Philosophy newbie inquiries, Can anyone give me feedback on my thoughts?

Discuss any topics related to metaphysics (the philosophical study of the principles of reality) or epistemology (the philosophical study of knowledge) in this forum.
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Philosophy newbie inquiries, Can anyone give me feedback on my thoughts?

Post by MrChaotic » July 26th, 2020, 4:14 pm

So I'm new to philosophy in general, so sorry if this sound unprofessional or if there is some major aspect I am missing. I decided to get into Epistemology first, now I'm reading Duncan Pritchard's book "what is this thing called knowledge?". In chapter 5 he got into epistemic rationality, epistemic norms and its relationship to responsibility and knowledge. However, there was one excerpt (or 2 paragraphs connected to each-other) I just couldn't agree with, and I'll explain why, as quoted in his book:
The goal(s) of epistemic rationality

One problem facing the notion of epistemic rationality is that to say that this form of rationality is concerned with true belief doesn’t tell us all that much since we still need to know exactly how it is concerned with true belief. As we will see, explaining how epistemic rationality is concerned with true belief is harder to do than it might initially appear. Let’s start with perhaps the most natural way of understanding epistemic rationality. If true belief is the goal of an epistemic rationality, then the obvious way of understanding this claim is to demand that one should maximise one’s true beliefs (i.e. try to believe as many truths as possible). With this account of epistemic rationality in mind, we could explain the rationality of the non-coin-tossing judge in terms of the way in which she formed her judgement on the grounds that evaluating all the evidence in a careful and objective manner (i.e. without allowing oneself to be swayed by the emotion of the case) is a good way of getting to the truth in this regard. In contrast, while the coin-tossing judge may well end up delivering the same verdict as our rational judge, we would not count her as rational because the method she is using to form her belief is not likely to lead to the truth. There are problems with the maximising conception of epistemic rationality, however. For example, if this account of epistemic rationality just means that we should try to have as many true beliefs as possible, then it is open to some fairly straightforward counter-examples. After all, memorising names and addresses from the phone book may well lead me to have thousands of true beliefs, but the beliefs in question wouldn’t be of any consequence. Indeed, we would usually regard this sort of truth-seeking behaviour as very irrational. Even setting this problem to one side, however, there remains the fundamental difficulty that the best way to maximise the number of one’s true beliefs might well be to believe just about anything, since this would ensure that one has the most chance of believing the truth. Crucially, of course, this sort of truth-seeking strategy would lead one to form lots of false beliefs as well, and that is hardly desirable. One way of dealing with this latter problem (we will come back to the former problem in a moment) might be to modify our conception of epistemic rationality so that it demands not that one maximises truth in one’s beliefs, but rather that one minimises falsehood. That way we would be able to treat any agent who simply believes as many things as possible as irrational on the grounds that this will not be the best way of minimising falsehood. The problem with this suggestion, however, is that the best way of minimising falsehood in one’s beliefs is surely not to believe anything (or at least believe as little as possible), but this would mean that one would have very few true beliefs either, if any. What is needed then is some way of balancing the goal of maximising truth in one’s beliefs with the related goal of minimising falsehood. We want agents to take some risks regarding the falsity of their beliefs, and so we don’t want them to be overly cautious and not believe anything; but equally neither do we want agents to go ‘all out’ for the truth at the expense of widespread falsity in their beliefs. Specifying just how we should understand this ‘balanced’ conception of rationality is, however, quite hard to do.

The (un)importance of epistemic rationality

Moreover, don’t forget that we still have the outstanding problem of specifying epistemic rationality such that it doesn’t count someone who merely aims to believe lots of trivial truths (such as names in a phone book) as epistemically rational. One way of responding to this problem is to deny that there is any challenge here to respond to. In this view, such beliefs are entirely epistemically rational, and that’s the end of the matter. Proponents of this line of thought will concede, of course, that there is something irrational about this way of forming one’s beliefs, but will claim that the irrationality in question is not epistemic (recall that we noted above that there may be other types of rationality besides epistemic rationality).That is, they will argue that this person has rather trivial goals, and that this is to be deplored, but that, from a purely epistemic point of view, there is nothing wrong with forming one’s beliefs in this way. The problem with this line of thought is that it has the unfortunate consequence of trivialising the importance of epistemology, since the specifically epistemic rationality that we are interested in as epistemologists does not turn out to be all that rational, generally speaking. I’m not sure that we should be persuaded all that much by considerations such as this, however, since, after all, there is a lot more to life than gaining true beliefs, and one could well argue that this way of dealing with the problem in hand simply recognises this fact. Put another way, we are interested in gaining knowledge, and thus true beliefs, because we have all sorts of other goals that this knowledge can be utilised in the service of, such as furthering our relationships, our career, and our interests.A life purely devoted to gaining true beliefs might not be a life that we are interested in leading. Others are not so sanguine in the face of this objection, however, and I’m inclined, on balance, to agree with them. One way of resisting the pessimistic line of argument just sketched is to claim that, contrary to first appearances, the agent in the ‘phone book’ case, and others like her, are not epistemically rational after all.This way of responding to the problem is not nearly as hopeless as it might at first sound. After all, the thing about important truths is that they beget lots of other truths. If I come to have true beliefs about the ultimate physics of the universe, for example, then I will thereby acquire many other true beliefs about related matters. Learning names from the phone book is not like that, since these truths are pretty much self-standing – in acquiring these true beliefs you are unlikely to acquire many others. Thus, if your goal is to maximise true belief, while minimising false beliefs, then you would be wise to aim at those true beliefs of substance and set such trivial goals as memorising names in a phone book to one side. If this is right, then epistemic rationality is rescued from the grip of this objection. There is thus some room for manoeuvre when it comes to this objection to epistemic rationality: one can either accept it while maintaining that its importance can be easily overestimated, or else one can resist it and claim that the cases offered for thinking that being epistemically rational can result in trivial true beliefs are based on a mistake.
My disagreement mainly has to do with the 'phone book agent' not being epistemically rational. When knowledge is gained it is either intentionally searched for, or, it is accidentally stumbled across (I think that distinction is very important). When you unintentionally come across knowledge it can be done by maybe accidentally overhearing something in a conversation, or seeing something, or maybe learning something new by just hearing something on the radio which you just had in the background. However, when you actively search for a piece of information (knowledge) that you want, then you have a goal in question and employing the correct epistemic norms becomes relevant to you if you want to attain that information.

