Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Outline of Goldman's "A Casual Theory of Knowing"


Alvin Goldman argues that S knows that p, where p is an empirical proposition, if and only if the fact that p is causally connected in an “appropriate” way with S’s believing p.


Step 1: Goldman hypothesises that what goes wrong in Gettier examples—i.e., cases in which S allegedly has a justified true belief that p but does not know that p—is  that there is a lack of a causal connection between S’s believing that p and the fact that p.

Argument: In Gettier’s second example, in which Smith comes to believe the disjunction “Either Jones owns a Ford or Brown is in Barcelona” based on the false belief that “Jones owns a Ford”, the fact that makes the disjunction true (viz., Brown is in Barcelona) is not causally connected to Smith’s believing the disjunction.

Upshot: We must add the requirement of causal connection between the fact that p and S’s believing that p to the traditional analysis to avoid Gettier’s objections.

Step 2: Goldman begins an examination of different cases of empirical knowledge with knowledge based on perception.

Argument: Suppose that there is a vase before S which is being obscured from S’s view by a laser photograph of a different vase and that S comes to believe that there is a vase before him based on the photograph.  In such a case, according to Goldman, S does not count as seeing the vase since there is no causal connection between the real vase and S’s belief that there is a vase. 

Upshot: Our ordinary concept of sight (i.e., knowledge acquired by sight) includes a causal requirement.
Step 3: Goldman continues his examination of different cases of empirical knowledge with knowledge based on memory.

Argument: Neither (i) believing (or knowing) a fact as some time t0 and then believing (or knowing) it at a later time t1, nor (ii) having the impression of remembering (e.g., having one’s brain artificially stimulated to produce a memory impression) are sufficient for remembering (or knowledge based on memory). We must add a causal connection between the earlier and later case of believing (or knowing) in order for it to count as a case or remembering.

Upshot: A causal connection between an earlier belief (or knowledge) that p and a later belief (or knowledge) that p is a necessary ingredient in memory.

Step 4: Goldman continues his examination of different cases of empirical knowledge with knowledge based on inference.

Argument: Goldman contrasts the case in which an eruption leaves lava on the countryside which remains in place until someone, S, perceives it and the case in which the lava is removed and then (centuries later) someone else (unaware of the real volcano) places lava on the country side to make it look as if there had been an eruption.  If, in the latter case, S comes to perceive the latter, and then infers that there was an eruption, S would not count as knowing that there is an eruption.  This is because the eruption is not causally connected to S’s belief that there was an eruption.

Upshot: A necessary condition of S having inferential knowledge that p is that his believing that p be connected with the fact that p by a causal chain.

Step 5: Goldman concludes his examination of different cases of empirical knowledge with knowledge based on testimony.

Argument: Cases of knowledge based on testimony begin with the fact that p causing a subject, T, to believe that p and subsequently assert that p, which eventually leads to another subject, S, believing that p based on T’s assertion. Here, as before, there must be a causal chain connecting the fact that p to S’s believing that p in order for the belief to count as knowledge.

Upshot: There is a causal requirement for knowledge based on testimony.

Step 6: Goldman concedes that the requirement that S knows that p only if the fact that p caused S’s belief that p is too strong.

Argument: Assuming that we can know facts about the future, and precluding the possibility of backward causation, S’s belief that p cannot always be caused by the fact that p in order for S to know that p.  Moreover, I may come to know that there was smoke coming out of my chimney last night based on an inference from the fact that there was a fire in my fireplace last night, even though the smoke is not the cause of the fire in my fireplace.

Upshot: We must weaken the requirement that there be a causal connection between the fact that p and S’s belief that p to include cases in which the fact that p and S’s belief that p share a common cause.

Step 7: Goldman considers John Saunder’s and Narayan Champawat’s counterexample to Michael Clark’s analysis of knowledge.

Argument: Suppose that Smith forms the belief that “Jones owns a Ford” based on the testimony of Brown, who is generally reliable.  However, (unknown to Brown or Smith) Jones actually sold his Ford the day before and bought a Volkswagon.  Jones subsequently wins a Ford in raffle, making Smith’s belief true.  Although Smith’s belief is true and fully grounded (i.e., all his grounds are true) he still does not know that Jones owns a Ford.

Upshot: Clark’s requirement that a belief be fully grounded fails to provide a sufficient condition for knowledge due to the lack of a causal connection between Smith’s belief and the fact believed.

Step 8: Goldman considers Keith Lehrer’s counterexample to Clark’s analysis of knowledge.

Argument: Suppose that Smith forms the belief that “Someone in the office owns a Ford” based on an inference from his belief that Jones owns a Ford and his belief that Brown owns a Ford, both of whom are in his office.  However, since Brown does not own a Ford, one of Smith’s grounding beliefs is false. However, Smith still knows that someone in the office owns a Ford even though his grounds include a false belief.

