JTB: the myth of propositions and the Gettier problem

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Peter Holmes
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JTB: the myth of propositions and the Gettier problem

Post by Peter Holmes » July 19th, 2017, 9:10 am

The Gettier problem is that some cases of justified true belief don't amount to knowledge, so the JTB definition is inadequate. But I suggest that Gettier-cases really demonstrate the muddle caused by the myth of propositions. (Propositions are factual assertions about features of reality.)

A Gettier-case is a story with dramatic irony. We know the complete situation, but the protagonist doesn't. But there is nothing propositional about the story. The individual's mistaken belief doesn't come from a false premise. And the belief itself is not propositional. Propositional belief is as muddled an idea as propositional knowledge. There are just beliefs and knowledge-claims expressed by means of propositions.

We want to say the individual's belief is true, but that is the myth of propositions at work. What the individual believes is a feature of reality, not a proposition. When we believe or know a feature of reality is the case, we don't believe a proposition. So we don't believe something that is true or false. A feature of reality has no truth value.

Gettier-cases recycle the JTB definition's concentration on: subjective knowledge - what an individual knows - effectively ignoring objective knowledge and its justification; propositional knowledge - S knows that p - as though what we know is propositions rather than features of reality; and the truth condition - S knows that p only if p is true - which gets things back to front.

But Gettier-cases also contain the solution to the Gettier problem. The individuals believe things for reasons that don't objectively justify their beliefs, which is why their beliefs don't amount to knowledge. Objective knowledge of features of reality, which may be expressed by means of true factual assertions, frees us from subjective, epistemic isolation. It's the knowledge that we Gettier-spectators have.

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Re: JTB: the myth of propositions and the Gettier problem

Post by Hereandnow » July 19th, 2017, 4:37 pm

A Gettier-case is a story with dramatic irony. We know the complete situation, but the protagonist doesn't. But there is nothing propositional about the story. The individual's mistaken belief doesn't come from a false premise. And the belief itself is not propositional. Propositional belief is as muddled an idea as propositional knowledge. There are just beliefs and knowledge-claims expressed by means of propositions.
Nothing propositional about the story? An odd claim implying that stories can be nonpropositional. Needs explaining: Certainly stories are propositional, unless they are constructed entirely of language that is, say, questions. Not much of a story in this, though. Trouble is, I would say, that stories are always explicit language constructions. But you seem to pointing to the nonpropositional nature of beliefs that are not explicitly spoken or written or thought out. I reach for juice in the frig and I am not saying I believe this, and that, and that "if the door is open I believe I can pass my hand into the interior"; such things rarely occur, unless we have cause for revision of established norms due to something unusual, like the glue pot springing a leak while in use.


We want to say the individual's belief is true, but that is the myth of propositions at work. What the individual believes is a feature of reality, not a proposition. When we believe or know a feature of reality is the case, we don't believe a proposition. So we don't believe something that is true or false. A feature of reality has no truth value.
Interesting and odd. Propositions are not reality? You have to explain this. You may not have explicit belief in most cases of worldly doxastic engagement, but to accept, or decline, or simply to judge in general, these are inherently propositional. Reality is not devoid of language, unless you want to invoke the unseen of language and logic that produces actual thought. we can never, as it has been said, "get behind" language.


Gettier-cases recycle the JTB definition's concentration on: subjective knowledge - what an individual knows - effectively ignoring objective knowledge and its justification; propositional knowledge - S knows that p - as though what we know is propositions rather than features of reality; and the truth condition - S knows that p only if p is true - which gets things back to front.
I have never trusted that part of JBT since no one can say what it is for something to be true apart from justification. the moment you start talking about something being true, that S's rival for the promotion has ten coins in his pocket, say, and you sever justification from truth, you are dealing with an abstraction. After all, the only "reality" there ever was is the collective minds of individual cognizing agents. And they are all of them justification agencies. Truth in the objective sense assumed in JTB, in the Gettier problems, makes no sense. Beyond "us" it is, to reference Rorty, is pure ineffability.

