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 Post subject: What Does it Mean to "know" Something?
PostPosted: Mon Jan 03, 2011 12:37 pm 
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:scratch:

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 Post subject: Re: What Does it Mean to "know" Something?
PostPosted: Mon Jan 03, 2011 12:40 pm 
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 Post subject: Re: What Does it Mean to "know" Something?
PostPosted: Mon Jan 03, 2011 12:51 pm 
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 Post subject: Re: What Does it Mean to "know" Something?
PostPosted: Mon Jan 03, 2011 1:12 pm 
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Scholastic philosophy teaches that to know something is to have the intellect united with the object of knowledge. A comparison to modern views of knowledge makes this clear.

The most common philosophies (Kant, Descarte, Locke, Hume, etc.) hold to what is called a representational epistemology, in which the mind receives certain sense impressions (via sight, smell, etc.) and thereby constructs an image in the mind. That image (or idea) is the object of knowledge, and thus, to "know" something is to have the representation of the object in mind. The obvious problem with all such views, of course, is that there is no what to know reality itself, since we can never get outside of our mind to compare our images/ideas with the realities they are supposed to represent!

The problem, then, is to get the actual object itself in the mind so that a comparison of the object with our images of it can be done. Scholastic philosophy, then, distinguishes between form and matter, in which form is the "whatness" of a thing and matter is the "thatness" of a thing. What a thing is, is immaterial, whereas the stuff that the thing is made of, is material. That is to say, form is immaterial and matter is material. What happens in this view is that matter is "informed" by a given form to make it what it is in reality. In the case of knowledge, what happens is the form of the object is impressed on our mind via our senses. Since the form is what the thing is, it is the thing itself existing in a different mode (called an impressed species). In short, the object itself now exists in our mind in an immaterial way. Ultimately, the intellect is impressed (informed) by this same object, and thus the object now exists in a new mode (an impressed intelligible species). Thus, the knower (in the intellect) and the known become one, which we call knowledge.

There is obviously a lot more to it than that, but that's the basic idea . . . remember, the bottom line is that there has to be a way to get the object itself in the mind. If your object of knowledge is only a picture of the thing your mind constructs, then there is no way to know that you actually know reality. There would be an unbridgeable chasm between the knower and the thing known, which would actually make knowledge impossible.

edit: forgive me, by the way, for walking through such very basic ideas as the common form/matter distinction. I'm sure you are aware of them already. The explanation is only intended to provide a context for the Thomistic view of knowledge, which I attempted to explain very much in brief.

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 Post subject: Re: What Does it Mean to "know" Something?
PostPosted: Mon Jan 03, 2011 1:19 pm 
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That really has my head spinning. Can you put that into a practical example?

For instance, the Church teaches that abortion is wrong. But for a person to obtain an abortion and for it to be a mortal sin for them, they must "know" that what they are doing is wrong.

One can say "I know that the Church teaches that this is wrong" yet what does it mean to "know" that it IS wrong?

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 Post subject: Re: What Does it Mean to "know" Something?
PostPosted: Mon Jan 03, 2011 1:32 pm 
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Some things we know are wrong because the Church tells us.

Other things we know because they are part of the natural law and the natural law is written on the heart of every man.

It is one thing to "believe" that abortion is not wrong, quite another thing to "know" it.

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 Post subject: Re: What Does it Mean to "know" Something?
PostPosted: Mon Jan 03, 2011 1:38 pm 
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Sure. Let me get to your abortion example in a minute, because there is some groundwork that helps a lot if it is laid.

