PHI4300, Philosophy of Knowledge

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Lecture and class notes.

(Epistemology) USF, Spring 2003
Instructor: Dr. Kwasi Wiredu


Copyright 2003, Marc S.A. Glasgow, all rights reserved.

Quick Link to Specific Dates:
January: 7th, 9th, 14th, 16th, 21st, 23rd, 28th, 30th.
February: 4th, 6th, 11th, 13th, 18th, 20th, 25th, 27th.

Contact Methods:
Dr. Wiredu's email:
Dr. Wiredu's Office Phone Number: (813) 974-5916
Office Hours: Tuesday & Thursdays 5 pm - 6 pm.
Office: FAO 243.

NOTE: This site is neither maintained nor endorsed specifically by Dr. Wiredu at this time.
Follow this link to email Marc Glasgow, the webmaster.

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.

January 9th, 2003

Side Notes:
• In Ghana: never speak to someone without greeting them first. Professor stands heavily on this point.
"The Oxford Companion to Philosophy" is available with full text online from the USF library.

Professor launched into the major divisions of the study of philosophy, which with feedback of the class, he grouped into the following categories:

  1. Philosophy of Value (includes the Philosophy of Ethics, and the Philosophy of Aesthetics).
  2. Epistemology, or the Philosophy of Nature of Knowledge.
  3. Metaphysics, or the Philosophy of the Nature of Reality (includes Philosophy of the Mind & Philosophy of Religion).
  4. Logic (includes the Philosophy of Math, or just plain "Mathematics" as it's more commonly called).
  5. 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 God.
   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 definition? Yes.
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 certain.
   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 Coherence.

Epistemology: the search of the meaning of knowledge, or more simply "What is it to know?"

January 14th, 2003

Side Notes:
• 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 authors.

Readings summary:
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 Theory).

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 Philosophies".

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 method-based manner.

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)?

January 16th, 2003

Side Notes:
• Selected Readings packets distributed to 95% of students (308 pgs).

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 existence.

Q: If God is all powerful, all good, why does he create a world filled with imperfection? (question from a student)
   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 options.

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, et cetera).

Levels of Doubt/Levels of Fallibility (Skepticism) as addressed by Descartes:

  1. Perceptual Illusion -- not accurately interpreting that which we sense
  2. Dream -- are we sure reality is real?
  3. Evil Genius theory

Conditions Required for Knowledge as addressed by Descartes:

  1. Requires that the belief is beyond doubt.
  2. Requires that the knowledge is factually true.
  3. Requires that the knowledge is supported by some justification in your belief of the "truth".


January 21st, 2003

Side Notes:
Good alternative definitions of philosophy:


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

  • 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 Knowledge").
    [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 of?
    [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]

Descartes' Logical Progression:

Skepticism Introduced
The methods of doubt which lead Descartes to doubt.

Cogito Ergo Sum
To Think

To Exist

The Proof of the Existence of God
Ability to conceive of a Perfect, Beneficial & All Powerful God
Mandatory existence of such a God
(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

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" book.

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 "Epistemology" book.

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 details.

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 have).

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 version "I".

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 Ergo Sum.

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:

  1. That you have the knowledge beyond any reasonable doubt
  2. That the knowledge is in fact, true
  3. 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?

January 30th, 2003

There are three major, classical theories of truth:

  1. Correspondence Theory of Truth (Russell): A statement is true if it corresponds with the facts.
  2. Coherence Theory of Truth (Bradley): Asks if facts can exist independent of beliefs? All facts are actually beliefs in reality, since all comparisons are internalized and thus you are comparing two beliefs (the one you perceive externally, and the one you formulate internally to explain it) and seeing if those two beliefs cohere to each other.
  3. Pragmatic Theory of Truth (James): What is useful to do or to believe in, that which will solve our problems, is the truth.
  4. Paper: examine these three above theories (see supplemental reading materials). Write a 2 page (short) summary for each of these theories and then write your own opinion of each of these theories.

