Anna wakes up from her sleep. She opens the window curtains to immerse with the morning spirit of the LA beach, with the sun rising from the sea coast alongside continuous chirps of seagulls. She washed her hands and brushed her teeth while preparing for a coffee before attending her spotlight works. While preparing the coffee mug, she felt a strange sensation gnawing her feet from the floor of her apartment. Suddenly, the walls began to tremble, plates and mugs started to fall over and break apart. She started panicking, only to realize that the seawater she had seen before had risen from their grounds, moving so fast with huge waves which eat all of the objects in front of it. Anna realized she was too late. The wave began to approach the apartment window and shatter its glass. Even the strongest walls can’t contain the wave thrust in front of it. Suddenly, Anna knows that this will be the end of her.
Anna wakes up from her sleep.
The case of Anna gives us some of the common examples of people having nightmares. Sometimes, the dreams feel so real that it gives sudden shock effects to people who experienced them. It seems that they somehow experience such strange phenomena which can be part of their memories. But at the end of the day, they know that it was only a dream. Knowing it gives one pleasure, to the fact that no bad things are really happening to them the time they wake up.
Knowing is a term we use often in our everyday life, especially concerning the notion of reality surrounding us. When we know something, we have gained what it’s known as knowledge. Knowledge can be gained through certain receptors (our five senses), for example, we can see that the color of the sun is yellow, or that the ice was cold, in which those can be inferred to knowledge. Because we see that A is B, then we know that A is B. We see that the person likes to drink coffee in the morning, so we know that he’s drinking coffee on a particular morning. We heard the rooster crows which suggests that the sun is rising and it’s morning already. Those are the types of knowledge that we gain from our everyday experiences.
But then, philosophers (as they normally do) consider some alternative propositions which correspond to our current notion of knowledge. The interesting question would be that, what if all the sensational experiences we encounter are only mere illusions of simulated reality? Imagine that your real existence can only be apprehended with a brain contained in a closed vat, with wires connecting to a computerized reality. Or you can also perceive the reality as similar to that of the Matrix (1999), in which individuals are contained in a chamber that serves as a battery to supercomputer beings.
This begs the classic question of scepticism. How can we perfectly gain knowledge of objective surroundings using our limited senses? How do we make sure that we are not a brain-in-a-vat?
Phenomena vs Noumena
The empirical foundation to which we ascertain knowledge of objects can be explained with some metaphysical concept of the thing in itself. Immanuel Kant, a german philosopher, proposed the idea of discerning the idea of an object in its purest form (thing-in-itself)1Immanuel, K., & Paul, G. (2018). Critique of pure reason. CHARLES RIVER EDITORS.. He introduced the terms of Phenomena and Noumena, which differentiate objects as their representation to the senses and as themselves. Kant started to conjecture how reality is composed of objects within the transcendental intuition of space and time, that all objects will exist within that frame of reference. It’s a necessary axiom for the faculties of our cognition (senses and intuition) to manifest into cognition and understanding. And those possible experiences can only be caught from our limited perception in which objects present themselves to us, which raised the phenomenological reality (the Phenomenon)2Kant, I., & Meiklejohn, J. M. D. (1899). Of the ground of the division of all objects into phenomena and noumena..
Kant noted that there’s a reality in which objects represent as a thing-in-itself, not by the limited phenomenological representation to us. It’s a realm in which objects are chosen not by the representation of the faculty of human perception, but rather by how they inherently are. It’s the noumenon, in which we can’t sense or intuit the looks of it. Kant dismissed this reality to be unnecessary for one’s particular formation in understanding. Because it’s non-sensible and non-applicable to the transcendental realm of three-dimensional space and time3Shabel, L. (2010). The transcendental aesthetic. The Cambridge Companion to Kant’s Critique of pure reason, 93-117.. However, the existence of Noumena denotes the fact that humans can gain the absolute truth of their environment, which knowledge is trying to achieve. Therefore, by default, the notion of knowledge is impossible and lacks support from its metaphysical foundation.
