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The Causal Theory of Knowledge

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The Causal Theory of Knowledge

  1. Definition: In response to Gettierís counterexamples to the Lockean definition of knowledge as having a Justified, True, Belief (JTB), Alvin Goldman added one more clause to the definition: Causal Connection. According to Goldmanís Causal Theory of Knowledge, for S to know that P, in addition to having a JTB, Sís belief in P must be causally connected with what makes P true. In other words, the same thing that causes P to be true must cause S to have the belief that P is true.


  2. Counterexample A:

    (a) Technically knowledge, intuitively not: Take this case for example:

    • Suppose, I am a Las Vegas casino owner and I bet on Oscar Award winners.
    • I have planted a 100% faithful & reliable spy in the Board of Directors of Oscars.
    • The Chairman of the Board suspects that there is a spy in the Board and so he makes a false list of Oscar winners and puts it in his desk drawer.
    • My spy copies the list and reports to me that Russell Crowe will win this yearís Best Actor award (which is false, since Tom Hanks is the real winner).
    • Although odds are heavily against me, I bet $1.2 billion on Russell Crowe.
    • One hour before the Oscar ceremony, FBI unearths a conspiracy to kidnap Russell Crowe (which had nothing to do with my spy and me), and finds Tom Hanks guilty.
    • The Chairman of the Board calls for an urgent meeting and changes the winner, so now Russell Crowe is the new Best Actor. My spy didnít know about this change, so neither did I.
    • Oscars are announced and Russell Crowe wins the Best Actor award.
    • Because of my so-called "knowledge," I become richer than Bill Gates and buy Hawaii, Switzerland, and Willy Wonkaís Chocolate Factory.

    (b) Why the counterexample works?

    Does it follow from 2(a) that I had the "knowledge" that Russell Crowe will win Best Actor in Oscar 2001? Intuitively it does not; this is not knowledge. However according to the Causal Theory of Knowledge, it seems that, I had the knowledge that Russell Crowe will win, since the following are satisfied:

    • It was true that Russell Crowe won.
    • I believed that he would win.
    • I was justified in believing that he will win because my spy told me.
    • And there was a causal connection between the truth and my belief for it, namely my spy, who went and copied the false list and reported to me.

    Intuitively we wonít call this knowledge. This example thus proves that despite meeting all the conditions of Goldmanís Causal Theory, there is something lacking in the minimum criteria for knowledge. It works to counter the Causal Theory, because it fulfils all the requirements to technically meet the definition of knowledge, but intuitively itís not considered knowledge. The intuition to disregard this as knowledge is also very strong, which makes it even more effective.


  3. Counterexample B:

    (a) Intuitively knowledge, technically not: Take the same example with a few modifications:

    • My spy finds out that the winner is Russell Crowe, which in fact is true.
    • However, as he tells me this over my cell phone, I am driving in NYC in traffic, while playing Quake 3D online through my laptop, and at the same time I am memorizing the 364th page of the Oxford English Dictionary.
    • After I reach home, I bet $1.2 billion on Russell Crowe and go to bed.
    • When I wake up, I clearly remember that I had bet on Russell Crowe to win, but I forget everything about my spy, his phone call, and everything remotely related to him.
    • Oscars are announced and Russell Crowe wins the Best Actor award.
    • Once again, I become richer than Bill Gates and buy France, Egypt, and the Taj Mahal.

    (b) Why the counterexample works?

    Clearly it seems that 3(a) is knowledge. Just because I donít remember how I found out the winner, does not mean it is not knowledge. However according to the Causal Theory, although:

    • It was true that Russell Crowe won.
    • And I believed that he would win.

    I did not have the justification and I could provide no causal connection between my belief and the truth.

    As a result, according to the Causal Theory, I did not know that Russell Crowe would win, although intuitively itís very clear that I knew he would win. If it is not possible to provide a causal connection, then according to this theory, it is not counted as knowledge anymore. Consequently, our pool of knowledge becomes drastically small if we cannot prove the causal connection between our beliefs and the truth, especially if we learnt something long time ago.

    This example proves that something that we take for granted as knowledge, can be rejected by the Causal Theory, and as a result, calls for the redefinition of the essential properties or minimum requirements for something to be counted as knowledge.