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Fr. 462

December 17, 2013

Indeed, this dilemma or incoherence would seem to lend further credibility to the positions taken by surplus value opponents. As specified above, the first strategy employed by its opponents entails denying the first premise of the subsumption argument by showing that knowledge has the same value as merely true belief, at least, within a larger or smaller range of cases, to be defined by the particular opponent. To come back to the bookshop example, in individual instances, merely true belief that the shop is located at 29 Mathewson Street will be as useful to the bookshopper as knowledge thereof. More broadly speaking, the opponent must show that knowledge has in some (if not all) cases a weaker sense than is typically attributed to it by proponents of surplus value, such that merely true belief will be as of much (instrumental) value as knowledge in a given instance. In other words, this amounts to bringing knowledge and merely true belief closer together. To return to the example above, the bookshopper would be getting things right in both the case where she has knowledge and that where she has merely true belief; in neither case would the bookshopper be getting things wrong. Thus, in some sense, knowledge and merely true belief might be thought to be closer in kind than previously supposed.

Unsurprisingly, the attempt to reduce knowledge to merely true belief (or something close to it) encounters difficulties of its own, as the proponent of surplus value will be quick to point out. The primary difficulty is that of sticking to this weak sense of knowledge in all, most or even some cases when presented with possible cases in which a stronger sense of knowledge seems to be implied. One way in which this comes out in the example is the qualification of “in individual instances” or “a given instance”. Indeed, when limited to a single instance rather than a series of them, there is the temptation to hold that, knowing or merely truly believing, our bookshopper gets it right rather than wrong and that these exhaust the range of possible outcomes, showing that knowledge and merely true belief are close in kind. Yet, when one expands the example from one instance to a series of instances, it is less tempting to read these in such a way. If a lucky guess lies at the root of the merely true belief concerning the shop’s location whereas an effort to know the various bookshops in the area grounds the knowledge that the shop is to be found at 29 Mathewson street and not elsewhere, then the merely true belief that p is not likely to be repeatable across multiple instances whereas knowledge proves capable in precisely this. Accordingly, the opponent taking this path must either make sense of this strong feature of knowledge or nuance her presentation of the weak sense of knowledge through suitable qualifications and restrictions.

The second strategy available to the opponent might seem more tenable in that it enables her to deny the first premise without having to provide a precise, first-order account of the equivalence in value between knowledge and merely true belief. Here, the task is a second-order one: explaining why we have the intuition that knowledge is or must be more valuable than merely true belief. As mentioned above, the opponent might accomplish this by pointing out conceptual confusions surrounding knowledge and its value: for instance, if what makes knowledge valuable is its merely being true, then additional components of knowledge, namely, justification and a suitable anti-Gettier element, have no value of their own and derive their value from the mere truth of the proposition. Alternatively, the opponent can point out those uncritical, pretheoretical commitments that the thinker tacitly admits into her epistemology when she grants that knowledge has more value than merely true belief without first examining her reasons for holding this position. While she is not wrong to think that knowledge has value, there is, for the opponent, no prima facie reason to think that it has more value.

Again, despite its appeal, this position comes up against its own explanatory difficulties in attempting to carry out its otherwise plausible task. On one hand, conceptual confusions are, by their nature, matters of dispute and are thus liable to multiple readings or interpretations. On the other, it is unclear if the opponent can explain away all of those pretheoretical intuitions simply by underlining their uncritical nature. It is at least plausible to suppose that these intuitions owe to the natural language distinction between knowledge and (merely true) belief and, thus, that there is at least some distinction to be draw between the two, in nature and value.

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