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Ignorance, Knowledge, and Two Epistemic Intuitions

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Abstract

One of the most venerable and enduring intuitions in epistemology concerns the relationship between true belief and knowledge. Famously articulated by Socrates, it holds that true belief does not suffice for knowledge. I discuss a matching intuition about ignorance according to which true belief does not suffice for the absence of ignorance. I argue that the latter intuition undercuts the New View of Ignorance (according to which ignorance is the absence of true belief) and supports the Standard View of Ignorance (according to which ignorance is the absence of knowledge).

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Notes

  1. As indications of this increased interest, see the following recent anthologies: Peels (2017a), Peels and Blaauw (2016), and Gross and McGoey (2015). See also DeNicola (2017). Why ignorance has historically attracted so much less attention than knowledge may be explained (at least in part) by the seeming obviousness of the idea that ignorance just is the opposite of knowledge.

  2. To be clear, when I write of knowledge, ignorance, and true belief in this paper, I mean knowledge that p, ignorance that p, and true belief that p respectively, where p is some proposition.

  3. See Peels (2010, 2011, 2012, 2017b) for a defense of this view. See also Peels (2014, 2019). It has been held by inter alia Medina (2016, p. 182), Van Woudenberg (2009, p. 375), Guerrero (2007, pp. 62–63), Rivera-Lopez (2006, p. 135), Goldman and Olsson (2009, pp. 19–21), and Goldman (1986, p. 26).

  4. See Le Morvan (2011, 2012, 2013, 2019) for a defense of this view. See also Le Morvan (2015, 2018). It has been held explicitly by inter alia Fine (2017), McBrayer (2016, p. 145), Pritchard (2016, p. 134), Haack (2001, p. 25), Fields (1994, p. 403), and Zimmerman (1988, p. 75; 2008, p. ix). It has been held implicitly by inter alia Flanagan (1990, p. 422), Driver (1989, pp. 373–376), Unger (1975, p. 93), Houlgate (1968, p. 109), and Anscombe (1963, p. 400).

  5. For an overview of other arguments for these respective views, see Le Morvan and Peels (2016).

  6. Another venerable and widely-shared Socratic intuition in epistemology—call it the “Value Intuition”—holds that knowledge is more epistemically valuable than true belief. This is a central topic of the Meno. If this intuition is correct, it is also the case that true belief does not suffice for knowledge, and (mere) true belief is not knowledge. This intuition lies behind an ancient and central epistemological problem. Known as the Value Problem, it is to explain why knowledge is more epistemically valuable than true belief.

  7. It is worth noting that wide acceptance of the Socratic Knowledge Intuition has (and can) come without wide acceptance of other epistemic views articulated by Socrates in the Platonic dialogues such as the view that all knowledge is recollection, or that knowledge is only of the Forms.

  8. I thank an anonymous reviewer of this paper for suggesting this name for the intuition.

  9. That is, true belief that p is compatible with ignorance that p.

  10. I call this “Sartwell’s Thesis” for ease of reference, for Sartwell (1991, 1992) offers the most well-known defense of this view. Skidmore (1993, 1997) and Martens (2006) endorse this thesis. For critical discussion of Sartwell’s Thesis, see Le Morvan (2002) and Aiken (2010). Hofmann (2005) defends Sartwell’s Thesis; for critical discussion, see Le Morvan (2008). Beckermann (1997, 2001) and von Kutschera (1982) offer versions of Sartwell’s Thesis. In fact, von Kutschera arrived at this view before, and independently of, Sartwell. Others have argued for views related to Sartwell’s Thesis. Goldman (1999, 2002a, b) has argued that there is a sense of “knowledge” according to which it amounts to true belief. He does not argue, however, that mere true belief is the only kind of knowledge. For a critical discussion of Goldman‘s views on this, see Le Morvan (2005).

  11. Interestingly, proponents of the New View cannot conjoin it with Sartwell’s Thesis lest their view entail the Standard View. I offer a proof of this in the Appendix to this paper.

  12. This is Fermat’s Last Theorem, conjectured by Pierre de Fermat in 1637, and finally proved by Andrew Wiles in 1995.

  13. In this context, it’s worth pointing that if I were merely arguing that, because the Matching Ignorance Intuition is true, the New View is false, then I would be begging the question against the latter. To be sure, defenders of the New View may bite the bullet (stick to their guns, or whatever other metaphor one might wish to deploy) and reject the Matching Ignorance Intuition. That is certainly their prerogative. As its defenders would no doubt concede, it does not beg the question against the New View to argue as I have here that, if one accepts the Matching Ignorance Intuition, then one must reject the New View.

