Defining Knowledge and Refutation of Nozick’s Account

Knowledge has been defined by JTB (Justified True Belief) until Gettier argued that JTB account of knowledge was not sufficient enough to define knowledge using counter-examples. However, the propositions that Gettier put forward were still not sufficient enough to define knowledge. One of the philosophers, Robert Nozick, defends his response to the Gettier problem and explains the nature of knowledge.

Nozick states that the causal account of knowledge thus has certain plausibility and what we need to do is to formulate further conditions. The third condition that Nozick states is: If p weren’t true, S wouldn’t believe that p. This condition certainly excludes some of the cases described by Gettier but doesn’t rule out all the problem cases. One of the problem cases can be like if some one whose brain is stimulated by electrical or chemical stimulation, which brought him to believe that he is in the tank; he doesn’t know that he is actually in the tank. However, the third condition is still satisfied: if he weren’t floating on the water in the tank then he would not believe that he is in the tank. (348) Nozick also brings a fourth condition: If p were true, he would believe it. This condition rules out the person in the tank case since it is not true of him that if he were in the tank he would believe it. (349) Nozick also states that the subjunctive condition 4 also handles a case presented by Gilbert Harman: A dictator of a country is killed and all the media in this country report this news but later they all deny the story, falsely. Everybody except one person read the false denial and believed what was false. Only that person believed what is true. However he doesn’t satisfy the condition that if it were true he would believe it. Therefore, condition four is not satisfied.

However, Nozick’s account of knowledge is not perfect for defining knowledge. Let’s show all the conditions in Nozick’s account:
“1. P is true,
2. S believes P,
3. If P were not true, S would not believe P, and
4. If P were true, S would believe P.”

According to an essay written by Jack Scanlan, he states a problem case that cannot be ruled out by Nozick’s account. Let’s say Susan was walking in IKEA, a furniture store that has TVs placed in it, and Susan was not able to tell which TV is real and which one is fake. Instead of the real TVs and the fake TVs being exactly the same, the fake TVs are of the bulky CRT design and the real TV is a flat-screen. When Susan walked pass a real TV, she formed the proposition that “I am looking at a real, flat-screen TV.” When we apply this to the Nozick’s account we can get:

“1. The proposition is true – she is looking at a real, flat-screen TV.
2. She believes that she is looking at a real, flat-screen TV.
3. If she were not looking at a real, flat-screen TV, she would not believe that she was.
4. If she were looking at a real, flat-screen TV, she would believe that she was.”

According to Nozick, Susan knows that she is looking at a real, flat-screen TV. However, if she knows that she will know that she is looking at a real TV, which she actually does not know she is looking at a real TV. According to Jack Scanlan in his essay, Nozick’s account seems to allow false positives on non-knowledge if it is combined with demonstrable knowledge.
The Nozick’s account can rule out some problem cases that described by Gettier but it cannot exclude more complex cases. As a result, Nozick’s account of knowledge is not qualified to replace the JTB account.

Sorces (other than the readings):

2 thoughts on “Defining Knowledge and Refutation of Nozick’s Account

  1. I think the sourced article was quite interesting and did a great job of clarifying main points of the author’s argument. I found it a little funny that Scanlan did to Nozick’s article what Nozick meant to do to Gettier’s piece. Although I can follow the logic of your blogpost and can see where you’re coming from, if I’m understanding correctly, your main argument is that Nozick’s account of knowledge is not qualified to replace Gettier’s. I think the opposite.

    Both accounts of what knowledge is or is not have their weaknesses. However, during our time with Gettier, we’ve been able to see how the man in the tank can debase his main argument. With Nozick I don’t think the IKEA scenario really does that. Scanlan’s point with his blogpost, was to suggest that Nozick’s account of knowledge, while slightly more thorough than Gettier’s, does not leave much room for affirming complex situations (adding the element of different types of TVs altered the results). He was pointing out that if S knew they were looking at a flat screen TV, then they also knew that they were looking at a real TV by following the logic of “if the TV is a flat screen in this scenario, it is also a real TV as opposed to a CRT, fake TV.” Scanlan highlights the contradiction in the conclusion of this scenario’s argument as it relates to the first in which S (Sarah) cannot meet condition 3, because in this scenario she cannot possess knowledge whereas adding one additional dimension to the scenario changes the outcome completely.

    It’s definitely a weakness in Nozick’s account of knowledge. But the two additional conditions (3 and 4) of his account leave LESS room for error than Gettier’s and helps further partition non-knowledge cases from knowledge ones, which is why in my opinion, although it may be a weak argument, it is still substantial enough to replace Gettier’s account. However at the end of the day, I do find myself asking “does this even matter?” How much better off would we be adopting one Philosopher’s account of knowledge over another’s? Are our constructed world’s going to implode on us if we continue through life merely thinking we possess knowledge and never understanding that we don’t really know anything for sure, because somewhere down the road we’ve violated the conditions that constitute these accounts of knowledge? This class has taught me that I’ve basically been walking around for 21 years not knowing anything, yet somehow I’m okay with that. I think everything will be fine.

  2. Hi Dianna,

    This is an interesting counter-example to Nozick. Scanlan, as I understand from his blog is an undergraduate student in philosophy. This is important when assessing the legitimacy of the source. In fact, what Scanlan has done, wittingly or not (I’m not accusing him of plagiarism, though it is awfully coincidental), is reproduce a quite famous scenario that was used to criticize Nozick. Saul Kripke (one of the most prominent American philosophers of the late-twentieth century) offered a variant on Alan Goldman’s Barn Facade County counter-example to causal accounts of knowledge. The variant goes something like this:

    Suppose that all but a few of the red barns in the countryside have burned down. The locals replace them with papier-mâché facades which are not red. Peg, driving through, sees one of the few real red barns. She believes she sees a barn and that she sees a red barn. On Nozick’s view, Peg’s belief that she sees a red barn tracks the truth, but not her belief that she sees a barn (she would still believe she sees a barn, even if she weren’t seeing one but seeing the facades instead). So, Nozick’s view absurdly predicts that Peg knows that she sees a red barn but does not know that she sees a barn.

    As Scanlan puts it, Nozick’s conditions produce false-positives of knowing. I find it hard to believe that Scanlan just happened upon an example so close to that of Kripke’s…but stranger things have happened.

    If you’re interested, there is a way for Nozick to reply, but it involves a bit more of his theory of Knowledge than we have been able to treat in this class. Basically, Nozick this that conditions 3 and 4 need to mention the method by which the subject acquires her belief. The idea is to take that method that she uses in the actual world and hold it fixed across close possible worlds. Here;s how the reply would go.

    Suppose, quite plausibly, that Peg is using the red-barn-look to detect the information both that there is something red and a barn. Since red barns cannot be faked (as per Kripke’s stipulation), the look of a red barn faithfully carries both pieces of information. Since Peg is using the reddish-barnish-look to form the belief that there is a red barn, she satisfies Nozick’s tracking condition that it if there were not a red barn, she would not believe there were. And if there were not a red barn present and Peg were to believe there were a barn, she would not be using the same red barn look method. This suggests that when Peg believes there is a red barn, she believes there is a barn, in part, by employing the red-barn-look method. This method insures that Peg knows of this structure that it is both red and a barn. Hence, Peg indeed does know of the red barn that it is a barn, contrary to Kripke’s claim. Essentially, Kripke’s example only appears to be problematic if one violates Nozick’s strictures on method.

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