On the Wane

To think of you is plain and shallow:
An ocean of I do not care.
I lack the memories to share –
There is no fondness left to hallow.

The light grows dim, and not too soon,
There will be darkness all around.
And never shall I thus confound
A truth which cannot be impugned.

To think of me is plain and shallow:
An ocean of you do not care.
You lack the memories to share –
There is no fondness left to hallow.

No Hope in Hell

There is not a hope in hell,
Since hell does not exist.
There is no place for gods to dwell,
Just smoke and mirrors, mist.

The blind seek shelter in the night,
In mysteries of old.
The unexplained is their delight,
Thus, sceptics they will scold.

But reason cannot be undone,
And truth shall yet prevail.
Religion will be dead and gone,
And science be our sail.

Einige Gedanken zu gesellschaftlichen Strukturen, Entwicklungen und Veränderungen: Teil II / Some Thoughts on Social Structures, Developments, and Changes: Part II

Religiöse Wahrheit

Im Grunde birgt die religiöse Behauptung, die religiösen Wahrheiten könne man nicht wissen, sondern nur glauben, einen Widerspruch. Glauben stellt eine Annahme dar, die aus vorigen Erlebnissen und damit zumindest Wissen über die eignen kurzfristigen Wahrnehmungen erfolgt, also geschlossen wird. Glauben setzt folglich, wie rudimentär immer, Wissen voraus.
Jedenfalls verlangt die Behauptung, selbst ausschließlich auf Grund von Glauben als wahr anerkannt zu werden, was aber wiederum ungewiß bleibt, weil man es nicht wissen kann – oder aber die Behauptung verlangt, als Wissen zu gelten, woraus sich sodann die Frage ergibt: Wie kann man wissen, daß etwas wahr sei, wenn man nicht wissen, sondern nur glauben kann, daß es wahr sei?
Selbst wenn sich darin kein offener Widerspruch finden oder ein solcher sich auflösen lassen sollte, bleibt die Aussage befremdlich und, jedenfalls ohne weitre Qualifikation beziehungsweise Erläuterung, unplausibel.

System und Faschismus

  1. Systeme (politisch – wirtschaftlich – gesellschaftlich) sind keine intentionalen, selbständig handelnde Akteure. Menschen richten Strukturen ein und wirken durch ihr an diesen Strukturen orientiertes Handeln auf sich selbst und andre zurück.
  2. Faschismus bedarf keiner besondren Klassenstruktur für die Rekrutierung; Faschismus ist eine Art zu denken, die Welt zu interpretieren.
  3. Je aussichtsloser die Situation eines Menschen, desto größer die Bereitschaft beziehungsweise der Wille, radikal-einfache Lösungen (Scheinlösungen) für eine Vielzahl komplexer oder vermeintlicher Probleme anzunehmen. Die Sehnsucht nach Sicherheit und Geborgenheit, der Wunsch, eine bestimmte Rolle in einer Gemeinschaft zu spielen, überwältigt, als emotionaler Pfad (Amygdala), das differenzierende, rationale Denken.

Religious Truth

At root, the religious claim that religious truths cannot be known but only believed upon faith contains a contradiction. Faith constitutes an assumption which follows from previous experiences and thus at least knowledge about one’s own perceptions of the near past, that is to say, it is inferred. Faith therefore requires, howsoever rudimentarily, knowledge.
At any rate, the claim demands to be acknowledged as true solely on the ground of faith itself, which, in turn, remains uncertain because it cannot be known – or else the claim demands to count as knowledge, wherefrom the question results: How can one know that something is true if one cannot know but only believe upon faith that it is true?
Even if no open contradiction should be found in this or it could be resolved, the claim remains disconcerting and, at least without further qualification or explication, implausible.

System and Fascism

  1. Systems (political – economic – social) are not intentional, autonomously acting agents. Man establishes structures and affects himself and others by means of his actions oriented to these structures.
  2. Fascism does not require specific class structures for recruitment; fascism is a manner of thinking, of interpreting the world.
  3. The more desperate a human’s situation, the stronger their disposition or willingness to accept radical-simple resolutions (pseudo solutions) for a multitude of complex or perceived problems. The desire for security and comfort, the wish to play a certain part within a community, overwhelms, as the emotional path (amygdalae), the differentiating, rational thinking.

