Saturday, October 31, 2009

Responses 004 (2010-2011)

The fourth question in the list was, to me, a sign of examiner mental fatigue. It sets in around the fourth question in any list of ten. That question was: 'To what extent do we need evidence to support our beliefs in different areas of knowledge?' This is such a core epistemological question that to make it the fourth of ten is somehow lazy.

My first instinct with this question is to ask, "What do we use to justify belief in an area of knowledge?" For example, let's say you have an AOK like music. You assert that a symphony is beautiful. Why do you believe this? What is the evidence?

There are two opposing extreme approaches here. You can say that for a very subjective domain, there is no absolute way to justify any belief. This means that either you need extraordinary evidence (the 'extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence' pseudo-rule) or that you don't need any evidence except your own subjective experience (the 'I know it when I see — or hear, or smell, or taste, or otherwise experience — it' philosophy).

The key to answering this question in a manageable way is to choose areas of knowledge that are well-established and well-defined. The criteria will then be obvious, as will the levels of evidence required for various levels of claims.

But there's a tiny little kink in the question, though. Perhaps in some areas of knowledge (if they can be called that), one needs no evidence at all to believe something. Is that possible at all? Can knowledge exist without justification of the evidential type? Heh.

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