    February 4th, 2003

    Truth - the same question as posed by Ponchos Pilot in the Bible

    There are three classical theories of truth: correspondence theory, coherence theory, and pragmatic theory (see notes from last class).

    For the purposes of this essay, I want you to master these three readings completely.

    Bertrand Russell lived a very long life (1872 - 1970), and spent many of his later years protesting actively against nuclear weapons. He is also famous (above and beyond for the correspondence theory work) for helping develop symbolic logic (example: P ∪ Q -- the union of P and Q,
    a second example:
    X ∃ -- X Exists).

    Wiredu notes that James Gold taught here (at USF) up to three or four years ago, and that Dr. Wiredu was very pleasantly amazed that Gold was at USF, for he (Dr. Wiredu) had used Gold's material to a very large degree in the classes he taught in Ghana.

    Frances Bradley (British Philosopher) who in Bertrand Russell's youth had influenced Russell greatly through his (Bradley's) writings. Very powerful writer, advocate of the coherence theory of truth.

    Willaim James (American Philosopher) who was well known for forwarding the theory of truth via pragmatism, and the work you are to read is one of the best works on the subject.

    Read these essays carefully and write up a single spaced page summary for each (2 pages if double spaced).
      Thus that is six double spaced pages dedicated to the summaries -- the rest of the pages are opinion pieces on the theories (agree or disagree, mix or match, or formulate your own alternative theories). Philosophy by definition includes your own opinions, but support these opinions of yours with some justification and reason.

    Q: What is the kind of thing which may be validly said to be true or false?

    You should look into the "Companion to Epistemology" which is published by Blackwell.

    When referencing a concept in your paper, please place the concept into quotes to ensure comprehension by the reader. Example Given: The term "knowledge," as discussed by...
      Note that you will not impress me (Dr. Wiredu) with excessive verbosity, nor with run-on sentences. Use a minimum of words required to communicate a concept clearly
    [my own side note: KISS METHOD -- Keep it simple, stupid].

    Read pages 32 through 38 from our textbook (Bon Jour).

    February 6th, 2003

    The following assume person 'X' and some proposition 'ρ'.

    If we say that "X knows that ρ", then if and only if (written iff):
    1. X must believe that ρ
    2. ρ is true
    3. ρ must be justified (to X).
    This is the Justified True Belief Analysis of Knowledge (JTB Analysis of Knowledge).

    Having defined that, we must agree with the terms (one of which is very wiggly: truth). Dr. Wiredu illustrates this concept of useful conception of truth for everyday purposes through an example of a first grade child, who comprehends basic truth.

    Ontology (a branch of metaphysics) - the attempt to explain the existence of something.

    You can not discuss metaphysics without any reference to Epistemology (and visa-versa).

    Correspondence theory is true if it agrees with all the relevant physical realities or the state of affairs that exist independently of the proposition (the author, Bertrand Russell, calls it the "common sense version of truth").

    Aristotle (see footnote 5, pages 32-36 in the book):

    "To say that what is, is not, or that what is not, is, is false."

    Other theories: coherence theory and pragmatic theory, and the redundancy theory of truth (the last of which we will not cover?).

    IDEALISM: That everything is either a mind itself or simply an idea within a mind.
    Not to be confused with
    Absolute Idealism, which is covered in the class notes from February 11th, 2003.

    Ramsey (UK Philosopher) introduced the Redundancy Theory of Truth. He died very young. According to him, when you are saying a proposition is true (ρ is true) is not actually saying anything since (ρ's existence = ρ is true). Therefore no additional info is given by saying that ρ is true over just saying 'ρ'. Thus, this makes it:
       (ρ is true ≡ ρ's existence), which is redundant. Thus, according Ramsey, there is no theory of truth beyond the proposition of existence.

    Read the encyclopedia & companions before you tackle the main/side readings

    February 11th, 2003

    Truth revisited: do not confuse Bon Jour's former advocacy of the "Theory of Justification" with the "Coherence Theory of Truth".

    Coherence Theory - if what is stated is true then what is, is true.

