Fourth Centrepiece Lecture by Jude Sutton taken from “The World Explored, the World Suffered:The Exeter Lectures”: Epistemology

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Jude was 10 minutes late to the lesson. Another anxiety attack. He would not have made it if he had not drunk his last two barley wines. Sucking on a spearmint tablet he entered the class.
He threw his pen on my desk again and wrote on the board “The pen is on the table”

“If I say I know the pen is on the table and you Browne ask me on what grounds I know it I might say “On the grounds of seeing the pen on the table, feeling the table and the pen, hearing the pen when it dropped to the table, perhaps smelling the pen if it has a distinctive smell”. In other words, I know, by means of the senses. Now these grounds can be challenged. We know, do we not, that our senses have deceived us in the past and we have been quite surprised to learn that either what we thought to be there was not, for example the seeing of the mirage of water after a long waterless sojourn in the desert: or vice versa, for example, I was certain my gloves were not in the drawer but found out later they were. Further, that what we thought to be an x turned out to be a y, for example I thought I saw a round tower on the horizon but upon approaching it I see it really is square. What sometimes can deceive me can always deceive me. Hark unto the voice of the skeptic ladies and gentlemen for his voice is very convincing. Last night I dreamt that the wind was blowing me toward a cliff and there was nothing I could do about it. I woke up and realized it was only a dream or a nightmare. At the moment I think I am standing and lecturing before this class. I am certain of it as certain as I was of being blown toward the cliff in my nightmare last night. Could it not be the case ladies and gentlemen that I am only dreaming that I am standing in front of you and giving a lecture. The real me, the dreaming me, is back in another location preparing to wake up from this dream. So if I can not trust my senses and I can not be certain about whether what I see is part of a dream, how can I with certainty say I know the pen is on the table? But, on the other hand, surely we know that the pen is on the table. If we don’t know this how could we be said to know anything?” Logically we represent this state of affairs like this.”
He wrote on the board
“Knowledge of P = being able to apply the criteria for P being P
We can infer P from the premises fully specifying the criteria for P
Which means the criteria for P = P”
“But”, Jude continued, “Surely this cannot be so. Surely my knowledge of the pen being on the table amounts to more than the story told about the relation my sensory experiences have with this state of affairs.”
Mark Cavendish, a science major, put up his hand and responded
“ We need to think about the way in which we conceptualize the state of affairs, that is, the language we use to state the fact. There are not two things to be related here, merely two aspects of the same complex phenomenon.”
Jude stopped himself from continuing the lecture and asked
“And how would you describe this complex phenomenon”
“Not in terms of its truth conditions. This may be an infinite set or a very large uninteresting set. Language has a more important communicative function”.
“Are you saying that the communicative function of language has nothing to do with its truth function?”
“No, but I might be saying that if a hammer when it hammers is expressing its true function or its essential function, then this is what makes the thing we are talking about a hammer This would seem to be of greater significance than the fact that all the sensory criteria for this particular act of hammering have been met and are expressed in a theoretical characterization of this fact.”
Jude smiled his little private smile of recognition before his tone hardened:
“You are characterizing the world as a totality of functions or processes which take place in the continuum of time. If I were to take an example of hammering to illustrate my point it would not be a particular occurring in a continuum of change. It would be a timeless truth, which is made true by general criteria relating to the concept of hammering. The question I am asking is :”What is the relation of these criteria to the concept?”
Mark Cavendish, hesitated, unsure that he had understood everything that had been said. He looked at Robert questioningly for help.
Robert responded:
“Hammering may not be the best example to take in order to see the difference between the two positions. Imagine instead that you see a birdhouse I have recently built and you add this new fact to your arsenal of knowledge. Whilst it is being built it seems that the only reference point outside of the hammering and other activities occurring to bring the event of a completed birdhouse about, would be in the mind of the builder. His idea of a completed birdhouse would seem to be, at the time of having the idea, free of the physical space-time continuum. That is, anybody anywhere and at any time could build a completed birdhouse using this idea. Amongst other things what seems to be needed are general ideas of the function a birdhouse performs, and general ideas of what building are, before any such activity can take place. Although, by taking such a practical example, we may have wondered away from the original example which seemed to be about characterizing physical states of the world such as the pen being on the table. Dr. Sutton is asking, what the relation of criteria, is to the truth of this idea but I think Mark’s point very relevant anyway. The pen being on the table may not be fully and completely characterized by any set of purely physical criteria, even if we include physical laws, if that is what Dr. Sutton meant when he said that the pen on the table may involve more than my sensory experiences of this state of affairs.”
Cavendish nodded in enthusiastic agreement and Jude had now completely lost the thread of his lecture but something stirred within as he registered the student’s enthusiasm.