Suppose that you want to solve a math-problem, then focusing on how to mathematically work it out -(using the correct mathematical rules) - to conclude what the answer is would be the best way form a true belief about what the answer is. However, if your goal still was to solve the mathematical equation and you started reading a book about botany then you would probably gain many true beliefs (about plants) and minimize false beliefs (about plants), as this book informs you about common myths surrounding botany, but I still wouldn't call this behavior epistemically rational since it is irrelevant to your goal of solving the mathematical equation (or gaining a true belief about its answer).

Therefore I think that an adjustment needs to be made, because epistemic rationality should be more than minimizing false beliefs and maximizing true ones, it should be about: maximizing true beliefs regarding the specific information which you seek to attain, while also minimizing false beliefs about it . I think this definition fits better to the examples of epistemic rationality previously given in the text-book.

I think the phone-book agent is epistemically rational, she just has a very trivial goal and is searching for trivial knowledge, I don't see how that invalidates it from being epistemically rational, it is still knowledge that she is gaining and she's using a correct method for gaining true beliefs about it. Why is it relevant if she "begets lots of other truths" if those aren't truths she is interested in seeking or keeping. I don't see how this trivializes epistemology either, just because you can be epistmically rational about something trivial doesn't you can't be epistemically rational about something that's actually more important. It does in no way negate the fact that employing the correct epistemic norms is still relevant for more important issues.

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Re: Philosophy newbie inquiries, Can anyone give me feedback on my thoughts?

Post by Marvin_Edwards » July 26th, 2020, 8:32 pm

I'm torn between recommending that you read William James's "Pragmatism" lectures and burn all your other philosophy textbooks. Or just burning all your philosophy textbooks, then you wouldn't need pragmatism to sort out the mess.

You latched on to pragmatism when you pointed out that the knowledge you want relates to what you want to do (do I want to do math or do I want to do botany). Pragmatism is being rational about the goals you seek. "What are we trying to do here?" is the question. Someone may want to be able to recall at will every number in the phone book (like "Rainman" did). So, the rational thing for that person to do would be to study the phone book.

I think I know what epistemology is, it is a discussion among philosophers as to what it means to "know" something. The "scientific method" is an epistemological method, a way to know something and know whether we really know it or not. The scientific method would be a "rational" approach to knowing things.

But I don't understand what "epistemically rational" would mean outside of the scientific method. There would be deductive reasoning as another rational epistemic method.

But if we're talking about something other than "methods of knowing", then what would "epistemically rational" actually refer to?

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Re: Philosophy newbie inquiries, Can anyone give me feedback on my thoughts?

Post by chewybrian » July 27th, 2020, 6:37 am

MrChaotic wrote:
July 26th, 2020, 4:14 pm
So I'm new to philosophy in general, so sorry if this sound unprofessional or if there is some major aspect I am missing. I decided to get into Epistemology first...
I'll bypass the question and offer some unsolicited advice (the best kind of advice, right?). There is tendency for those new to philosophy to rush off to the end and try to understand everything all at once. Some people find those questions interesting, but they have few real world applications, and can't usually make your life better. However, way back at the bottom of the pyramid, we gloss over ethics and self-discovery, and the necessary hard work of challenging our assumptions about the nature of the world and human nature. We don't begin to study math with calculus, yet that is how most of us begin in philosophy, and perhaps why so many people give up and conclude that philosophy is not useful to them.
“The beginning of philosophy to him at least who enters on it in the right way and by the door, is a consciousness of his own weakness and inability about necessary things. For we come into the world with no natural notion of a right-angled triangle, or of a diesis, or of a half tone; but we learn each of these things by a certain transmission according to art; and for this reason those who do not know them, do not think that they know them. But as to good and evil, and beautiful and ugly, and becoming and unbecoming, and happiness and misfortune, and proper and improper, and what we ought to do and what we ought not to do, whoever came into the world without having an innate idea of them?...we come into the world already taught as it were by nature some things on this matter, and proceeding from these we have added to them self-conceit.” Epictetus, “The Discourses”
It is too easy to begin with this conceit of thinking we already know right from wrong, and to stack logic on top of these unproven assumptions about others and ourselves. We carry on thinking we are rational and wise while treating opinion as fact. And the end result...
"The first and most necessary topic in philosophy is that of the use of moral theorems, such as, "We ought not to lie;" the second is that of demonstrations, such as, "What is the origin of our obligation not to lie;" the third gives strength and articulation to the other two, such as, "What is the origin of this is a demonstration." For what is demonstration? What is consequence? What contradiction? What truth? What falsehood? The third topic, then, is necessary on the account of the second, and the second on the account of the first. But the most necessary, and that whereon we ought to rest, is the first. But we act just on the contrary. For we spend all our time on the third topic, and employ all our diligence about that, and entirely neglect the first. Therefore, at the same time that we lie, we are immediately prepared to show how it is demonstrated that lying is not right." Epictetus, "The Enchiridion"
The solution, I think, is to apply the Method of Descartes to ourselves. "I think, therefore I am". I can't challenge my own existence, as I must exist in order to do the doubting. Then, everything else is up for grabs, and should be proven in the most impartial terms you can muster to your own satisfaction. For example, tear down your political views, removing all assumptions. You can pile a lot of logic on top of "people are lazy" or "people are greedy", but then you've only built a castle in the swamp. Then, try to rebuild them on a factual basis from the ground up once again. If you can not, then perhaps you should not be treating these opinions as fact, as most of us do.

