When the nail sticks out

rants, raves and randomness

How do we know what we know?

Epistemology : What are the basis of your knowledge?

I will more likely fail this MIT course at the rate  I’m going. I’m sorry, but I find it difficult to  translate my beliefs into a mathematical equation. I’m not the smartest tool in the shelf when it comes  to math. Nevertheless, I look forward to Professor  Hare’s weekly sessions. I’m swamped. And if I were  smart enough, I’d just go on with the course ware and  stop writing.

What are the basis for our beliefs? Our knowledge?  Pascal argued that believing in God doesn’t have to   be epistemological, but practical. In short, if you  are going to gain something out of believing – an
infinity in heaven- then that sure makes it worth the  finite days going to church and worshiping God.

In  my simple mathematical terms, that’s

infinite > finite

Which one do you want to choose?

Fine. Believe in God.

But the thing is, can I actually believe in something out of practical reasons? Because I have something in it for me, some brownie points, some sort of spiritual investment I can reap when I die?

The thing is, not many people can believe at will.  Not me.

Pascal argued that – if you can’t do it at will, then do something about it. Change your behavior, hang out  with the Bible study kids, go to church anyway. You will start to believe eventually.

The thing is, a person will only believe if one has had an inkling from the very beginning. Besides, won’t people want to believe in their gods for epistemological reasons and not practical ones?

Many of our beliefs – and I am not even talking about  religious ones – are based on knowledge. But how do  we know what we know?

Epistemology : Theories of knowledge, a discussion by Caspar Hare

What is this knowledge thing, for somebody to know something? What are the conditions such that  satisfying them we have knowledge? Here’s what we need to warrant good knowledge : 


It’s not very interesting if it’s circular however. How can you convince someone, say, if I tell someone I know his wife /her husband is cheating on this person given the condition that I just know?


If you have “know” on both sides of the equation, it’s not interesting. And it’s not enough for sufficient knowledge.

Just knowing this can save people from a lot of internet scams. I know you will make millions of money if you register in my site because I know so. Some people are also easy to pass judgement on others : I know she’s stealing from me because I know so.

This is, of course, by itself, a very unreliable source of knowledge. No reasonable court will accept your case based on that argument alone.

Caspar Hare states a condition : we know a certain knowledge p only if it’s true.


I saw beautiful girls outside my house today.

This is knowledge. I know I saw beautiful girls outside my house today and I know it’s true.

Pedro says he saw an aswang and he knows it’s true. But surely it’s not enough!

You are sure of your knowledge.


Am I sure that it’s true? Am I sure that it wasn’t just some sort of  hallucinations? Am I sure that it was today and not yesterday?

When people tell you that they saw an aswang, and that they are sure that they saw an aswang, do you believe it?

Are you justified in believing in aswang? 


And even if I were sure, am I justified in believing  I saw beautiful girls outside my house today? What if they were something else?

If someone told you they saw with their own two eyes and heard the growl of an aswang, would you believe in an aswang?

I take it no. Many Filipinos however, stop here. They do believe in aswang because somebody says it’s true, and that they are sure it’s true and that they are justified in believing in it.

You have to make sure your belief is not based from a false belief. If Pedro told you there are aswangs in Capiz, would you believe this?


But Filipinos aren’t alone.From the time of Plato, all these three were given as an analysis of knowledge. But,ok – nowadays, it’s easy to debunk this.

Granted, in the first case, the girls were wearing their high school uniforms and they indeed, looked like girls, so I am justified for believing they were girls. But are they really? As far as I know, anybody can buy their own high school uniforms, put on a pound of make up and hang outside my house. I would have still believed I saw beautiful girls outside my house today.

If they were indeed girls, then, great news for me.

But if they were boys, then the conditions weren’t enough to warrant sufficient knowledge.

And if aswangs existed in Capiz, then great news for Pedro and the others – they were right. If aswangs didn’t exist, then I feel sorry for the mute girl stabbed by her father for mistaking her for an aswang. This false belief had almost cost her her life.

Gettier in the 1960s argued that these long held conditions are not enough.

If say, I noticed one of the beautiful girls hanging outside my house, wearing Louboutin shoes, then I would think, I know one of the beautiful girls has a lot of money to afford Louboutin shoes.