“Let us turn away from the abstract account of the criteria for P and away from the state of the physical world which contains Roberts birdhouse but towards an example which I believe can point us in the right direction insofar as ascertaining the grounds for knowledge claims is concerned. Let us imagine that I am in pain and that everybody can see the symptoms of the toothache I am suffering from. Let us further consider this example in the light of the question “What are the necessary and sufficient conditions for a pain to be a pain? Gather ye symptoms as ye may, they do not seem to add up to the necessary and sufficient symptoms for a pain to be a pain. That is, it always seems possible that an agent could fully be manifesting all of these symptoms and there be no pain—he might for example be acting a part in a play. Or, alternatively, the agent is in pain but he is in unfriendly circumstances and is using his Spartan training not to display any of his symptoms. He is in pain but only he seems to know it. But have I not in this admission that he knows he is in pain given the game away to Descartes and his followers who might at this point say in the most skeptical of voices “Only the person experiencing the pain can know that they are in pain”. Caught in these skeptical pincers one may want to try to deny that the agent “knows” he is in pain. It is too intense for him to know anything, someone may want to maintain: He is in pain, and this means that the experience is not an epistemological state, not a position in which one can know anything. Well, I think the agent does know he is in pain, and claiming that he is not, is only going to change the example we are talking about. Let us give the Cartesian his due: the agent knows he is in pain in spite of the fact that I believe the Cartesian could not give us a good philosophical account of what kind of being possesses a state of mind in which he is both in pain and knows that he is. The Cartesian argument Cogito ergo sum, I think therefore I am, is supported by an argument which is meant to refute the skeptic, namely the argument that one cannot doubt that one is thinking because in order to doubt that one is thinking one would have to be thinking. This is a good argument but not an account of the state of mind of a being that can acknowledge this to be a good argument. And anyway it is at best only an account of how I know myself to be in pain. It is not an account of how I know some other sentient being to be in pain. And since I do not share in his conscious state, his conscious state, by logic, therefore, could not be attributed to me. We can rule out that I am conscious of his pain in the way he is. Well, then, how do I know? By observation, by using my senses and the application of criteria to ones observations, is one possible position. But this is only going to lead us back to the position previously referred to: we might settle for a large set of symptoms and find that they will not suffice and then we will add others and they will not suffice and eventually we will throw up our hands in dismay and agree that no theoretical set of symptoms will ever amount to the pain itself. I am told that Socrates left his studies of the physical world because of this kind of problem after having read the work of a pre-Socratic philosopher who claimed that the foundation of everything was Mind. The attempt to ground knowledge on the nature of matter will always fail philosophically because we will, in Kant’s words never arrive at its nature however complex the set of symptoms for it are. Aristotle claims matter is infinitely mysterious and we can only know its forms –the result of its apprehension by the mind: or in other words, the way in which we conceptualize it. Some ancient philosophers thought that the problem resided in the fact that all we could know of matter are its mathematical properties and since these are provably infinite, when considering it in its quantitative dimension, there can never be a complete set of symptoms for its state. Be that as it may, I think it suffices from the point of view of logic to merely point out that all that needs to be the case is that some given physical phenomenon is alternatively conceptualisable, say as a wave, or as a particle:- and if this is the case we clearly have a logical problem unless we rest with the idea that alternatively conceptualizing this phenomenon is a matter of characterizing different forms or ideas of matter.
A Mathematics major raised their hand and asked:
“Can you elaborate on the proof, that the number of mathematical properties of any material thing will be necessarily infinite?”
“Yes, There are a number of paradoxes, most of which are attributed to Zeno, in which it is maintained that objects in space are totalities or collections of potential points. Take any two points AB on their surface and calculate the number of potential points between AB and it will be an infinite number. These paradoxes even point to the difficulty of quantifying motion once the variable of time is added into the equation”.
The Mathematics major nodded, satisfied with the answer
Jude continued:
“Is there, then, no way out of this labyrinth except the ancient resort to forms in the mind?
Wittgenstein discusses this issue in his Investigations and arrives at the position that the forms in the mind have been put there by some objective process. We were not born with them. We may have been born with Aristotelian powers but not Platonic forms, and even Aristotle made fun of the theory of forms in spite of his abiding respect for his teacher.
In learning language, we fall and hurt ourselves as children, and are in pain. Our linguistic mentors then teach us to say that “We are in pain” and we move from the world of instinct, where animals are in pain and other animals sympathetically lick their wounds, to a kind of intellectual game in which I say “I am in pain” and other members of the community commiserate and offer me their sympathies, helping me over the pain. When I am initiated into this new form of life of talking about pain rather than the bare experiencing of it we are led into the human arena of caring for one another and the forms of life that are associated with this. If there is a principle behind all this it is the principle of Care—a very practical principle, which I would like to connect to the previous ethics lecture but for the moment I will restrict myself to the point brought up earlier about the language we use. It is a language relating to Humanity and Society not persons in abstraction from their relation to each other in communities…”

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