My unsolicited 2 cent donation is that the study of philosophy should begin with ethics and virtue and the psychological side before proceeding, if ever, to the scientific side. Philosophy can help you to become happier, calmer, more productive and a better friend to the rest of the world. If you believe or understand this, then you will naturally be drawn to this side of philosophy. You can always go back to the science later, but hopefully you will be stronger and better focused with the psychological understanding in place.
"If determinism holds, then past events have conspired to cause me to hold this view--it is out of my control. Either I am right about free will, or it is not my fault that I am wrong."

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Re: Philosophy newbie inquiries, Can anyone give me feedback on my thoughts?

Post by MrChaotic » July 27th, 2020, 7:13 am

Marvin_Edwards wrote:
July 26th, 2020, 8:32 pm
I'm torn between recommending that you read William James's "Pragmatism" lectures and burn all your other philosophy textbooks. Or just burning all your philosophy textbooks, then you wouldn't need pragmatism to sort out the mess.

You latched on to pragmatism when you pointed out that the knowledge you want relates to what you want to do (do I want to do math or do I want to do botany). Pragmatism is being rational about the goals you seek. "What are we trying to do here?" is the question. Someone may want to be able to recall at will every number in the phone book (like "Rainman" did). So, the rational thing for that person to do would be to study the phone book.

I think I know what epistemology is, it is a discussion among philosophers as to what it means to "know" something. The "scientific method" is an epistemological method, a way to know something and know whether we really know it or not. The scientific method would be a "rational" approach to knowing things.

But I don't understand what "epistemically rational" would mean outside of the scientific method. There would be deductive reasoning as another rational epistemic method.

But if we're talking about something other than "methods of knowing", then what would "epistemically rational" actually refer to?
There is a rather important distinction between epistemic rationality and rationality in general which you don't seem to get. I will quote another segment from Mr.Pritchards book to clearify what it is:
Before we begin our examination of rationality we need to notice that as theorists of
knowledge we are interested in a specific sort of rationality, what is known as epistemic
rationality, since it is only this sort of rationality that is relevant to the theory of
knowledge. Very simply, epistemic rationality is a form of rationality which is aimed
at the goal of true belief.
In order to see this distinction between types of rationality that are epistemic and
those that aren’t, consider the following case. Suppose that you need to jump a ravine in order to save your
life (you are being pursued by an angry mob, perhaps, and this is the only escape
route). Knowing what you do about your psychology, you may be entirely aware that
if you reflect on the dangers involved in this jump, then you won’t be able to summon
the necessary commitment and concentration to make the required leap. In such
circumstances, where your aim is to save your skin, the best course of action is to
ignore the dangers as best as you can – to set them from your mind – and focus solely
on the leap. Moreover, insofar as one can ‘manufacture’ one’s beliefs, it would also be
wise to do what you can to convince yourself that you can indeed make this jump,
since it is only if one is convinced that one will succeed (and failure doesn’t bear
thinking about).
In a sense, what you are doing here is entirely rational, since the course of action that
you are undertaking is indeed the best way to achieve your goals. The kind of
rationality here, however, is not epistemic rationality, since it is not a rationality that
is aimed at truth at all. Indeed, if anything, this sort of rationality is aimed at a sort of
self-deception. If, in contrast, one were focused solely on gaining true beliefs, then that
would actually mitigate against you attaining the goal in question since it would lead
you to recognise the dangers involved in the jump and so undermine your attempt to
successfully make that jump.
Because the rationality in this case is not aimed at the truth, even if the belief that
resulted from this course of action was indeed true (i.e. you could make this jump),
it wouldn’t be a case of knowledge since you can’t come to know that you can make a leap by reflecting on how you must make the leap in order to survive. Compare this
case with that of the belief formed by the rational judge, who forms her belief by
judiciously weighing up the evidence involved. Clearly this belief, if true, can count as
an instance of knowledge, thus again indicating that the rationality in question is
epistemic rationality.
Moreover, notice that although the non-epistemic form of rationality in play in the
‘self-deception’ case does result in you holding a belief as a result of undertaking a
course of action, we could just as well talk about the rationality of your action as your
belief. It is rational, for example, for you to confidently make that leap given that your
goal is to save your life. As epistemologists, however, we are primarily interested in
belief rather than action, since it is only beliefs that can be cases of knowledge, as we
saw in Chapter 1.

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Re: Philosophy newbie inquiries, Can anyone give me feedback on my thoughts?

Post by Terrapin Station » July 27th, 2020, 9:41 am

Re his comment about the phone book, I don't think he's saying that there is no circumstance in which that would have utility or be rational. He's just talking about "normal" cases. Normally, there's little utility in adding true beliefs about thousands and thousands of relative random persons' names, addresses and phone numbers. And the point there isn't specifically about phone books. It's about relevance to tasks that are or that likely would be at hand (which is basically what you're seeing your "disagreement" as--so it's not a disagreement. You're just stating the same thing that he's stating, only in different words).

By the way, the normal usage of "knowledge" in philosophy has it so that there's no literal knowledge in the phone book. The information in itself isn't knowledge. Knowledge is rather a justified true belief that an individual has. The information at hand is an aid in generating justified true beliefs, but the information isn't itself a justified true belief.

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Re: Philosophy newbie inquiries, Can anyone give me feedback on my thoughts?