Truth, Fact, and Judgement

In our everyday lives, we often tend to confuse fact with judgement and vice versa. This confusion is sometimes also (ab)used as a rhetorical means. It may sometimes be difficult to tell the difference between fact and judgement because we are epistemologically biased. In other words, we like to take our own judgement as fact, and facts we do not like as (mere) judgement. But where does the difference lie? Let us give both terms a first, tentative definition. A fact is that which is objectively true. Objectively true is that which is the case independently of anyone’s judgement. A judgement, on the other hand, is that which someone thinks or says to be true.1 Whereas a fact cannot be said to be either true or false, since its definition entails the concept of truth, a judgement can be said to be either true or false, or partially true and false. Notice also that a fact cannot be partially a fact. Either it is a fact, or it is not.
Now, the best way to demonstrate what is meant by a definition is to give examples. A fact, for instance, is that two and two make four together (i.e. 2 + 2 = 4). Another fact is that the distance between the Earth and the Sun is approximately 1.00 ± 0.02 AU. Still another fact is that the Second World War began on September 1st, 1939, and ended on September 2nd, 1945.
Three remarks are necessary:

  1. There are obviously different kinds of fact. The first example given above is a mathematical fact, the second is a physical fact, and the third is a historical fact.
  2. Facts themselves can only be described by means of language; otherwise, they can, to a certain extent, only be shown2. The descriptions must not be confused with the facts themselves. Thus, it does not matter in which measuring unit the distance between the Earth and the Sun is described, as long as they can be transferred into one another. The distance is neither the measurement nor the act of measuring nor the measuring unit. It is a relation which, apart from a linguistic description, can only be shown.
  3. Facts need not necessarily be static. That the distance between the Earth and the Sun, as well as between other planets and stars, varies is owing to the planets’ orbits and other factors.

Notice also that from there being mathematical, physical, or historical facts it does by no means follow that every mathematical, physical, or historical proposition necessarily is a fact.
This is owing to two aspects. First, all of the above propositions, as well as propositions relating to other fields, could be completely made up. Second, upon a meta level, one can make both accurate and inaccurate judgements about facts.
Thus, confronted with the proposition P1 that two and two equal four (i.e. 2 + 2 = 4), a subject S may judge P1 to be true, false, a fact, a judgement, a (mathematical) proposition, an equation, and so forth, which would be accurate judgements. Or, of course, S may judge P1 to be a sculpture, an animal, a painting, a car, and so on, which would be inaccurate judgements. I speak of accurate and inaccurate instead of true and false judgements, because accurate judgements, while all being true, are true in different respects, and inaccurate judgements, while all being false, are false in different respects.
On the other hand, there are mere judgements. This kind of judgement usually appears in contexts of aesthetics or ethics. They are expressed by a numerous amount of adjectives such as ‘beautiful’, ‘nice’, ‘kind’, ‘pretty’, ‘right’, ‘wrong’, ‘obligatory’, ‘illicit’. Needless to say, these judgements nevertheless relate to certain facts indirectly. It can, for example, only be illicit or ethically wrong to kill someone if certain facts are given, such as there being people that can be killed.3 Likewise, a subject S finds someone or something beautiful owing to certain specific of their or its characteristics. For instance, if S finds O beautiful, this is what I call ‘mere judgement’, because beauty is not an intrinsic characteristic of O, while the judgement indirectly relates to objective characteristics of O by depending upon them. If these objective characteristics were to make everyone (both humans and other creatures able to make such judgements) find O beautiful, the judgement could be said to be completely objective. Notice, however, that beauty would still not be an intrinsic characteristic of entities.
While there can be made several objections to my explication from other philosophical views, the most severe objection to deal with certainly is the sceptical contention for it to be impossible to distinguish facts from judgements because the answer to the question what is a fact depends upon judgement as well. In other words, saying that Pn is a fact is itself a judgement. In my view, this is a confusion. With respect to the ontological aspect, as I pointed out above, we can, of course, make judgements about facts, but the fact’s being a fact is independt of anyone’s judgement. Contrary to ethical propositions, facts would even be facts in a world where there is no one to tell that they are facts.
If the sceptic now wants to concentrate upon the epistemic aspect by contending that even given we were right about the ontology of our world, it would still be impossible to tell whether we are able to distinguish facts from judgements, I reply with George A. Smith that their scepticism does not even get off the ground.4 Principally, if consequently applied, every philosophical scepticism leads back to a sceptcisim of the senses or sense perception. The sceptic cannot argue upon the grounds of the senses or sense perception if he is to reject the senses or sense perception.
With Wittgenstein, I grant that there cannot be a last argument: every explanation has to end somewhere. This, however, does by no means prove the positive contention (presented as a conclusion from the aforementioned) that there could be no knowledge right. For a more elaborate explication of this, see my article series published from August 28th to September 3rd, 2012 on this weblog.

