Category Archives: Epistemology


Over the past few weeks, I think I have been struggling to form an opinion about defining knowledge. We have looked at so many views of different philosophers that I finally came to terms with the fact that we, as humans, may not know anything. And in this week’s reading by Pritchard, the idea of Reliabilism states, if one has a justified belief that p, if and only if the belief is the result of a reliable process. For example if p=the sky is blue, but that is a factive sense, since the sky exists and is established that it exists through our brain (a sense organ). But then it had occurred to me, what if we went off of what Descartes talked about with A Priori: the evil demon that controls our experiences under the belief that we are making our own choices. This means that our beliefs would be justified. But is this necessarily reliable then? Pritchard defines reliabilism as something that, “holds that knowledge is reliably formed true belief. The idea behind such a position was to use the reliability requirement to capture the intuition that when one has knowledge one does not merely happen upon the truth, but rather one gets to the truth in a way that normally would ensure that one has a true belief” (Pritchard 63). However, we can alter this position by discussing epistemic virtues and cognitive faculties. If we take a conscientious person to determine that the sky is blue, it will be more probable that his/her belief is true, and we trust that her eyes (used to see that the sky is blue) are properly functioning.

However this method has its problem, such as the infamous problem of chicken sexing. Data has shown that the people distinguishing the chicks on what they see and touch is false, which questions the reliability of their claims. Are they using cognitive faculties or is this like Gettier’s situation in which this is purely luck. “The conflict of intuitions in play here relates to whether you think that it is always essential that ‘internal’ factors are involved in the acquisition of bona fide knowledge, such as the agent being in the possession of good reasons for believing what she does” (Pritchard 62). Because her belief is formed based on cognitive faculties, then her epistemic virtue is flawed because the conscientious decision was made based on “blindly” sorting the chicks. “…When it comes to cases like the chicken- sexer – as regards most instances of knowledge where both cognitive faculties and epistemic virtues are involved – they will tend to produce the same verdict.” I also found it interesting that epistemic externalists note that it may be that one can have knowledge while lacking certain grounds as long as they meet the other relevant conditions. What does this all mean? I think that it is important to understand that knowledge is defined differently by different people and the grounds in which a person may have knowledge may differ.

Other sources used:


Responses to Agrippa’s Trilemma

In this week’s reading, one of the main topics covered regards justification. Pritchard’s chapter over justification has to do with the enigmatic nature, problems, and responses to the problem. Agrippa’s trilemma is three alternatives regarding the structure of justification, written by an ancient Greek philosopher, Agrippa. The trilemma states that: Our beliefs are unsupported, or an infinite chain of justification supports our beliefs, or a circular chain of justification supports our beliefs. Agrippa presents three rather bleak alternatives to what justifies our beliefs as they “imply that we aren’t really justified in holding our original belief” (Pritchard 33). The three epistemological responses to Agrippa’s trilemma are Infinitism, Coherentism, and Foundationalism.

The first response, Infinitism, is what the name implies, and it states that an infinite chain of justification can support beliefs. The second response is Coherentism, and it states that a circular chain of justification can justify a belief. Coherentists say that justification for one’s belief is related to the other beliefs one holds, or the “general world-view” that one holds (35). This is a much more logical theory than Infinitism as it more reasonable to have beliefs justified by the way that one experiences the world. The interesting part of Coherentism is that a person’s justification can be identical to another person’s justification except that the justification will be used for different beliefs. For example, imagine that there are two neighbors in a neighborhood. One of the neighbors accidently fires a gun in his backyard, and the other neighbor has recently murdered someone. When each neighbor sees a cop park in the middle of both his or her houses, the first neighbor will use his observation to justify his belief that the cop has arrived because he fired a weapon while the other neighbor will use his observation of the cop to justify his belief that the cop is coming to arrest him. Ironically, it turns out the cop is just visiting someone else in the neighborhood. This example is a perfect depiction of Coherentism, yet it also points out that even though we have a tendency to form “beliefs in a certain way, we shouldn’t necessarily form them that way” as they can be erroneous (36).

