Posts Tagged ‘ Epistemology ’

Suspending Belief

Tamer here (and here and here). This is my first post and I’d like to thank Dhananjay for inviting me to contribute. I am currently working principally on metaphysics, especially in Aristotle and Hellenistic philosophy; however, I have been thinking about a number of issues at the intersection between epistemology and ethics for a while now and I thought that for my first couple of posts, I’d write about these issues as they were discussed the ancient sceptics. In this first post, I’ll offer a brief introduction to Pyrrhonism. Subsequent posts will offer slightly more detailed discussion of a number of puzzles posed by what the Pyrrhonists were up to.

It is frequently emphasised that ancient scepticism, at least in its Pyrrhonist flavour, was as much about belief as it was about knowledge. We might understand this scholarly platitude as follows. The modern sceptic is usually taken to argue for something like the following:

(1) For any proposition p, one does not know that p.[1]

In contrast, the Pyrrhonist is typically taken to argue for something like the following:

(2) For any proposition p, one should not believe that p.

How does one accomplish (2) and refrain from believing? Well, by producing arguments for p and against p (or for not-p, or else for some proposition which entails not-p).[2] If the arguments of equal strength, one is placed in a position where the reasonable thing to do is to suspend belief: neither to believe that p, nor to believe that not-p.

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Aristotle on practical wisdom, part 3

[NB: This is the third in a series of posts about Book VI of the Nicomachean Ethics. I explain the project in Part 1.]

I claimed in Part 2 that EN VI is structured around a search for the kind of reason that explains how we can go about correctly choosing the mean, that is, making the right ethical choice. As Aristotle points out in the first half of VI.2, reasoning of this sort belongs to the more general category of reasoning about contingent things, which is the province of the faculty for calculation, to logistikon (1139a3-15).[1]

Not all calculation is about ethical matters, of course, since calculation is also present in crafts such as medicine. It’s perhaps worth noting here that I don’t think Aristotle is committed to the thought that all ethical reasoning is calculative, either. We might think that the theoretical enterprise of the ethical works themselves is also a form of reasoning, namely, inquiry. And ethical inquiry is not calculative since it is not directed in the first instance toward what is contingent, that is, the sphere of particular and determinate actions, although it certainly seeks to shape our calculative reasoning.

Aristotle is in quite direct conversation with Plato throughout this passage, even deploying the familiar argument from Republic V that cognitive states are distinguished according to the ontological status of their objects, in order to distinguish the faculty for scientific knowledge (to epistêmonikon), whose objects are necessary, from that for calculation (1139a6-11). There’s another interesting connection to Plato in Aristotle’s use of logistikon to denote the sphere to which the reasoning that leads to correct choice belongs.[2]

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Transformative induction in Prior Analytics B21

Since this is my first post after the Blogistikon hiatus, I’d like to thank Dhananjay for asking me to contribute. I’m really excited to be able to get some ideas out and hopefully readers will enjoy it too. I expect I will post mainly on epistemology and logic in Plato and Aristotle because my current work looks at how logic gets used in different contexts: dialectical encounters, analysis, epistemology and so on. I got interested in the puzzle I address in this post because Prior Analytics B21 is a bit of a quirky text where Aristotle relates logic to epistemology.

Sometimes we fail to know logical consequences of our knowledge or to believe logical consequences of our beliefs. I can know the axioms of arithmetic and set-theory, for example, but not know whether the Goldbach conjecture is true. B21 asks why this is. Aristotle compares his answer to ‘the argument in the Meno’ (cf. A. Po. A 1 71a17-b8) then says something puzzling:

For it never turns out that someone knows the individual (to kath’hekaston) in advance, but she gets knowledge of the particular  (ton kata meros) at the same time, by induction, just like those who are reminded. For sometimes we know directly, for example that <such-and-such> has two right-angles if we see that <such-and-such> is a triangle (Pr. An. B 21 67a21-26).

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