But Gettier-cases also contain the solution to the Gettier problem. The individuals believe things for reasons that don't objectively justify their beliefs, which is why their beliefs don't amount to knowledge. Objective knowledge of features of reality, which may be expressed by means of true factual assertions, frees us from subjective, epistemic isolation. It's the knowledge that we Gettier-spectators have.
Not sure where the solution is. I would venture that s does in fact know that he will get the promotion notwithstanding his not getting it. For given that objective truth is nonsense, all there is is justifcation and results, and at the time of the proposition 'S will get the job' there is nothing to disconfirm this.

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Re: JTB: the myth of propositions and the Gettier problem

Post by Peter Holmes » July 20th, 2017, 6:28 am

Thanks, Hereandnow.

Our differing ontologies may explain our disagreement. I don’t believe reality is mind-dependent. My starting point is real people in a real universe. The earth’s orbiting the sun is a feature of that reality which we have come to know, and about which we can make the true factual assertion: ‘the earth orbits the sun’. In as much as I understand idealism, I don’t accept it. But that is a bigger and different argument.

But leaving aside the nature of reality, the belief that that reality is propositional demonstrates the potency of what I call the myth of propositions. Perhaps the argument goes like this.

1 A proposition is what an assertion asserts.

2 An assertion asserts a feature of reality.

Conclusion: a proposition is the feature of reality that an assertion asserts.

This is valid, but the first premise is unjustifiable speculation, so the argument is unsound. And in my opinion, the conclusion is ridiculous. The earth’s orbiting the sun is a feature of reality, not a proposition. To say a feature of reality is equivalent to, or is the same thing as, a proposition seems absurd.

There are features of reality; there is what we believe or know about them, such as that they are the case; and there is what we say about them, which may be true or false. To muddle these things up is a mistake – the mistake in the JTB definition and recycled in Gettier-cases.

Your point that Gettier-cases are narratives consisting of declaratives rather than interrogatives (and certainly not imperatives) makes my point about propositions. They are not abstract things supposedly manifesting in various linguistic forms. They are linguistic expressions – declarative clauses – which is why we can analyse them into subject and predicate, or Frege’s object and concept.

I share your reservations about the significance of Gettier’s first case – the coins in the pocket – but, obviously, for different reasons. If a feature of reality has no truth value, then neither does a feature of reality that has not yet happened. But this needs more thought.

Enough, perhaps, for now. My argument in detail is available online, and perhaps I’ll be able to provide you the link some time.

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Re: JTB: the myth of propositions and the Gettier problem

Post by Hereandnow » July 20th, 2017, 8:00 pm

Peter Holmes wrote:
Our differing ontologies may explain our disagreement. I don’t believe reality is mind-dependent. My starting point is real people in a real universe. The earth’s orbiting the sun is a feature of that reality which we have come to know, and about which we can make the true factual assertion: ‘the earth orbits the sun’. In as much as I understand idealism, I don’t accept it. But that is a bigger and different argument.
I also believe there are suns and planets, i just don't think they are suns and planets when meanings making systems are removed. It all becomes a mystery, pure ineffability and to try to talk about it is mostly nonsense.

But leaving aside the nature of reality, the belief that that reality is propositional demonstrates the potency of what I call the myth of propositions. Perhaps the argument goes like this.

1 A proposition is what an assertion asserts.

2 An assertion asserts a feature of reality.

Conclusion: a proposition is the feature of reality that an assertion asserts.