However, there are other ways that we can still induce the possibility of knowledge. Similar to how mathematicians limit inconsistencies in their theorems, philosophers start to impose certain axioms which constitute that of knowledge. The essential axiom would be that knowledge contains truth from our limited faculty of sensibility5Immanuel, K., & Paul, G. (2018). Critique of pure reason. CHARLES RIVER EDITORS.. Kant also supports this idea by noting that there is little to no use in forming an understanding by the noumena, as it’s impossible by default. Objects exist as to how they represent themselves within our phenomena and the transcendental intuition of space and time. So, after we reduce its metaphysical definition, would knowledge be possible from an epistemological analysis?
Putnam’s Argument against BIV
Before moving into a complete epistemological analysis, we need to establish some adequate and necessary metaphysical foundation in which knowledge is possible. First, we will address the skepticism approach on how knowledge is impossible. One of the many skepticisms is Descartes, in which he hypothesized how the entire experience of reality might be caused by an Evil Genius which puts your disembodied mind into a vat connected to a supercomputer that generates all your current experiences6Thompson, E., & Cosmelli, D. (2011). Brain in a vat or body in a world? Brainbound versus enactive views of experience. Philosophical topics, 163-180.. In short, reality is somewhat an illusion, and you’ve been tricked by that evil genius so that you live in some sort of a simulation. This is the basis of the entire skeptical movement in epistemology.
Brain in a Vat illustration7https://www.reddit.com/r/DemonCrawl/comments/heulxd/a_meme_i_made_after_being_annoyed_by_divine_brain/
Philosophers have tried to disentangle the skepticism approach of knowledge for one to be able to incorporate it in a much broader analysis. One of the main propositions came from Hilary Putnam’s Reason, Truth & History (1981). He postulated that the statement of one being a brain-in-a-vat is necessarily false. One who can entertain the concept of “a brain” and “a vat” needs to possess a certain representation in which both are possible to our phenomena. So if you refer to both concepts you’d need to refer to an actual brain in this particular set of the universe in which it’s possible, the same can be said to a vat. Both exist within the simulation, not outside of it or pure of it. The supercomputer which simulated our reality would have never allowed us to experience imagery of a brain closed with a vat. Or that the image entails it will never be able to be comprehended by our phenomenological conception of brain-in-a-vat. In short, both concepts are part of the simulation as opposed to the outside simulation in which it has zero relationships within these words8Putnam, H. (1981). Reason, truth and history (Vol. 3). Cambridge University Press..
Putnam’s argument further encompasses the impossibility of another skeptical proposition which entails our imagination that is incorporated from objects within our reality. Let’s say that we changed the vat into some sort of a big cylinder and the brain into some sort of an animal body. For example, it’s the one we saw on the Matrix. It’d be impossible since that body can be manifested within our reality, so does the cylinder. We can imagine or even see them in this simulation. Because both of them appear in our phenomenon, the notion can be entirely dismissed using Putnam’s argument. If we refer to Kant’s metaphysical distinction between phenomena and noumena, all objects which are represented through the former can’t refer to the latter, in which it would be completely unknown to us9Moran, D. (2000). Hilary Putnam And Immanuel Kant: TwoInternal Realists’?. Synthese, 123(1), 65-104.. So the entire BIV postulate fails miserably, as to which it can’t refer to objects in a separate reality.
Basing on the metaphysical approach to knowledge won’t get us anywhere, so we need to move on into an epistemological analysis. However, as Godel suggests that we need to establish truth frameworks before logical analysis, we will use the “common sense” framework of how statements are represented11Goldstein, R. (2006). Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Gödel (Great Discoveries). WW Norton & Company.. So, put aside all the phenomena/noumena ramblings and BIV-scepticism incredulity, we will analyse knowledge by its logical system from now on.