First, you know abortion is wrong many ways, but to take only one, since the Church says it, it must be true. Therefore, you know it because you understand what is communicated to you. But what is communicated must first be known (communication is the transfer of an idea from what person to another; if it is not known first known by the teller, it cannot be the known by the told), but what is known is reality. Thus, we have this little ladder:

Hermeneutics: How do we understand what is communicated?
Linguistics: How do we communicate what we know?
Epistemology? How do we know that which is?
Metaphysics: What is that which is?
Reality: That which is

With that in mind, let's start with something simple. You see a tree. A very young child asks you, "What is that?" You say, "A tree," because that is what it is. Now, it is a tree whether the leaves fall off or its branches are cut down. In other words, it is a tree, but as a tree, it can experience change. Now, when it changes (say, it loses its leaves), it does not cease to be a tree, so what it is doesn't change, but the way it exists changes. So in philosophy, we make a distinction between form and matter. Form is what a thing is (it is a tree: it is its "treeness"), and matter is what the tree is made out of (it's stuff). Matter changes. Form does not.

So we can reduce the metaphysics to this: in reality, everything you experience is a construct of form/matter. Matter is material stuff, but what it is, it's form, is an immaterial aspect.

So how do you know that it is a tree? Well, you can't pick up the tree and put it in your brain. Your mind, after all, is immaterial, and the tree is material. How do you get the tree in your mind? You can't get the matter in your mind, but you can get its form in your mind. Aristotle used the example of a gold signet ring being pressed on wax. The wax then has the shape (form) of the gold ring. Notice carefully that the material of the ring (gold) did not go into the wax--only the form was transferred. In a similar way, your five senses, like the wax, receive the form of the objects around you. So you see the tree, you smell it, you touch it, you hear the wind in its leaves. Through that process, the form of the tree is impressed on your mind (just like the form of the ring is impressed on the wax). In this way, the tree itself is actually in your mind. It is not just a picture of the tree in your mind--the actual tree, in its form, is now in your mind. In one mode, the form of the tree expresses itself in the matter of wood and leaves. In another mode, the form of the tree expresses itself in your mind. In both cases, it is the same tree. Without going into too much detail, the mind takes this form and creates an immaterial object it can actually know.

So much for the epistemology. How then is that communicated?

At the end of the knowing process, the tree is in your mind as a mental object. You have to label it. You, because you speak English, call it "tree." The word "tree" itself has no meaning. We've just all decided that sound represents that particular object (that we all happen to have in our mind, because we have all experienced trees! But by the same token, if no one had experienced a tree, they'd have no idea what you were talking about). The word "tree" then calls to mind that object of knowledge. You then speak that word, and when others hear that word, it calls to their mind the same object.

So much for linguistics. Finally, how do we understand what is communicated? The last question is easy to answer. When you say "tree" you and I have the same object in our mind (because we both have experienced trees). So I understand what you yourself actually know.

We can take this model to your abortion question. You understand what all the words in the sentence refer to -- what mental objects they point to ("Abortion is wrong.") You know what abortion is. You know what wrong is. You know what "is" is (contra Clinton ;) ). So when you are told "abortion is wrong," a certain idea comes into your mind. If it was communicated properly, it is the same idea that is in the mind of the person speaking to you (in this case, the Catholic church). As such, if you believe the Catholic Church is right in all they say on the matter, then you can accept that the proposition actually represents reality, and that abortion, then, really is wrong. It is reality in your mind properly so.

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 Post subject: Re: What Does it Mean to "know" Something?
PostPosted: Mon Jan 03, 2011 1:53 pm 
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Pepsuber wrote:
Some things we know are wrong because the Church tells us.


The Church tells me that something is wrong. What does it mean to now "know" it?

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 Post subject: Re: What Does it Mean to "know" Something?
PostPosted: Mon Jan 03, 2011 1:54 pm 
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jac3510 wrote:
Sure. Let me get to your abortion example in a minute, because there is some groundwork that helps a lot if it is laid.