This is valid, but the first premise is unjustifiable speculation, so the argument is unsound. And in my opinion, the conclusion is ridiculous. The earth’s orbiting the sun is a feature of reality, not a proposition. To say a feature of reality is equivalent to, or is the same thing as, a proposition seems absurd.
Not sure I follow. Why is it an unjustifiable speculation that a proposition is what an assertion asserts? To me, it's just a tautological entanglement: assertions propose what propositions assert; propositions propose what assertions assert; and so forth. What's the logical difference between asserting and proposing, an assertion and a proposition (a proposal and a proposition are synonymous, save in usage contexts)? Unless you mean assertions are different "what" they assert, that what an assertion asserts is something other than language and logic, such that the assertion "there is an apple on the table" asserts something beyond the itself, in the world of "apple things/presences," out there, beyond language. But then, if you say that this is what assertions do, then the false premise must be #2, that an assertion asserts a feature of reality.

And again, I don't get how it is you can think that propositions are *about* a world of suns and planets and tables and chairs and these are not, to put it plainly, ideas, if you don't think a proposition is a feature of reality. There is no way it can be about reality unless the aboutness consists of a logical connection between the proposition and the "thing out there." How can language be about the reals out there? And how can justification be severed from truth?

Your point that Gettier-cases are narratives consisting of declarative rather than interrogatives (and certainly not imperatives) makes my point about propositions. They are not abstract things supposedly manifesting in various linguistic forms. They are linguistic expressions – declarative clauses – which is why we can analyse them into subject and predicate, or Frege’s object and concept.
Abstractions and linguistic forms: I can't make out the difference you are drawing out.

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Re: JTB: the myth of propositions and the Gettier problem

Post by Peter Holmes » July 21st, 2017, 2:01 am

Thanks, again. I apologise for my lack of clarity. And I may be just wrong, in which case it’s back to the drawing board in both senses. But here’s one more go.

1 There are features of reality about which we can make factual assertions, such as ‘the earth orbits the sun’. And to do it we have to use linguistic expressions, which are real: sounds, marks on paper or screen, and so on.

2 Features of reality, such as the earth’s orbiting the sun, have no truth value. They just are, neither true nor false. The truth is not ‘out there’ any more than falsehood is. It is what we say about features of reality – the factual assertions we make - that can be true or false. The way things are and what we say about them are quite separate things.

3 If we believe or know a feature of reality to be the case, we do not believe or know something that is true or false. We just believe or know it to be the case. And there is nothing linguistic about this. Our knowing that the assertion p is true does not come from the truth of p. It comes from our knowing the feature of reality that p asserts.

4 We say we ‘know’ something is the case only if it is, or we think it is, the case. And if it turns out not to be the case, we do not say we have stopped knowing it. We just say we were mistaken. For example, we did not stop knowing the earth is flat. That is not how we use the word ‘know’.

Perhaps from this you can see why I question: the idea of ‘propositional knowledge’, because it confuses what we know with how we express it; the idea of propositions inhering in reality, as though reality is linguistic; and the JTB truth condition, together with Gettier’s criticism.

Perhaps you can also see why I disagree with your ontology, and your rejection of the possibility of objective knowledge.

I'm afraid I can't give you the URL. But if you’re interested, my full argument is ‘Justified true belief: knowledge and the myth of propositions.’ And the name is peasum.

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Re: JTB: the myth of propositions and the Gettier problem

Post by Burning ghost » July 21st, 2017, 4:29 am

I frame this more simplistically.

When I talk about "knowing" I offered the item I know up to questioning, meaning I can frame it in a skeptical manner in some fashion.

That which I don't, such as standing on Earth, is not open to questioning, neither is ir accepted. Knowledge is only present in opposition to what is blindly accepted.
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Re: JTB: the myth of propositions and the Gettier problem

Post by Hereandnow » July 21st, 2017, 8:54 pm

Peter Holmes:
1 There are features of reality about which we can make factual assertions, such as ‘the earth orbits the sun’. And to do it we have to use linguistic expressions, which are real: sounds, marks on paper or screen, and so on.