Post by MrChaotic » July 27th, 2020, 11:32 am

Terrapin Station wrote:
July 27th, 2020, 9:41 am
Re his comment about the phone book, I don't think he's saying that there is no circumstance in which that would have utility or be rational. He's just talking about "normal" cases. Normally, there's little utility in adding true beliefs about thousands and thousands of relative random persons' names, addresses and phone numbers. And the point there isn't specifically about phone books. It's about relevance to tasks that are or that likely would be at hand (which is basically what you're seeing your "disagreement" as--so it's not a disagreement. You're just stating the same thing that he's stating, only in different words).

By the way, the normal usage of "knowledge" in philosophy has it so that there's no literal knowledge in the phone book. The information in itself isn't knowledge. Knowledge is rather a justified true belief that an individual has. The information at hand is an aid in generating justified true beliefs, but the information isn't itself a justified true belief.
There is a difference between being "rational" and being "epistemically rational" which I think you are missing. And attaining information is synonymous with gaining knowledge which is most commonly defined as a justified true belief (and that isn't always functional either due to gettier cases) I think you misunderstood this post.

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Re: Philosophy newbie inquiries, Can anyone give me feedback on my thoughts?

Post by MrChaotic » July 27th, 2020, 12:16 pm

Why does no one in the comments look up the difference between "epistemic rationality" and "rationality" there is a rather huge difference between the two.

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Re: Philosophy newbie inquiries, Can anyone give me feedback on my thoughts?

Post by h_k_s » July 27th, 2020, 7:30 pm

MrChaotic wrote:
July 26th, 2020, 4:14 pm
So I'm new to philosophy in general, so sorry if this sound unprofessional or if there is some major aspect I am missing. I decided to get into Epistemology first, now I'm reading Duncan Pritchard's book "what is this thing called knowledge?". In chapter 5 he got into epistemic rationality, epistemic norms and its relationship to responsibility and knowledge. However, there was one excerpt (or 2 paragraphs connected to each-other) I just couldn't agree with, and I'll explain why, as quoted in his book:
The goal(s) of epistemic rationality

One problem facing the notion of epistemic rationality is that to say that this form of rationality is concerned with true belief doesn’t tell us all that much since we still need to know exactly how it is concerned with true belief. As we will see, explaining how epistemic rationality is concerned with true belief is harder to do than it might initially appear. Let’s start with perhaps the most natural way of understanding epistemic rationality. If true belief is the goal of an epistemic rationality, then the obvious way of understanding this claim is to demand that one should maximise one’s true beliefs (i.e. try to believe as many truths as possible). With this account of epistemic rationality in mind, we could explain the rationality of the non-coin-tossing judge in terms of the way in which she formed her judgement on the grounds that evaluating all the evidence in a careful and objective manner (i.e. without allowing oneself to be swayed by the emotion of the case) is a good way of getting to the truth in this regard. In contrast, while the coin-tossing judge may well end up delivering the same verdict as our rational judge, we would not count her as rational because the method she is using to form her belief is not likely to lead to the truth. There are problems with the maximising conception of epistemic rationality, however. For example, if this account of epistemic rationality just means that we should try to have as many true beliefs as possible, then it is open to some fairly straightforward counter-examples. After all, memorising names and addresses from the phone book may well lead me to have thousands of true beliefs, but the beliefs in question wouldn’t be of any consequence. Indeed, we would usually regard this sort of truth-seeking behaviour as very irrational. Even setting this problem to one side, however, there remains the fundamental difficulty that the best way to maximise the number of one’s true beliefs might well be to believe just about anything, since this would ensure that one has the most chance of believing the truth. Crucially, of course, this sort of truth-seeking strategy would lead one to form lots of false beliefs as well, and that is hardly desirable. One way of dealing with this latter problem (we will come back to the former problem in a moment) might be to modify our conception of epistemic rationality so that it demands not that one maximises truth in one’s beliefs, but rather that one minimises falsehood. That way we would be able to treat any agent who simply believes as many things as possible as irrational on the grounds that this will not be the best way of minimising falsehood. The problem with this suggestion, however, is that the best way of minimising falsehood in one’s beliefs is surely not to believe anything (or at least believe as little as possible), but this would mean that one would have very few true beliefs either, if any. What is needed then is some way of balancing the goal of maximising truth in one’s beliefs with the related goal of minimising falsehood. We want agents to take some risks regarding the falsity of their beliefs, and so we don’t want them to be overly cautious and not believe anything; but equally neither do we want agents to go ‘all out’ for the truth at the expense of widespread falsity in their beliefs. Specifying just how we should understand this ‘balanced’ conception of rationality is, however, quite hard to do.

