Why Do We Value Knowledge?

Published 06 Mar 2017

Why Do We Value Knowledge?, written by Ward E. Jones has one primary goal: to demonstrate how and why such high value is placed on knowledge. Jones states that epistemic instrumentalism views knowledge as a true belief that is gained through justifying that a belief is true. He counters this method by arguing that setting truth, rather than knowledge, as the goal of belief-formation cannot by itself explain why more value is placed on knowledge than on true beliefs. He goes on to state that a function for knowledge is needed, providing two theories to validate his opinion. Those two theories are testimony, which explains why value is placed on the knowledge of others, and the internalist’s intuition, which explains why a person places value on his or her own knowledge. Though both theories can together explain the value of knowledge, Jones says neither one is truly needed to understand the value of knowledge. Instead, he concludes that the true value of knowledge will be found among the contingent properties of knowledge.

Jones begins the first section of the article by providing two reasons for why he is asking about what the value of knowledge is. First, Jones wants to know why knowledge is valued over mere true beliefs. Second, Jones wants to know about the value of the state of knowledge. In other words, he wants to know why people think knowledge is important, why people care about knowledge, and why people think it is better to have knowledge than to have a mere true belief.

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Jones points out that, when asking his question about the value of knowledge, he is working from two assumptions. The first assumption is that knowledge is different from or something more than mere true belief. This first assumption serves as the foundation for the search of conditions of knowledge. The second assumption is that people definitely value knowledge over mere true belief. Jones supports this point by pointing out the following: the high value that is placed on knowledge is what has motivated the vast volume of philosophical work focusing on defining the conditions for knowledge over true belief. He concludes this first section by reiterating the fact that not only is knowledge distinct from, but also more important than true believing.

Jones begins the second section of the article by stating that the instrumentalist uses the means/ends approach towards analysis. This approach entails grouping processes according to their goals, then evaluating the processes according to how well they fulfill their goals. He goes further by stating that the epistemic instrumentalist evaluates a belief-forming process by whether it results in a true belief or not. When an epistemic instrumentalist uses a means/ends analysis in order to understand knowledge, he or she also accepts that 1) the end of belief-formation is to gain true beliefs, and 2) justification is a means to attaining the end of true belief.

Jones moves on, stating that reliabilism is the most popular of the instrumental theories of knowledge. There are two parts to this theory. First, a reliable belief-forming process is one that results in true beliefs the majority of the time. Furthermore, these processes play a primary role in separating knowledge from other true beliefs. In other words, only a true belief resulting from a reliable belief-forming process is considered knowledge. Secondly, for a reliabilist, a belief is justified if it is the result of a reliable process, regardless of whether the belief is true or not. Therefore, if a justified belief is true, then it is considered to be knowledge. However, there is one drawback to this theory: it does not explain why a justified true belief should be valued over any other type of true belief. As a result of this inability to explain why a justified true belief should be more valued, Jones concludes this section by stating that the instrumentalist has left something out of the equation.

In the third section, Jones makes several important points. First, he points out that what is needed to satisfactorily explain the value of knowledge is an account of the function of knowledge. “Knowledge is valuable because it serves some function that mere true belief, or mere true believers, cannot.” (Jones, 9) Therefore, having a functional explanation of the value of knowledge would demonstrate how possessing knowledge is better than possessing true belief.

For his next point, Jones uses quotes from David Armstrong and Colin McGinn, both of whom suggest that in order to decipher the value of knowledge, all that needs to be done is to recognize that those possessing knowledge are better informants. He points out that knowledge is valued because those possessing knowledge make testimony a more reliable process of belief-formation. Therefore, possessors of knowledge can be more trusted due to the likelihood that they will use the same reliable methods again. However, the same drawback applies: there is still no reason given to value knowledge over true belief.

The next point he makes is that the instrumentalist must admit that the only way to identify good informants, it must be obvious to those seeking knowledge from these informants that they used justified methods to get to their beliefs. Therefore, Jones states that if testimony provides a value of knowledge because the possessors of knowledge are good informants, then it is necessary to be able to identify those informants. To explain how this can be accomplished, Jones presents the theory of Edward Craig.