1. In this paper, ‘saying’ will be shorthand for both saying and writing. Also, saying only constitutes a judgement if the speaker believes what they say, of course.
2. I am following the early Wittgenstein here. Confer, for instance: Wittgenstein, Ludwig: Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus; translated by C. K. Ogden; Routledge: New York, 2006; 4.121, 4.1212, 4.126.
3. From a Philosophic-Scientific Naturalistic (for a definition see the page ‘About the Author’, paragraphs 2—4) point of view as mine, the possibility of ethics transcending any given facts is barred ab initio, since its ontology deals without metaphysical or supernatural entities. According to this model, there cannot be any ‘higher’ justice, so that what counts as right or wrong, obligatory or illicit depends entirely upon facts and judgements within a world. Therefore, if there be no one who could even entertain the thought, let alone commit the deed of killing someone, it could, within that world, not be said to be either right or wrong. We, of course, tend to decide and judge these aspects from the perspective of our world, but this is, strictly speaking, not accurate because it is meaningless, albeit not necessarily pointless.
4. Confer: Smith, George H.: Atheism: The Case Against God; Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books 1989, pp. 131–136, 147-162. I pointed out what follows in detail in my article ‘Global Scepticism Under Scrutiny’: http://wp.me/p1QVNW-p8.

Some Often Omitted Aspects of the Day of German Unity (Tag der Deutschen Einheit)

Today is the day of doom … erm, I mean, the Day of German Unity (Tag der Deutschen Einheit). But while the mass media and many history books declare this historical event and those events that led to it a development solely for the better, the truth is, as always, somewhat different.
First of all, the former two parts of Germany, the Federal Republic of Germany (Bundesrepublik Deutschland, short: BRD), on the one hand, and the German Democratic Republic (Deutsche Demokratische Republik, short: DDR), on the other, both founded four years after the Second World War, in 1949, were not united as equals on October 3rd, 1990. Instead, the DDR was annexed to the BRD. Public property was, without asking the populace, converted into private property and distributed among Western companies.
Second, the ‘blooming landscapes’ (‘blühende Landschaften’) Helmut Kohl promised never came to be. Up to this very day, living conditions in the so-called newly-formed German states (neue Bundesländer) are still far behind those in the west. Within twenty-two years, nothing has actually been achieved, and it looks as though this were never going to happen.
Third, the newly gained freedom for the populace was only a by-product of the annexation. Yet the territory was not annexed because of the people who lived and suffered there, not in order to help them, but for the sake of the Western Capital and its economic interests. Doubtless, Helmut Kohl’s political career also profited immensely from it. As we witness these days, hard work seldom pays off, whereas a life of crime such as Kohl’s evidently does. Thus, he was recently honoured with his very own stamp bearing his face upon it.
We are left with a day off work, espcially useful for propaganda and keeping alive the delusion of a democracy we have never had. On the contrary, even those democratic elements we used to have have been slowly but continuously dismantled; and the process continues as I write this. The populace of the former DDR was freed from the burden of a misbegotten socialism just so as to fall into the hands of likewise scrupulous capitalists. Our modern societies slolwly but continuously revert to the state they used to be in at the end of the nineteenth and at the beginning of the twentieth century, when capitalists could do whatsoever pleased them to do. The only difference is that nowadays, corporations instead of single capitalists rule the world.

Global Scepticism Under Scrutiny


Someone might try to defend a coherence theory of truth without defending a coherence theory of knowledge, perhaps on the ground that the holder of a coherent set of beliefs might lack a reason to believe his beliefs coherent. This is not likely, but it may be that someone, though he has true beliefs, and good reasons for holding them, does not appreciate the relevance of reason to belief. Such a one may best be viewed as having knowledge he does not know he has: he thinks he is a skeptic. In a word, he is a philosopher.1

Parenthisizing the context of the coherence theory of truth and knowledge, with these words Donald Davidson neatly characterizes (all) philosophy as scepticism in a similar manner as I did in my ‘Philosophy and Scepticism’2. Thus, a philosopher is someone who will not believe something on mere purportion, but will instead investigate whatever may draw his attention to it.
There is, however, the question how far scepticism can sensibly reach. In other words, scepticism itself needs legitimate justification for its very own enterprise. As the title suggests, I shall concentrate on the legitimacy of global/universal scepticism (‘global scepticism’ hereafter) in this paper. For the purpose of eliciting the relations among the different aspects and standpoints, I decided not to subdivide the paper. Instead, I shall present one long discussion, and summarize its results in a short conclusion at the end of the paper.