Upshot: Clark’s requirement that a belief be fully grounded is not necessary for knowledge.

Step 9: Goldman maintains that “causal chains” may include, not only admixtures of causes  and inferences, but also causes and logical connections.

Argument: Smith forms the belief that (p), “Someone in the office owns a Ford”, based on the conjunction of the belief that (q) “Jones owns a Ford” and  (r) “Jones works in his office”.  Given that (q) and (r) logically entail (p), and given that (q) and (r) combine to cause Smith’s belief that (p),  it follows that there is a causal connection between the fact that (p) and Smith’s believing that (p).

Upshot: If X and Y are logically related, and Y is a cause of Z, then X also counts as a cause of Z.

Step 10: Goldman argues that since his causal analysis of knowledge does not require that a knower be able to justify or provide evidence in favour of the proposition known it is able to account for cases of knowledge that the traditional analysis excludes.

Argument: S may know that Abraham Lincoln was born in 1809 based on a warranted inference from an Encyclopaedia entry even after S has forgotten how he came to learn this fact, so long as there is a causal connection between S’s belief and the fact that Lincoln was born in 1809.

Upshot: The justification requirement of the traditional analysis is not necessary for knowledge.


Goldman concludes that S knows that p just in case the fact that p is casually connected in an “appropriate” way with S’s believing that p, where “appropriate” causal processes include: perception, memory, inferences (in which a proposition counts as warrant-providing only if it is true), or some combination of the aforementioned. Goldman concedes that the preceding causal analysis is not part of the meaning of the expression “S knows p”.  However, he maintains that it specifies the necessary and sufficient conditions for knowledge.


1. Do you agree that the agent in Goldman’s volcano example does not have knowledge? Why or why not?

2. What does Goldman mean when he says that S knows that p only if S’s believing that p is causally connected to the fact that p? What are the implications of this view for knowledge about the future?

3. Do you agree that S knows that p only if S’s believing that p is causally connected (in Goldman’s sense) to the fact that p? Why or why not?

4. Does Goldman’s analysis of knowledge successfully avoid Gettier-style counterexamples? Why or why not?


Caleb R said...

I wanted to comment on the idea that was brought to light during class about the different cases of empirical knowledge with knowledge based on perception. The two examples, including the vase and the laser photograph and the example of the barns, seem to me to be similar. In Goldman's argument stemming from these examples, that our ordinary concept of sight includes a causal requirement, I believe that in human nature, it is inherent that we use our experiences as the causation to our perceptions. This being said, if we as humans cannot trust our own perceptions of our surrounding reality, then I don't "know" how we could have actual knowledge about anything. The only way I can see away around this paradox is if we as a community accept certain things as knowledge in order to create a basis for the future attainment of further knowledge. In short it is the body of agreed upon experiences perceived by one another as knowledge that are in fact, as far as we are concerned, knowledge.

Benjamin Altshuler said...

In reply to Caleb and Goldman, it seems very common that we can have knowledge in the absence of sufficient sensory input. Our senses, particularly our eyes, deceive us regularly, but this is not reason to fret or presume knowledge impossible. It may seem as if there is casual component to knowledge through sight, but sight is so fallacious that even when it is accurate, it is not trustworthy. Consider the myriad optical illusions. Experience in a "Carpentered World" causes the Müller-Lyer illusion and the wrong perception that one line segment is shorter than another of equal length. Such a perception has causal basis, yet lacks validity.

Modern science has shown us that many principles of the world are beyond our ability to perceive. Simply because we cannot see or sense ultra-violet light rays, this does not mean they do not have an effect. More succinctly, even if we could trust our perceptual experiences, we would not have the basis for knowledge. It is safe to claim humans CANNOT trust their sensory nor their perceptual experiences, yet humans are privy to some knowledge.

In response to a proposed consensus about what is true by the general populace, I think this is both impractical and not sufficient for truth. An individual may divine knowledge without the benefit of sensation or communal agreement, yet he may still know. What's more, if he has reason to doubt that some past alleged pearl of knowledge is true based on new insight, it seems irrational to deny him that right simply because the claim was previously agreed upon. In short, a causal basis of knowledge, even a communally agreed upon basis, is too strict a definition.

Taylor ffitch said...

