Re: [DebunkCreation] Epistemic Abyss
- On 11/10/05, lisaogut@... <lisaogut@...> wrote:
> Hi Timothy,Definitely related. All awareness is causally-mediated, which is
> Thanks for your piece on the epistemic abyss.
> Let me take you further down the road of abyss:
> The first day of my astonomy class, the professor asked, "Do you know
> what I look like?" He kept repeating the question, looking around the room.
> We students were mumbling under our breath "yes."
> "NO!" was his response, "you know what I *looked* like."
> He then discussed sight and that light takes time to travel from him
> to our eyes. So, you did not see your car or your computer, at least
> in the present. It is probable these things were there, but you did not
> see them as they were.
central to both the point that he was trying to make, to much of
skepticism, and the necessity of accepting corrigible knowledge. This
fact and the attempt to get around it is what gave rise to
representationalism, and it has played a central role in other
fundamental epistemic issues, such as the relatively recent Gettier
Theory of Knowledge
The Gettier Problem
by James Pryor, Spring 2004
> All you philosophers out there, lets hear your version of what "truth" is.Actually, I was able to arrive at definitions for "justification,"
"truth," "belief," and "doubt" in terms of a metaphysics -- which
required Aristotle's joint-actualization theory of consciousness and
the employment of his concept of correlates -- approximately ten years
after I realized it should be possible. Might be a little dry and OT
for here, though.
However, I spoke of the norm of self-referential coherence in that
little piece you responded to but didn't explain what it meant. This
was essentially due the fact that when I originally wrote it, I was
able to assume that everyone knew what it meant. Shouldn't do that
here, though, so I am including a couple of sections from one of my
larger papers. I apologize for the length...
Something Revolutionary: A Critique of Kant's Transcendental Idealism
Part 9, Section 22: The Meaning of Self-Referential Incoherence
At this point, I would like to introduce what I call "the norm of
self-referential coherence." This norm prohibits self-referential
incoherence. Thus to understand the meaning of the norm, one must
understand the meaning of self-referential incoherence. I will
present an example before attempting a definition.
Consider a radical skeptic who states "I know that no one knows
anything." This skeptic has contradicted himself, violating in
thought the law of identity. The law of identity, in its capacity as
a norm by which we regulate and evaluate cognition, could be referred
to as "the norm of coherence." It is a norm which directs us to
remain coherent. But if the skeptic is a little more subtle, he may
simply state "No one knows anything." In this case, that which he
asserts involves no contradiction. Thus the second statement obeys
"the norm of coherence." Nevertheless, there is something illogical
In affirming this proposition, he is not simply asserting that it is
true. Implicit in the very act of affirmation is the idea that he
knows it is true. And the proposition which he affirming to be true
(and thus, to be known by himself) includes itself as one of its
referents. What he affirms may be true (at least in the sense that
such a state of affairs would not violate the law of identity), but if
what he is affirming is true, then the act of affirming it becomes
pointless, pointless since he couldn't possibly know it to be true.
And yet if it is false, he is unable to know it to be true since that
which is known is necessarily true.
Now I will attempt a definition of the norm of self-referential
coherence: it is "a prescriptive statement governing the affirmation
of a proposition, statement, or theory which requires that the
proposition, statement, or theory does not give rise to a
contradiction as a result of its union with the context of assertion,
where the context of assertion is propositional description of the act
of affirmation or assertion." Unlike the law of identity, this norm
applies only in cases of self-reference, e.g., when a statement is
broad enough to include itself (or the proposition which it expresses)
as one of its referents. An example of this is "No statement
expresses a proposition."
Before going any further, I wish to stress the similarity which exists
between the law of identity as a prescriptive statement governing
affirmations and the norm of self-referential coherence. When the law
of identity is violated by an affirmation, the contradiction is
internal to that which is affirmed. When the norm of self-referential
coherence is violated, the contradiction still exists, but it is no
longer in that which is affirmed, but within the surrounding context
of its affirmation.
Part 9, Section 23: The Problem of the Doubting Skeptic
I chose "the problem of radical skepticism through denial" for two
reasons: first, I believe that it demonstates the nature of
self-referential argumentation very well, and thus serves as a good
introduction to this kind of argument; and, second, I consider radical
skepticism to be a problem worth addressing when attempting to found a
new approach to knowledge. However, my second purpose has only been
partially achieved: to complete it, in terms of the fundamentals, I
must address an alternative approach to radical skepticism.
As a counterargument to this example involving radical skepticism, it
has been argued that skeptics may avoid the self-referential
incoherence by doubting rather than affirming or denying. In
otherwords, the skeptic may make use of a third possible stance: one
in which he simply doubts that knowledge exists. Now before I attempt
to evaluate this reply, it is necessary to analyze the manner in which
the act of doubting differs from the acts of affirmation and denial.