The final response to the trilemma is Foundationalism, and it is the most widely accepted theory. Foundationalism states that a belief can be justified without being supported by any further beliefs. Classical Foundationalism states that some beliefs are frankly self-justifying. The main problem with Foundationalism is setting the requirements for foundational beliefs too high or too low. If some middle ground could be set that wouldn’t compromise the validity of Foundationalism, it would become an infallible theory. I find it to be the most plausible out of all three as it truly does make sense that there are beliefs that can be self- justifying. This fixes the problem of a circular or infinite chain of justifications as it allows certain justifications to be the only justification needed for a belief, and it makes justification less confusing than Coherentism or Infinitism. It will be much easier to modify Foundationalism than to ever use Coherentism or Infinitism as a way to justify a belief.

10/6 Moore

In this week’s reading “Certainty” by Moore, Moore touches on many philosophy questions, such as the nature of dreams, certainty, and sensory perception. I would like to comment on the points of his argument where he claims that an opposite claim from his is no better than his claim. For example, he claims that his argument “I know that I am standing up, and therefore I know that I am not dreaming” and “You don’t know that you are not dreaming, and therefore don’t know that you are standing up” are equally valid claims (Moore 364).It seems that only one of the two claims can be true, since Moore can either know or not know that he is standing, and Moore can be dreaming or not dreaming. The binomial statuses of standing, dreaming, and knowing ensure that these two claims are mutually exclusive. Moore’s argument can be written like this

  1. If I don’t know that I am not dreaming, then I don’t know that I am standing up.
  2. I know that I am standing up.
  3. ______________________________________________
  4. .: I know that I am not dreaming.

While this is formally valid argument Moore does not discuss how he know that he is standing up. Since this is not discussed he is unable to create the sort of “certainty” that the article suggests.

I feel that the lack of certainty and doubt about these claims touches on a point similar to one that  Descartes raised “there may be reasons which are strong enough to compel us to doubt, even though these reasons are themselves doubtful, and hence are not to be retained later on” (Oeuvres de Descartes, Adam, Charles, and Paul Tannery, (eds.) 1904. Paris: J. Vrin 7:473–74). If a skeptical argument relies on the universality of doubt and the doubt itself is doubtful, then the original arguments have little foundation to rely on. If you have reasons to believe a claim, such as “I am standing”, but only doubtful reasons to believe the contrary, then perhaps it make sense to believe the original claim despite the lack of “certainty”. Unless we can create a certain universal rule on how we can acquire knowledge, we will have a hard time disproving a skeptical hypothesis, since we may be simply deceived in what we actually know.

Also the conclusion of this claim seems to go against intuition. The first claim makes “knowing that he is standing” and “knowing that he is dreaming” mutually exclusive. However this doesn’t seem to always be the case. Moore discusses a situation in which a duke dreamt that he was standing up talking in the house of lords, and then woke up and was talking in the house of lords (Moore 362). In this situation, the duke is both standing up and dreaming. If this Duke were then given all the knowledge of his situation by any means whether it is divine intervention or deep contemplation, would it not follow that he would both know that “he is standing” and that “he is dreaming”? Why then is Moore’s knowledge that he is standing strong enough to cause entailment in his claim “I know that I am standing up, and therefore I know that I am not dreaming”?



An Attack on Skepticism

In this week’s reading, G.E. Moore explores the concept of certainty in a direct attack on skepticism. He begins his argument with the supposition: “I know for certain that I am standing up” (Moore 361). Using this claim as an example, he goes on to highlight the fallacy of the justified true belief account of knowledge, suggesting it is impossible to establish true sureness over the supposition that one knows for certain when they are standing up. Moving broader, he offers that if one can never know for certain that they are standing up, they also can never truly know that they are conscious and not dreaming. As we human beings define our vitality by our ability to be self-aware, he essentially throws our entire existence into question.

As Moore further blurs the lines between dreams and reality, uncertainty and certainty, he proves that these concepts may not actually exist as the purely dichotomous entities that we usually assume. Instead, it is entirely possible that we can be deceived by “the evidence of our senses” (Moore 363). He states: “For if it is not certain that I am not dreaming, it is not certain that I even have the evidence of my senses that I am standing up” (Moore 363). In other words, if one lacks definitive evidence that they are not dreaming, that uncertainty can be extended over any supposition such as whether or not one is actually standing up.

