Dretske’s Account of Knowledge Against Some Epistemological Cases

Knowledge and luck do not mix. Our intuitions and definitions of knowledge suggest and require the absence of luck in cases of knowledge. Edmund Gettier’s landmark 1963 paper ‘Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?’ not only prompted a revision in epistemological theorising, but gave us the terms Gettier-examples and the related Gettier-luck. Gettier provided his examples in order to refute the account of knowledge which defines it as justified true belief (JTB). Here is one of the two examples he provided. It is supposed that Smith has strong evidence for the following proposition:

Jones owns a Ford (A)

Smith has another friend, Brown, of whose whereabouts he is totally ignorant. Smith randomly selects the names of three cities and uses them to construct the following three propositions:

  • Either Jones owns a Ford, or Brown is in Boston. (B)
  • Either Jones owns a Ford, or Brown is in Barcelona. (C)
  • Either Jones owns a Ford, or Brown is in Brest-Litovsk. (D)

now, each of B, C and D is entailed by A so Smith comes to accept them. Smith therefore has correctly inferred B, C, and D from a proposition A for which he has strong justification. Hence Smith is justified in having the true beliefs of B, C and D. Now imagine in the scenario that firstly Jones does not own a Ford, but is instead at present driving a rented car. Secondly, by sheer coincidence and unknown to Smith, Barcelona happens to be where Brown is. So even though Smith clearly does not know that C is true, it is true, he believes it and he is justified in believing it.

This example along with the other example in the paper sufficed to show that truth, belief and justification were not sufficient conditions for knowledge. In both of Gettier’s actual examples, the justified true belief came about as the result of entailment from justified false beliefs; in the given example the justified false belief that “Jones owns a Ford”. This led some early responses to Gettier to conclude that the definition of knowledge could be easily adjusted, so that knowledge was justified true belief that depends on no false premises. This “no false premises” solution did not settle the matter however, as more general Gettier-style problems were then constructed or contrived, in which the justified true belief does not result using a chain of reasoning from a justified false belief.

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Information and Truth

The alethic nature of semantic information has been, and continues to be a point of contention. At the very least semantic information is understood as semantic content; that is, meaningful, well-formed data. Defenders of the alethic neutrality of semantic information argue that semantic content already qualifies as information, regardless of whether it is true, false or has no alethic value at all. Opponents hold that not just any semantic content qualifies as information. For semantic content to qualify as information, it must also be true; false information or misinformation is not actually a kind of information.

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Some Offhand Commentary on Fred Dretske’s Knowledge and the Flow of Information

Fred Dretske’s Knowledge and the Flow of Information is ultimately an attempt to use the notion of information to explicate knowledge. As part of this enterprise, several philosophically interesting issues are tackled. The first of these is the development of a semantic theory of information. After establishing a connection between information and knowledge, Dretske goes on to apply his ideas to key philosophical areas such as perception and intentional content or meaning. Here I take a look at his account of information.

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Another Requirement on Semantic Information?

According to the General Definition of Information (GDI), X is an instance of information, understood as semantic content, if and only if:

  1. X consists of one or more data
  2. the data in X are well-formed
  3. the well-formed data in X are meaningful.

A host of influential thinkers about information, most notably Luciano Floridi, add to this list the requirement of truth. For semantic content to count as information, it must be true. False semantic content (also known as false information, or misinformation), is not actually a type of information. For more on this, see the SEP entry on Semantic Conceptions of Information. I also endorse a truth requirement condition in defining semantic information, so that if something is semantic information, then it is well-formed, meaningful and truthful data.

I have recently been thinking about the prospect of adding another condition to the definition of semantic information. Continue reading “Another Requirement on Semantic Information?”

Information and Misinformation. An Investigation of the Notions of Information, Misinformation, Informing, and Misinforming

Finally got my hands on a copy of the book Information and Misinformation. An Investigation of the Notions of Information, Misinformation, Informing, and Misinforming, by Christopher Fox. The book was published in 1983. I have come across references to it in some of the contemporary philosophy of information literature and this piqued my curiosity. My interest was largely due to the fact that it struck me as being a book that had faded into relative obscurity and was being somewhat rediscovered via contemporary references. Fox addresses the question of the nature of information by developing notions of information, misinformation, and misinforming to serve as a part of the foundation of an information science.

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Two Philosophers of the Information Age

A presentation given as part of a symposium marking the 40th anniversary of the founding of the journal Metaphilosoph.

The Future of Philosophy: Metaphilosophical Directions for the 21st Century – symposium page

Two Philosophers of the Information Age – direct link to the presentation

Terrell Ward Bynum (Southern Connecticut State): Previous scientific and technological revolutions changed our understanding of human nature, the nature of society, and the nature of the universe. The impact upon philosophy was profound. It is not surprising, therefore, that today’s Information Revolution promises to have major philosophical implications. Physicists have recently argued, for example, that the universe is made of information and that human beings are exquisitely complex information objects. In addition new kinds of decision-making agents – such as, robots, softbots, and artificial companions – now can be found in homes, schools, hospitals, workplaces, entertainment centers. Instead of being utterly different from human beings, many computerized devices can be viewed as entities very much like ourselves – fellow information objects journeying together through an informational world. This radically different understanding of human nature and our role in the universe offers exciting, powerful – and to some people, threatening – answers to some of the deepest questions of philosophy and psychology: Who am I? What am I? What does it mean to be? What is my place in the universe? The result is sure to be a worldwide and decades-long philosophical conversation. This presentation is a small part of that conversation – one that briefly discusses just two of the growing number of “philosophers of the Information Age”: Norbert Wiener and Luciano Floridi. This presentation will briefly compare their views on human nature, artificial agents, the nature of society, and the nature of the universe.