Let me begin by examining the nature of affirmation and denial. In a
very important sense, affirmation and denial are opposites: if one
man affirms a given proposition, and another man denies it, then, in a
certain sense, they have contradicted one-another. Thus there exists
a certain symmetry between affirmation and denial. And this symmetry
corresponds to the symmetry between truth and falsity: if one affirms
a given proposition, one is also affirming that it is true; if one
denies a given proposition, one is also affirming that it is false.
Furthermore, by affirming its falsity, one denies its truth, and by
affirming its truth, one denies its falsity. Thus the correspondence
But affirmations and denials cannot be given truth values: a
proposition may be truth or false, but an affirmation or denial can
only be correct or mistaken. Nevertheless, there exists an exact
correspondence between that which is true and that which is correct,
and that which is false and that which is mistaken.
Given this context, it is necessary to determine where doubting fits
in. Doubting, according to the "radical skepticism through doubt
approach," constitutes a third alternative to that of affirmation and
denial. And clearly, in a certain sense, it is. The act of doubting
is clearly distinct from the act of affirmation, but it is equally
distinct from the act of denying. If I deny a proposition, and I
later discover that this proposition was true, then I was mistaken.
However, if I simply doubted the proposition, and I discover that the
proposition was true, I am not forced to conclude that I was mistaken.
Quite the contrary: I might pat myself on the back for waiting until
all the evidence was in. Furthermore, while it is true that a given
person cannot simultaneously affirm and "simply" doubt a given
proposition without contradiction, it is equally true that one person
can affirm a proposition and another doubt it without the two
contradicting each other: one person may simply have higher standards
Thus doubting can generally be considered a third alternative to that
of affirmation and denial. It is distinct. However, it is also
qualitatively different. Doubting consists of a higher order act of
cognition. It is of a more abstract nature, and thus its relation to
the two more primary acts of cognition must be considered.
In logic, doubting, while distinct from the two other stances, does
not exist independently of them. Doubting is a possibility only so
long as both affirmation and denial are possible. That is, doubting,
as a possibility, presupposes a state of affairs in which the
alternative between affirmation and denial is open. But, as we have
seen, the possibility of denial has been logically excluded: it is
self-referentially incoherent. And the exclusion of the possibility
of a denial logically necessitates the exclusion of the possibility of
To make this argument clearer, rather than considering an argument
about the existence of knowledge, consider an argument about whether a
coin has landed heads or tails. One person affirms that it has landed
heads, another denies this, holding that the coin has landed tails,
and a third simply doubts that the coin has landed heads-up. A forth
party is brought in who observes the coin and states that it has not
landed tails. This eliminates the position of the person who denies
that the coin has landed heads-up, but at the same stroke, it also
eliminates the position of the person who simply doubted that the coin
has landed heads-up: he no longer has any justification for doubting
that the coin has landed heads-up.
But unfortunately, this analogy works only so far. A
doubting-skeptic, in considering his position to be distinct from that
of the denying-skeptic, and thus as a refuge from the self-referential
incoherence involved in denial, might regard his position as being
analogous to a coin landing on edge. But this is clearly mistaken:
unlike physical coins, the logical coin of knowledge is razor thin,
and thus doubting does not represent a separate side which one may
take on this issue. The exclusion of the position of doubting follows
from the law of the excluded middle and the exclusion of the
possibility of denial.
The alternative between affirming the existence of knowledge and
radical skepticism is more like a door than a coin. Radical
skepticism as a viable possibility lies on the other side of that
door, and the radical skeptic who denies the existence of knowledge
holds that the door is open and that we should step through it. The
radical skeptic who doubts the existence of knowledge holds that the
door is open, but that we should simply place ourselves firmly in the
middle of door's thresh-hold, neither standing on one side of the
doorway or the other. Now in logic, the door can only be open or
shut. The self-referential argument shows us that the door is shut.
But for further clarification, we may bring back the evaluative terms
which are applicable to affirmations and denials: namely, "correct"
and "mistaken." When someone denies a given proposition and discovers
that its contradictory is false, he should regard himself as having
been mistaken. However, when someone doubts a given proposition and
discovers that the affirmation of its contradictory is by necessity
eliminated, and continues to doubt the given proposition, he too, is
making a mistake, although his mistake is clearly of a different
Now the earlier self-referential argument clearly eliminates the
possibility of denying the existence of knowledge, and this is
precisely what is needed to complete my argument. Not only is the
position of the denying the existence of knowledge eliminated, but
also the position of doubting the existence of knowledge. It is
eliminated only in a more roundabout way, by means of the same
self-referential incoherence. Implicit in his act of doubt are the
premises that he has insufficient evidence by means of which to
eliminate either the possibility of affirmation or denial. But the
self-referential argument is sufficient to conclusively eliminate the
denial of the existence of knowledge. Thus the norm of
self-referential coherence necessarily eliminates the doubt that
"I carry my sword in my hand. You carry yours in your heart and in
your mind. As I see it, that gives you a two-to-one advantage in arms.
Be fair, citizen G'kar."
-- Ta'Lon to G'Kar in Babylon 5:"A Day in the Strife"