The Legitimacy of Global (Universal) Scepticism

To be sure, nowadays most, especially radical, forms of scepticism, such as global scepticism, are usually only conceived theoretical positions whereto one tries to answer instead of holding such a standpoint oneself. Notice that trying to answer someone, and be he only an imagined adversary, entails admitting that he have a point deserving to be taken seriously, and therefore also deserving to be taken into consideration. To be doubtful is, in the first place, a virtue – given experience, of course, and this, quite obviously, may already pose a problem, for we, or our imagined sceptical adversary, may be unwilling to accept experience as a presupposable datum. Now, if we reject experience as a suitable origin of reliable information (in the broadest sense of the word), we are left with so-called a priori grounds. But to reject experience as good grounds for knowledge, requires an appropriate argument which actually refutes the assumption. It would be an illicit step to reject an assumption with prima facie plausibility in favour of another assumption lacking such plausibility. So how does the sceptic argue in order to justifiably reject (i.e. refute) experience as an appropriate source of knowledge?
A starting point is often made by querying sense perception. We already encountered this scepticism in Descartes’s reasoning whether one could ever distinguish dreaming from being awake. Descartes himself concluded that we never could, and thereby had to let go of experience relating to the external world (i.e. relative to the mind as the inner world) as an adequate source of knowledge.3 To me, this conclusion appears quite implausible, since people, including myself, are usually able to tell a dream, or an experience made in a dream, from experiences they make when they are awake. Dreams never have the same experiential quality as experiences made while being awake.
Notwithstanding this qualitative difference, the sceptic may argue, granted that we can tell such a difference, we nevertheless cannot justifiably say which is which, that is, we cannot find out whether what we call ‘being awake’ and ‘being asleep and dreaming’ really are what we presume them to be, or vice versa.
But wait, we are already engaging in a debate with the sceptic (regardless of whether it be the sceptic in ourselves, an imagined adversary, or a real person) as though we had accepted that he have a good point which deserves to be taken seriously. I am much in sympathy with George H. Smith, when he writes:

Universal skepticism is usually stated in one of two ways. In its positive form it consists of the doctrine that man can know nothing. This belief can be easily dismissed, because anyone who defends it finds himself immersed in hopeless absurdities. In asserting that there is no knowledge, the skeptic is asserting a knowledge claim—which according to his own theory is impossible. The universal skeptic wishes to claim truth for a theory that denies man’s ability to arrive at truth, and this puts the skeptic in the unenviable position of uttering nonsense. Indeed, he cannot even begin to argue for his position, because the “possibility of knowledge is presupposed in the very possibility of argument, in the very possibility of having recourse to reasons.”4