2 Features of reality, such as the earth’s orbiting the sun, have no truth value. They just are, neither true nor false. The truth is not ‘out there’ any more than falsehood is. It is what we say about features of reality – the factual assertions we make - that can be true or false. The way things are and what we say about them are quite separate things.
But in "they just are" aren't you using language? Isn't you r sentence constructed in the manner of logical assertions? Even to say "the truth is not "out there"" brings out there in here, for the reference itself is cast in logic. This is Wittgenstein and the "nonsense" of his Tractatus. Utterances like "the way things are" and "they are": I for one think the verb "to be" possesses something of the mystery of actuality, true beyond representation; in the nonsense of speaking of affairs outside of language there is something very important, but so difficult to say. Value, this is the key to intimations of Being; after all, intimations "of the world" are primordially of caring because the world is valuative. That is, there has never been a non or un valuative observation, so the "facts" of the world have never been exclusive of value. the researcher att he telescope cared about data collected, that is, data is pulled from a matrix of caring, sight, background theory; the data "put into theory" is essentially an abstraction from a "real" matrix of original experience.
3 If we believe or know a feature of reality to be the case, we do not believe or know something that is true or false. We just believe or know it to be the case. And there is nothing linguistic about this. Our knowing that the assertion p is true does not come from the truth of p. It comes from our knowing the feature of reality that p asserts.
Then, we can *only* know what is true or false. Knowledge is a language function. Nothing linguistic about knowing and believing?? consider" "Haley's comet's path is an ellipse." I know this. what part of this is *not* language? You would have to say its reference or its aboutness, the thing it points to, and so forth. It is not, certainly, that there is nothing referred to, but events and things have their meanings embedded in other meanings,elsewise, how is reference even possible? How is it possible to conceive of a comet unless there are background assumptions, preontological possibilities, there, anticipating, providing a context of what is not a comet, regions of understanding involving related observations; it is an observational event, the singularity of which is not possible without memory. In short, the reference cannot be severed from attendant bodies of other knowledge to make a reference. The "about" is necessarily about knowledge. After all, what IS that thing out there apart from language? Can't even say it, because the saying is "in " the thing.
Perhaps from this you can see why I question: the idea of ‘propositional knowledge’, because it confuses what we know with how we express it; the idea of propositions inhering in reality, as though reality is linguistic; and the JTB truth condition, together with Gettier’s criticism.
In sum, I do not see how anything "in here" can be about anything "out there." How does out there get in here, at all?

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Re: JTB: the myth of propositions and the Gettier problem

Post by Peter Holmes » July 22nd, 2017, 12:44 pm

Your argument seems to be: we have to use language to talk about anything, so everything is language. But what is linguistic about the earth's orbiting the sun? I'd call it a feature of reality, and there are no linguistic assertions inherent in reality. Or do you think there are?

And your other argument seems to be: we value facts (true factual assertions), so facts are values. But in what way is the true factual assertion 'the earth orbits the sun' a value?

As it happens, I agree that language is the heart of the matter. And I agree, as did Wittgenstein, that he got it wrong at first. But he got it right the second time around, by teasing out the implications of his hard-won insight that the way we use words is what really matters - that world is not the totality of facts.

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Re: JTB: the myth of propositions and the Gettier problem

Post by Hereandnow » July 22nd, 2017, 8:59 pm

Peter Holmes:
Your argument seems to be: we have to use language to talk about anything, so everything is language. But what is linguistic about the earth's orbiting the sun? I'd call it a feature of reality, and there are no linguistic assertions inherent in reality. Or do you think there are?

And your other argument seems to be: we value facts (true factual assertions), so facts are values. But in what way is the true factual assertion 'the earth orbits the sun' a value?