The Justified-True-Belief Postulate
One of the first postulate and tripartite epistemological analyses of knowledge is contained within the justified-true-belief approach. According to this, we can sufficiently impose knowledge if the notion or proposition was justified and had a true belief. We can start with this analysis12Steup, M. (2007). The analysis of knowledge. Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy.
B knows that A if and only if:
- A is true
- B believes that A
- B is justified in believing that A
When these notions are fully satisfied, then it’s settled that B has obtained the knowledge of A. Further analysis requires discerning whether the true condition in itself is plausible by the epistemological framework. Something that is known needs to be true, there is little room to decipher false information to be something known to one individual13Richman, R. J. (1975). Justified true belief as knowledge. Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 4(3), 435-439.. The notion that “Prabowo wins the 2019 Indonesian presidential election” is false by default and can’t be considered a proponent to one’s knowledge, even though it was confident that he did win the election.
The truth condition is rather metaphysical, as opposed to the epistemological, notion. Truth is the matter of how things are, not how they can be shown. So when we say that only true things can be known, we aren’t implying anything about how anyone can access the truth. As we’ll see, the other two conditions have more important roles to play here. Knowledge is a kind of relationship with the truth—to know something is to have a certain kind of access to a fact14Hazlett, A. (2012). Factive presupposition and the truth condition on knowledge. Acta Analytica, 27(4), 461-478..
The belief condition is even more controversial than the truth condition. The general idea behind it is that you can only know what you believe. Therefore, failing to believe something precludes knowing it. “Belief” in the context of the JTB theory means either full belief or outright belief. In a weak sense, one might “believe” something by being pretty confident that it’s probably true—in this weak sense, someone who considered Prabowo the favorite to win the presidential election, even while recognizing a nontrivial possibility of him losing, might be said to have “believed” that he would win. Outright belief is stronger. To believe outright that A, it isn’t enough to have pretty high confidence in A; it is something closer to a commitment or a being sure proposition15Sartwell, C. (1991). Knowledge is merely true belief. American philosophical quarterly, 28(2), 157-165..
The last and most important part of incorporating the knowledge of an individual is its justification. Truth and belief are insufficient as one can incorporate a belief which turned out to be true even though it’s formed improperly. Suppose that you roll a dice, and you believe that it’d land 6 dots on the top side. If by chance that the dice does land 6 dots on top of its side, your belief is true, but it’s based upon some unjustified framework of “lucky guessing”. That’s no knowledge. For you to incorporate it, your belief must be justified by some variables17Giroux, H., & Taylor, J. R. (2002). The justification of knowledge: Tracking the translations of quality. Management Learning, 33(4), 497-517..
The Justification Analysis
There are two ways in analyzing one’s justification for a true belief. One is that whether a belief is justified depends wholly on states in some sense internal to the subject. By internal we might refer to subjective experiences which are available or intrinsic states of experience that are only available to that of the perceiver. Conee and Feldman present an example of this view. They have it that B’s belief that A is justified if and only if believing that A is the attitude towards A that best fits B’s evidence, where the latter is understood to depend only on B’s subjective mental states. They call their view “evidentialism” and characterize this as the thesis that justification is wholly a matter of the subject’s evidence18Feldman, R. (2005). Justification is internal. Contemporary debates in epistemology, 270-84.. Given their (not unsubstantial) assumption that what evidence a subject has is an internal matter, evidentialism implies internalism.
However, externalists about justification think that factors external to the subject can only be relevant for justification; for example, reliabilists think that justified beliefs are those which are formed by a cognitive process that tends to produce a high proportion of true beliefs relative to false ones19Chisholm, R. M. (1986). The place of epistemic justification. Philosophical Topics, 14(1), 85-92..