The (un)importance of epistemic rationality

Moreover, don’t forget that we still have the outstanding problem of specifying epistemic rationality such that it doesn’t count someone who merely aims to believe lots of trivial truths (such as names in a phone book) as epistemically rational. One way of responding to this problem is to deny that there is any challenge here to respond to. In this view, such beliefs are entirely epistemically rational, and that’s the end of the matter. Proponents of this line of thought will concede, of course, that there is something irrational about this way of forming one’s beliefs, but will claim that the irrationality in question is not epistemic (recall that we noted above that there may be other types of rationality besides epistemic rationality).That is, they will argue that this person has rather trivial goals, and that this is to be deplored, but that, from a purely epistemic point of view, there is nothing wrong with forming one’s beliefs in this way. The problem with this line of thought is that it has the unfortunate consequence of trivialising the importance of epistemology, since the specifically epistemic rationality that we are interested in as epistemologists does not turn out to be all that rational, generally speaking. I’m not sure that we should be persuaded all that much by considerations such as this, however, since, after all, there is a lot more to life than gaining true beliefs, and one could well argue that this way of dealing with the problem in hand simply recognises this fact. Put another way, we are interested in gaining knowledge, and thus true beliefs, because we have all sorts of other goals that this knowledge can be utilised in the service of, such as furthering our relationships, our career, and our interests.A life purely devoted to gaining true beliefs might not be a life that we are interested in leading. Others are not so sanguine in the face of this objection, however, and I’m inclined, on balance, to agree with them. One way of resisting the pessimistic line of argument just sketched is to claim that, contrary to first appearances, the agent in the ‘phone book’ case, and others like her, are not epistemically rational after all.This way of responding to the problem is not nearly as hopeless as it might at first sound. After all, the thing about important truths is that they beget lots of other truths. If I come to have true beliefs about the ultimate physics of the universe, for example, then I will thereby acquire many other true beliefs about related matters. Learning names from the phone book is not like that, since these truths are pretty much self-standing – in acquiring these true beliefs you are unlikely to acquire many others. Thus, if your goal is to maximise true belief, while minimising false beliefs, then you would be wise to aim at those true beliefs of substance and set such trivial goals as memorising names in a phone book to one side. If this is right, then epistemic rationality is rescued from the grip of this objection. There is thus some room for manoeuvre when it comes to this objection to epistemic rationality: one can either accept it while maintaining that its importance can be easily overestimated, or else one can resist it and claim that the cases offered for thinking that being epistemically rational can result in trivial true beliefs are based on a mistake.
My disagreement mainly has to do with the 'phone book agent' not being epistemically rational. When knowledge is gained it is either intentionally searched for, or, it is accidentally stumbled across (I think that distinction is very important). When you unintentionally come across knowledge it can be done by maybe accidentally overhearing something in a conversation, or seeing something, or maybe learning something new by just hearing something on the radio which you just had in the background. However, when you actively search for a piece of information (knowledge) that you want, then you have a goal in question and employing the correct epistemic norms becomes relevant to you if you want to attain that information.

Suppose that you want to solve a math-problem, then focusing on how to mathematically work it out -(using the correct mathematical rules) - to conclude what the answer is would be the best way form a true belief about what the answer is. However, if your goal still was to solve the mathematical equation and you started reading a book about botany then you would probably gain many true beliefs (about plants) and minimize false beliefs (about plants), as this book informs you about common myths surrounding botany, but I still wouldn't call this behavior epistemically rational since it is irrelevant to your goal of solving the mathematical equation (or gaining a true belief about its answer).

Therefore I think that an adjustment needs to be made, because epistemic rationality should be more than minimizing false beliefs and maximizing true ones, it should be about: maximizing true beliefs regarding the specific information which you seek to attain, while also minimizing false beliefs about it . I think this definition fits better to the examples of epistemic rationality previously given in the text-book.

I think the phone-book agent is epistemically rational, she just has a very trivial goal and is searching for trivial knowledge, I don't see how that invalidates it from being epistemically rational, it is still knowledge that she is gaining and she's using a correct method for gaining true beliefs about it. Why is it relevant if she "begets lots of other truths" if those aren't truths she is interested in seeking or keeping. I don't see how this trivializes epistemology either, just because you can be epistmically rational about something trivial doesn't you can't be epistemically rational about something that's actually more important. It does in no way negate the fact that employing the correct epistemic norms is still relevant for more important issues.
Best thing for you is to do like everyone else who is smart is to read a book on the history of philosophy first. This is normally what Philosophy 101 in colleges consists of.

I recommend you buy "History Of Western Philosophy" by Bertrand Russell. It's still in print and you can get it from Amazon, Ebay, or Barnes & Noble.

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Re: Philosophy newbie inquiries, Can anyone give me feedback on my thoughts?

Post by h_k_s » July 27th, 2020, 7:31 pm

MrChaotic wrote:
July 27th, 2020, 12:16 pm
Why does no one in the comments look up the difference between "epistemic rationality" and "rationality" there is a rather huge difference between the two.
Because nobody is wasting their time on your pre-elementary musings at this time. Get and read the book.

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Re: Philosophy newbie inquiries, Can anyone give me feedback on my thoughts?

Post by h_k_s » July 27th, 2020, 7:36 pm

Terrapin Station wrote:
July 27th, 2020, 9:41 am
Re his comment about the phone book, I don't think he's saying that there is no circumstance in which that would have utility or be rational. He's just talking about "normal" cases. Normally, there's little utility in adding true beliefs about thousands and thousands of relative random persons' names, addresses and phone numbers. And the point there isn't specifically about phone books. It's about relevance to tasks that are or that likely would be at hand (which is basically what you're seeing your "disagreement" as--so it's not a disagreement. You're just stating the same thing that he's stating, only in different words).

By the way, the normal usage of "knowledge" in philosophy has it so that there's no literal knowledge in the phone book. The information in itself isn't knowledge. Knowledge is rather a justified true belief that an individual has. The information at hand is an aid in generating justified true beliefs, but the information isn't itself a justified true belief.
1 = phenomena
2 = data about the phenomena
3 = hypotheses about the data from the phenomena
4 = theory about the hypotheses
5 = further experience with the theory
6 = revisions of the theory
7 = knowledge about the process. We can never ever actually have true knowledge about anything, other than some very simple things such as if a rifle bullet strikes your head your brain will explode same as JFK's in 1963 since we saw it on tv and nobody doubts that.

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Re: Philosophy newbie inquiries, Can anyone give me feedback on my thoughts?

