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Passionate Agnosticism

When asked about my beliefs in God, I describe myself not only as an agnostic, but as a passionate agnostic. Many chuckle when I say this, thinking it an oxymoron. I of course, passionately disagree!

Claimed knowledge should be justified. If we don’t have adequate data to justify a claimed belief, we harm ourselves and our community relative to understanding and furthering our knowledge on that given topic.

I guard my claims of justified knowledge. Relative to the God defined by the religion of my youth, or the God of the religions of my friends, I have found little to support claimed knowledge.

By capitulating on questions of knowledge, by claiming knowledge before we can justify such claims, we do injury to our ability to continue on in the search, unimpeded by falsehoods.

See? I’m justifiably passionate in my agnosticism.

  • How do you determine when you have adequate data to justify a belief? Is there a difference between adequate data to justify belief and adequate data to justify a claim of knowledge?

  • I’d be interested to see what your established criteria is to classify something as justified or knowledge.

    What do you know for sure?

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  • The question of certain knowledge is a philosophical conundrum; the radical skeptic cannot be refuted. I do not argue that absolute knowledge is possible; but, sufficient knowledge, justifiable knowledge does have merit. If it did not, we’d experience no order, only chaos, in our existence.

    In one sense, justification of knowledge is a communal construct. The amount of justification required is proportional to the amount of affect our knowledge has relative to a given community.

    In another sense, justification of knowledge is relative to the predictive power of the claimed knowledge as applied to the objective and subjective aspects of the universe.

    The radical skeptic can always ask another question, and if that is the aim of the question, we’ll find little progress.

    But, before we run down this very long road, I need to ask my questioners: do you concede that any knowledge is justifiable?

  • I believe that there is such a thing as justified knowledge.

  • So, Grasshopper…if you consider any knowledge justifiable, then you and I could, if we needed to, work backwards from that item and establish a framework of justifiability. From there, were we to agree on upon the foundational issues, we could build a base of justifiable knowledge upwards.

    Now, in practice, we take shortcuts to this process, taking for granted certain propositions. But, we operate every day under the idea that knowledge can be and is either justifiable or not.

  • If justification is a function of community to any significant degree, then it seems that one community might consider some knowledge unjustified that another community might consider justified. How do we reconcile this? In other words, is there some set of criteria that everyone (or the vast majority of people) can agree upon as justifying knowledge?

    Also, are there differing sets of criteria for different knowledge items? For example, is my memory that I ate chicken for dinner the other night sufficient to justify my knowledge of that fact? Would my memory that you uttered a particular sentence during a conversation that night be equally justificatory of that knowledge?

    I’m also still definitely interested in the question of whether “belief” and “knowledge” require equal justification.

  • How do we reconcile competing claims of justified knowledge? Reason, patience, persuasion. The need to reconcile these differences is proportional to the amount of affect the variant knowledge claims have relative to each community or individual. This is THE struggle from which I hope to craft a More Perfect union.

    Regarding different criteria relative to differing types of knowledge; different types of knowledge require different types of study. There is a continuum of objective and subjective types of knowledge, and these two types of knowledge will require different approaches for justification, as an example.

    If you tell me you ate chicken last night, and there is no “cost” to me in accepting that knowledge per your claim, then I’ll require nothing more than your word. If, however, there is consequence to the knowledge claim you are making, then we’ll begin working towards justification of the claim, again, proportional to the affect that the claim has on me.

    As to whether belief or knowledge require equal justification; it depends on what you mean when you use the terms “belief” and “knowledge.” If I say “I believe it will rain tomorrow,” then, to me, I am qualifying the claim by using the term “believe” rather than saying “I know it will rain tomorrow.” I think there is generally a “qualification” or a lessening of the knowledge claim built into the word “believe” relative to the word “know.”

  • In your response to my example of remembering to have eaten chicken, you seem to shift from discussing whether my knowledge is justified to whether you agree with me. Can person A be justified in knowledge claim K, even though person B disagrees with K?

    If justification is solely a function of community, then your disagreement seems to imply that my knowledge claim is not justified, relative to the community of you and me. But is justification solely a function of community? Or is there something else to it?

    Are there any kinds of knowledge that are subjective to such a degree that they cannot be justified relative to a given community?

  • Grasshopper…in one of my earlier responses, I spoke of two different senses of justification. One is communal, and the other is not. My mere initial disagreement with you on a given topic does not mean that a certain knowledge claim is “unjustifiable” even if it is not currently justified relative to our community. That’s where reason, patience, and persuasion play a role. As I stated previously, the need to reconcile these differences is proportional to the amount of affect the variant knowledge claims have relative to each community or individual.

    There are those (the philosophy of pragmatism, for example) that believe that all knowledge is justified relative to a community, period. For example, if a majority of a community believed that the earth is flat, then that knowledge would be justified. And, that would be the end of it according to these persons.

    I don’t believe that. I believe that knowledge can be justified outside of communal support for the knowledge; that minority opinions can be justified. In fact, the progression of knowledge relies on the emergence and support of minority opinions.

    This requires us to maintain humility in all of our knowledge claims; to recognize the transitory nature of justified and justifiable knowledge. But, this doesn’t give us freedom to claim that any minority opinion is justified absent our ability to support that knowledge claim with data.

  • But, this doesn’t give us freedom to claim that any minority opinion is justified absent our ability to support that knowledge claim with data.It seems to me that it must go well beyond this. Data obviously require interpretation, which typically requires a framework, which typically requires assumptions, reliance on authority, etc., and implies a community. So while a knowledge claim might be justified relative to one community, it might not be justified relative to another community (including, perhaps, the same community at a future time). But is this very different from mere disagreement?

    It seems to me that what you’re getting at is that our knowledge claims should rely on empirical methods — they should take into account the data. Right?

  • Yes…I think that is right; I rely heavily, but not exclusively, on empiricism. I think data matters. If you are making a claim that could be verified through data, then I think it a fair question to ask you for the supporting data. And yes, data requires interpretation, etc, which relies upon foundational understandings of the knowledge claim. This brings us back to reason, patience and persuasion; and again, requires our humility in any knowledge claim.

    And yes, certain communities will consider a knowledge claim justified while another community will consider it unjustified. To the degree that the knowledge claim of one community impacts the other community, then the knowledge claim must go through further justification.