Knowledge & Belief

Knowledge & Belief:

Here is an interesting article from the frontier between science and philosophy. A scientist from CERN is talking about knowledge versus belief.

The European: What is the difference between justified opinion and belief?
Heuer: Justified opinion or knowledge is something that you can at least partially prove. Belief or philosophical thought cannot be examined through experiments.

The European: For Aristotle, physics was the primary science that could tell us almost anything about the cosmos. But he also thought that all things had an innate capacity – the telos – to develop to their full potential.

And so it fell to philosophy to investigate the nature of things.
Heuer: At the edge of physics, it becomes linked to philosophy. But in the case of particle physics, it is really not a question of “believing” but of deducing something from a larger theoretical framework or from experimental data. Once you can prove something, it is no longer a question of philosophy.
That's not right, actually; philosophy deals as much as it can in things that can be proven. There are far fewer of those things than is commonly believed, but we'll leave that for the moment.

There are two questions here, and the scientist misses the import of the second one entirely. What he wants to say is that nothing has a telos; this is to say that there is no reason why things are what they are. To say that there is no telos behind the physics is to say that there is no metaphysics, which is what scientists usually say. What they fail to realize is that "there is no metaphysics" is itself a metaphysical claim: there is no standard by which to judge it other than metaphysics. (By that standard, I would argue, it doesn't fare well; but we'll leave that as well.)

The other problem is that he divides knowledge from belief, but the normal formula for knowledge includes belief. (An aside: can you have an opinion you don't believe?) Knowledge until Gettier raised his flag was supposed to be "justified true belief," that is, rather stronger than 'justified opinion.' Justified opinion can't be knowledge if it is not true, after all: otherwise you are saying that you could know something that is false. You could certainly believe something that was false; but if that is "knowledge," then there's no reason to distinguish between justified opinions that are true and those that are false. The only question to ask is: how good is your justification?

Some who work in epistemology (that is, the study of just what constitutes knowledge) want to include only things that are not just true, but safely true. If you made a lucky guess that the roulette wheel would turn up black this round, that shouldn't count as having known that the wheel would come up black -- no matter how strong your opinion, or whatever your justification.

Quantum physics is an area in which we end up admitting that we don't know very much; it's largely a set of gambles, where the science lies in establishing the range of possibilities as exactly as possible. It's not clear to me how you can know much of anything here. You can have an opinion; and you can have a justification. Whatever that is, it isn't knowledge.

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