Although this destruction of certainty would seem to upset and disturb most people (perhaps even send a philosophy student to the hospital), Moore handles this notion with relative tranquility. He accepts that we may never know anything for certain yet remains comfortable with the idea that it is highly unlikely that we are all constantly in a dream-like state. By looking at the matter from a quasi-probabilistic perspective, rather than an emotional one, Moore is able to withhold passing judgments and is more successful in dismissing skepticism.

If everyone lived as a skeptic, constantly refuting the idea of any truths including a “real world”, there would simply be no motivation or accountability. Moore would agree that while it is important to grapple with the notion of certainty, attempts to absolutely destroy it are neither productive nor factual-based. Trying to prove that one is not conscious is just as fruitless as searching for conclusive evidence that one is in fact dreaming. As frustrating as that notion may seem at first, Moore accepts it with relative ease and perhaps we all should too in order to survive in this uncertain world.


(I found this cartoon to be a perfect illustration of the frustrating and redundant nature of skepticism that Moore touches on)


You Are Now Dreaming

In “Certainty,” G.E. Moore addresses our perception of reality. Moore addresses the skeptics argument that “I do not know that I am not now dreaming.” Moore’s conclusion to this argument is that “I really cannot now know for certain that I am not dreaming.” (363) Later in the paper, Moore aims to discuss sensory experiences and dreams. This is what I will be focusing on in this post.

Moore admits that a premise is true: “Some at least of the sensory experiences which you are having now are similar in important respects to dream-images which actually have occurred in dreams.” (363) From this premise, we reach the conclusion that if we admit this to be true, we must then have the ability to know that dreams have occurred. If we know that dreams have occurred, then can we also claim to know that we are not in a dream right now? I agree with Moore by saying we cannot. If we claim the first fact is true (that we can experience sensory experiences within a dream and “outside” of a dream), and can admit to knowing a dream occurred, we have an inconsistency in our argument. We cannot claim that we know we are “awake” if we could still be in a dream holding normal sensory experiences. What if we are dreaming inside a dream?

To support this argument, I would like to provide you with an example: Imagine you are dreaming of eating cotton candy. You have the sensory experience of the taste of cotton candy in your mouth, the smell and sticky consistency of the candy. You also could see yourself holding the cotton candy in your dream. After you wake up, you realize that you have been dreaming. If you can admit to having the sensory experience and to having the dream itself, then, how can you say that you are not in a dream at this very instant and you simply have not woken up yet? You cannot.  If we are not aware of our dreams while they are occurring, then we could be in a dream our entire life and never truly “know” if we are dreaming or not.

I would like to create another example for better understanding this argument. In a computer, we can open up the Internet. Within the Internet, we can open up tabs, pages and windows from one (what I am calling) “mother page”—the page that we start out by opening first. This is similar to an ancestor simulation within an ancestor simulation from Bostrum’s argument or a dream within a dream from Moore’s argument. As we keep clicking links from other links and tabs, we dig a deeper tunnel as to where the pages started (imagining that each link is a new dream of the mother page.) The page (assuming it has consciousness in this scenario) only knows of its current state. If it “woke up” from its current reality, only then would it be aware that it was “dreaming.” This is similar to the dream scenario that Moore presents. In a dream, we only know of our current reality, not that we could be in a dream. We can only know if we are dreaming if we wake up and realize it.

Lastly, I would like to leave with you a question: Do you believe we are in a dream, and will we ever know? Please view the link attached at the bottom of the page. It is a video that lends some more information about the idea from popular TV shows/movies/interviews.


Can We Be Certain of an External World?

G. E. Moore tries to prove the existence of the external world. He acknowledges the argument that one cannot be certain that one is, for instance, standing: one can be merely dreaming that they are standing, being deceived by their senses. Since you can’t know that you’re not dreaming, you can’t know that you’re standing. It seems simple enough, but Moore refutes this. He argues that he knows that he is standing. Since he knows that he is standing, he can say that he knows that he is not dreaming. He says the problem is solved, as it makes just as much sense to say he knows he’s not dreaming because he knows he’s standing as it is to say he doesn’t know if he’s standing because he doesn’t know if he’s dreaming.