First, you know abortion is wrong many ways, but to take only one, since the Church says it, it must be true. Therefore, you know it because you understand what is communicated to you. But what is communicated must first be known (communication is the transfer of an idea from what person to another; if it is not known first known by the teller, it cannot be the known by the told), but what is known is reality. Thus, we have this little ladder:

Hermeneutics: How do we understand what is communicated?
Linguistics: How do we communicate what we know?
Epistemology? How do we know that which is?
Metaphysics: What is that which is?
Reality: That which is

With that in mind, let's start with something simple. You see a tree. A very young child asks you, "What is that?" You say, "A tree," because that is what it is. Now, it is a tree whether the leaves fall off or its branches are cut down. In other words, it is a tree, but as a tree, it can experience change. Now, when it changes (say, it loses its leaves), it does not cease to be a tree, so what it is doesn't change, but the way it exists changes. So in philosophy, we make a distinction between form and matter. Form is what a thing is (it is a tree: it is its "treeness"), and matter is what the tree is made out of (it's stuff). Matter changes. Form does not.

So we can reduce the metaphysics to this: in reality, everything you experience is a construct of form/matter. Matter is material stuff, but what it is, it's form, is an immaterial aspect.

So how do you know that it is a tree? Well, you can't pick up the tree and put it in your brain. Your mind, after all, is immaterial, and the tree is material. How do you get the tree in your mind? You can't get the matter in your mind, but you can get its form in your mind. Aristotle used the example of a gold signet ring being pressed on wax. The wax then has the shape (form) of the gold ring. Notice carefully that the material of the ring (gold) did not go into the wax--only the form was transferred. In a similar way, your five senses, like the wax, receive the form of the objects around you. So you see the tree, you smell it, you touch it, you hear the wind in its leaves. Through that process, the form of the tree is impressed on your mind (just like the form of the ring is impressed on the wax). In this way, the tree itself is actually in your mind. It is not just a picture of the tree in your mind--the actual tree, in its form, is now in your mind. In one mode, the form of the tree expresses itself in the matter of wood and leaves. In another mode, the form of the tree expresses itself in your mind. In both cases, it is the same tree. Without going into too much detail, the mind takes this form and creates an immaterial object it can actually know.

So much for the epistemology. How then is that communicated?

At the end of the knowing process, the tree is in your mind as a mental object. You have to label it. You, because you speak English, call it "tree." The word "tree" itself has no meaning. We've just all decided that sound represents that particular object (that we all happen to have in our mind, because we have all experienced trees! But by the same token, if no one had experienced a tree, they'd have no idea what you were talking about). The word "tree" then calls to mind that object of knowledge. You then speak that word, and when others hear that word, it calls to their mind the same object.

So much for linguistics. Finally, how do we understand what is communicated? The last question is easy to answer. When you say "tree" you and I have the same object in our mind (because we both have experienced trees). So I understand what you yourself actually know.

We can take this model to your abortion question. You understand what all the words in the sentence refer to -- what mental objects they point to ("Abortion is wrong.") You know what abortion is. You know what wrong is. You know what "is" is (contra Clinton ;) ). So when you are told "abortion is wrong," a certain idea comes into your mind. If it was communicated properly, it is the same idea that is in the mind of the person speaking to you (in this case, the Catholic church). As such, if you believe the Catholic Church is right in all they say on the matter, then you can accept that the proposition actually represents reality, and that abortion, then, really is wrong. It is reality in your mind properly so.


Thanks. It's going to take me a bit to digest this.

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 Post subject: Re: What Does it Mean to "know" Something?
PostPosted: Mon Jan 03, 2011 2:07 pm 
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To know is to have true belief with an account (that is, a good reason for believing it).

1) True. It is not possible in this sense to know a falsehood, though we may mistakenly think that we know.
2) Belief. That which I think is true but do not think I am certain of is not knowledge.
3) With an account. I must have a reason to believe it. The authority of an expert is a good reason to believe.

Granted this means that we cannot always know what we know, the definition works. (Mostly. Look up the Gettier paradox, but I have never seen an example of that paradox that really mattered.)

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 Post subject: Re: What Does it Mean to "know" Something?
PostPosted: Mon Jan 03, 2011 2:14 pm 
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I'm starting to think that I have asked a question of which the answer is something I am not going to be able to comprehend. Or, ironically, I won't be able to "know" the answer :stars:

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 Post subject: Re: What Does it Mean to "know" Something?
PostPosted: Mon Jan 03, 2011 3:28 pm 
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Obi-Wan Kenobi wrote:
To know is to have true belief with an account (that is, a good reason for believing it).

