|One thing I always found interesting about Objectivism is its contextualist stance on knowledge. |
According to most Western philosophers before Gettier, P knows that R iff:
1. R is true.
2. P believes R.
3. P is justified in believing R.
Objectivism has a very organic, logical structure to its scheme of justification. Objectivism views knowledge as a sorting tool for phenomena in a theory similar to that of W.V.A. Quine. In the Objectivist view, it is impossible to separate the truth from the justification, since the only way we have of determining that R is that R is justified. Retrospectively, we can argue that R was once justified but is no longer given current evidence, but Objectivism claims that if one is contextually certain that R, then R is true. However, this introduces an immediate question. Does this mean that I can claim R is true today, but without contradiction claim R is false if sufficient evidence appears later?
Objectivism's traditional answer is yes. Given the context, R was true; given the new context, we know R is false. P knows R iff:
1. P believes R.
2. P is justified in believing R.
According to OPAR, one is justified in believing R iff
1. R coheres inside a system of concepts without contradiction
2. R identifies a fact of reality.
3. The constituent concepts of R can be reduced to the perceptual level.
Requirement 2, which is Objectivism's version of the correspondance theory of truth, is problematic, for it is possible for one to be contextually certain of R and not have R identify a fact of reality. Piekoff used the example of the claim that one's professor is an imposter. I can imagine without contradiction that a professor has been replaced with a highly skilled imposter, one so skilled as to make him nearly undetectable. After sitting with him for 45 minutes, I continue to believe that he is my actual professor, for no facts of reality compel to think otherwise. Claiming that he is an imposter would be arbitrary--I am completely unjustified in thinking so--though he in fact is. Since Piekoff endorses this view, it appears he should replace 2 with 2'.
2'. R appears to identify a fact of reality.
But 2' is superfluous given 1 and 3. R might not have to actually correspond to or identify a fact for it to be justified. As George Smith in his Why Atheism pointed out, a boy might be contextually certain and justified in believing that Santa Claus actually exists yet be concurrently wrong. Thus the traditional claim that knowledge is belief that is both true and justified.
So perhaps objectivism must remove any ties to the correspondance theory of truth. Changing to the use of "indentifies" doesn't appear to do this.
Regardless, Objectivism's answer to the apparent changes of truth is to include a sort of preamble to every knowledge claim. The preamble is given somewhere in OPAR, but as my copy is 800 miles away from me, I will improvise my own from memory.
The preamble is something like this:
"Given the evidence available to me at this time, it appears indubitably that".
This way, according to OPAR, future knowledge will never contradict past knowledge. If one was justified in believing R in the past, one could have then claimed that R was true. Now that one has more perceptual data, one knows R is false. However, can one say that R was true for one back then? This seems rather odd. If R identifies a fact of reality or if R corresponds to a fact, doesn't it do so regardless of the preamble? Sure, we'll never know if R is true or false outside of our current justification, but regardless, R simply is true or false, isn't it? If I say that I am writing on a computer, the fact of my writing on the computer is metaphysical, but the justification of the claim is epistemological. The fact that is identified is a metaphysical fact, one that does not require a particular web of concepts with a hierchical structure.
Let us ignore that issue momentarily and focus on the underlying serious problem with contextualism. What is the logical form of this preamble? What possible logical particle would allow one to claim R now and not-R later without contradiction? Well, a conditional would do. Actually, a conditional damn well better do, for that's what the preamble is. Basically, Objectivism's justification scheme for the assertion of truth is something like
If (evidence) then (assertion).
On some levels, this is sufficient. After all, empirical data isn't true or false, it merely is. The problem is when we get to higher levels in which the evidence is also contextually certain statements. Then we have
If (premises are true) then (assertion).
Under this formulation, which obviously parallels deductive validity or inductive cogency, we can get away with the relativism inherent in contextualist theories. Since my data set justifies my belief that R, R is true. Since your data set justifies your belief that not-R, R is not true. This appears to be a contradiction, but given our preamble, there's none. For when an Objectivist asserts R, he really asserts something more like Q->R. If he later claims not R, it's because something is added to the evidence, so his new claim is (Q & T)->~R. This is a contradiction, it would seem, but that's only because our original antecedent was incomplete. Basically, the Objectivist was claiming R on the basis of both Q and the absence of T. He explicitly asserts this in his preamble. An Objectivist will change his belief if new data manifests, be it perceptual or the addition of new true statements. So, rather than beginning with Q->R, he actually was asserting (Q & ~T)-> R, but given T, it is now true that ~R, since he learns (separately, nota bene) that (Q & T)->~R.
These statements, (Q & T)->~R and (Q & ~T)->R, are consistent. So the Objectivist can claim both and not contradict himself. His previous truth can stay true back then, given his nice preamble, but he can also that the assertion is actually false, since his new evidence changes the evidence referred to in his preamble now. He's not claiming that both R and ~R were true at the same time and in the same respect, for they're true only in the respect that they're justified.
I suspect that one could pounce upon that with considerable ease, but I'll resist.
Now, here's the point. Most knowledge is inductive and made up of such conditional statements (given preamble then assertion). But on this, one cannot deductively conclude any non conditional statement. If all I have for premises is string of conditionals, I cannot conclude any statement that is not itself a conditional or a permutation of a conditional (such as an 'or' statement).
Sure, we can get first level statements, since the evidence in the preamble simply is and is neither true nor false. On that level, we don't say that if something is true then something else is true, we simply abstract away. But don't we abstract on the basis of perceived similarities and differences? And aren't these all based on whatever data we happen to have observed? And isn't that conditional? We might have developed slightly different concepts with different data. An eskimo has 400 concepts for solid water to the English speaker's 3 or 4.
Is all knowledge ultimately conditional? I don't mean conditional as in it requires evidence to make it true (if the universe then...), but all knowledge claims are based on a preamble, the truth of which must be established by another preamble, the basis of which is some data which only conditionally supports first tier concepts and statements?
I unconditionally hope not.