I disagree with Moore’s argument. Quite simply, how does he know he is standing? That is what he bases his proof on, yet he can’t prove how he knows it. Frankly, Moore’s argument seems like a feeble attempt at trying to prove that the external world exists when in reality he knows he can’t be sure. He justifies that he is not dreaming by claiming to know something, but he cannot justify his knowledge with anything but his senses. And senses are not always reliable.

Plato’s allegory of the cave proves that senses are not always reliable.

In the allegory, there are prisoners in a cave facing the wall. They are chained and cannot look behind them. Behind them is a fire, so that when they look at the wall, all they see are shadows. Say there is a small cat that is behind them. The cat would cast a very large shadow and perhaps it would seem to the prisoners that something very large was in front of them about to attack them. However, their sense of sight would be deceiving them. There is just a cat behind them, and nothing large and dark in front of them, as the shadow would suggest.

In the same way, our senses can deceive us by making us think we are standing, when we are in actuality hallucinating or dreaming that we are standing, for instance. Moore claiming that he is certain that he is standing does not invalidate any of these claims. It just raises more questions. Sure, it would be easy to assert that everything we experience is the truth, but without justification, we cannot assert this. Though it is a valid argument that works in theory, it does not work in practice. If we are being deceived by our senses, it is certainly an unsound one.

Though Moore proposes a valid argument encouraging certainty, I stand by Descartes, as I do not believe that Moore has anything he can use to back up his claim that he is certain that he is, for example, standing. If we cannot be certain, it remains that we should be uncertain about whether or not we are truly standing or living in this external world we experience. It is an “unsure until proven innocent” approach, as I do not think that we are necessarily being deceived, just that we should be uncertain about it. Though this limbo and unsure state of mind is not ideal, it is all we have to work with until a better argument is made against it.

Certainty by G.E. Moore

what is “certainty”?

G.E. Moore is evaluating the claim of certainty, and specifically, if you are able to know if you are standing up. Throughout the reading he takes both approaches to this claim and examines it from both sides. He ultimately reaches the conclusion that either argument is just as valid and sound as the other if both people arguing bring ample evidence to support their claim. This is the first philosopher we have read where he says that both arguments are equal and one does not contradict the other. However at the end he acknowledges the possibility that he could have been dreaming while writing this and thus he does not know if he is dreaming or not. This seems to undermine his support up to this point.

Another person references this by saying, “Notoriously, by the end of ‘Certainty’ Moore acknowledges defeat: having agreed that if he does not know that he is not dreaming, then he does not know such things as that he is standing up and talking, he accepts (with reservations) that he cannot know for certain that he is not dreaming.” I was taken back at the abruptness of his last statement as well. He seemed to have logically came to the conclusion that the argument can be supported either way, but then he says he does not know if he is dreaming while writing this and thus proving the claim you cannot know if you are dreaming or not.

The way Moore ended it left me wondering why he just brought up this point and left it. What exactly did he want the reader to take from this? Why would he waste his time trying to prove a point and at the end give support to one of the arguments and not the other? He seems to pose this final point at the end to show that there will always be a way to pose the question if you are in a dream or not. I believe this is the case when he says it is “logically” possible. From our discussions in class, this is one of the easiest claims to fulfill. It does not have to withhold much to be logically possible. He uses the word logically here to say that logically it is possible, but I feel he would also say it is logically possible to not know if you are if dreams have the same sensory experience if you do not know you are in a dream. I believe he just uses the last claim to say that either argument can be valid.

He is following Desecrates in the way that he is withholding judgment on the matter if you are able to tell if you are standing up because there is evidence for both sides and both sides have valid points. Thus he does not stand by one argument and try to use the one argument to contradict the other. He tries to show that both arguments are able to contradict each other and thus both of these have the same validity. In my opinion, Moore seems to be on to some new way to approach skeptical arguments. Before the skeptic would say that you are unable to know if you are dreaming and the other person would say that they obviously know they aren’t dreaming, now Moore shows that both sides are able to contradict the other one. He then tries to find a new way to look at skepticism and new way to validate or deny the claim that you are certain that you are standing.