As it happens, I agree that language is the heart of the matter. And I agree, as did Wittgenstein, that he got it wrong at first. But he got it right the second time around, by teasing out the implications of his hard-won insight that the way we use words is what really matters - that world is not the totality of facts.
You cut me to the quick because I never finished Philosophical Investigations. But I never took it, as far as I got, to affirm the view that language can ever refer to anything outside of itself, simply because anything one *can* say about something has got to be an attribution. If I say the comet travels at a certain speed, those concepts, 'speed' and comet' have their analysis exclusively in language, other things to say, characterizations, all of which put the onus on language to do the explaining. Of course, there is the ???? out there, but what you can say about it absolutely, how big it is? What is size independent of systems of measurement? Its color, or the place waves emitting from it hs in the electromagnetic spectrum? Do these things exist out there? Or, is it that they are part of a pragmatic problem solving matrix which rises to meet a set of presented affairs (are they even "affairs"?) and pins, if you will, meaning on to them?

I am convinced that the out-thereness of things is utterly ineffable, transcendental, if you will, and reference is not possible if its intended object is ineffable.

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Re: JTB: the myth of propositions and the Gettier problem

Post by Peter Holmes » July 23rd, 2017, 3:35 am

[/quote]
You cut me to the quick because I never finished Philosophical Investigations. But I never took it, as far as I got, to affirm the view that language can ever refer to anything outside of itself, simply because anything one *can* say about something has got to be an attribution. If I say the comet travels at a certain speed, those concepts, 'speed' and comet' have their analysis exclusively in language, other things to say, characterizations, all of which put the onus on language to do the explaining. Of course, there is the ???? out there, but what you can say about it absolutely, how big it is? What is size independent of systems of measurement? Its color, or the place waves emitting from it hs in the electromagnetic spectrum? Do these things exist out there? Or, is it that they are part of a pragmatic problem solving matrix which rises to meet a set of presented affairs (are they even "affairs"?) and pins, if you will, meaning on to them?

I am convinced that the out-thereness of things is utterly ineffable, transcendental, if you will, and reference is not possible if its intended object is ineffable.[/quote]

Given this, I understand why you object to what I'm saying. And I assume you've reconciled your view with the everyday life of drinking tea and chatting with friends.

Obviously, I don't agree that reality is ineffable, transcendental and unknowable, which is why I believe you and I are talking meaningfully to each other. For me, the very existence of language - the ways we use words and other signs - argues against solipsistic tendencies in our thought.

I think that what happens is: language, including mathematics, is so potent and pervasive in our lives, that we forget what they are and mistake them for the things we use them to talk about. We start thinking reality is logical or mathematical. But to say reality conforms to the rules of logic is like saying things that are long conform to the way we measure them. Hence your asking what size is independent of measurement.

Logic deals with language, not reality. For example, the law of identity, a = a, a rock is a rock, tells us nothing about what a rock is and why it's different from all the not-rocks. Identity, non-contradiction and excluded middle tell us exactly nothing about reality. We just have to use them in discourses that do talk about reality, such as the natural and social sciences.

After many years reading the later Wittgenstein, I wrote a short paper on using his ideas. Then, stung by criticism of my epistemology by theists with whom I was debating the difference between testimony and evidence, I wrote a much shorter one on the definition of knowledge and its critics. I can't seem to post the link here, but the words 'peasum', 'co' and 'uk' may smuggle it in for me.

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Re: JTB: the myth of propositions and the Gettier problem

Post by Razblo » July 23rd, 2017, 3:38 am

Peter Holmes wrote:The Gettier problem is that some cases of justified true belief don't amount to knowledge, so the JTB definition is inadequate. But I suggest that Gettier-cases really demonstrate the muddle caused by the myth of propositions. (Propositions are factual assertions about features of reality.)

A Gettier-case is a story with dramatic irony. We know the complete situation, but the protagonist doesn't. But there is nothing propositional about the story. The individual's mistaken belief doesn't come from a false premise. And the belief itself is not propositional. Propositional belief is as muddled an idea as propositional knowledge. There are just beliefs and knowledge-claims expressed by means of propositions.

We want to say the individual's belief is true, but that is the myth of propositions at work. What the individual believes is a feature of reality, not a proposition. When we believe or know a feature of reality is the case, we don't believe a proposition. So we don't believe something that is true or false. A feature of reality has no truth value.
What an individual believes is a feature of reality? I can't see how. I see that the existence of a belief is a feature but not what is believed.