Although it is worth noting that there are other approaches in distinguishing notions behind the justification, standardly referred to as “propositional justification” and “doxastic justification”. Unlike the internalist and externalist approaches, the distinction between propositional and doxastic justification does not represent a conflict to be resolved; it is only a distinction between two distinct properties of justification in itself. Propositional justification concerns whether a subject has sufficient reason to believe a given proposition, while doxastic justification concerns whether a given belief is held appropriately. One common way of relating the two is to suggest that propositional justification is the more fundamental and that doxastic justification is a matter of a subject’s having a belief that is appropriately responsive to or based on their propositional justification20Turri, J. (2010). On the relationship between propositional and doxastic justification. Philosophy and phenomenological research, 80(2), 312-326. In a way, both synthesized and complete each other to form a united justification.
There are problems within the JTB framework, especially with the justification accord for the entire postulate. Even though those three axioms are necessary to constitute knowledge, they are not sufficient. Some cases constitute a justified true belief but don’t seem to incorporate knowledge into an individual. Those cases are the Gettier Problems, published by Edmund Gettier in his 1963 paper titled “Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?”21Gettier, E. L. (2012). 6. IS JUSTIFIED TRUE BELIEF KNOWLEDGE? (pp. 135-137). De Gruyter.. Suppose that you are on a holiday in Berlin, and you mistakenly see Hegel cycling around the street, in which it was Schopenhauer who was cycling. You firmly hold onto that belief. But at the same time, Hegel, on the other side of Berlin street, was also in fact cycling around without you even knowing it. Would that constitute knowledge? Of course not, because you’re just lucky with your justified true belief.
Gettier case illustration22https://www.reddit.com/r/PhilosophyMemes/comments/b92s1g/is_justified_true_belief_knowledge/
The Reliabilist Approach
So, we found out that the justification approach to knowledge seems to be outlandish, in some sense that it can leave behind the initial lucky guesses which don’t necessarily constitute knowledge. However, we won’t stop there. Guess what? epistemologists have developed other variables that can fully replace justification as a form of how one can access knowledge. Introducing: the reliabilism approach. Some philosophers argued that one variable which prevents belief in producing knowledge is not lack of justification, but rather, unreliability in their cognitive process. The Reliabilist approach to knowledge doesn’t differ much from that of the JTB, only replacing the J to be more coherent for one in attaining knowledge and reducing the possibility of lucky guesses23Goldman, A., & Olsson, E. J. (2009). Reliabilism and the Value of Knowledge. Epistemic value, 19-41.. The analysis would look like this:
B knows that A if and only if:
- A is true
- B believes that A
- B follows a reliable cognitive process in believing A
If you realize this framework of analysis, it’s painstakingly similar to that of the JTB approach. We might as well say this as the “RTB” approach. It follows that for B to know A, A must contain truth and B must believe in A. However, rather than determining whether B is justified in believing A, we must analyze if B follows a reliable cognitive procedure. Examples of these procedures would be standard perceptual processes, good reasoning, and introspection. All these follow a systematically hierarchized logic in which one can derive conclusions from given external inputs24Goldman, A. (2008). Reliabilism..
Take this example, Indonesian people believe that Jokowi won the election in 2019, even before the official counting of votes has been done. How did they know it? Many regional statistical bureaus published quick count results from survey statistics of the total number of votes in each local ballot. These quick count results have been giving information that Jokowi has won the election. And he did turn up to win the election in official counting votes done by KPU. Indonesian people formed true belief by the perceptual process of the media and good reasoning (by trusting inferential statistics).
However, there are several problems within this framework. One is choosing reliable belief-forming processes. Addressing the belief-forming processes requires a method of valuation. One challenge given when this method hasn’t been addressed is the clairvoyance problem. Suppose you incorporate a perfectly reliable clairvoyant faculty. One day, you believed that your boss will die in a car crash, and you haven’t incorporated that clairvoyant perceptive ability, you just believed it. And then the next day, your boss did die in a car crash. We can say that intuitively, this belief is not justified, but reliabilism seems to imply otherwise. Because you have a high truth ratio in your clairvoyance faculty, the belief must be justified. But then again, this is just pure lucky guessing25Bernecker, S. (2008). Agent reliabilism and the problem of Clairvoyance. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 76(1), 164-172..