As I wrote elsewhere5, the sceptic cannot simply allow a proposition to be true, while not allowing other unjustified propositions to be true. Needless to say, if the proposition that man can know nothing except for his inability of gaining any knowledge above this one proposition were true, no further proposition could be true ex hypothesi. There is, however, no reason why we ought to accept this. If some proposition can be true, why should it exactly be the sceptic’s?
Smith, citing Francis Parker, points out that if there be any assertion in the first place, it be necessarily true that there be the possibility of knowledge.6
The second possibility, according to Smith, for the sceptic is to weaken his claim to demanding that man have to doubt every purported instance of knowledge. This claim, though, reduces to the purportion that man can never procure certainty, against which the immediate objection arises that if it were true, the sceptic’s claim itself would be necessarily open to doubt, with the result that there would be, again, no reason to accept it as true.7 To the question why we ought to doubt each knowledge claim the sceptic may well respond that man be capable of error. The very concept of error, however, presupposes the opposite concept of truth.8 Stated differently, in order to be able to determine that and when something be false, one needs to be able in advance, or at least at the same time, to determine that and when something be true, and vice versa. So merely stating that man be fallible – for this is whereto the sceptic’s claim reduces – does not suffice to infer that man can never gain certainty or truth. An infallible being, it goes without saying, would be in no need of any justifable grounds for its beliefs, and for this reason a science of knowledge, epistemology, would be useless to it. Yet since man is fallible, he needs a science of knowledge. ‘The skeptic’, writes Smith relating to the sceptic’s purportion, ‘thus turns epistemology on its head by using the foundation for a science of knowledge—human fallibility—as a weapon to argue, in effect, that a science of knowledge is impossible for man.’9 The fallacy the sceptic thus commits is to equate knowledge and certainty with infallibility.10 Therefore, both the strong and the weakened stance of global (universal) scepticism are untenable.
In the next section (‘III The Contextual Nature of Knowledge’), Smith further increases the pressure on the sceptic by quoting both Thomas Reid and J. L. Austin, each giving lively examples which render global scepticism irrational. The former compares the sceptic’s claim, which, in effect, assumes that reason can defeat itself, with a man who in terms of his own allegedly clear sight asserts that he himself and all other men be blind. The latter, then, calls to mind the inherent liability of machines to break down, which, all the same, does not preclude good machines from working reliably, that is to say, good machines seldom break down despite their inherent liability to do so.11
As I wrote myself in ‘Justification Under Scrutiny’12, and Smith, with reference to Reid, Austin, and D. W. Hamlyn, writes, too13, global doubt needs justification. Justification, in turn, however, is only obtainable within a contextual frame. The sceptic, then, wants to attack the possibility of knowledge from outside such a contextual frame, which is, unfortunately for him, an invalid move.
At this point, I skip some ensuing pages of Smith’s discussion because, first, it pertains, for its most part, to religion, which is not the current paper’s topic, and, second, because I want to return to our initial theme of scepticism as to sense perception. Smith dedicates an entire section to this issue in form of a dialogue between a sceptic and an antisceptic, again with much reference to religion, as the book’s main theme suggests. The details will not concern us here – this would be impossible in a short paper like the present one anyway –, so suffice it to summarize its results significant for the present investigation.
The main aspect of the section ‘V Skepticism and Sense Perception’14, then, is that the sceptic appeals to concrete instances of sense perception to refute the very same thing. The sceptic will, to illustrate, usually say something like ‘On occasion o1 something a1 will look F1 to you, whereas on occasions o2, o3, …on it may look quite differently to you, say, F7, F19, F53, …Fn. You may even, on some occasion on, mistake a1 for something completely different, say, a104. Therefore, you cannot rely upon your sense perceptions, and, as a corollary of this, your sense perceptions cannot yield knowledge.’ To put it more concretely, ‘Upon some occasion, an object may look red to you, whereas upon other occasions it may look quite differently to you, say, a darker shade of red, brown, black, and so on. You may even mistake it on some occasion for a totally different object, for example, you may mistake your friend Susanna for your cousin Nicole. Therefore, you cannot rely upon your sense perceptions, and, as a corollary of this, your sense perceptions cannot yield knowledge.’
So far so good. The reasoning in itself is logically consistent, as we can see from a somewhat simplified but not distorted formalization. For the sceptic’s argument is a simple modus ponens (where ‘P’ stands for ‘premise’, and ‘C’ stands for ‘conclusion’):

P1 ~p → ~q
P2 ~p
C ~q

Let ‘p’ represent the proposition ‘Sense perceptions are reliable’, and ‘q’ the proposition ‘Sense perceptions yield knowledge’, so that (Scmp) reads as follows. ‘If sense perceptions are not reliable, then, sense perceptions do not yield knowledge. Sense perceptions are not reliable. Therefore, sense perceptions do not yield knowledge.’
The sceptic’s argument is clearly formally valid. Given that if sense perceptions are not reliable, then, sense perceptions do not yield knowledge, and given that sense perceptions are indeed not reliable, it follows that sense perceptions do not yield knowledge. The flaw of this argument lies in the sceptic’s appeal to sense perception, of which he just asserted that it cannot yield knowledge, in order to justify a knowledge claim himself. But the sceptic must not employ sense perceptual experiences in order to refute sense perceptions, since sense perceptual experiences imply sense perceptions by definition. The scepctic’s claim is, once more, illicit.
The sceptic may, of course, try another, slightly different, move, as taken by the sceptic in Smith’s dialogue. Namely, he may purport that if one and the same object, a pencil in this case, when it is held in the air, for example, compared to when it is held under water, can look different to one, this gives rise to a contradiction. The same thing, says the sceptic, cannot be straight, as it looks when held in the air, and bent, as it looks when held under water.15
The antisceptic is, rightly, quick to point out that this does not violate the Law of Contradiction at all. He, the antisceptic, has acknowledged that the same pencil does look differently on different occasions but not that it actually be different. Furthermore, the Law of Contradiction says that one thing a cannot be F and not-F at the same time and in the same respect. The example of the pencil looking straight when held in the air, and looking bent when held under water, refers to different times and different respects, however, and thus does not prove sense perceptions to bring about contradictions.16 Smith’s antisceptic concisely formulates the point thus:

