Getting it right

What counts as knowledge? Everyone used to think knowledge is justified true belief. Knowledge is a belief that is both true and justified (i.e. you have good reasons for the belief). But as Ernest Sosa points out in “Getting It Right,” that definition has the problem that we can have good reasons to believe something is true but be right only by accident. So what will count as knowledge? Sosa shows how “virtue epistemology” might work. In living our lives virtue is getting it just right. Similarly, in knowing the world, virtue would again be getting it just right. “[T]o know …┬áis to make an affirmation that is accurate (true) and adroit (which requires taking proper account of the evidence). But in addition, the affirmation must be apt; that is, its accuracy must be attributable to competence rather than luck.”

The skeptic chuckles darkly

Steven Poole’s review of Jennifer Nagel’s Knowledge: A Very Short Introduction is a nice overview of what we can know about what we can know. “Does any of this really matter to non-philosophers? Yes, and for two kinds of reason. The first kind is sociopolitical. Arguments about what kind of testimony (eg from scientific experts) we can trust, and therefore gain knowledge from, are evidently germane to major public issues such as global warming. … The second kind of reason for why thinking about knowledge might be important is more personal. It boils down to this: how worried are you about whether you are a brain in a vat? Versions of this idea have been put about through history by that imp of the perverse known as the sceptic. The sceptic insists that knowledge of anything at all is impossible.”