A Nice Point..

..from here. The author neatly skewers an argument for equating knowledge with having justificational certainty…

Proponents of.. [the argument from linguistics] ..claim that it is absurd to say, “I know proposition p is true, but there is a possibility that proposition p is false.” It seems as though this is an oxymoron. For them to state that they know that proposition p is true excludes that they would concede that proposition p may be false, and likewise, the concession that proposition p may not be true excludes the subject from saying he or she knows that proposition p is true.

This argument is merely a case of confusion between epistemological possibility and metaphysical possibility. Whereas critics of justificational fallibilism interpret the possibility of being wrong as an epistemological possibility, that is to say that the person in question means to say that, “I know proposition p but for all I know proposition p is false,” this is not the way it should be interpreted. Instead, the possibility referred to is a metaphysical possibility, that means the subject means to say, “I know proposition p however there is a rational set of circumstances by which I could be wrong.”

I think that’s on the money. The assertion “I know p, but p may be false” sounds odd to our ears because on two out of three understandings it is illicit: one understands it as either contradictory (the epistemic possibility reading), true (the metaphysical reading), or ambiguous and therefore an infelicity contrary to the Gricean Maxim to avoid ambiguity. Contrast this with the orderly “I know that p, but p might’ve been false”, which allows for the metaphysical possibility that ~p, but does not run the risk of implying that one thinks that p is actually false.


4 thoughts on “A Nice Point..

  1. Thomas Reid says:

    Hey TaiChi,
    I’ve no specific comments on this post, just wanted to say I’m glad you decided to set up your own blog. I’d be interested to see a re-post of your “argument against self-determination” which you posted back at Common Sense Atheism in the Free Will Defense thread. I’m still mulling this over and would like to respond to a formal presentation of it, if you’d care to develop it any more.
    My posting has been very light lately due to extracurricular stuff, but I’d still like to pick up that argument at some point.


  2. TaiChi says:

    Hi Thomas,
    I’m glad you nudged me to set this up, too :). As for the free-will argument, I’m not sure when I’d get to it: my project at the moment is to write a philosophically satisfying description of Desirism, possibly leading to criticisms of it. But I’ll keep in mind that you’re interested in the free-will argument, perhaps moving onto that afterward.

  3. jim says:


    Thanks for this post. Sums up my position nicely.

    As far as free will is concerned, here’s something you might like, just in case you’ve never read it before.

  4. TaiChi says:

    Thanks for the link, Jim.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s