Post by h_k_s » July 27th, 2020, 7:38 pm

chewybrian wrote:
July 27th, 2020, 6:37 am
MrChaotic wrote:
July 26th, 2020, 4:14 pm
So I'm new to philosophy in general, so sorry if this sound unprofessional or if there is some major aspect I am missing. I decided to get into Epistemology first...
I'll bypass the question and offer some unsolicited advice (the best kind of advice, right?). There is tendency for those new to philosophy to rush off to the end and try to understand everything all at once. Some people find those questions interesting, but they have few real world applications, and can't usually make your life better. However, way back at the bottom of the pyramid, we gloss over ethics and self-discovery, and the necessary hard work of challenging our assumptions about the nature of the world and human nature. We don't begin to study math with calculus, yet that is how most of us begin in philosophy, and perhaps why so many people give up and conclude that philosophy is not useful to them.
“The beginning of philosophy to him at least who enters on it in the right way and by the door, is a consciousness of his own weakness and inability about necessary things. For we come into the world with no natural notion of a right-angled triangle, or of a diesis, or of a half tone; but we learn each of these things by a certain transmission according to art; and for this reason those who do not know them, do not think that they know them. But as to good and evil, and beautiful and ugly, and becoming and unbecoming, and happiness and misfortune, and proper and improper, and what we ought to do and what we ought not to do, whoever came into the world without having an innate idea of them?...we come into the world already taught as it were by nature some things on this matter, and proceeding from these we have added to them self-conceit.” Epictetus, “The Discourses”
It is too easy to begin with this conceit of thinking we already know right from wrong, and to stack logic on top of these unproven assumptions about others and ourselves. We carry on thinking we are rational and wise while treating opinion as fact. And the end result...
"The first and most necessary topic in philosophy is that of the use of moral theorems, such as, "We ought not to lie;" the second is that of demonstrations, such as, "What is the origin of our obligation not to lie;" the third gives strength and articulation to the other two, such as, "What is the origin of this is a demonstration." For what is demonstration? What is consequence? What contradiction? What truth? What falsehood? The third topic, then, is necessary on the account of the second, and the second on the account of the first. But the most necessary, and that whereon we ought to rest, is the first. But we act just on the contrary. For we spend all our time on the third topic, and employ all our diligence about that, and entirely neglect the first. Therefore, at the same time that we lie, we are immediately prepared to show how it is demonstrated that lying is not right." Epictetus, "The Enchiridion"
The solution, I think, is to apply the Method of Descartes to ourselves. "I think, therefore I am". I can't challenge my own existence, as I must exist in order to do the doubting. Then, everything else is up for grabs, and should be proven in the most impartial terms you can muster to your own satisfaction. For example, tear down your political views, removing all assumptions. You can pile a lot of logic on top of "people are lazy" or "people are greedy", but then you've only built a castle in the swamp. Then, try to rebuild them on a factual basis from the ground up once again. If you can not, then perhaps you should not be treating these opinions as fact, as most of us do.

My unsolicited 2 cent donation is that the study of philosophy should begin with ethics and virtue and the psychological side before proceeding, if ever, to the scientific side. Philosophy can help you to become happier, calmer, more productive and a better friend to the rest of the world. If you believe or understand this, then you will naturally be drawn to this side of philosophy. You can always go back to the science later, but hopefully you will be stronger and better focused with the psychological understanding in place.
@chewybrian is exactly right. Like I said, get and read the book first.

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Re: Philosophy newbie inquiries, Can anyone give me feedback on my thoughts?

Post by h_k_s » July 27th, 2020, 7:39 pm

Marvin_Edwards wrote:
July 26th, 2020, 8:32 pm
I'm torn between recommending that you read William James's "Pragmatism" lectures and burn all your other philosophy textbooks. Or just burning all your philosophy textbooks, then you wouldn't need pragmatism to sort out the mess.

You latched on to pragmatism when you pointed out that the knowledge you want relates to what you want to do (do I want to do math or do I want to do botany). Pragmatism is being rational about the goals you seek. "What are we trying to do here?" is the question. Someone may want to be able to recall at will every number in the phone book (like "Rainman" did). So, the rational thing for that person to do would be to study the phone book.

I think I know what epistemology is, it is a discussion among philosophers as to what it means to "know" something. The "scientific method" is an epistemological method, a way to know something and know whether we really know it or not. The scientific method would be a "rational" approach to knowing things.

But I don't understand what "epistemically rational" would mean outside of the scientific method. There would be deductive reasoning as another rational epistemic method.

But if we're talking about something other than "methods of knowing", then what would "epistemically rational" actually refer to?
That's precisely the problem. He does not have any (other) text books.

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Re: Philosophy newbie inquiries, Can anyone give me feedback on my thoughts?

Post by Sculptor1 » July 28th, 2020, 4:19 am

MrChaotic wrote:
July 26th, 2020, 4:14 pm
So I'm new to philosophy in general, so sorry if this sound unprofessional or if there is some major aspect I am missing. I decided to get into Epistemology first, now I'm reading Duncan Pritchard's book "what is this thing called knowledge?". In chapter 5 he got into epistemic rationality, epistemic norms and its relationship to responsibility and knowledge. However, there was one excerpt (or 2 paragraphs connected to each-other) I just couldn't agree with, and I'll explain why, as quoted in his book:
The goal(s) of epistemic rationality