  14. Take his example of Martha who has the true belief that a sliced onion will reduce the pain of a bee sting, but who lacks justification for this belief. If “her belief is confirmed by medical authorities or she discovers an explanation for the palliative effect, she will have removed her ignorance on that point” (p. 201; italics in original). Take also his example of a detective who correctly believes that she has identified a murderer but who lacks sufficient evidence for this belief. If she continues her investigation to discover motive, means, and opportunity, and her investigation succeeds, “she gains a justification for her belief and removes her ignorance” (p. 201). As DeNicola points out, lack of warrant for true belief does indicate ignorance, and the New View of Ignorance reopens the door to epistemic luck, for on this view, Gettier conditions do not create ignorance, and this seems counter-intuitive (p. 201). The intuition DeNicola presumably invokes with these examples is the Matching Ignorance Intuition. He also implicitly invokes the parallelism between this intuition and the Socratic Knowledge Intuition with his remark that to “discount the relevance of warrant and luck for ignorance also disvalues the securing of justification and the achievement of knowing without epistemic luck” (p. 201).

  15. For an extended discussion of why, for a given proposition p, ignorance that p should not be confused with ignorance of p, see Le Morvan (2015).

  16. A reviewer of this journal has helpfully pointed out that in the Miami President case, for instance, the truth-maker is some state of affairs involving the Miami congresswoman, and, as the reviewer put it, “Jim has no mental connection to any such state of affairs.”

  17. I wish to thank an anonymous reviewer of this journal for very helpful and constructive comments on earlier drafts of this paper.

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Appendix

Appendix

If conjoined with Sartwell’s Thesis, the New View entails the Standard View, and therefore the former does not offer an alternative to the latter. This can be proved as follows (where p is some true proposition, Kp is knowledge that p, and Bp is belief that p):

  1. 1.

    Kp ↔ Bp Implication of Sartwell ' s Thesis

  2. 2.

    \({\displaystyle \begin{array}{cc}\mathrm{I}p\leftrightarrow \sim \mathrm{B}p& \mathrm{Implication}\ \mathrm{of}\ \mathrm{New}\ \mathrm{View}\ \mathrm{of}\ \mathrm{Ignorance}\end{array}}\)

  3. 3.

    \({\displaystyle \begin{array}{cc}\left(\mathrm{K}p\to \mathrm{B}p\right)\&\left(\mathrm{B}p\to \mathrm{K}p\right)& \mathrm{From}\ 1,\mathrm{Equivalence}\end{array}}\)

  4. 4.

    \({\displaystyle \begin{array}{cc}\mathrm{K}p\to \mathrm{B}p& \mathrm{From}\ 3,\mathrm{Simplification}\end{array}}\)

  5. 5.

    \({\displaystyle \begin{array}{cc}\mathrm{B}p\to \mathrm{Kp}& \mathrm{From}\ 3,\mathrm{Simplification}\end{array}}\)

  6. 6.

    \({\displaystyle \begin{array}{cc}\left(\mathrm{I}p\to \sim \mathrm{B}p\right)\&\left(\sim \mathrm{B}p\to \mathrm{I}p\right)& \mathrm{From}\ 2,\mathrm{Equivalence}\end{array}}\)

  7. 7.

    \({\displaystyle \begin{array}{cc}\mathrm{I}p\to \sim \mathrm{B}p& \mathrm{From}\ 6,\mathrm{Simplification}\end{array}}\)

  8. 8.

    \({\displaystyle \begin{array}{cc}\sim Bp\to \mathrm{I}p& \mathrm{From}\ 6,\mathrm{Simplification}\end{array}}\)

  9. 9.

    \({\displaystyle \begin{array}{cc}\sim \mathrm{B}p\to \sim \mathrm{K}p& \mathrm{From}\ 4,\mathrm{Contraposition}\end{array}}\)

  10. 10.

    \({\displaystyle \begin{array}{cc}\mathrm{I}p\to \sim \mathrm{K}p& \mathrm{From}\ 7\ \mathrm{and}\ 9,\mathrm{Hypothetical}\ \mathrm{Syllogism}\end{array}}\)

  11. 11.

    \({\displaystyle \begin{array}{cc}\sim \mathrm{K}p\to \sim \mathrm{B}p& \mathrm{From}\ 5,\mathrm{Contraposition}\end{array}}\)

  12. 12.

    \({\displaystyle \begin{array}{cc}\sim \mathrm{K}p\to \mathrm{I}p& \mathrm{From}\ 8\ \mathrm{and}\ 11,\mathrm{Hypothetical}\ \mathrm{Syllogism}\end{array}}\)

  13. 13.

    \({\displaystyle \begin{array}{cc}\left(\mathrm{I}p\to \sim \mathrm{K}p\right)\&\left(\sim \mathrm{K}p\to \mathrm{I}p\right)& \mathrm{From}\ 10\ \mathrm{and}\ 12,\mathrm{Addition}\end{array}}\)

  14. 14.

    \({\displaystyle \begin{array}{cc}\mathrm{I}p\leftrightarrow \sim \mathrm{K}p& \mathrm{From}\ 13,\mathrm{Equivalence}\end{array}}\)

The conclusion of this argument—namely, Ip ↔ ~ Kp—takes ignorance to be, in effect, equivalent to the absence of knowledge.

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Le Morvan, P. Ignorance, Knowledge, and Two Epistemic Intuitions. Philosophia 49, 2123–2132 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11406-021-00342-6

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