Hospers vs. Descartes: Knowledge

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There are three standard ways in which we apply the word “know”: 1. I know who a person is, 2. I know how to do something, and 3. I know that something is the way it is. The third of the previously listed kinds of knowledge is the propositional case: “I know that” is followed by a proposition. For example, “I know that I am now typing up my précis”. Hospers discusses the propositional condition of knowledge.

There are three essential components to propositional knowledge: truth, belief, and evidence. Truth and belief are fairly straightforward concepts; evidence, however, is controversial. Yes, we all agree that in order to know something, there must be evidence that backs up that knowledge. For example, suppose you believe the moon is actually a cupcake, but it isn’t until years after your death that scientists discover that the moon indeed is a cupcake. Even though it is true that the moon is a cupcake, you did not have any evidence supporting your claim during your lifetime, thus your knowledge of the cupcake moon was actually a shot-in-the-dark, lucky guess. Therefore, beyond truth and belief, knowledge requires evidence. The question is, how much evidence does knowledge require? This is where controversy arises…

In order for somebody to know something without a shadow of a doubt, does not the evidence have to be complete? In other words, is evidence ever adequate if it is not 100% complete? Furthermore, is it even possible to know a proposition if there is anything less than every single bit of evidence required of that proposition?

There are two different senses of “know”: there is a weak sense and there is a strong sense. According to the weak sense, something can be known when it is believed, when there is strong enough evidence for it, and when it is true. On the other hand, according to the strong sense, something can be known when it is true, when it is believed, and when there is absolute conclusive evidence. We most often use the...
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