In response to Benjamin, if I understand what you're saying correctly, I'm not sure what would constitute knowledge. If we can't trust sensory perception, we're back at Russ's favorite Cartesian doubt of everything, because we interact with the world almost exclusively through our senses (For example, the UV light you reference can't be seen directly, but our knowledge of it comes from sensory perception of its effects). I'm with Caleb on this one. Sensory perception has to stay one of our "approved" methods of gaining knowledge, or the idea of knowledge we'll come up with isn't a useful one.
To turn to the discussion questions:
I don't agree that S knows that p IFF S's belief that p is causally connected with the fact that p. I like what Goldman is trying to do in eliminating accidental knowledge, but the result seems to contrived and convoluted to be a good solution. For example, as we talked about in class, his admission of logical inference as a "cause," while it preempts one objection to his theory, seems like he's bending over backwards to make this one idea work. My objection isn't that there is a flaw in his reasoning, but rather that it seems like a situation in which we may want to invoke Occam's razor and look for a simpler, cleaner way to get the same result. I do think Goldman provides a convincing response to the Gettier problems. By introducing causality, he correctly identifies the reason we don't intuitively think that Smith knows that Jones owns a Ford in that example, namely that none of the reason Smith knows that fact have anything to do with the fact itself. However, as I've said, I think providing a solution to specific Gettier problems is all that Goldman does. It is useful that he has pinpointed this particular requirement that we intuitively feel is part of knowledge, but I think we can come up with something more elegant than his definition of causality to account for it. (Sadly, I don't have one, but I'll work on it).

Benjamin Altshuler said...

I agree with much of what Taylor says here and I want to believe that sensation is an approved avenue of gaining knowledge. My intuition says that anything divined through the senses is judged through the cooperative principle whereby it is assumed trustworthy unless greater evidence says otherwise. This is the same method of implicature used in pragmatic conversation which says your conversational partner only provides the right amount of relevant clearly expressed information they believe to be true (Grice). One may flout these maxims on purpose, but it is usually understood how and why.

If we extend the cooperative principle to actions including intuitions based on sensory experience, but doubt the need for causal links, the example with the lava provides an interesting case. The first individual who sees the real lava remnants from the volcanic eruption surely would be said to have knowledge of the eruption based on the lava evidence. The second individual who sees the false lava, however, would have the same sensory experience and in the absence of reason to doubt and trusting the cooperative principle, would also come to the same conclusion. In constructing the scenario, we see the error, but based on our definition, this agent WOULD have knowledge too.

It is not practical to doubt every proposition until it is absolutely certain, so we must make some compromises. We must trust some questionable notions in the absence of counter-evidence. In the case of tricks and false evidence, like the courts, we must adhere to the cooperative principle and a "innocent until proven guilty" mentality. The agent having no reason to doubt the false lava must treat it as legitimate.

Caleb R said...

This comment is a response to the third question dealing with whether or not I agree with the statement that S knows that p, if S's belief that p is causally connected to p. I don't know if this is a bad example or if I am not thinking of this in the right light, but while in my first post I came to the conclusion that certain "universally" excepted perceptions must be agreed upon as knowledge in order to progress our intellectual capacity, I find myself back stepping in light of this question.

In this question I do see examples in where I would consider someone to have "knowledge" even if there was no causation for their perceived knowledge, which is what I think Ben was getting at when he was talking about the commonality that we can have knowledge in the absence of sufficient sensory input. At the most basic level, at least in my mind, I thought about the example of how do we know the distance the sun is from the earth? While at first this seems to be a very easy question to look at and see the causation: scientists used equations, based on facts, based on theories, etc... However, at some point doesn't there have to be a "leap of faith," or "belief" if the former is to cliche, in order to make any progress. These are the points at which I still find that a universally excepted basis is needed in order to move forward.

Russell Buehler said...

In response to the above, I would like to challenge a few of the core ideas put forth so far. Consider first the claim that knowledge is simply those agreed upon experiences perceived by one another as knowledge; although I believe this was already pointed out, this can't possibly be the case. Knowledge isn't static, and the judgments of a community have--at least to my intuitions--no bearing on whether a particular individual has knowledge. Maybe, then, it is as Taylor suggests; sensory perception is simply an approved method of gaining knowledge about the world. Of course, that begs the question of what 'approval' is and how a process gets it--it sounds like all we've done is replaced one word we don't understand with another. Finally, I disagree with the thought that if sensory perception isn't a knowledge-producing faculty, the resulting conception of knowledge isn't a useful one. Even supposing that we grant the skeptic that we know nothing at all about the world, knowledge is still an incredibly important concept. Sure, it no longer corresponds to everyday use--but maybe that was because your everyday use was too loose and contradictory. The idea that you don't know the world exists is certainly not trivial or useless, and neither is the possibility that you might still know 1+1 = 2.

In response to the actual prompts, I think Goldman may indeed succeed in avoiding Gettier-style counter examples; that said, I think his proposal falls to other counterexamples (barns and brains in vats) and is generally distasteful for having to rely on causal connections and stretching what, precisely, counts as causation. I know give a counterexample that I typed out and then noticed was (mostly) equivalent to the barn example, but hinges on Goldman's account of inference and future knowledge:

Every third man in the world--and, in particular, Socrates-- is mortal, but it is widely believed / taught that every man is mortal (to avoid jealousy). This is obviously logically-causally related to the proposition `Socrates was mortal'. Moreover, assume our hypothetical agent has encountered numerous instances of mortal men, but no proof that some are immortal. These (all true) experiences (a direct result of the same fact) give rise through numberless confirming instances (again, an accepted causal road) to our agent's belief that all men are mortal. This latter belief is obviously logically-causally related to the belief that Socrates is mortal.