[…] In other words, it is through our senses that we gather the information with which to explain why the same object appears differently under different conditions. We solve the alleged instances of ‘sensory deception’ through a further appeal to sensory evidence—just as you [the scepctic] must presuppose the validity of the senses in the very attempt to disprove the validity of the senses.17

The debate continues for a while with further futile attempts by the sceptic to disprove the validity of sense perception. The conclusion is obvious: If the sceptic cannot disprove the validity of sense perceptions by a different approach than presuming the very same thing he sets out to disprove, then, he fails to show how global scepticism can be a legitimate, that is, valid, standpoint. Since it is impossible to prove sense perceptions principally invalid other than by implicit appeal to their validity, global scepticism of sense perceptions is untenable.


As we have seen, although global scepticism appears to have some plausibility on the face of it, it is in fact an untenable position. Neither such a scepticism concerning knowledge in general, be it in a strong or weakend form, nor a scepticism of this sort with regard to sense perception as a source of knowledge succeed in even getting off the ground, because they inadvertently must take as a precondition the very thing they set out to disprove. Thus, one mistake of global scepticism pertaining to knowledge in its strong form is that knowledge must be possible if a claim like the sceptic’s, namely, that knowledge be impossible for man, shall be able to be true, for then it is, as of necessity, a knowledge claim. The other mistake is the equation of knowledge and certainty with infallibility. The latter objection, of course, applies as well to the weaker claim that man can never be certain as to any proposition, and therefore must doubt each knowledge claim. For if man can never be certain with respect to any proposition whatsoever, then, the sceptic’s position must be open to doubt, too.
The mistake of global scepticism relating to sense perceptions, on the other hand, is, quite similarly, that it presupposes sense perceptions’ validity in order to disprove sense perceptions’ validity. Since there is no other possible approach, this kind of scepticism also fails.
Now, if neither global scepticism as to knowledge, be it in its strong or weaker form, nor as to sense perception, that is to say, at the very foundations of knowledge in the first place, succeed, global scepticism is untenable in principal. The refutation of global scepticism, of course, does not necessitate pure credulity. In fact, scepticism of a moderate sort can be – and indeed is – an important and effectual tool for attaining knowledge and distinguishing sense from nonsense. This remains a topic to pursue at another time and place.

1. Davidson, Donald: ‘A Coherence Theory of Truth and Knowledge’, p. 137 in Davidson, Donald: Subjective, Intersubjective, Objective; Oxford: Oxford University Press 2001, reprinted 2002.
2. Confer: ‘Philosophy and Scepticism’: http://wp.me/p1QVNW-od.
3. Confer: Descartes, René: Meditationes de prima philosophia, Lateinisch-Deutsch; Hamburg: Felix Meiner Verlag 1992; Meditatio I, 5, pp. 32–34 and my ‘Ancient and Cartesian Scepticism’: http://wp.me/p1QVNW-os, 2. Cartesian Scepticism, first section.
4. Smith, George H.: Atheism: The Case Against God; Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books 1989, p. 131. [All following citations and references are from/to this edition, Atheism, for short.]
5. Confer my ‘Justification Under Scrutiny’: http://wp.me/p1QVNW-oX, 3. Endless Justification of Justification?.
6. Confer: Atheism, p. 131.
7. Confer: Op. cit.
8. Confer: Op. cit., p. 132.
9. Confer: Op. cit., p. 133.
10. Confer: Op. cit., p. 134.
11. Confer: Op. cit., p. 135.
12. Confer: ‘Justification Under Scrutiny’: http://wp.me/p1QVNW-oX, 3. Endless Justification of Justification?
13. Confer: Atheism, p. 136.
14. Confer: Op. cit., pp. 147-162.
15. Confer: Op. cit., pp.151-153.
16. Confer: Op. cit., pp. 152-153.
17. Op. cit., p. 153.