1) True. It is not possible in this sense to know a falsehood, though we may mistakenly think that we know.
2) Belief. That which I think is true but do not think I am certain of is not knowledge.
3) With an account. I must have a reason to believe it. The authority of an expert is a good reason to believe.

Granted this means that we cannot always know what we know, the definition works. (Mostly. Look up the Gettier paradox, but I have never seen an example of that paradox that really mattered.)

Perhaps I've never really fully grasped Gettier here, but I don't see why his counterexamples were all that big a deal to Thomists. Certainly, he proved that a justified true belief is not sufficient to account for knowledge, but that's not what knowledge is in the first place. The unification of the knower with the known may or may not prove to be a justified true belief, given the massive arguments we can have about "justified."

More importantly, I think the definition "justified true belief" is rather circular given that "justified" is itself an epistemological term, don't you? You may as well say, "You know something if you really know it." It's tautological, and that's why it's so hard to prove what is or is not justification--we think we are talking about a necessary condition for knowledge, when we are actually talking about knowledge itself.

It seems to me that we ought to forget the threefold formula all the way around and recognize that there is a difference in deductive, inductive, and moral certitude. I cannot have deductive certitude that I have no errors in judgment, but I can make a good case for it, meaning I can have either inductive or moral certitude on any given matter. But my certitude that my knowledge is true, be it inductive or moral, is not in and of itself knowledge in and of itself. It is, rather, a statement about knowledge. In that framework, Gettier isn't a problem at all.

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 Post subject: Re: What Does it Mean to "know" Something?
PostPosted: Mon Jan 03, 2011 3:51 pm 
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:scratch: Didn't I say that I'd never seen an example of Gettier that mattered? I don't think that Gettier is a real problem.

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 Post subject: Re: What Does it Mean to "know" Something?
PostPosted: Mon Jan 03, 2011 4:09 pm 
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Obi-Wan Kenobi wrote:
:scratch: Didn't I say that I'd never seen an example of Gettier that mattered? I don't think that Gettier is a real problem.

A real problem for the traditional definition or for Thomists (or both?!?). You've lost me. I was addressing this:

You wrote:
Granted this means that we cannot always know what we know, the definition works. (Mostly. Look up the Gettier paradox, but I have never seen an example of that paradox that really mattered.)

The "mostly" throws me. It seems that you are endorsing the definition, but then you note that it only mostly works, meaning it doesn't really work in some cases, as per Gettier. I understand you said that all the examples you have seen don't matter, but that's a pragmatic point. Gettier's counterexamples take on the basic sufficiency of the definition.

That's where my entire confusion is on the whole matter. I do think Gettier is right and that the definition doesn't work. He just gave examples to demonstrate why it is just a tautology. But, why should any of us care? "A justified true belief" isn't the definition of knowledge. Knowledge ought to be understood as "the unification of an object with the intellect." It's just trivial that such a unification entails both belief and truth, and justification, which is the key epistemological problem, doesn't come up (insofar as justification is the question of knowledge in the first place!).

So just to clarify your comments (for my own benefit), are you saying that "a justified true belief" is a sufficient definition of knowledge or not? If not, to what does your parenthetical comment refer, and if so, I'll just redirect you back to my previous post. I don't think it is sufficient because I don't think it is a proper definition to begin with.

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 Post subject: Re: What Does it Mean to "know" Something?
PostPosted: Mon Jan 03, 2011 4:21 pm 
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There was a time in my life when I "knew" that the Church taught that abortion and contraception were wrong. I didn't think the Church knew what it was talking about. Did I know that these things were wrong?

Eventually I came to believe that abortion was wrong. And I can't say how or why that happened. Do I now "know" that it's wrong? I think so. When it comes to other matters, since I don't have the same understanding that I do with abortion, I'm not so sure. Hence my question.