Before addressing the problem within this framework, the writer must leave some notes. If you perceive this analysis broadly, this is no different than that of the JTB. In fact, this is the upgraded JTB. It follows:
If D’s belief in c results from a conditionally reliable belief-dependent process, and if the beliefs on which this process operated in generating D’s belief in c are themselves justified, then D’s new belief in C is also justified.
We’ve concluded before that justified true belief is insufficient for one to constitute knowledge, but it was necessary. Hence, reliabilists note that justification is still a concept for which epistemologists should explore and elucidate, or complete by adding other relevant variables such as reliability. The core analysis of this framework is whether or not some reliable cognitive processes can conclude a justified belief. So, in a way, this framework still stems from JTB, only that it relies upon the R variable in achieving desired JTB knowledge26de Grefte, J. (2021). Knowledge as Justified True Belief. Erkenntnis, 1-19..
How to form a Reliable belief-forming process
Epistemologists have used several approaches in addressing the procedural problem of forming a true belief. One is by the framework of “approved list reliabilism” or “two-stage reliabilism”. Rather than directly giving an account on justification, this approach seeks to give a theory of how ordinary people make justification attributions. The following conjecture will explain how this works. First, attributors form opinions about the reliability or unreliability of assorted belief-forming processes, using observation and/or inference to conclude the track records of these processes in the actual world. They thereby construct mental lists of reliable and unreliable processes: lists of approved and disapproved processes (respectively). Then, they deploy these lists to make judgments about particular beliefs, whether actual or hypothetical. If somebody’s belief was caused by a process that is on their approved list or strongly resembles one on their approved list, they consider it justified. If it is caused by a process on their disapproved list, the true belief would be unjustified27Goldman, A. I. (2015). Reliabilism, veritism, and epistemic consequentialism. Episteme, 12(2), 131-143..
Another framework known to address the procedural reliability problem is by simply retreat to common sense. In one of the examples given by the generality problem, suppose that you need to form a true belief that you’ve seen a cat in front of your house door. Would you only consider vision as the relevant type of belief-forming process? Or perhaps you describe it in a more detailed manner consisting of the environmental conditions in that particular experience (by adding up the weather or the situation in which you are in)? Or is it more coarsely-grained such as the perception?
Common sense approach seek to solve the generality problem in two steps. Step One: develop a psychological theory of how ordinary people type belief-forming processes. For example, the basic level taxonomy theory (animal as superordinate, cat as immediate, persian as subordinate). Step Two: Use these common typing methods to winnow down the range of candidate process types. Using the taxonomy theory of categorizing objects, empirical studies have shown that common people converged on the same intermediate-level word for naming a physical object. Epistemologists suggest that ordinary people might similarly tend to converge on an intermediate-level concept when typing belief-forming processes28Feldman, R. (1998). The generality problem for reliabilism. Philosophical Studies: An International Journal for Philosophy in the Analytic Tradition, 89(1), 1-29..
From these heavy loads of analysis, we encounter many philosophical attempts in which we can constitute knowledge. However, we are missing the final million-dollar question to be answered. Is it possible for one to attain perfect knowledge? Does perfect knowledge exist in the first place?
If we accept the notion of perfect knowledge, in which truth is an all-encompassing absolute concept, attaining it would be close to impossible. For knowledge to be able to incorporate absolute truth must concede within a metaphysical framework that is limitless, in which we can perceive with a reliable and justified belief-forming process. But then, with the existence of noumena that is limitless by default, even if humanity expands its phenomena by technological developments, perfect knowledge would still be unattainable. As truth is one of the fundamentals of how one can incorporate knowledge, it’s metaphysically impossible to define it as one absolute certainty. Therefore, the entire epistemological system of perfect knowledge, be it the JTB or Reliabilism falls by default.
