Does The Fact That We Might Be Deceived By An Evil Demon Mean That We Actually Do Not Know Anything?

1856 words - 7 pages

It is the main task of epistemology to deal with some of the most fundamental and difficult questions of philosophy, namely those concerning the problem of knowledge. What, if anything, can we know and how can we justify this knowledge as being actual knowledge? In attempting to give answers to these questions, epistemology finds itself in a permanent battle with scepticism which often rejects possible solutions on the grounds of not being satisfactory. "The sceptic", as Nozick puts it, "argues that we do not know what we think we do. Even when he leaves us unconverted, he leaves us confused. Granting that we do know, how can we? Given these possibilities he poses, how is knowledge possible?" (1)The sceptic's reasoning is underpinned by a number of powerful arguments often based on various hypothetical situations. We could imagine, for instance, that "there is someone who is extremely powerful and ... malicious and cunning, who employs all his efforts and industry to deceive [us]." (2) It is also perfectly reasonable that we are only dreaming our whole life, since there is no way for us to tell whether we are awake or asleep and only dreaming we are awake. In all of these cases we would then have no guarantee that what we believe to be knowledge is actual knowledge, or that we are justified in knowing something.It seems, however, that we still can have certain knowledge without being set right by the sceptic. But before examining this possibility, a definition of knowledge has to be given. Furthermore, a distinction between two different types of knowledge has to be drawn, whereby each will undergo the test of whether it is actual knowledge.The traditional conception of knowledge is a tripartite one. In order for someone S to 'know that p', three conditions have to be satisfied. First, p must be true, for it is not possible to know something which is not true. This would be a false assumption and not a case of knowledge. Second, S must believe that p. This condition is just as obvious as the first one since knowing something recquires believing it. Finally, S has to be justified in believing that p, meaning that a 'lucky guess' would not count as knowledge. So, using A.J. Ayer's words, "the necessary and sufficient conditions for knowing that something is the case are first that what one is said to know is true, secondly that one be sure of it, and thirdly that one should have the right to be sure."(3)Although this conception seems to be a reasonable one, it was claimed by E. Gettier that justified belief of a true proposition is not sufficient for having knowledge about the proposition in question. In his famous counter-examples (4) he showed that even if all three conditions are met, it can still be the case that S does not actually know that p. The reason for this lies in the third condition, as it is difficult to define 'to be justified in believing that p'. S, for instance, sees T buying a precious painting and therefore believes that T is...

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