Sunday, January 14, 2018

Much Knowledge is Epistemic Luck

In a recent post (linked to here) I observed how we simply assume that we can refer directly to the things around us: we cannot know that their substances are not changing in ways that leave their properties the same, because we can only know their properties. Were their substances changing, reference to them would keep failing (assuming that reference is direct).
     And similarly, we cannot really rule out that we are Brains In Vats: all of our evidence is compatible with our brains having been harvested by aliens (in a real world where such aliens are common) and put into high-tech vats that simulate worldly experiences. While we are unlikely to have been harvested recently (as recently noted (although note that we cannot rule out as unlikely a world where are are frequently, but not too frequently, re-vatted)) it is not unlikely (by the standards of the apparent world) that there are such aliens (what is strange is that we see no aliens).
     But of course, we can and do simply assume that there are not such aliens, that we are not currently asleep in our beds and dreaming, that all of our particles are not always being switched with identical particles, and so forth. It is upon such foundations that our knowledge of the external world is built. And of course, we are not BIVs, we are not dreaming, and so on; or at least, I do assume not. And so we do have knowledge of the external world. But, because those are assumptions, such knowledge is epistemic luck.

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