Knowing What We Know (And What We Don't)

Sunday, March 19, 2017

What is it

It seems like we know many facts about ourselves and the world around us, even if there vastly many others we know that we don’t know. But how do we know if what we believe to be true is really knowledge? Can our beliefs be both justified and true, yet still not count as genuine knowledge? If so, then how much confidence should we really have in our beliefs? Is there a way to strike a balance between paralyzing skepticism, on the one hand, and dogmatic conviction, on the other? John and Ken know that their guest is Baron Reed from Northwestern University, author of "The Long Road to Skepticism."

Part of a six-part series on Intellectual Humility.

Listening Notes

How can we avoid dogmatic arrogance but also avoid the paralysis of doubt? We ought to avoid cutting ourselves from opposing viewpoints, but at the same time we ought to avoid becoming susceptible to invalid viewpoints -- like those of climate denial. How can we balance skepticism and dogmatism?

John and Ken are joined by Baron Reed, associate professor of philosophy at Northwestern University and author of The Long Road to Skepticism. Baron discusses his early fascination with David Hume’s skepticism and how his line of questioning radically destabilized people’s worldviews and sense of reality. Baron also argues that there are varying kinds of knowledge and how competence in one kind does not transfer onto others. 

Ken brings into the conversation recent psychological research that appears to demonstrate that the human brain is not wired to accept new points of view. Baron, however, responds that this impulsive nature to close our minds can be overcome, especially if one pays attention to instances when we have to rethink our positions. 

Baron further argues that knowledge need not be defined in terms of absolute certainty, as you could claim to have knowledge even if there is potential room for doubt. This is important when it comes to issues that are complicated by “merchants of doubt,” like organizations that deny climate change or the harmful effects of smoking. In these cases, it’s not always 100% provable without any sliver of doubt, but that does not mean that the positive claims put forward are valid. 

In this domain, philosophy can be understood as one of the most practical fields of study, as it trains individuals to come up with the best possible argument for a given point of view and to thoroughly address an opposing argument in its most convincing form. Philosophy in this sense is less an accumulation of doctrines and more an attitude and orientation of questioning toward the world.

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Baron Reed, Professor of Philosophy, Northwestern University

 
 
 

Research By

Jack Herrera
 

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