According to Jones’ summary of Craig’s theory: “Knowledge in the state of nature is knowledge fulfilling its original function, and the characteristics of knowledge which allow it to fulfill that function are the characteristics which make knowledge important to us. The concept of knowledge arose so that we could identify those from whom we can gain true beliefs.” (Jones, 12)

For Jones, Craig’s approach is viewed as unique because throughout his entire analysis he never loses sight of how valued knowledge is, and also because his description of knowledge in the state of nature includes the very characteristics needed to make knowledge valuable. In short, Craig’s theory of knowledge tells what knowledge is by telling why knowledge is valued. However, despite its uniqueness, Jones states that Craig’s account has the same shortcoming seen within all testimonial accounts concerning the value of knowledge – while testimony can give explain why the knowledge of others is valued, but it does not explain why an individual values his or her own knowledge. It would have to be supported by another explanation before the understanding of individual valuing of knowledge can take place.
The final point Jones makes in this section concerns the internalist’s intuition, which he calls I/I. He states that this is an attempt to put forth an idea seen within all internalist theories of knowledge. Those theories state that known beliefs get their status partly from the individual’s own awareness of why they are and should be believed. Furthermore, that awareness plays a primary role in why an individual accepts and holds on to his or her beliefs. Jones continues on, stating that beliefs that fulfill I/I are valuable because they bring their justification with them, and that justification in turn can be used to check the veracity of an individual’s beliefs. Jones concludes this section by stating that though I/I may be a source of the value of knowledge, but is not a necessary condition on knowledge.

Jones begins the fourth section with a summarization of I/I and Craig’s theory, then goes on to state that both offer a plausible explanation of the value of knowledge over true belief. He also points out that a prominent feature of the both theories is that the properties of knowledge they are based on are not necessary properties of knowledge. Yet, he seems to contradict this by stating that knowledge will be better understood if the properties that are attributed to it are present. He provides the following example: “If a case of knowledge is possible without C, then C is not a necessary condition on knowledge; if a believer possesses A, B, and C without possessing knowledge, then A, B, and C are not sufficient for knowledge.” (Jones, 18)

Jones continues on by stating what is the crux of his argument: “…the explanation of the value of knowledge will come from contingent characteristics of knowledge…” (Jones, 18) These characteristics are important, but not absolutely necessary to understanding the value of knowledge. Furthermore, it is important to divide the properties of knowledge, not only distinguishing those that are necessary from those that are not, but also distinguishing between those that are valuable and those that are not. He concludes that if the value of knowledge stems from contingent properties of knowledge, then it is not knowledge that is truly being valued, but rather certain aspects of how that knowledge was acquired. He goes on to say that the search for features of knowledge should continue, but along with being concerned about what features of knowledge are necessary, it should also be discerned which ones are valuable.

The final section of the article provides a simple summary of all the major points made within the paper: the discussion of the two concepts of epistemic instrumentalism, which are that 1) the goal of belief-formation is true belief, and 2) that justification is valuable because it can get a person to true beliefs; the theory that belief-formation is not just true beliefs but also knowledge; the discussion of Edward Craig’s theory and the concept of I/I; and the final conclusion that, to understand the value of knowledge, both knowledge and justification must be viewed non-instrumentally. Jones’ article is quite informative, filled with various examples and quotations to support his theories. His theories concerning the value of knowledge are efficiently explained, so that one has no trouble discerning his point. However, the drawback is that many of the points are repeated over and over again throughout the paper. For example, many of his points concerning reliabilism are repetitive, although he attempts to camouflage this by simply rearranging the words in some sentences so that they don’t all look exactly the same.

Furthermore, there are times when Jones uses a long-winded example rather than making a straightforward point. One example he provided that was a bit long-winded is found within the second section of the paper. His usage of percentages, while not difficult to understand, does seem a bit out of place within a philosophy paper. However, it could be said that mathematics affects every field of study that currently exists. Overall, however, Jones’ goal was to prove the point that epistemic instrumentalism is not enough to explain why people value knowledge. He succeeds in accomplishing this goal.

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