Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Three-Minute Mysteries for Epistemologists

The local constabulary was stumped. Moments before the party was to have begun, Colonel Maynard had been found with a stab wound in his back. He lay in front of the buffet table, which held a large ice sculpture of a heron, although its long, sharp beak had been broken off and was missing. No murder weapon could be found, although a still-warm hairdryer was discovered plugged into a nearby electric outlet. The chief inspector was about to write the death off to natural causes, when Professor Harris, head of the local university's philosophy department, broke in. "There are your murderers, Chief!" the professor exclaimed, pointing at the caterer and the hairstylist. "Arrest those men!"


Answer: First, the professor believed that the caterer and hairstylist were the perpetrators. Second, it was in fact true that they had murdered the colonel. Third, the professor's belief was justified—that is, it was caused in a reliable way, given the circumstances, having been the only possible conclusion of a process of deductive reasoning that took the physical evidence of the crime as its starting premises. The generally agreed-upon definition of knowledge is that it consists of justified, true belief. Thus, since Professor Harris had a belief concerning the identity of the murders that was both justified and true, he can say that he "knew" this.


Anonymous Riley said...

That was quite awesome. Thank you.

2/22/2006 03:44:00 PM  
Blogger Steve Ely said...

Impressively and enjoyably clever.

2/22/2006 04:17:00 PM  
Blogger Peter Lynn said...

Oh Steve Ely, now you're just deliberately handing me quotable quotes.

(Glad you guys liked it.)

2/22/2006 07:24:00 PM  
Blogger Dickolas Wang said...

So wait, does that mean that "knowledge" doesn't include scientific theories like quantum, atomic, and evolutionary?

I always was more of a numbers guy...

2/23/2006 01:26:00 AM  
Blogger Chance said...

This brings back horrible, horrible memories of epistemology class and long, futile discussions about driving through countrysides festooned with false barn fronts...

2/23/2006 05:09:00 PM  
Blogger Peter Lynn said...

Chance, I think I was in your class. I remember that too.

2/23/2006 08:13:00 PM  
Blogger Steve Ely said...

No way, Peter. That was just me managing to be surprisingly concise and precise. (This is an instance where I think the rhyme actually hurts the syntax.)

"Man vs. Clown! Saucy and educational." That was [halfway] deliberately handing you a quotable quote. Well, maybe a third, or a quarter. I like to think I would have said it anyway, but I'm not too sure.

2/23/2006 11:51:00 PM  

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