An Anti-Temporal Account of Knowledge
Life exists only at this very moment, and in this moment it is infinite and eternal, for the present moment is infinitely small; before we can measure it, it has gone, and yet it exists forever (Watts, 1955)
Edmund Gettier brings up a fantastic point in regards to philosophy’s traditional account of knowledge. The traditional account states that to have knowledge one must possess true, justified belief. Gettier provides a selection of examples of true, justified belief, and thereafter demonstrates how such standards can actually result in beliefs which are incorrect to hold, and thus could not be considered knowledge, even though they seem to have met the criteria specified. This paper shall briefly examine the ‘Gettier Problems’, and also a particular response made by John Greco, before finally settling the matter with a fresh proposition concerning the backwards temporal-qualities of the Gettier issue, and moreso in epistemics at-large.
Gettier and Greco: the Everpresent Debate
When thinking about knowledge in the traditional sense, consider that if I awake tomorrow morning and observe that my phone tells me it is -35C in my area, I look out my window and see what I believe to be snow falling all around, and there is a strong whistling much like the sound of wind coming from the general direction of my yard, then I will form the belief that it is cold outdoors today. This is knowledge, because it is true, and I am justified in believing it to be true based upon the evidence I have acquired. But then consider for a moment, that I actually step outside and it is hot and humid. And through investigating this curiosity I determine that my phone thermometer had not been recently refreshed, the wind was actually a chinook which had come in overnight, and what I thought to be snow was actually just tiny pieces of iced cream that happened to still be descending from a recent iced cream truck explosion nearby. And as the iced cream rain descends upon my skin I come to be chilled to the bone and thus it does seem to be cold outside. This is the issue Gettier brings up: it is possible that one may hold a true, justified belief about something that is not necessarily true. One of Gettier’s examples involves two men applying for a job; one man is told by the owner that the other will get the job and thus the man forms a belief that the man with ten coins in his pocket will get the job (he happens to have awareness of the contents of the other man’s pocket). Lo-and-behold, the first man actually gets the job, and when he looks in his own pocket he too has ten coins of which he was formerly unaware of: true, justified belief, yielding non-knowledge (Gettier, 1963). This is how Gettier came to the conclusion that there must be something more, than justification and truthness, to an accurate account of knowledge.
Forty years later, John Greco takes a stab at adjusting for the Gettier Problem in our account of epistemics. Primarily Greco makes a definitional distinction between (a) belief arrived at by luck, and (b) belief arrived at by the exercise of cognitive faculties. For Greco, the process of justification itself is in need of justification, and it can only be justified when it is applied correctly, meaning that the agent, motivated by a desire for truth, exercised cognitive faculties in such a way as to provide an accurate reference of the truth claim itself. Gettier cases, argues Greco, while being beliefs formed by cognitive processes, are yet come upon primarily by luck (Greco, 2002). For example, a man is driving through rural Alberta and he sees a white quadrupedal thing with horns standing upon a hillock - the man forms a belief that there is a goat in the field. As it turns out, what the man saw was a ram. Out of sight behind the hillock, however, was a goat standing there also. In this Gettier problem it is easier to see what Greco is getting at, in suggesting that the man reasoned rationally, but his true knowledge was not justified explicitly by the process of his reasoning, and rather was justified by a simple stroke of luck.
Confutations of Yesterday
While there is certainly something curious going on in Gettier cases, and while Greco does a commendable attempt to solve the riddle, I find myself dissatisfied with his conclusion. My initial response appears to be that, in suggesting the agent may not ‘luck out’ in achieving knowledge, one must presuppose the existence of a quantifier such as luck. And in a world where a thing such as Luck holds a presupposed existence it seems not to follow that we would find ourselves so far down the rabbit-hole of specificities and internal necessitations as to arrive at our Gettier problem in the first place; although I will be the first to admit that such a counter-argument is a weak logical rebuttal. As I examine my thoughts more closely I am consumed by the idea that there could be a world in which luck does not factor, and yet in which the goat example above holds as knowledge. It is possible that the man believed the ram was a goat, quite simply because there was a goat in the field, and had there not been then the man certainly would not have mistaken the ram to be such a thing. I am, in fact, suggesting that the goat’s presence in the field opened up a possible-world in which a passerby could potentially mistake the ram for a goat.