    Reviewed: the triumpherate - Bradley, Russell and James.

    Russell's attempt to illustrate the theory is filled with pictorial examples.

    "Suppose Orthello believes Desdemona loves Casio."
       Russell calls this a complex unity between the constituents of belief.
    1. Desdemona loving Casio (a complex object in and of itself, or "the corresponding fact", or the fact the belief refers to), and
    2. Orthello believing item #1.
    So Russell says the statement is true if it corresponds to the facts, i.e. both conditions 1 and 2 listed above.

    Dr Wiredu segues here and says:
    There was a Polish Philosopher named "Taskin" who in one of his famous works wrote the preposition "Snow is White." We are not going to review Taskin's theory/theories, but the statement "Snow is White" is as a good a example to review others' theories as any that can be stated.

    Back to Russell:
    If we examine the statement "Snow is White": the complete unity exists as the following parts:
    1. Mental conception (of snow as being white), AND
    2. The state of affairs (the snow being white in the reality beyond us).
    So the conceptual content (item #1) matches the state of affairs (item #2), or is said to CORRESPOND #2 to #1.
    The constituent portions of the complex unity are:
    (A) Snow, (B) White, (C) the act of A being B AND the perception of this whole concept/perception (i.e. belief).

    ABSOLUTE IDEALISM (a German-originated theory) -- that everything is part of ONE single mind that grasps everything. Not to be confused with just plain "Idealism"

    Bradley believed in and expounded absolute idealism.

    At this point, I raised the concept that this seemed to be religious in nature, as a single entity (mind) that is omnipotent in it's ability to grasp/perceive everything would bespeak by definition a God. I was promptly blasted down in this conception by Dr. Wiredu, as he says that the theory does not ascribe creationalism to anyone, nor worship of this entity/mind, and thus is not a religion.
    Dr. Wiredu went on to point out a Scottish Philosopher by the name of MacTagert, who was a strong proponent of Absolute Idealism, but was an atheist himself -- that the single supreme mind was not God by definition since it does not ascribe creationism.

    But Bradley's coherence theory has nothing to do with absolute idealism specifically. Bradley writes "Truth in an ideal expression of the universe."

    LOGICAL POSITIVISTS - a group of 20th century philosophers that did not believe in metaphysics, much less religion
    (relevant point being for our discussion that although they didn't believe in metaphysics/religion, that yet many agreed with the cohesion theory).

    From Dr. Wiredu's youth:
    A priest told Dr. Wiredu as a child, trying to explain original sin (in the Christian ethos) -- Have you ever noticed a child start crying as soon as they are born without reason?

    Back to Bradley:
    Bradley states that we are often deceived by our perceptions.

    According to Bradley, we gain knowledge via:
    • Perception
    • Deduction (includes A Priori, Induction and Inference)
    • Testimony (what other's tell us)
    • Association
    • Intuition.

    We use an Order System Arrangement to qualify beliefs (and depending on the source, a revision to the belief may occur), thus under Bradley's theory, a true statement is one that "Coheres" with our system of beliefs and knowledge acquisition. This is important, for if you learn something, and then your actual experience forces you to modify that belief (that something) to account for new facts in evidence, you are not denying a truth, but modifying it and yet still staying within your system of beliefs.

    February 13th, 2003

    Time (n) - a nonspatial continuum in which events occur in apparently irreversible succession from the past through the present to the future.
    This day still lies in the future.

    February 18th, 2003

    Time (n) - a nonspatial continuum in which events occur in apparently irreversible succession from the past through the present to the future.
    This day still lies in the future.

    February 20th, 2003

    Time (n) - a nonspatial continuum in which events occur in apparently irreversible succession from the past through the present to the future.
    This day still lies in the future.

    February 25th, 2003

    Time (n) - a nonspatial continuum in which events occur in apparently irreversible succession from the past through the present to the future.
    This day still lies in the future.

    February 27th, 2003

    Time (n) - a nonspatial continuum in which events occur in apparently irreversible succession from the past through the present to the future.
    This day still lies in the future.


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