Justification Under Scrutiny


In ‘Edmund L. Gettier’s “Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?”’, I indirectly defended the traditional analysis of knowledge as justified true belief by applying Kant’s definition of sufficient justification as including both subjective and objective factors. I interpreted this, without claiming that this be what Kant had in mind, as internal and external justification.1 Hence, I am inclined to take – in the broadest sense of the word – an externalist position of justification for now. I write ‘for now’ because positions may, and often do, change over time.
I shall begin with the significance of external factors for justification (1). Subsequently, I shall argue that, at least on my account, knowledge does not necessarily require knowing that one know (2). Finally, I shall try to show the sceptic’s claim that if we take justification as a criterion for the analysis of knowledge, we necessarily start an infinite regress to be wrong. Against this, I shall offer a sketch of a theory of knowledge consisting of several layers in analogy to micro- and macrophysics (3).

1. Justification and the Import of External Factors

My most important reason for this view is that almost every justified true belief concerning the external world depends upon external factors. For, first, what makes a belief, consisting of a proposition pn, true, is not whatever else a subject Sn may believe but that whatever pn may state, in fact is the case. Thus, for instance, what makes the proposition pe ‘Event en is happening’ true is not anyone’s believing that en be happening, or that whatever else be connected to en be the case, but en’s actual happening, and this clearly is a factor external to Sn’s psychological and perceptual states. Of course, I am not denying the possibility that Sn may hallucinate or dream that pe. Again, this poses no problem to my analysis because in hallucinating or dreaming that pe, Sn may be subjectively (internally) justified in believing that pe, yet not objectively (externally), since outside Sn’s hallucination or dream pe is not the case.
Second, the very being of something (whatever it be) external to Sn’s cognitive processes which imports on his belief-forming in the first place renders impossible the claim that only internal factors could count as justifying grounds for holding a belief.
As some readers, in particular philosophers, may deem the notion of truth opaque, we can at this point of discussion reformulate ‘“pn” is true if and only if pn’ [‘pn’ ↔ pn] as ‘pn is satisfied if and only if Δpn’ [pn ↔ Δpn], where ‘Δ’ represents the actuality of pn’s content. This may have the advantage – that is, if it be an advantage, which I shall not discuss here – that we rid ourselves of quotation marks. Be that as it may, I shall deal with the notion of truth in detail in a separate future article.
Resuming our present concern, notice that, on my interpretation, justification differs from explanation, such that we need to distinguish justified true belief from true opinion with an explanation, the latter of which Plato considers as a third possibility of what knowledge may be in his Theatetos.2 Gettier, on the other hand, by hypothesis credits, with reference to the same passage, Plato with (at least contemplating) the view that knowledge be justified true belief.3 I regard this as implausible, since an explanation does not justify a belief, let alone in the manner Plato considers. The notion of explanation is, admittedly, ambiguous, for it depends on what you really try to explain. Explicating, for example, how one came to believe that pn does not necessarily equal both subjective and objective justification for holding the belief. To illustrate, one may well cite one’s own perceptions that pn, one’s being told that pn, and so on, while, nonetheless, pn is false, and so one indeed is not (fully, because only subjectively, but not objectively) justified in holding the belief that pn. This is the interpretation of justification Gettier contemplates which I rejected on the ground that I think it too narrow, as it ostracizes objective factors as bearing on the notion and, most importantly, criterion of justification within the tentative analysis of knowledge as justified true belief.

2. Knowing Does Not Logically Entail Knowing That One Knows

On my account, it is possible but not necessary that a subject Sn know that they know that pn. As usual, let us call this a propositional attitude of secondary order, that is, a propositional attitude ranging over, or directed at, a propositional attitude of first order, which in its turn ranges over, or is directed at, a proposition pn. For if there can be external factors significant for the justification of Sn’s holding a belief that pn of which, however, Sn can be unaware, then it is not necessary that Sn know that they know that pn in order to be justified in holding the belief. Just as in order to know that a knife’s blade will, under normal circumstances (the blade has not gone blunt by overuse, it is a real knife, not a toy, and so forth) cut my bear flesh if I rub its cutting edge against my skin, I need not be aware of the macrophysical object’s underlying microphysical structure, I can be unaware of some knowledge which I have just the same. In other words, I can know that pn without knowing that I know that pn. Besides the problem of an infinite regress we would face if we made it a criterion of knowledge that one know that one know – for this would require that one know that one know that one know, which, in turn, would require that one know that one know that one know that one know, and so on without end –, I deem this criterion too restrictive, even if we ignore the infinite-regress problem, since it would rule out many beliefs we usually would count knowledge. Moreover, this would pertain not only to propositional (know that) but also practical (know how) knowledge. No one is fully aware of either their propositional or their practical knowledge. You can ask someone how to do something, and you can sensibly ask how they know how to do it, but you would probably earn a funny look if you asked how they knew that they knew how to do it. Practical and propositional knowledge are often intertwined because knowing how necessitates knowing that. Thus, in order to know how to ride a bicycle, one needs to know that bicycles exist in the first place. One also needs to know that in order to move forwards, one needs to put one’s feet to the pedals and exert physical power. Additionally, this practical knowledge even demands further practical knowledge: how to use one’s legs, for instance, which, in turn, presupposes further propositional knowledge, et cetera. Again, knowing how to use one’s legs, or extremeties in general, does not depend on one’s knowing that one know.