Baldwin, Tom. “George Edward Moore.” Stanford University. Stanford University, 26 Mar. 2004. Web. 05 Oct. 2014.

Lucid Dreaming & Computer Simulations

G.E Moore’s “Certainty” tackles the concept of dreaming and how the possibility we may be dreaming alters our supposed conceptions of thought, reality, and knowledge. He presents us with the argument that at any point in one’s existence one cannot “know for certain that [they] are not dreaming”(Moore, p361). He utilizes the example of the Duke of Devonshire who is dreaming about giving a speech to the House of Lords and awakes to actually find himself giving said speech. Through the example Moore illustrates the paper-thin nature of reality and the powerful nature of our subconscious. As dreams can simulate images and correctly deceive many of our senses it becomes very hard to distinguish dream from reality. Moore further argues that despite the fact that we can argue that dreams have occurred, we can still not definitively state that we are not currently dreaming. Moore does make the single concession that it would be very unlikely for one to have all of their memories and sensory experiences and yet be dreaming, which points to the likelihood of one actually being awake. However, to this point I would like to raise a question, what if what we assume to be reality is actually in fact a massive evolving dream and the dreams we have when “sleeping” are just dreams within a dream?

Now to make sure we don’t get too Inceptionesque I would like to compare my proposed “dream within a dream” scenario with that of an “ancestor simulation within an ancestor simulation” proposed by Bostrom. Each is based on the same principal, a deviation from reality existing within another deviation from reality. Those in the first simulation would incorrectly assume that they are living in the “real” world, much like people in the first dream level would assume their world to be “real”. However, the second ancestor simulation and the second dream level would be assumed to be “false” but it’s inhabitants would not correctly “know” the second dream level and second ancestor simulation is false since they do not have correct preexisting assumptions regarding the nature of reality itself since their original world is in itself “false”.

I also want to raise a question regarding the nature of ethics in dreams and ancestor simulations. If our world is “false” and our actions have no bearing on the nature of the universe and the real world, and we become self-aware of this, then should we have any concern for ethics or morality? Bostrom argues that humans should act accordingly regardless of whether or not they believe they are in a form of a simulation since there is always a chance that they are assuming incorrectly. However, if we strongly believe that we are in some form of simulation, and are in fact correct in our beliefs, then our actions and their consequences would be rendered irrelevant. This would be the case providing our actions have no consequences on reality. For example if I was in an “ancestor simulation within an ancestor simulation” and my actions had consequences on the preceding ancestor simulation my behavior remain identical to my behavior in the world I believe is “true” i.e. the first ancestor simulation.

Based on these assumptions I would like to make the point that since we cannot correctly know that we are not in a simulation or dreaming, nor can we definitively assume that if we were in such a “false” world that our actions in our “false” world have no consequences on the “real” world. Therefore we must act as though or world is real despite our assumption that it may not be, and believe that our actions have consequences on all aspects of “reality”.


Am I Who I Am?

You imagine that you know yourself better than anyone else in the world, but do you really know who you are?

Questions like this are what Descartes discusses in his two meditations, where readers are led to question everything. In his first meditation, Descartes focuses on doubt. To do so, he states how he must forget everything he has ever known “and start again from the foundations” (Descartes, 1). The overall focus of the first meditation is that Descartes talks about a “malicious, powerful, cunning demon” that deceives him (Descartes, 3). This demon inputs dreams that trap Descartes’ judgments and make us wonder: if  when we are dreaming, are we just dreaming while we’re asleep, or is all of life a dream?  I suppose that it is possible that a demon can be controlling our lives, but I don’t see why some demon would be doing this.

It is fair to say that one is doubtful of these claims. If one believes this theory, in order to have a justified true belief, S must contain strong evidence that supports such P. I suppose that this situation could be possible in another world, but there isn’t much to any evidence that supports this idea in this world.

