- can
everything be doubted (specifically: can empirical
propositions be doubted?).
[Follow link for answer to the first part; second part: no, empirical propositions can not be
doubted if God exists by the virtue of the Light of Nature]
- Explain Descartes' view on A Priori knowledge -- did
Descartes believe that you could doubt A Priori knowledge
(i.e. 2+2 = 4 , etc)?
[A: Descartes considers A Priori knowledge (though he never uses that term) -- knowledge gleaned
without respect to the physical sensation but through pure reasoning -- to be infallible if God
exists (which he has proven), since such knowledge is illuminated by "The Light of Nature".]
- What does Descartes believe that he can not be deceived
[A: His Existence]
- Having established his own existence, what steps does
Descartes take to increase his realm of knowledge; what
were they/how does he propose to do such?
[A: Proof of God; Light of Nature/A Priori knowledge; Knowledge of the Material World]
The methods of doubt which lead Descartes to doubt.
Cogito Ergo Sum
The Proof of the Existence of God
Ability to conceive of a Perfect,
Beneficial & All Powerful God
Mandatory existence of such a
(as the source of such a thought)
Defeat of Skepticism & the Evil Genius
Existence of such a God
Defeat of an
all-encompassing continuous Deception by the Evil Genius
The Light of Nature
Light of Nature
Acceptability of A Priori
Knowledge of The Material World
Sensations and the existence of God
Knowledge of the material world.
Basis: if we use clear and distinct ideas then we will
know the truth. If God exists, then the danger of being led
astray by a demon (or the evil genius) in more complicated reasoning is extinguished.
Descartes finds a foundation that is beyond the
possibility of doubt (in his mind) as the basis for
expanding his knowledge. A kind of cognition that is beyond
the possibility of doubt. Descartes initial cognition is
Cogito Ergo Sum", and here he shows that knowledge
can have a "Foundation," which gives rise to
Foundationalism (see definition, next paragraph).
Foundationalism: a major school of thought
in philosophy that knowledge can be based a foundation that
is beyond the possibility of any doubt, thus assuring the
validity of said knowledge. This issue is brought up in
detail in chapter 9 of the Bon Jour "Epistemology"
Coherentism: a major school of thought in
philosophy that denies the foundation basis for knowledge,
choosing to believe that all knowledge is cross-supporting
and interwoven, thus no single foundation can be laid. his
issue is brought up in detail in chapter 10 of the Bon Jour
Bon Jour, the author of our primary book
("Epistemology"), used to be the leading "Coherent" in the
field until shortly before the release of the book we are
reading from. See the introduction in the book for more
When Descartes says "I think, therefore I exist" (Cogito
Ergo Sum), the definition of the "I" in the statement
includes the conception of a physical existence (and not
merely a metaphysical one, such as a spirit might
Hume comes along and says that Descartes' assumption of
a substantial existence is not guaranteed, and thus is a
false conception. Hume's take on Cogito Ergo Sum is that it
can only be used to prove that there is an unembodied
Bertrand Russell then follows Hume and further
deconstructs Descartes: from the account that Descartes
gives, we can only guarantee that there is thinking --
anything beyond that is invalid in Descartes foundation
(thus not even guaranteeing an unembodied "I").
Professor's question to the class: does the statement "I
do not exist" really mean the same as the statement "I
exist", since the creation of the statement in itself
requires existence? Think about it.
Descartes clarifies that when "I affirm that I exist is
when I exist," thus encaptioning the temporal aspect and
qualifying the effects of death upon his initial Cogito
Reading Assignment: Mosser & Vandermatt:
"Selections from Descartes" (13 pages), available on
electronic reserve as well as physical reserve (not in the
selected reading packet from ProCopy).
January 23rd, 2003
Late to class, so this day's notes are incomplete...
If you saw an Unicorn, would you believe your eyes?
A human being has to go on some beliefs; to suspect all beliefs is to deprive yourself of all humanity and survival.
[back to the unicorn] If were to see an unicorn, would it convince you that unicorns exist? If you had no doubt left and are
in their presence, then does it make sense to question their existence? No, because it is redundant. Once the concept fits an object,
the question of the concept's existence becomes moot.
Now extend that to the concept of "I" (as in yourself). Thus just as it doesn't make sense to question a known object's existence,
the question "Do I exist?" becomes meaningless.
Color, weight are properties of an object. Existence is not a property, but a conception.
"X exists" (which in symbolic logic would be written as X ∃) is the same as saying "The concept of 'x' applies to an object -- an item which satisfies
our perception of what an object 'x' should be."
There are a lot of beliefs which we can not come face-to-face with. But we can say an item exists if
we can substantiate an instance of it.
Kant says existence is not a preposition.
Q: How do you know a substantiation is right or wrong (take a mirage of an oasis as an example)?
A: The difference. [MG: sorry, this didn't make much sense]
An object substantiates a concept, and an object has properties.
The real question, as a result of all this, is whether Descartes' theory (Cogito Ergo Sum) even makes sense, since it makes no
sense to question a known object's existence.
Tests returned. Notes on test results:
squiggly line in the margin means "difficult to correct or comment on."
Test grading basis: A+ = 13/13. Subtract 1/3rd of a grade for each mistake (i.e. -1 = A, -2 = A-, -3 = B+, etc).
THEOLOGY: the attempt to explain why a perfect God created an imperfect world.
January 28th, 2003
Descartes has three conditions for knowledge:
- That you have the knowledge beyond any reasonable doubt
- That the knowledge is in fact, true
- That you have experienced supporting evidence of the belief
Person must believe it (Person "A", statement or proposition "ρ")
For (A knows ρ) the following must be true:
1. A belief that ρ (since we discussed the existence of ρ being the same as just saying 'ρ' in the last class);
2. ρ must be true. Note that the "must" is tricky in this context.
3. ρ is justified.
This system is known as the "Justified True Belief" (oft abbreviated to JTB).
Gettier (published in 1963) wrote a short paper called "Is Knowledge Justified Belief?" that set the field upon it's ear.
First Gettier example:
Suppose you and Jones have applied for a single job. You find out that Jones is going to get the job as per the CEO, who tells you this
a few days before the job is to be filled. You also KNOW out that the person to get the job has ten (10) coins in their pocket, and you have
noticed previously that jones has 10 coins in his pocket. Thus you have JTB that Jones will get the job. For some reason (reason unexplained, but
you can assume Jones died, declined the job, etc) you get the job, and you turn out to unwittingly have ten (10) coins in your pocket.
Second Gettier example:
Somebody owns a Mercedes, and you have good reason to believe that Mr Smith owns the mercedes because he is a member of the Mercedes club, gets
Mercedes dealer and club mail constantly, etc. You have even seen him driving a mercedes yourself (which unknown to you was either a rental or
a loaner). You also know that someone in the company has a mercedes, because you see it daily in the parking lot. Given this information, you presume
that it is Mr. Smith's mercedes (but in fact, it isn't, rather it belongs to another employee).
This is a justified Belief, but an incorrect truth.
Gettier never gave a 4th or other condition beyond those outlined by Descartes, but did state that the existing three were insufficient to encompass
the entirety of the truth of knowledge.
Consider then what TRUTH means. Now consider it for the purposes of our daily lives -- what is truth?