3. Endless Justification of Justification?

A problem for justification as an applicable criterion for the analysis of knowledge is pointed out in Agrippa’s so-called Five Modes4, which I mentioned in my ‘Ancient and Cartesian Scepticism’5. The first of the three so-called formal modes states that any justification offered stand itself in need of further justification, so that we cannot help but start an infinite regress. Not only am I not willing to accept this, but also shall I argue that this purportion by the sceptic is false. An intrinsic problem of the sceptic’s statement is that it itself stands unjustified, and if it is the case that each claim stands in need of justification, there is no reason for us to make an exception for the sceptic’s contention. If, on the other hand, the sceptic insists on allowing one purportion to stand unjustifiedly as knowledge, he lacks reasons to forbid the introduction of further unjustified statements as knowledge.
This usually motivates a foundationalist stance, and at this point I prefer such a view over a coherentist one. That is to say, I hold that there be some foundational beliefs which are basic, and therefore not only need no further justification, but cannot be justified by even more basic beliefs. Notwithstanding, I hold that there be several levels or layers of knowledge with respect to one and the same entity (including processes, activities, and the like). Consider again the example I gave above: In order to know that activity A with macrophysical object Omaph1 can cause macrophyiscal object Omaph2’s macrophysical state Stmaphn, I need not know one or both objects’ underlying (constituting) microphysical structures Strmiphn. I can know every single fact there is to know about some macrophysical object Omaphn without knowing anything about the underlying microphysical Structure Strmiphn. In principle, then, if only theoretically, one can know every marcrophysical fact there is without knowing any microphysical fact whatsoever.
In analogy to macro- and microphysics, I propose, we may interpret other branches of knowledge as layers lying above one another. Notice that there may even be causal connections from bottom to top as in the case of microphysical and macrophysical facts, without it being necessary that a Subject Sn needs to know all underlying layers of knowledge in order that they know the n-th layer. If this is correct – and I am convinced it is –, one can be justified in holding the belief that pn without being justified in the sense that one know that one know. This is, by the way, another argument in favour of an externalist view of justification (and probably knowledge, too).
A problem with the analogy of micro- and macrophysics I acknowledge is, of course, that it is difficult to draw a definite line between both. It may thus become a problem for us where to draw the epistemological line between two layers of knowledge in order to help us to find out where to search for the respective layers’ basic beliefs. I shall not try to solve this problem at present, above all because I currently have no solution to offer. I shall resume this issue when an idea comes to my mind.6

1. Confer: ‘Edmund L. Gettier’s “Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?”’: http://wp.me/p1QVNW-o8, 1. The Analyses of Knowledge Gettier Considers, and 2. Gettier’s Two Cases
2. Confer: Platon: Theätet. Griechisch-deutsch. Kommentar von Alexander Becker; Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag; Erste Auflage 2007, 201d [The pagination follows the Greek edition by Henricus Stephanus from 1578.] and my ‘Defining Knowledge’: http://wp.me/p1QVNW-oD, 1. Plato’s Theatetos, fourth section.
3. Confer: Gettier, Edmund L.: ‘Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?’ in Analysis 23, pp. 121-123; Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1963, reprinted in Bernecker, Sven and Dretske, Fred (eds.): Knowledge. Readings in Contemporary Epistemology, p. 13, footnote 1; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000, reprinted 2005.
4. Confer: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/skepticism-ancient/#AgrFivMod
5. Confer: ‘Ancient and Cartesian Scepticism’: http://wp.me/p1QVNW-os, 1. Ancient Scepticism and Agrippa’s Five Modes.
6. In the meantime, I should be glad about any suggestion anyone may have to offer.