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 Post subject: Re: What Does it Mean to "know" Something?
PostPosted: Mon Jan 03, 2011 4:28 pm 
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This is probably a tangent, but what is the origin of the phrase "moral certitude"?

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 Post subject: Re: What Does it Mean to "know" Something?
PostPosted: Mon Jan 03, 2011 4:36 pm 
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Chris G wrote:
There was a time in my life when I "knew" that the Church taught that abortion and contraception were wrong. I didn't think the Church knew what it was talking about. Did I know that these things were wrong?

Eventually I came to believe that abortion was wrong. And I can't say how or why that happened. Do I now "know" that it's wrong? I think so. When it comes to other matters, since I don't have the same understanding that I do with abortion, I'm not so sure. Hence my question.

Are you asking how you can know the Church is right in what it teaches? Obviously, you are going to get very different answers from different people. The Catholic answer is, of course, authority--specifically Christ's authority. If you can't believe Him, who can you believe?!?

In my own case, I know the Church is right on her position on abortion, but I don't accept her as an authority (since I am not a Catholic). I know so because I know abortion is wrong. Simply stated, it is wrong to deprive a human being of his or her life without necessity and/or due process of the law; abortion deprives human beings of life without necessity (etc).; ergo, abortion is wrong. Since abortion is wrong, and the Catholic Church teaches abortion is wrong, then I fully assent to the fact that the Catholic Church is right in her teaching, that is to say, I know she is right.

You have to decide, then, if you believe the Church is right in all that she teaches. If so, then the way you know something is very simple:

1. The Catholic Church is right in all that it teaches
2. The Catholic Church teaches X
3. Therefore, X is right

If the Church is not necessarily right in all that she teaches, then you have another simple though process:

1. X is right (or wrong)
2. The Catholic Church teaches X is right (or wrong)
3. Ergo, the Catholic Church is right (or wrong) about X

You would have to demonstrate (1) on grounds other than Catholic doctrine (as I do with abortion). It is, then, simply a matter of authority.

edit:

Turgy,

I can't give a definitive answer to your question, but from Wikipedia (take it for what it is worth), "The Latin phrase moralis certitudo was used in this sense by the French philosopher Jean Gerson about 1400. The Oxford English Dictionary mentions occurrences in English from 1637. In law, it has been associated with verdicts based on certainty beyond a reasonable doubt." The article seems to equate moral with inductive certainty. I would make a distinction between the two, but that's neither here no there. The point is that there certainly are different kinds of certainty.

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Indeed, the Lord Jesus, when He prayed to the Father, "that all may be one. . . as we are one" (John 17:21-22) opened up vistas closed to human reason, for He implied a certain likeness between the union of the divine Persons, and the unity of God's sons in truth and charity. This likeness reveals that man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself. ~ Pope Paul VI, Gaudium et Spes 24.3


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 Post subject: Re: What Does it Mean to "know" Something?
PostPosted: Mon Jan 03, 2011 6:53 pm 
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It didn't take Gettier to show that there are problems with "justified true belief" as the definition for knowledge. The Theatetus ends with Socrates poking unrepaired holes in that definition, having disposed of the others. So I don't think St. Thomas or the Scholastics would propose "justified true belief" as a perfect definition. It does the job well enough, at least for me. But then I think the modern obsession with epistemology is a mistake anyhow.

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 Post subject: Re: What Does it Mean to "know" Something?
PostPosted: Mon Jan 03, 2011 7:20 pm 
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Although many of my closest friends are philosophers, philosophy itself always sounds like so much navel-gazing to me. I can't ever discern the purpose.

Come to think of it, same thing goes for accounting.


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 Post subject: Re: What Does it Mean to "know" Something?
PostPosted: Mon Jan 03, 2011 8:00 pm 
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Philosophy is the orderly asking and answering of questions about the world. We can't avoid thinking philosophically; we can only avoid doing it well.

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