One problem facing the notion of epistemic rationality is that to say that this form of rationality is concerned with true belief doesn’t tell us all that much since we still need to know exactly how it is concerned with true belief. As we will see, explaining how epistemic rationality is concerned with true belief is harder to do than it might initially appear. Let’s start with perhaps the most natural way of understanding epistemic rationality. If true belief is the goal of an epistemic rationality, then the obvious way of understanding this claim is to demand that one should maximise one’s true beliefs (i.e. try to believe as many truths as possible). With this account of epistemic rationality in mind, we could explain the rationality of the non-coin-tossing judge in terms of the way in which she formed her judgement on the grounds that evaluating all the evidence in a careful and objective manner (i.e. without allowing oneself to be swayed by the emotion of the case) is a good way of getting to the truth in this regard. In contrast, while the coin-tossing judge may well end up delivering the same verdict as our rational judge, we would not count her as rational because the method she is using to form her belief is not likely to lead to the truth. There are problems with the maximising conception of epistemic rationality, however. For example, if this account of epistemic rationality just means that we should try to have as many true beliefs as possible, then it is open to some fairly straightforward counter-examples. After all, memorising names and addresses from the phone book may well lead me to have thousands of true beliefs, but the beliefs in question wouldn’t be of any consequence. Indeed, we would usually regard this sort of truth-seeking behaviour as very irrational. Even setting this problem to one side, however, there remains the fundamental difficulty that the best way to maximise the number of one’s true beliefs might well be to believe just about anything, since this would ensure that one has the most chance of believing the truth. Crucially, of course, this sort of truth-seeking strategy would lead one to form lots of false beliefs as well, and that is hardly desirable. One way of dealing with this latter problem (we will come back to the former problem in a moment) might be to modify our conception of epistemic rationality so that it demands not that one maximises truth in one’s beliefs, but rather that one minimises falsehood. That way we would be able to treat any agent who simply believes as many things as possible as irrational on the grounds that this will not be the best way of minimising falsehood. The problem with this suggestion, however, is that the best way of minimising falsehood in one’s beliefs is surely not to believe anything (or at least believe as little as possible), but this would mean that one would have very few true beliefs either, if any. What is needed then is some way of balancing the goal of maximising truth in one’s beliefs with the related goal of minimising falsehood. We want agents to take some risks regarding the falsity of their beliefs, and so we don’t want them to be overly cautious and not believe anything; but equally neither do we want agents to go ‘all out’ for the truth at the expense of widespread falsity in their beliefs. Specifying just how we should understand this ‘balanced’ conception of rationality is, however, quite hard to do.

The (un)importance of epistemic rationality

Moreover, don’t forget that we still have the outstanding problem of specifying epistemic rationality such that it doesn’t count someone who merely aims to believe lots of trivial truths (such as names in a phone book) as epistemically rational. One way of responding to this problem is to deny that there is any challenge here to respond to. In this view, such beliefs are entirely epistemically rational, and that’s the end of the matter. Proponents of this line of thought will concede, of course, that there is something irrational about this way of forming one’s beliefs, but will claim that the irrationality in question is not epistemic (recall that we noted above that there may be other types of rationality besides epistemic rationality).That is, they will argue that this person has rather trivial goals, and that this is to be deplored, but that, from a purely epistemic point of view, there is nothing wrong with forming one’s beliefs in this way. The problem with this line of thought is that it has the unfortunate consequence of trivialising the importance of epistemology, since the specifically epistemic rationality that we are interested in as epistemologists does not turn out to be all that rational, generally speaking. I’m not sure that we should be persuaded all that much by considerations such as this, however, since, after all, there is a lot more to life than gaining true beliefs, and one could well argue that this way of dealing with the problem in hand simply recognises this fact. Put another way, we are interested in gaining knowledge, and thus true beliefs, because we have all sorts of other goals that this knowledge can be utilised in the service of, such as furthering our relationships, our career, and our interests.A life purely devoted to gaining true beliefs might not be a life that we are interested in leading. Others are not so sanguine in the face of this objection, however, and I’m inclined, on balance, to agree with them. One way of resisting the pessimistic line of argument just sketched is to claim that, contrary to first appearances, the agent in the ‘phone book’ case, and others like her, are not epistemically rational after all.This way of responding to the problem is not nearly as hopeless as it might at first sound. After all, the thing about important truths is that they beget lots of other truths. If I come to have true beliefs about the ultimate physics of the universe, for example, then I will thereby acquire many other true beliefs about related matters. Learning names from the phone book is not like that, since these truths are pretty much self-standing – in acquiring these true beliefs you are unlikely to acquire many others. Thus, if your goal is to maximise true belief, while minimising false beliefs, then you would be wise to aim at those true beliefs of substance and set such trivial goals as memorising names in a phone book to one side. If this is right, then epistemic rationality is rescued from the grip of this objection. There is thus some room for manoeuvre when it comes to this objection to epistemic rationality: one can either accept it while maintaining that its importance can be easily overestimated, or else one can resist it and claim that the cases offered for thinking that being epistemically rational can result in trivial true beliefs are based on a mistake.
The problem I have with the above is this;
"Crucially, of course, this sort of truth-seeking strategy would lead one to form lots of false beliefs as well, and that is hardly desirable."
I fail to see how you would form flase belief if all you did was to learn completely reliable true-beliefs.
My disagreement mainly has to do with the 'phone book agent' not being epistemically rational. When knowledge is gained it is either intentionally searched for, or, it is accidentally stumbled across (I think that distinction is very important). When you unintentionally come across knowledge it can be done by maybe accidentally overhearing something in a conversation, or seeing something, or maybe learning something new by just hearing something on the radio which you just had in the background. However, when you actively search for a piece of information (knowledge) that you want, then you have a goal in question and employing the correct epistemic norms becomes relevant to you if you want to attain that information.
He is definitley not saying what you think he is saying.
If it is true that the most true things we know is a goal, then it follows that you should, without regard to your personal interest, seek irrelevant but totally reliable knowldge. The phone book example is that. Day by day go through the phone book memorising all you can. That is definitely irrational, since the knowldge cannot be useful.
This leads to the important reflection that we never do this. All our knowledge is sought interestedly. We only usually seek knowledge that is useful or at least interesting to us. This is massively important since we all end up with a POINT OF VIEW, based on a limited knowledge base gathered through our needs and wants.
Enter post modern epistemology.
Suppose that you want to solve a math-problem, then focusing on how to mathematically work it out -(using the correct mathematical rules) - to conclude what the answer is would be the best way form a true belief about what the answer is. However, if your goal still was to solve the mathematical equation and you started reading a book about botany then you would probably gain many true beliefs (about plants) and minimize false beliefs (about plants), as this book informs you about common myths surrounding botany, but I still wouldn't call this behavior epistemically rational since it is irrelevant to your goal of solving the mathematical equation (or gaining a true belief about its answer).