“The only true wisdom is in knowing that you know nothing” – Socrates
So now, if perfect knowledge is unattainable, another question you might ask is did it exist in the first place? This is tricky because one of the many ways philosophers have been tending to do was rather, limiting the scope and definition surrounding it. Knowledge would consist of following closely related frameworks within the phenomenological boundary of one’s sensibility. By that definition, you’d be able to catch non-absolute truth and form reliable justified beliefs. But this is only one way of seeing it. Scholars around the world are more inclined to accept the former answer, the proposition of perfect knowledge, to exist, in which developments of newer methodologies and cognitive processes are drawn to achieve. It’d be a benchmark for humanity’s ever-growing thirst for understanding itself, its reality, and the connection between them. They’d accept the notion of it being unattainable, but only that definition would allow them to ever grow and expand as one of humanity’s compass in the discovery of truth, on the sea of the unknown.
|↵1, ↵5||Immanuel, K., & Paul, G. (2018). Critique of pure reason. CHARLES RIVER EDITORS.|
|↵2||Kant, I., & Meiklejohn, J. M. D. (1899). Of the ground of the division of all objects into phenomena and noumena.|
|↵3||Shabel, L. (2010). The transcendental aesthetic. The Cambridge Companion to Kant’s Critique of pure reason, 93-117.|
|↵6||Thompson, E., & Cosmelli, D. (2011). Brain in a vat or body in a world? Brainbound versus enactive views of experience. Philosophical topics, 163-180.|
|↵8||Putnam, H. (1981). Reason, truth and history (Vol. 3). Cambridge University Press.|
|↵9||Moran, D. (2000). Hilary Putnam And Immanuel Kant: TwoInternal Realists’?. Synthese, 123(1), 65-104.|
|↵11||Goldstein, R. (2006). Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Gödel (Great Discoveries). WW Norton & Company.|
|↵12||Steup, M. (2007). The analysis of knowledge. Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy.|
|↵13||Richman, R. J. (1975). Justified true belief as knowledge. Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 4(3), 435-439.|
|↵14||Hazlett, A. (2012). Factive presupposition and the truth condition on knowledge. Acta Analytica, 27(4), 461-478.|
|↵15||Sartwell, C. (1991). Knowledge is merely true belief. American philosophical quarterly, 28(2), 157-165.|
|↵17||Giroux, H., & Taylor, J. R. (2002). The justification of knowledge: Tracking the translations of quality. Management Learning, 33(4), 497-517.|
|↵18||Feldman, R. (2005). Justification is internal. Contemporary debates in epistemology, 270-84.|
|↵19||Chisholm, R. M. (1986). The place of epistemic justification. Philosophical Topics, 14(1), 85-92.|
|↵20||Turri, J. (2010). On the relationship between propositional and doxastic justification. Philosophy and phenomenological research, 80(2), 312-326|
|↵21||Gettier, E. L. (2012). 6. IS JUSTIFIED TRUE BELIEF KNOWLEDGE? (pp. 135-137). De Gruyter.|
|↵23||Goldman, A., & Olsson, E. J. (2009). Reliabilism and the Value of Knowledge. Epistemic value, 19-41.|
|↵24||Goldman, A. (2008). Reliabilism.|
|↵25||Bernecker, S. (2008). Agent reliabilism and the problem of Clairvoyance. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 76(1), 164-172.|
|↵26||de Grefte, J. (2021). Knowledge as Justified True Belief. Erkenntnis, 1-19.|
|↵27||Goldman, A. I. (2015). Reliabilism, veritism, and epistemic consequentialism. Episteme, 12(2), 131-143.|
|↵28||Feldman, R. (1998). The generality problem for reliabilism. Philosophical Studies: An International Journal for Philosophy in the Analytic Tradition, 89(1), 1-29.|