Epistemology is one of those fancy ideas more people should understand. And I mean this, countless notions could change the world if only the world paid closer attention to them. The anti-luck intuition is one of those notions.
And the phrase itself is elegant; it appears to mean something significant or to belong to a philosopher’s extensive vernacular. And that’s because it does, but the meaning it carries may help improve the human condition if observed by more people.
Now, I see that I have carelessly thrown a few words around that might, because of their mysterious nature, confuse the children. Admittedly, this is a problem in philosophy and science when overeducated folks speak and write to and for each other, ignoring the need to make their work accessible to the general public.
At the risk of digressing, I will submit now that one of the primary reasons for the spread of misinformation is poor science communication. If you’ve ever had to read a scientific research paper to find citations, you know it can take hours of deciphering jargon to uncover two lines of usable material.
So, having slightly but necessarily digressed to prove a point, I promise to make this piece as accessible as it is possible.
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I also have to admit that my distaste for the average human reading comprehension level grows as I sacrifice style for accessibility.
That at twenty-two letters, the previous sentence is too long for most humans to read seems like a serious problem to me. Substance, it seems, is limited to cognitive ability.
And I’ll ask you to keep the previous point in mind as you continue reading.
To put it simply, epistemology is the study of knowledge acquisition. This branching of philosophy is concerned with the nature of knowledge and how humans “get to actually know things”. And to arrive at a proper definition of knowledge, there has to be a clear distinction between knowledge and belief.
The Broken Clock Problem
Consider the following thought experiment.
You know you have to call your friend at 7:00 pm to talk about plans for tomorrow morning. As you go about your day, you look at the clock on your wall and see that it’s 6:59 pm. Prompted by this information, you call your friend who is happy to hear from you at the expected time.
After a fifteen-minute conversation with your friend, you hang up the phone and look at the clock on your wall again, only to see that no time has passed. It’s 6:59 pm, which seems impossible because you spent approximately fifteen minutes on the phone with your friend.
You verify the time by looking at the clock on your cell phone, and sure enough, it’s 7:15 pm. Looking at the clock on the wall again, you see that no time has passed. You reasonably conclude that there must be something wrong with it, and on closer inspection, you see that the clock is broken.
Consequently, you realise that calling your friend at the right time was merely a stroke of luck. Yes, you acted on information from a trusted source, but the source was wrong this time.
The question you should entertain here is whether or not you truly knew the time of the day when you dialled your friend at the expected time. You should understand that in this case, you rightfully believed that it was 6:59 pm, but you arrived at that belief through false information. Events could have easily unfolded differently if you only looked at the clock on your wall at a different time.
Your clock could only have matched reality at two points during the day, merely because of luck.
Tha Anti-Luck Intuition
This is what the anti-luck intuition tells you. True knowledge or true beliefs cannot result from luck; you must always be able to trace the epistemic value of a claim. And, more critically, you should always trace the truth value of a proposition to evidence from a working, valuable source.
Another intuition concerning the nature of knowledge is cognitive ability, or the notion that knowledge requires a commitment to proper thinking. I’ll write more about the cognitive ability intuition later.
For now, I want you to understand that people are like clocks, and sometimes they present the wrong information either willfully or inadvertently. And many more people lack the ability or desire to commit to challenging their thinking, making broken clocks a problem in the acquisition of proper knowledge.
Thank you for reading. I’ll have much more on this soon.
— The Devil Unbound