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why internet discussion boards are frustrating
2004-05-21 - 2:24 a.m.

Following are some excerpts from a discussion on an internet message board. See if you can figure out what I find frustrating about it.


Idom: Ohkay, I'm just going to throw in a little of this and see if any discussion whatsoever springs forward. I've got to know and write a bit about this stuff so maybe a bit of insight would be helpful.

Okay, the topic- Epistemology. The more or less standard setup for this is Hintikka's S4 Epistemic Logic. Here are the basic rules that are used-

1. If you know that X implies Y, then if you know X is true, you know Y is true.

2. If you know that X is true, X must be true.

3. If you know X, then you know that you know X.

4. If you know that someone else knows X, then you know X.

So what do you lot think? Do these rules actually work realistically? For everything that you know, do you know that you know it?


Misc: Hmmmm. thats a tough one. If i know something is true, then it is true....



Lachie: Philosophy is useless.


Tithonus: In terms of the practical epistemology by which we live our everyday lives, I think most of our knowledge exists on the basis of trust, or confidence, often at an unconscious level, and for practical purposes this epistemology is superior to that of a systematically self-consistent type as you have detailed here.

For example, I trust that bread will nourish me when I am hungry. This trust is not primarily the product of a consistent set of beliefs about the nature of bread and the nature of hunger. I might develop such a set of beliefs; but the primary source of my trust is simply the accumulated experience of having eaten things that I identified as bread many times in the past, when I was hungry, and found that the result was the abatement of that hunger. Most of this experience is only present on an unconscious level; I could describe to you only a very tiny fraction of the number of experiences I've had of eating bread, yet, the depth of the trust that I have for bread as a source of nourishment reflects much more than the conscious memories of it which I am able to summon.

You might reply, this is no different to or better than the epistemology of a cat or a horse or a sparrow, and I would agree. But, necessarily the vast majority of our "knowledge" must operate on this level of animal trust. Why? Because "higher consciousness" of the type required to process a statement such as "whatever I know, I know that I know" is able to exist only upon the foundation of a deep and broad "knowledge" of the animal type described above. How do I know that the word "whatever" in the above sentence denotes what I believe it denotes? How can I believe that the idea that I have of the meaning of this word is the true meaning? If I'm only 99% certain of the meaning of the first word in a sentence, should I try to piece together the rest of the sentence with this degree of uncertainty hanging over the endeavour, or should I persist with this first word until I am 100% certain of its meaning? Is there a way of knowing that it is possible to be 100% certain of its meaning? How can I investigate the answer to these epistemological questions if I need to know the answer to my first epistemological question before I am able to believe that I really understand the question? And so on and so on... these questions can be answered, all of them, in some way, but every question will rely on you trusting in certain untested prior knowledges in order to allow you to frame the question in a way that makes it meaningful. If you believe that the project of epistemology is to discover some means of knowing which can be "justified" as true without trusting in any pre-conscious knowledges, then the project is indeed doomed to failure and pursuing it will doubtless result in a great deal of frustration and possibly make you into a mad, paranoid wreck. But, does this mean that the conscious investigation of epistemology is (along with the rest of philosophy) useless, as Lachie asserts? I don't believe so; it merely means that this investigation is necessarily limited in scope and needs to acknowledge that it is bounded - but if the investigation of those boundaries is interesting, if the relationship between conscious and preconscious knowledge is interesting, then it's valid field for investigation and exploration, as is any fascinating thing. Even the most instrumentally useful of intellectual developments are used, in the end, to make life easier in order to give us more time to devote to what we all really love, which is non-instrumental activity of one sort or another. Otherwise, why would we play games?


Ast: heh philosophy is silly.


"Twilight on the frozen lake

North wind about to break

On footprints in the snow

Silence down below" - Bob Dylan

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