conclusion it seems apparent that there is no satisfactory answer to the
problem of scepticism through Justified True Belief. Even with the addition of another
condition, sensitivity, the argument remains unconvincing as it cannot escape the
various formulations of the Gettier problem. Even worse, general claims about
the world currently cannot be confidently known to hold true across time, at
least through induction. Therefore the problem of scepticism can be said to be
Finally, we shall consider a different facet
of scepticism. In “A treatise of Human Nature” Hume questions whether induction
is an unjustified from of reasoning. An inductive argument is such that “every
raven has ever been observed in the past has been black, therefore all ravens will
be black”. Hume argues that this assumes an underlying continuity of the
universe, what he calls the “Principle of the Uniformity of Nature”. The
argument can thus be re-written “every raven has ever been observed in the past
has been black, there is a uniformity to nature, therefore all ravens will be
black”. However the principle cannot itself be adequately explained. “The principle
has always been true in the past, nature is roughly uniform across time thus
the future will be like the past, therefore the principle will be true in the
future”. This argument is circular, as the second premise is the principle.
Another argument needs to be found to support the assumption that the principle
holds; and although Hume argues that this does not necessarily matter, as
people make inductions not through certainty but through habit, a sceptic would
remain unconvinced. Hume successfully disproves induction as a form of
Additionally there is the more general
complexity of “abominable conjuctions”. Perhaps an individual has a healthy,
functional pair of eyes. They believe they see, and in fact do see with them.
This satisfies sensitivity as if the individual did not have eyes, they would
not believe they see. However if one remembers Descartes deceiving demon, and
considers the possibility of the individual being deceived into believing they
have eyes when in fact they are blind. This leads to two intuitive situations,
both equally intuitive, a situation that has “abominable conjuctions”.
This sensitivity condition allows for an more
nuanced position of knowledge requiring not only correctness, but also tracking
truth. In the example of the player caught cheating at cards, the belief of the
first player is insensitive to the fact that the second player is actually
cheating in a different way. Had the first
player been sensitive, the belief would have been the same on the same grounds,
thereby reconciling JTB with Gettier. However even this condition fails to
satisfy more general cases of the Gettier Problem, as Saul Kripke (2011)
posits. It aligns JTB with Gettier only if, had the proposition been false, it
would have been believed regardless. There are other forms of the Gettier that
lead to the counterfactual being false (such as the case of an optical illusion
of a barn façade that seems real: an onlooker could see what appear to be a
barn and believe it to be there. Sensitivity rules out this case iff, if there
is no barn, the onlooker would believe there would be one. However if the
environment is unsuitable for a barn, eg a volcano, this counterfactual is false.)
S’s belief that “p” is sensitive iff, if p
were false, S would not believe that p.
The Gettier Problem (“Is Justified True Belief
Knowledge”, 1963) has famously led many epistemologists to reject Justified
True Belief analysis as a method to resolving the problem of scepticism. Perhaps
JTB is a necessary condition for knowledge, but it is not sufficient if one considers
the following scenario which illustrates justified true belief that is not
knowledge. A group of friends are playing with a deck of cards, and halfway
through the game one player notices that the second player is cheating through
counting cards. They notice the second players lips move, as though they are
counting cards, and accuse them of cheating. When pressed, the second player
admits that they were cheating, but through sleight of hand rather than
memorisation; the belief is justified, as player one has sufficient reason (the
lip movements) to believe that player two is cheating, and the belief is true.
This is separate from the above case of the “lucky guess” and serves to
undermine JTB. Nozick (1981) attempts to defent JTB by adding another
condition, that of Sensitivity.
The Justification condition is the most
problematic of the three conditions. It is deemed necessary as without it, to
identify knowledge with true belief would lead to beliefs that might be true
even if formed improperly. In the above example of the coinflip, assuming that
someone had predicted heads and confidently believed in the outcome, if by
chance it does land heads then the belief was true; but such a guess is not
knowledge. For the outcome to be known justification must be provided. What
does this mean? There are two commonly held forms of justification, “ex ante”
justification and “ex post” justification. Ex ante concerns whether the
subject, S has sufficient reason to believe “p”. Ex post posits that
justification occurs depending on whether a given belief is held appropriately.
This distinction is necessary to avoid a problem of superstition. An
individual, Anna, has encountered evidence about the health concerns of smoking,
which she does not believe. However when she decides to go out and buy a
packet, she encounters a crow, which she considers an august sign that smoking
is bad for her. Superstition is not an epistemologically sound way of forming a
belief, so her belief is not “ex post” justified. It is, however “ex ante”
justified- she has a reason to believe that smoking is bad for her. Although
this is resolved and there are other issues with Justification, the main
problem with the JTB is not with the conditions that constitute it, but rather
the Gettier Problem.
This is not insurmountable. If a) Radford
suggests that Albert does not fully “Know” the answer as he essentially takes a
guess. Conversely b) could occur as while Albert does not think he know the
date he does and is merely mistaken about his recollections. If both a) and b)
are true Radford posits that belief is not necessary for knowledge. The counter
to this comes from b) perhaps not being justified, as Albert is not an expression
of knowledge due to his subjective condition of “taking a guess”, further
Albert knows (E)
Albert does not believe (E)
Elizabeth died in 1603
The other conditions are more controversial.
The belief condition states that the only things that can be known are the
things that are believed in. Failure to believe in something precludes knowing
it. Similar to the above example, the fan can be said to believe that team won
even though in fact it did not. However this is not “belief” in the sense of being
confident in it being true. This belief is the utter surety of outright belief.
