Five Aspects of Knowledge

Critically assess the claim that one knows that it is raining if and only if one has a true and justified belief that it is raining.

Let's say that a claim is made: one knows that it is raining if and only if one has a true and justified belief that it is raining. The obvious thing to analyze in this claim is the tripartite definition of truth. There are two relevant additions to this. Thus, we will look at five aspects of this specific claim: belief, truth, justification, memory, and communication.

First, belief. This can be treated in a fairly simple way. If a person thinks, for any reason, that it is raining, then that is their belief. Notice that the claim is in the present tense, excluding both the past tense that it did rain and the future tense that it will rain. The belief could have been arrived at through a variety of methods. Maybe they are currently standing in the rain, maybe they just walked in from the rain, a co-worker told them it's raining, the weather is reporting that it's raining, etc. Whatever the process for arriving at the belief may be, the belief is necessary for knowledge to exist. In this specific case the belief is: it is raining.

Second, truth. This is a subject that has been intensely debated in philosophy since ancient Greece. A common notion of truth is that there is a correspondence between a given proposition and a given state of affairs in the world. Tarski's T-schema contains a surprising amount of complexity in a seemingly simple form: 's' is true if and only if p; where "'s'" is the statement and 'p' the state of affairs in the world. This can also be presented as a metalanguage, but in this case I prefer 'p' as indicative of the state of affairs in the world to avoid an infinite regression and instead terminate the definition ostensively. In this specific case the truth schema would be: "it is raining" is true if and only if it is raining.

Third, justification. There are a few issues inside of the subject of what justifies a truth statement. One is what it is built on. It's possible for a skeptical position to be taken and thus deny any foundation. It's possible to take a position that establishes a foundation and builds from that to other justified truths. And, it's possible to take the position that truth is justified through a recursive set of statements, in that they reinforce each other. The other issue with justification is the source. This can come in a few different forms, two of which will be discussed shortly. The most foundational source of justification is direct phenomenological experience. The interpretation of perceptions is an important area of debate, but the importance of accepting perception as a basis for the justification of any truth is difficult to deny without falling into an absolute state of skepticism that negates the possibility of truth, along with valuation and action. If perception is accepted as a foundational justifier then greater truths can be built upon this foundation, including complex and nuanced interpretations of perceptual phenomenon. This and the next two items require more context than the first two items, and will be explored further below. In a basic sense, in this case a belief that "it is raining" could be justified by presently experiencing the visual, auditory, olfactory, and kinesthetic sensations verifying through perception that it is raining.

Fourth, memory. The retention of perception that has occurred in the past is memory. The skeptical arguments generating doubt about the fidelity of perception to actuality are stronger when dealing with perceptions offset from the present by an interval of time. Nevertheless, it's an important factor in the generation of abstractions, and thus thinking and knowledge. Recognizing perceptual patterns across time and the speed at which that processing occurs is the definition of fluid intelligence. In a simple sense this could apply to the specific case in question if a person had been walking in rain and recently entered their home, in that they remember when they were outside a minute ago it was raining.

Fifth, communication. Advanced knowledge has been slowly acquired by humans over many, many generations developing insights that build one on top of another. Beliefs are transferred from one generation to the next, and communicated from one person to another. Social recognition of shared referent content of a shared referent in a shared reference frame is also often used for social truth verification from an expanding perceptual field, and shares that with memory. Communication encounters all of the skeptical problems encountered in perception, plus those in memory, plus its own in possible distortions in the communication process itself. In this case it may be that a friend has arrived at a person's home, when they walked in they said that it was raining outside.

Each of these five items can be further explored. The most complex issues arise with varying interactions of justification, memory, and communication. If a person is inside their home looking out of the window they may see that it is raining, when in fact it's simply overcast and someone has put a sprinkler on their roof such that it appears to be raining when looking out of the window. This shows that it is possible for visual perception as justification to fail in establishing a truth. The statement "it is raining" would fail for truth in actuality, and not for belief or justification.

Memory would have a more solid foundation in this context if the belief statement was presented in the past tense, as in "it was raining." The further removed in time the memory of the direct perception of rain is, the less likely the justified belief will hold its truth value. Thus, memory requires context for justification of true belief.

Communication can be done while direct perception is occurring on the part of the sender, but is more likely done in conjunction with memory, therefore adding another layer of complexity. If, however, the context is such that direct perception has happened for one party, and then communication from another party agrees with that perception, the communication acts to verify the justification of the belief and strengthens the reliability of its truth value.

When the belief that "it is raining" is combined with a justification warranting such a belief, and that belief corresponds with the true state of affairs in actuality, then knowledge exists. There is a great complexity underlying each of these concepts. In exploring these concepts it may be the case that doubt arises. Such doubt further urges us to explore the foundations of our knowledge. With stronger foundations our knowledge may grow to greater heights.



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