The skeptic’s defense

Delavagus piles on more bovine excreta, more than six thousand words worth, as a matter of fact, in a futile attempt to obscure the heaping, steaming mass he had previously produced. A brief excerpt:

The Second Error Vox identifies concerns my use of ‘justified true belief’ as an analysis of knowledge. The oddity of labeling this an ‘error’ is so startling I’m not even sure what to say about it. I’ve already explained elsewhere to Vox the wrong-headedness of appealing to the dictionary as a final word on the matter even in ordinary contexts, let alone in philosophical contexts. As far as I’ve seen, Vox has not responded to these remarks. I will not repeat them here. Suffice it to say that ‘justified true belief’ is the standard philosophical analysis of knowledge. It is not intended to capture everyday usage of variants of ‘to know,’ and thus pointing out that it fails to do so is not a criticism. This is such an elementary point that, again, I’m not sure what to say about it. I can only marvel at Vox’s shallowness.

Now, Vox seems to think that the proffered philosophical analysis is just one more definition, on a par with the nine he pulls from whatever dictionary he consults. But that is to fundamentally misunderstand the nature and purpose of a philosophical analysis of a concept. In short, the idea behind the ‘justified true belief’ formulation (as I say in my first post) is that there are, on the one hand, beliefs, while on the other hand there is the truth. A certain kind of person—most of us, I would hope—ideally want our beliefs to be true, that is, we want to believe true things. We have this word, knowledge, that is generally (my God, I said ‘generally’! ‘error’! ‘error’!) taken as a contrast to belief, in the sense that ‘knowledge’ differs from (mere) belief in also being true. This is backed up by most of the definitions Vox trots out: knowledge has to do with ‘facts’ and ‘truths.’ The question, then, is how we can bridge the prima facie gap between ‘belief’ and ‘truth.’ We do so, philosophy has long maintained, by way of justification. Hence, ‘justified true belief’ is an analysis of the concept of knowledge, not a definition of the use of the word.

A brief comment on ‘generally.’ I wrote: “Knowledge is generally taken to be justified true belief.” Vox claims: “Weasel words such as ‘generally’, ‘basically’, and ‘pretty much’ are always red flags, particularly when they precede something as important as the definition of an argument’s foundation or central subject.” This is such a bizarre criticism that it boggles the mind. ‘Generally’ is not (or needn’t be) a ‘weasel’ word; it is simply a qualifier. It appears all the time in scholarly literature, or anything written by people who are actually conversant with the welter of views on a complex subject. When it comes to something like the proper analysis of ‘knowledge,’ it is to be expected that not all philosophers agree. In other words, it is to be expected that any analysis is, at best, only ‘generally’ accepted.

Vox concludes: “As should be clear, Delavagus’s definition of knowledge isn’t a valid one in common usage, but instead represents a different concept altogether. His statement is provably incorrect, as knowledge is quite clearly NOT ‘generally taken to be justified true belief’.”

To sum up: Vox mistakes a philosophical analysis of a concept for a definition of the everyday usage of a word. Now, of course, I could have been clearer. I could have said, “Knowledge is generally taken by philosophers to be ‘justified true belief.’” But this admission merely underscores the shallowness of the criticism. Vox’s remark here also demonstrates clearly his arrogant uncharitability.

I’ll respond to this in detail, of course, as an extension of the Dissecting series. But I doubt it will surprise anyone here to know that it is little more than false assertions, convoluted self-justifications, and repeated claims to be have been misunderstood due to my superficial and uncharitable reading. At one point, Delavagus even goes so far as to assert that I am “bound by the principle of charity”, which of course is a notion that I absolutely reject.

UPDATE: Delavagus tries another Fighting Withdrawal:

So you still think there’s no difference between a philosophical analysis of a concept and the definition of the use of word. Please, explain to me your reasoning here. That is, actually respond to my arguments.

Sure, in fact, I’ll point out that you are wrong no matter which way you try to defend yourself. Because, you know, that’s what we superintelligences do.

1. You are writing in the context of addressing a non-philosophical crowd. You admit as much.

2. You asserted that your theme was “human stupidity”, refer to empirical evidence that humans are “stupid, stupid creatures”, then claimed that Sextus Empiricus thought it was possible to conclude that “we are all idiots” a priori. You also concluded your first post with the assertion “We are all idiots”.

3. You clearly implied that stupidity and idiocy are negatively correlated with knowledge. This implication was necessary for you to even begin making your case. It is the absence of knowledge that marks us as being stupid and idiotic.

4. You then raised the question “What, if anything, do we know?” At this point, you switched from the implied common definition to the highly technical definition, claiming that knowledge, which stupid, stupid people and idiots necessarily (as per your argument) lack, is justified true belief.

5. Wikipedia entry: “Justified true belief is one definition of knowledge that is most frequently credited to Plato and his dialogues. This is not to say that Plato was the first to come up with such a definition, but he is commonly referenced as the original author.” In other words, it is a definition, albeit not one that matches the one implied by your argument.

Now, this is enough to prove that you’re intellectually dishonest and your argument fails. But, I’m not done exposing you yet. Having been busted on your definitional switch, you’ve chosen to engage in a Fighting Withdrawal, claiming that you were not substituting a definition for a definition – even though I just proved you literally did just that – you were substituting an analysis for a definition. Let’s see if that holds up.

1. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: “According to the following analysis, which is usually referred to as the “JTB” account, knowledge is justified true belief”.” So far, so good. it is an analysis as well as a definition.

2. However, the encyclopedia goes on to say: “The objective of the analysis of knowledge is to state the conditions that are individually necessary and jointly sufficient for propositional knowledge: knowledge that such-and-such is the case. Propositional knowledge must be distinguished from two other kinds of knowledge that fall outside the scope of the analysis: knowing a place or a person, and knowing how to do something.” Oops! So, even if we accept your evasive retreat, we see that your non-definitional analysis is limited in scope, it’s not knowledge to which you were referring, but rather that subset of knowledge called “propositional knowledge”.

3. Even ignoring the various errors related to the justified true belief aspects of your argument, you neglected to provide the any link between “absence of propositional knowledge” and human stupidity. How stupid can we be even if we merely possess knowledge concerning people, places, and how to do things? How idiotic are we if we only possess two of the three types of knowledge delineated by your non-definitional analysis?

If you were intellectually honest, you would have either a) stuck with one of the common dictionary definitions of “knowledge” or b) provided similar technical philosophical analyses of the words “stupid’ and “idiot”. The amusing thing isn’t that you made various errors in the course of your argument, but rather, that it could never have succeeded given the way in which you attempted too construct it. The entire thing is fundamentally and structurally deficient.