To believe “p” is to have a commitment to it (Nagel:413-4). The belief
condition also has an awkward problem with total denial. If an individual came
home to see with their own sense that their home had burned down, they might
state “I don’t believe it”. This denial of belief despite them “knowing” the
truth (as the house burns in front of them) seems to decouple belief from the
truth of the matter. Despite this the standard response is that the avowal of
belief is not, in strict terms, true. It is not that it is fully believed,
instead that it is an expression of not wanting to come to terms with what has occurred.
If it was truly, genuinely not believed, then there would be no need to state “I
don’t believe it”. A more serious case is that of the is suggested by Colin
Radford (1966). Albert is quizzed on English history, and is asked for the date
of Elizabeth’s death. He does not think he knows, but answers the question
This tripartite is often shortened to JTB
analysis. At first this analysis does not seem to progress much along a
solution to the problem of scepticism as it seems to consider only belief. However
JTB also has three components in the Truth, Belief and Justice conditions. The
truth condition is relatively uncontroversial, and only states that what is
false cannot be known. At first this seems problematic as there are many cases
where the use of the term “know” indicates something other then truth. The
football team loses the game, but the fan who missed the broadcast says “I know
they won”. This seems problematic, as perhaps “knows” is not a factive verb,
thus invalidating the argument (Hazlett, 2010). However most epistemologists
dismiss this claim, as the use of “know” in the case of the fan is merely that
of a kind of exaggeration rather then a literally true fact. The fan does not “know”
so much as have a confidence in that outcome. Even if this problem is resolved,
there are other nuances- truth is not necessarily established truth (eg if
someone flips a coin but then never checks the outcome, the truth of the
coinflip is metaphysical as instead of epistemological). Truth is a matter of
how things are, and therefore knowledge can be said to have relationship with
truth. To know something is to have a certain kind of relationship to a fact.
S is justified in believing that p
S believes that p
p is true
laid out the problem of scepticism, potential solutions must now be considered. The theory of knowledge as
Justified True Belief offers an answer through its conditions of truth, belief
and justification. The theory outlines a case about a person, S knowing a claim
“p” if the tripartite analysis of knowledge is satisfied. S knows that p iff
This kind of sceptical
argument can be formulated in a variety of ways, as long as the claim is
incompatible with what we think we do in fact know. Descartes extends his
previous argument through the use of a “deceiving demon” that constantly
intervenes to ensure that any kind of reasoning goes wrong, such that even
necessary truths or mathematical proofs such as 2+2=4 and a square having four sides
are false. His argument throughout the meditation can be seen as an attack on
the methodology of gaining knowledge of the world. Firstly through questioning
the fallibility of the senses regarding specific experiences, secondly through
doubting general experience of an external world and finally through this
attack on the ability to reason. Despite the extent of his argument, this form
of scepticism is perhaps less threatening. If our senses and our reason are faulty it would preclude any possibility of
knowing anything, but not of knowledge existing. Knowledge could still be
theoretically possible in under these conditions- scepticism and responses to scepticism
focus on these two arguments as hypotheses that must be tested.
An initial response to this case might be to
offer that one recalls having had dreaming experiences, so it is not possible
that “Q” holds. However, Descartes uses this example to demonstrate that it
does not matter if one has had awake or dreaming experiences; in this moment
one cannot say “?Q”. Descartes also offers a second explanation, which is to
distinguish waking life from dreams through continuity (dreams do not have
continuity). However again this does not solve the problem that one can dream
that any possible test is fulfilled, any mark of reality found, and still be
dreaming. There truth, this does not even fully address the problem, that
whether or not the meditator is dreaming is irrelevant, only the possibility
that one is dreaming, the doubt, is.
4. Thus, the meditator does not know that “P”. He could be dreaming “P”
3. The meditator does not know that ?Q. In the past the meditator has
dreamed an awake experience when in fact he was dreaming.
2. If “Q, I am dreaming that I am next to the fire and I am not in
fact sitting next to the fire” is true then “P” is false.
1. The meditator knows “P, I am next to the fire”
Descartes produces two arguments in his first
meditation that illustrate this reasoning. The first occurs as he considers the
possibility of him currently dreaming, ie doubting empirical claims. His
meditator thinks the following.
I do not know that “p”.
If I do not know ?q then c.
I do not know that ?q
Therefore: Since I know that for any claim “p”
a second claim “q” can be produced that is incompatible with “p”
To know “p” one must know that any claim that
is incompatible with “p” is false.
If one knows “p” one does not have any doubt
about the truth of it.
Knowing “p” is the same as being certain of
the truth of “p”.
The sceptical argument holds that:
Accepting Scepticism is impractical, as even as we consider the possibility of scepticism
being true we continue to act as if we know it is false. We naturally reject
the scepticism argument.
The sceptic argument is very simple, and unlike some of its counters does not
rely on complicated reasoning. It is therefore powerful because its argument
can be grasped intuitively.
It implies that knowledge is impossible. We suppose that we know things, and
according to scepticism this is impossible- thus we must either accept that we
are wrong and knowledge is impossible or find a way to disprove scepticism.
Before attempting to solve the problem of scepticism,
the nature of the problem must be considered and explained. Is it even a
problem? Scepticism presents a problem as:
The problem of scepticism
is one that has been central to epistemology, and more generally in
philosophical debate. Most famously Descartes, in his “Meditations”, addresses
the problem of scepticism and provides a thorough explanation. This essay shall
consider what exactly that problem is, following Descartes explanation. It
shall then consider the potential solution that is the notion of “justified
true belief” (JTB) and its failure through Gettier’s problem in proving that
knowledge can be found. Sensitivity is offered as a potential solution to Gettier,
but even that fails under conditions of false counterfactuals. Therefore this
essay ends with a further extension to the problem of scepticism, that of Hume’s
problem of Induction, demonstrating that not only is the problem unsolved but
it is in fact farther ranging than originally thought.