Second note on epistemic value

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In the previous blog post, First note on epistemic value, I began examining the epistemic categories of [true] opinion and knowledge, as presented in Plato’s Meno, by arguing for a distinction I draw between the form and the constitution of the case. In this second note, I shall further elaborate on my approach to the topic, in particular, to explore a methodological issue that is intrinsic to the separation of knowledge from [true] opinion: the epistemic evaluation of a proposition in its correspondence to objects of the world and the thinkable.

With regard to the exercise of clear and precise evaluation, the objective is not to merely provide assent to the claim that opinion differs from knowledge and that, moreover, the latter is of a higher epistemic value than the former. It rather is to specify the method that underpins such an exercise, to recognise what it can do and, perhaps most importantly, what it cannot. Drawing such delineations between form and constitution is a means of establishing a method of analysis that can inform logical classifications of cases, for the sake of enhancing the comprehensiveness of the consideration. The tacit suggestion is that unless one_ accounts for the specifics of a case, the exercise of separating opinion from knowledge rests on dubious grounds. Yet, including the specifics of any case will not suffice if the case is not definitively discernible from totality. Against this backdrop, a number of scenaria pertaining both to form and constitution can be fathomed that would indeed permit one to bestow epistemic value _in advance or, in other words, to claim a priori knowledge. That would be a means of distinguishing opinion from knowledge without _having to empirically test the _repetition of a case whose factors are held constant in terms of their [inter]operation(s).

In line with this approach there is, however, a further qualification that is pertinent to the issue, namely the distinction between objects of sense and objects of intelligence, the world _and the _thinkable. As I have suggested in my Notes on the Thinkable, the world is the realm of those things that have change or the lack of change in themselves, regardless of how their are thought to be. Their ontological presence is not predicated on the agent/thinker. As for the thinkable, it encompasses those things that have change or the lack of change because of thought. Their ontological presence is dependent on the thinker, existing in the way that they are and to the extent of which they are only insofar as they are conceived as such. Couched in those terms, the correspondence of a proposition to a state of affairs must entail an awareness of the ontological status of the objects it names, of whether they are of the world or the thinkable. Consider the following example where one is presented with these four images and is asked to identify the dragon among them:

Though an actual empirical test is needed to determine the outcome of such an experiment, the author can only identify as “dragon” the winged creature in the cartoon illustration (which also happens to be a pokémon). Be as it may, this scenario engenders a couple of considerations: (i) an ontological, and (ii) a linguistic. Concerning ontology, the effort to identify a dragon involves an implicit recognition of the existence of “dragon”. Yet, if we are to cling on to a conception of reality that omits objects of thought, we are forced to treat as real only that which partakes of the world in being an object of sense. A dragon would presumably fail to qualify for such a classification and would, therefore, have to be cast aside as unreal. Nonetheless, this method would remain oblivious to the fact that not only were we invited to identify a “dragon”, tacitly affirming its presence, but we were also able to discern its form from that of other beings. Understandably, a certain tension becomes identifiable and the means to address it is by broadening our notion of reality to encompass the magnitude of the thinkable, so that it also accounts for intelligible presences. Granted a dragon is a product of myth and fantasy. That would not invalidate the argument that a certain object of thought by the name “dragon” exists in the minds _of people. Rather than suggesting it to be unreal, it would rather be more accurate to recognise its existence as purely thinkable, or else as _chrēmatic, which would stand in contrast to what is sensible or pragmatic.

As for the consideration on language, it concerns the formulation and use of meaningful propositions concerning the presence of “dragon”. To claim that a dragon merely is, will not suffice, for it will, perhaps inadvertently, still be a judgement that remains confined to a uni-magnitudinal understanding of reality that fails to distinguish objects of sense from those of thought. An epistemic statement concerning the ontological status of dragon must convey the meaning of its presence as remaining contained to — or originating from — the thinkable, being what it is because of it being thought of as such. In this regard, any allusion to “dragon” would avoid falling short of appreciating the underlying property of an object of thought: that it seizes to be present where and when no thinker partakes of its figure.

For epistemics the above are but a frame of mind for capturing and further elucidating the manner in which knowledge is conveyed and comprehended. Propositions concerning objects of thought may then be epistemologically evaluated in terms of the context in which those chrēmata are rendered meaningful. This is not to suggest that objects of thought are “out there”, that dragons are found among dogs or apes, that any figment of one’s imagination is as real as anything else, but only to shed light to the fact that agents do possess certain innate faculties for forming, imparting and understanding chrēmata; and it is the context that fosters — and attaches meaning to — such objects of thought that may need to be factored in to an epistemic evaluation. Propositions may then be categorised in reference to their correspondence to the world, the thinkable or to a combination of these two magnitudes of reality, thus contributing to a greater level of clarity, courtesy of a more precise methodology.

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Protesilaos Stavrou

EU policy analyst. Philosopher. Web developer.
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