Conceptions of Tomorrow
Sit back for just a moment and try to imagine: a world in which all true knowledge is justified, and in which all true, justified knowledge simply stops at that. There is no need to justify the justifications, and no need to verify the truths. In meditating on the many profound problems of epistemics, such as regression and Gettier cases, I find the mountain of difficulty to be purely insurmountable - for we seem to wind up going in circles with our reasoning: each justification needs itself to be further justified, and even if we pretend we can arrest the regression by some unlikely scenario such as foundationalism or externalism, then so too must we now worry about the Gettier Problem in our accounts of the arresting beliefs themselves. Whenever a problem becomes so insurmountable, I like to step back from seeking a solution to the problem, and instead examine the problem itself. My fiancée showed me a puzzle once which referred to itself as the world’s most difficult puzzle. It was a thousand pieces and the image was of dozens of nearly identical cupcakes. The box also mentioned that, on the back of the puzzle was printed an identical picture, only the whole image was rotated by 90 degrees. I imagined doing that puzzle and thought “Woah! How would I begin to figure out which face of the puzzle I was even working with, let alone put it together?” And so it is that I have begun to think of knowledge and justification. Perhaps we have the correct issue in mind, yet are trying to solve the wrong face of the puzzle. Could it be that the solution to the problems of knowledge are hidden within a problem which we are yet ignorant of? I believe that, by looking to the past for answers, we find ourselves in a stranglehold of feedback loops and unsolvable problems. I believe that to relieve ourselves of this self-inflicted disability we must turn our minds by 90 degrees and by 90 again. We must look to the future for the answers to our dilemmas.
The issues at hand simply melt away under this newly proposed lens. In the case of regression, my belief in the frigid outside temperature is justified by my eventual experience of a cold outdoor environment. At this point the experience of the cold outdoor environment may not have justification requested of it, for it is yet to occur, and is therefore non-existent; and justification may not be requested of non-existent things. In the Gettier Cases, the first man’s belief in a man with ten coins getting the job is justified by the getting of the job by a man with ten coins in his possession. So too with the man who thought he saw a goat: his belief in the presence of the goat is justified by there being a goat in the field. This occurrence is a little trickier because the goat did not wander into the field in the future, and thus was there presently as the man held the belief, but in this case it is to suggest that, should the man have chosen to spend his future examining the contents of the field then, in fact he would have found a goat there. And so too is my writing this paper justified by your reading it; and your reading it is justified by the thoughts it will cause you to have. Also is my birth justified by my life, and my life by my death, and my death by my decay. The difference in such progressions forward, as compared to progressions back, is that we can stop the regress at any point in the future and it does not cause a problem because we are referring to non-existent events, and non-existent events may have no justification required of them.
One is likely to raise the concern that, if non-existent events can have no justification required of them, then how is it that they may confer justification? To this I will respond that, technically, they do not confer justification before they are existent. They begin to confer justification for preceding events just as they phase into presence (and existence), and as existing things they now require justification. But just as they come to require justification they are replaced by that which justifies them and they themselves move into the past. The entire world of epistemic, and even metaphysical, realities are consistently being at once justified and relieved of the need to be justified. The whole world is justified, and most precariously perched, upon the temporal border between future and presence, amidst the ever-present denudement of the mysteries of tomorrow; placed perfectly out of human reach on the fringe of the untold moment.
Gettier, Edmund. (1963). Is Justified True Belief Knowledge? In L.P. Pojman. (2005). The Theory of Knowledge: Classical and Contemporary Readings (3rd ed., pp. 125 - 127). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Greco, John. (2002). Virtues in Epistemology. In L.P. Pojman. (2005). The Theory of Knowledge: Classical and Contemporary Readings (3rd ed., pp. 348 - 363). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Watts, Alan. (1955). Become What You Are. Shambhala Publications: Boulder, Colorado.