Descartes goes onto his second meditation and discusses the human mind. He starts off stating that “everything [he sees] is fictitious. [He] will believe that [his] memory tells [him] nothing but lies. [He] has no senses. Body, shape, extension, movement and place are illusions. So what remains true? Perhaps just the one fact that nothing is certain” (Descartes, 4). He, next, chooses to discuss the senses and how valid they are by focusing on a piece of wax. The senses led to the mind drawing conclusions that the solid and liquid wax forms were the same, but this is not the case. In addition, if you were holding a piece of ice, you would conclude that the ice is cold because that is the answer you get from your sense of touch/feel. According to Descartes, we don’t really know that the ice is cold (Pynn, 1-2); our senses cannot be trusted at all times because there are instances when they can fool us. How do I know that I am actually feeling the back of my desk chair right now, or my fingertips pressing against the keyboard? This could all be a lie.

Bostrom’s essay about post-human simulations contradicts Descartes views on the mind. Where Descartes argues that the mind is the only thing that truly exists, Bostrom discusses the possibility of our minds possibly being run as an ancestor-simulation “rather than among the original biological ones” (Bostrom, 1). How do we know whether or not this is the case? One can wonder for all of his or her life, but will there ever be evidence to prove this is the case? Would those in control of our minds ever allow us to notice such evidence? Therefore, we cannot know that this is the case. Also, our “thoughts” would not truly be our own if we are being controlled by others, so is our mind even uniquely ours? The justified true belief account requires evidence and it is unclear if we will ever have that. I have to see Bostrom’s theory as a possibility because who knows? In another possible world, this could be the case, or even in our own world. We wouldn’t know any different unless those controlling us made us aware.

For all we know, we could all just be brains in vats being controlled and none of these experiences of life are reality. Like the Doubtful viewpoint in the first meditation, “this discovery makes me dizzy…” (Descartes, 2)

Other Sources:

Handout 2: The First Meditation (Professor Geoff Pynn):

Attempting to Poke Holes in Descartes’ Argument

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Descartes’ ideas and seeing him struggle to try and rap his mind around these tough questions. I honestly agreed with a lot of what he argued but in this blog post I would like to try to play Devils advocate a tiny bit, even if I don’t actually believe what I am writing. I wanted to start with Descartes’ major idea in these Meditations, “I think, therefore I am.” It seems logical enough especially after he goes into detail about this particular belief. However, one question popped into my head after mulling over Descartes’ argument for a while. When exactly do humans first acquire the ability to think? Or even more so when do humans first become conscious of who they are or what they are?

Like any good member of the millennial generation I took to the Internet to answer this question. A quick Google search displayed a wide variety of results, one of which I have shared with you all below. As I had originally suspected there is a period of human life where we are incapable of thought and that is when we are in our mother’s uterus. The question I would ask Descartes is that if thought was the only evidence he could find for his existence, does that mean a baby who is not yet capable of thought does not truly exist? It is an interesting thing to think about, and I would argue that that unborn baby does exist all though its brain is not fully formed yet, and it is not even close to being able to think of these philosophical questions. I understand that Descartes is using thought as pure evidence that we are in fact something, but it does still beg the question are we something before we can think?

Building off that, I would also like to talk about Descartes’ hypothetical idea that instead of a loving all-powerful God there is a sinister controlling being that could be deceiving us at every point in our lives. I agree that this could possibly be the case or at least there is no proof that this is not the case, however I think Descartes overlooks something that also relates to his hypothesis “I think therefore I am.” If this evil being really was all-powerful and able to control what we see and believe couldn’t he control our very thoughts too? What is so powerful about Descartes’ idea of thinking if our whole consciousness could be entirely controlled by a malevolent force?

Even the very process of thinking about these big questions could be controlled by this evil and could be leading us in a completely false direction. And even more so, if our very thoughts were completely controlled by something else does that really count as thinking? It seems like the very idea of thinking revolves around being independent and free to explore your own mind. If some other being in fact controlled our thoughts I am not sure we could consider them thoughts. And if that is the case, that we can’t actually say for sure that we are thinking, Descartes whole proof of existence falls apart.