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AnH
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Thank you for posting this article (I guess this comment is a little out of place, as it is five years after the original publication date). The essay is thoughtful, but I personally would disagree with a number of your interpretations of the key ideas presented in the text. First of all, Moore's paradox has very little to do with epistemology. The question at hand is not one about what knowledge is, but about the absurdity arising from asserting two contradictory statements. Wittgenstein's remark, namely that there cannot be a verb that means "to believe falsely," is simply intended to illustrate the difficulty presented in Moore's paradox, and not to claim that we cannot believe false propositions. If there were some verb V that meant "to believe falsely," then that verb could be inserted into a sentence of the form "I V p," where p is some arbitrary proposition. However, to believe is to take something to be true (perhaps this is where you think epistemology enters, though epistemologists are mostly concerned with belief as a condition of knowledge, and not as a subject of study in and of itself), and thus to state that you take something to be true and that you believe that what you think is true is false is something of a contradiction. So the issue at hand is not that you can't believe false propositions, it's quite obvious that you can (many people falsely believed that the earth was flat for many years). The issue is that you can't believe one thing and simultaneously believe that what you believe is false. On to verificationism. You state that verificationists assert that all unverifiable statements are false. However, verificationism is not a theory about truth and falsehood of statements or propositions, but about what kind of statements have meaning. On the verificationist view, unverifiable statements are not false, they are meaningless. Lastly and most importantly, your claims about knowledge seem to contradict everything common sense tells us about knowledge. It would not be the case that if Elvis were discovered alive tomorrow that our knowledge of his death would cease, at that moment, to be knowledge. If we discovered Elvis alive tomorrow we would not say that it used to be the case that we knew that Elvis was dead and now we know that he is alive, we would say that we thought we knew one thing, and it simply turned out we didn't. "I thought I knew..." is a common phrase in English. It is generally an axiom of epistemology that there are things that we can know. Epistemology dismisses skepticism and instead asks, "assuming knowledge is possible, what are the necessary and sufficient conditions that must be met for an instance of knowledge to obtain?" Very few contemporary epistemologists are not fallibilists. To say that it is necessarily the case that we can only have knowledge if what we believe is true is not to say that we can only have knowledge of necessary truths, or that knowledge is an infallible mental state. Thus I feel your comments about human pride and our "unwillingness to admit that we believe false things" are perhaps a little unwarranted. In fact I can assert that I believe falsehoods without invoking Moore's paradox (as long as I don't make any such claims about specific beliefs). Last comment: your solution of Moore's paradox seems to rely on a definition of belief that does not involve truth. But this definition, for you, follows from your claim that we believe unverifiable statements, and unverifiable statements are false. Like I said above, however, unverifiable statements are not false, they are meaningless. Thus unverifiable statements, such as moral claims, cannot be proper objects of belief. An emotivist may argue therefore that moral claims are essentially just sentences that are used to illicit certain kinds of responses from others. Of course verificationism seems to be a very strong theory of meaning in the sense that it keeps certain sentences that should be said to have meaning from having meaning, but it cannot be used to dispute an understanding of Moore's paradox.
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Feb 16, 2014