The obvious question is whether the agent knows that Socrates is mortal. The example above, utilizing Goldman's structure for dealing with future knowledge, has (I believe) the requisite causal connections between the fact that Socrates was mortal and the agent's belief that `Socrates was mortal'. Nonetheless, from a probabilistic stand point, the agent was actually more likely than not to have been wrong if he chose an individual at random. Accordingly, despite Goldman's claim, I find it hard to believe that the agent 'knows' that Socrates is mortal.

Andrew Cely said...

Phew, large amount of discussion on this one.

I'm agree with several arguments brought up in different points, so I'll try and keep it somewhat brief here.

I appreciate what Caleb originally implied in his first comment, that knowledge based on personal perception, though possibly doubted, is our strongest basis for the determination of what one would call knowledge. Our experiences more or less determine a basis for what we claim to "know" and how we act. We know that knives are sharp and grass is green through the use of our senses - in this case touch and sight. Physical interaction forms an accurate basis with how we interact with the world.

That being said, I also like the points that Benjamin brings up. There are certain things that we can claim to "know" that occur or have an effect on us at a subconscious level - things like ultra-violet light rays that do indeed exist despite our perceptual based "knowledge." Likewise, we know and understand how the human body works on a molecular level, though all the processes continue to work at a subconscious rate without our apparent perception of them occurring. Thus, we cannot look to our perception as the sole foundation for "knowledge." This, I believe, is why I have a hard time agreeing with Taylor's first point about why perception "must" exist to constitute knowledge.

Moving on, however, I definitely agree with Caleb again in his section declaring a certain amount of "belief" in generalizations and reliability is needed in order to find knowledge of otherwise impossible things, such as the distance between the earth and the sun. We assume a lot based on physical calculation, but since those calculations have been repeated and studied and supported over and over again, we must "believe" that we have knowledge on the matter.

Finally, dealing with Russ's example, I find that I agree with him in that it is hard to say that the agent "knows" Socrates is mortal, simply because the reliability of the evidence would say is wrong 2 out of every 3 guesses. In this case, we would need a test sample that is larger than a single example - in other words, we would have to see if a group of 100 people are mortal and determine an answer based off of our findings. While I realize this may sound absurd, I find the basis of knowledge, at least how I understood it growing up, was that the larger the test sample, the more likely your findings would in fact be true. Though we still might not consider this "knowledge" in the philosophical sense, as that is debatable, it is hard to generalize from one specific case study to a global idea - statistics and most studies around the world today would support that as a false notion. Therefore, I agree with Russ in his estimation that the agent does not in fact have knowledge.

Andrew Cely said...

Not sure how this happened, but my comment wasn't posted! Seriously, I leave for a minute, and its gone. That's really odd. Anyway, I'll keep my response a lot briefer this time, so sorry if this doesn't seem as fleshed out.

I agree with Caleb's main points, that we need perception to be a foundation for our "knowledge." In fact, personal experience is normally what guides our actions on a daily basis - we know that knives are sharp and the sky is blue because our perception tells us these things and we interpret them because of our perceptions.

That being said, I also like Ben's points dealing with the idea that we have knowledge about certain things that we cannot physically perceive. For instance, not only his ultra-violet light example, but also out knowledge of how the human body works are both prime example of knowledge concerning processes below standard human comprehension on a daily basis. You don't know your brain is firing off stimuli to certain areas because you feel it happening, but we know it happens based off of tests and observations. I also like your idea of "innocent until proven guilty" - kudos to you on that.

I'm also with Caleb though on the whole "belief" idea - just because we cannot perceive these occurrences happening, doesn't mean we know that they aren't happening. Thus, we must assume that these processes fit the mold of past studies and experiences in order to constitute knowledge on the subject. A "belief" in the reliability and near-infallibility of previous data must exist for certain things like the distance between the earth and the sun to be measured and calculated. Otherwise, such a feat would be physically impossible.

Finally, dealing with Russ's example, I agree that the agent does not know that Socrates is mortal because, as you say, the test sample is too small for an accurate generalization. When consider the concept of branching outward from a basis or fact, we need to make sure that we are able to repeat that fact or occurrence several times to see any patterns or fallacies that occur. This would mean we would check 100 or 1000 other people and see how many are actually mortal or not, and as the results would undoubtedly show, the agent would not have knowledge because 2/3 of the time, people are immortal.