Also, a proposition, merely for being proposed, does not make a proposition factual.

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Re: JTB: the myth of propositions and the Gettier problem

Post by Peter Holmes » July 24th, 2017, 2:22 am

I'm arguing that when we believe or know a feature of reality, such as the earth's orbiting the sun, is the case, we don't believe or know a proposition, because the earth's orbiting the sun is not a proposition. It's a feature of reality, and those things have no truth value. The earth's orbiting the sun isn't true or false. There's nothing linguistic about it whatsoever.

I agree that there are factual and non-factual assertions. But they're both linguistic expressions, and part of my argument is that propositions are convenient but misleading fictions, rather like concepts and Kant's noumena (things-in-themselves).

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Re: JTB: the myth of propositions and the Gettier problem

Post by Hereandnow » July 24th, 2017, 10:15 am

Peter Holmes:
I'm arguing that when we believe or know a feature of reality, such as the earth's orbiting the sun, is the case, we don't believe or know a proposition, because the earth's orbiting the sun is not a proposition. It's a feature of reality, and those things have no truth value. The earth's orbiting the sun isn't true or false. There's nothing linguistic about it whatsoever.

I agree that there are factual and non-factual assertions. But they're both linguistic expressions, and part of my argument is that propositions are convenient but misleading fictions, rather like concepts and Kant's noumena (things-in-themselves).
Hello Peter, I will take a day or so to look into the matter of aboutness and reference. It is here I think the argument hinges. I will be looking in Sainsbury's reference without Referents and Nelson's Naming and Reference and others. Interesting field of inquiry.

-- Updated July 24th, 2017, 11:22 am to add the following --

I want to add that my thoughts have for a long time favored the pragmatists. All meaning reference is bound up in pragmatic dynamics. I think it was in the Schematism in Kant's Critique that first gave me this idea, but the follow through was Rorty and Heidegger (not that either of rule my thinking,but they are essential). It was the attempt understand time and thought that was critical. Time makes objects temporal things, of this i am convinced, for any occasion of any process of thinking (speaking of process, Alfred Whitehead is on my reading list) the object must be conceived as a temporal object, as a process, and as such the transcendental reference (transcending time and the temporal dynamics of meaning making) would have to somehow be a referential ability to step outside the dynamics of thought itself to achieve this. How can one step out of time to refer in this way?

Rorty's Mirror and Nature is deep in the literature, and I don't have all the references in my head,but reading it is eye opening.

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Re: JTB: the myth of propositions and the Gettier problem

Post by Peter Holmes » July 24th, 2017, 10:37 am

Hello, Hereandnow. Excellent. I'm looking forward to hearing what you discover.

I don't know, but it may be that what they engage in what's often called 'conceptual analysis' of the supposed things 'naming' and 'reference'. As I've said, I reject the assumption that there are such things as concepts - things we can even show to exist, let alone describe, and let alone analyse in the way we can and do describe and analyse real things.

Such analysis is the stuff of metaphysics, based on largely unchallenged equivocation. And it leads to the conclusion that such things as naming, reference, knowledge and truth are puzzling and even mysterious things for which we can't satisfactorily account. That meanwhile we happily name, refer, know and speak the truth often seems not to disturb such conclusions.

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Re: JTB: the myth of propositions and the Gettier problem

Post by Peter Holmes » July 24th, 2017, 1:13 pm

With reference to your update, I refer to my previous reply about the tendentiousness of so-called 'conceptual analysis', which, as yet, has not been posted. (Notice how uncomplicated such things as 'reference' are outside the safe and self-validating room where metaphysicians furkle.)

The 'attempt to understand time and thought' is a case in point. Are the ordinary ways we use and understand those words not clear enough? Why do we think that the words 'time' and 'thought' really refer to obscure and difficult things to which only metaphysicians have access? This is the endlessly practised Platonic fraud.

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