Therefore I think that an adjustment needs to be made, because epistemic rationality should be more than minimizing false beliefs and maximizing true ones, it should be about: maximizing true beliefs regarding the specific information which you seek to attain, while also minimizing false beliefs about it . I think this definition fits better to the examples of epistemic rationality previously given in the text-book.

I think the phone-book agent is epistemically rational, she just has a very trivial goal and is searching for trivial knowledge, I don't see how that invalidates it from being epistemically rational, it is still knowledge that she is gaining and she's using a correct method for gaining true beliefs about it. Why is it relevant if she "begets lots of other truths" if those aren't truths she is interested in seeking or keeping. I don't see how this trivializes epistemology either, just because you can be epistmically rational about something trivial doesn't you can't be epistemically rational about something that's actually more important. It does in no way negate the fact that employing the correct epistemic norms is still relevant for more important issues.

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Re: Philosophy newbie inquiries, Can anyone give me feedback on my thoughts?

Post by MrChaotic » July 28th, 2020, 6:25 am

Sculptor1 wrote:
July 28th, 2020, 4:19 am
MrChaotic wrote:
July 26th, 2020, 4:14 pm
So I'm new to philosophy in general, so sorry if this sound unprofessional or if there is some major aspect I am missing. I decided to get into Epistemology first, now I'm reading Duncan Pritchard's book "what is this thing called knowledge?". In chapter 5 he got into epistemic rationality, epistemic norms and its relationship to responsibility and knowledge. However, there was one excerpt (or 2 paragraphs connected to each-other) I just couldn't agree with, and I'll explain why, as quoted in his book:



My disagreement mainly has to do with the 'phone book agent' not being epistemically rational. When knowledge is gained it is either intentionally searched for, or, it is accidentally stumbled across (I think that distinction is very important). When you unintentionally come across knowledge it can be done by maybe accidentally overhearing something in a conversation, or seeing something, or maybe learning something new by just hearing something on the radio which you just had in the background. However, when you actively search for a piece of information (knowledge) that you want, then you have a goal in question and employing the correct epistemic norms becomes relevant to you if you want to attain that information.
He is definitley not saying what you think he is saying.
If it is true that the most true things we know is a goal, then it follows that you should, without regard to your personal interest, seek irrelevant but totally reliable knowldge. The phone book example is that. Day by day go through the phone book memorising all you can. That is definitely irrational, since the knowldge cannot be useful.
This leads to the important reflection that we never do this. All our knowledge is sought interestedly. We only usually seek knowledge that is useful or at least interesting to us. This is massively important since we all end up with a POINT OF VIEW, based on a limited knowledge base gathered through our needs and wants.
Enter post modern epistemology.
Suppose that you want to solve a math-problem, then focusing on how to mathematically work it out -(using the correct mathematical rules) - to conclude what the answer is would be the best way form a true belief about what the answer is. However, if your goal still was to solve the mathematical equation and you started reading a book about botany then you would probably gain many true beliefs (about plants) and minimize false beliefs (about plants), as this book informs you about common myths surrounding botany, but I still wouldn't call this behavior epistemically rational since it is irrelevant to your goal of solving the mathematical equation (or gaining a true belief about its answer).

Therefore I think that an adjustment needs to be made, because epistemic rationality should be more than minimizing false beliefs and maximizing true ones, it should be about: maximizing true beliefs regarding the specific information which you seek to attain, while also minimizing false beliefs about it . I think this definition fits better to the examples of epistemic rationality previously given in the text-book.

I think the phone-book agent is epistemically rational, she just has a very trivial goal and is searching for trivial knowledge, I don't see how that invalidates it from being epistemically rational, it is still knowledge that she is gaining and she's using a correct method for gaining true beliefs about it. Why is it relevant if she "begets lots of other truths" if those aren't truths she is interested in seeking or keeping. I don't see how this trivializes epistemology either, just because you can be epistmically rational about something trivial doesn't you can't be epistemically rational about something that's actually more important. It does in no way negate the fact that employing the correct epistemic norms is still relevant for more important issues.
It doesn't matter if knowledge in the phone-book has any utility or not, that knowledge was the goal in itself, hence epistemically rational since it lead to a true belief about something the agent wanted to know. Whether that knowledge is useful or not for other things is irrelevant

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Re: Philosophy newbie inquiries, Can anyone give me feedback on my thoughts?

Post by Sculptor1 » July 28th, 2020, 7:18 am

MrChaotic wrote:
July 28th, 2020, 6:25 am
Sculptor1 wrote:
July 28th, 2020, 4:19 am

He is definitley not saying what you think he is saying.
If it is true that the most true things we know is a goal, then it follows that you should, without regard to your personal interest, seek irrelevant but totally reliable knowldge. The phone book example is that. Day by day go through the phone book memorising all you can. That is definitely irrational, since the knowldge cannot be useful.
This leads to the important reflection that we never do this. All our knowledge is sought interestedly. We only usually seek knowledge that is useful or at least interesting to us. This is massively important since we all end up with a POINT OF VIEW, based on a limited knowledge base gathered through our needs and wants.
Enter post modern epistemology.
It doesn't matter if knowledge in the phone-book has any utility or not, that knowledge was the goal in itself, hence epistemically rational since it lead to a true belief about something the agent wanted to know. Whether that knowledge is useful or not for other things is irrelevant
I think you would do well to READ what is written. The assertion is that epistemic ratioanality is best served by filling up with true beliefs regardless of utility. As if all you need is JTB.

The only real problem I can see from the text you quoted is the statement that collecting a whole bunch of epistemically rational, but useless information, would inevitably lead to "false information", which is not supported by anything he says.

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