Is this enough to warrant what I know? What if she borrowed the shoes? What if they were fakes? They looked like girls. But what if they weren’t?

What if Pedro’s aswang were people parading in costume on Halloween?

Alvin Goldman demonstrates that this isn’t enough either.


But what does sensitive mean?

Back in 2008, I was driving with 3 three friends 50km from Manila, dressed as gays to attend a gay- themed party, a truck and car stopped us.One overtook us and blocked the road, the other was closely behind us. Pointing their automatic rifles at us, the men in police uniforms, surrounded the car and barked at us to get off the car immediately. But, just because they were wearing police uniforms and riding police cars doesn’t mean they were indeed cops.

1)I could have believed they were cops,
2)I could have been sure they were cops because they were wearing cop uniforms and riding police cars.
3)And I could have been justified for believing they were cops because I saw them with my own two eyes
4)But was I inferring my belief from a false belief ?

We thought so. And we gambled. We chose to stay put, telling them to start shooting if they wanted.

We were wrong. They turned out to be real cops.


If it hadn’t been the case that P, then you wouldn’t have believed that P.

Some people would have believed they were cops. And they would have been right.

But what if we believed they were cops but they weren’t?

If the girls weren’t dressed in high school uniforms, then I wouldn’t have believed they were high school students. What if they were 30-year-old porn stars dressed as high school girls? Or what if they were 30-year-old male porn stars dressed as high school girls, one of them wearing a pair of Louboutin fakes?

Ok, all these conditions seem reasonable enough. But what if, among those beautiful girls that turned out to be a group of 30-year-old male porn stars dressed as high school girls, one of them is a real girl?

I was right once but wrong many times -because the conditions were unreliable.For sure, we don’t want our knowledge to depend on luck.

When we see our friend’s boyfriend walking with a girl, we don’t immediately assume he’s cheating on her. What if she’s his sister?

But is this enough? Surely not. Is it enough to believe what I say when I claim I know I have seen beautiful girls outside my house today?


Are your beliefs on these matters mostly accurate?

Say that, for example, being Filipino, I can tell a a transvestite much more easily than an ordinary Japanese ( This is true ! lol). If my Japanese friend claims that he saw a group of beautiful girls outside my house, why would I trust him when he’s been wrong about girls before? That, say, it took him one month to find out his girlfriend was actually a man? His credibility about matters such as real girls would come to question. I will ask, ” Are you sure they are girls this time?”

Even if he were lucky and introduced me to the only real girl, a beautiful girl in the group of males dressed as girls, he’s been wrong more times than right. And Pedro, he’s been wrong all this time too. Why would I assume he’s right, there’s indeed, an aswang, this time when the probability is against him?


You believe p by a reliable method. 

For one, it’s not a good method to trust your sight only. Pedro was deceived by a group of trick-or-treaters, and my Japanese friend was deceived by his one-month long “girl”friend who turned out to be male. There’s much more than meets the eye. You need to be able to judge a knowledge worthy of belief based on a reliable method. Surely, wearing women’s clothes doesn’t guarantee that the person wearing them is a woman? Whoever said to see is to believe was being naive.

Say you’re buying a thermostat. It is important that the thermostat you buy tells you the right temperature wherever and whenever, a sort of “systematic disposition to give accurate utterances” as Caspar Hare puts it. You’d want your thermostat to tell you the temperature accurately today, tomorrow, day after tomorrow, next month, next year, whether outside in the snow or in the oven. And like a reliable thermostat, you want your friends to be the same : you want them to have told you the truth yesterday and today continue telling you the truth tomorrow. Consistent and reliable.  And you want your public servants to be the same.

Well, we have numbers. Statistics. Say, for example, according to a very reliable studies, 90% of the Filipino politicians are stealing money from the government. The next time money goes disappearing, are the stats enough to prosecute the politicians? No. We can’t bring a lawsuit based on statistics alone because it’s unfair. What if you prosecute the 10% politicians who weren’t stealing?

That’s where evidences and witnesses come in.:)/span>


KNOWLEDGE IN LEGAL CONTEXTS – Witnesses. Image from this site

One comment on “How do we know what we know?

  1. Pingback: Job Hunting in Japan – the horrors of Hello Work. Alternative job sites? | Japan and all that Jazz

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This entry was posted on November 8, 2013 by in philosophy, random, thoughts and tagged , , , .
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