Discussion Question 5

Read: Selections from Aristotle’s Topics, Nicomachean Ethics Bk.I

Since we didn’t finish the Theaetetus this week, let’s focus on one suggested definition from the remaining part: knowledge is true judgment with an account. Imagine the following example, embellished from the dialogue: you are stuck in jury duty, listening to an argument that the defendant Joseph stole a pineapple from a grocery store. The prosecution brings forwards several witnesses who attest that they saw a man dressed in a pineapple shirt and wearing an allergy mask (so they could not see his face) acting suspicious around the premises, lifting pineapples up and looking around as if to check if anyone was watching, just before the theft took place. They then bring up a police witness that attests that he caught Joseph 30 minutes after the incident, with the remnants of a pineapple and wearing a pineapple shirt. They bring the shirt Joseph was wearing into the courtroom, having been collected as evidence, and all the witnesses confirm this is the shirt they saw the suspicious man wearing. You listen to the evidence, judge that Joseph is guilty, and think that you know, “Joseph stole the pineapple.” Further, you think that you have a good account or reason for judging that Joseph is guilty, since you know many people saw a man in a pineapple shirt looking suspicious at the right time and Joseph was found in a pineapple shirt.

Unbeknownst to you, the man wearing the pineapple shirt that all the witnesses saw was just a pineapple connoisseur with terrible allergies, lets call him Jonathan, who was in the store to view a rare shipment of the pineapples and a bit embarrassed to be checking them out in such detail in public. It was his bad luck that Joseph caught him outside after stealing the pineapple from the grocery store, and Joseph, in his adrenaline-fueled state after the robbery, held Jonathan up and forced him to switch clothes with him so that the police (he thought) would not be able to track him.

You judged that “Joseph stole the pineapple,” and it was in fact true that Joseph stole the pineapple. On the one hand, you have a good account for why you believe that: all the witnesses, the policeman catching Joseph in the shirt, the confirmation of the shirt as the same shirt. On the other hand, it was only by pure luck that Joseph was wearing the pineapple shirt that all the witnesses saw. Would you say that you know, “Joseph stole the pineapple”?

If so, why do you think this counts as knowledge? If not, and you think it is a counterexample to Theaetetus’ suggested definition, what exactly is wrong with his account? Can you fix it?

8 thoughts on “Discussion Question 5

  1. I believe that I both know and don’t know, “Joseph stole the pineapple,” as it would be erroneous to say that “Joseph didn’t steal the pineapple” as there was an indeed a Joseph that has gone out of his way to steal this pineapple. However, this imparticular man, whom I’m defining under the banner of “Joseph” didn’t steal the pineapple.
    Ultimately, I am knowledge of the robbery being done by a Joseph, but not the one defined under Joseph in front of me.

  2. We cannot say that we know Joseph stole the pineapple. As the jury, we were not witnesses to the event, and so we are relying on the testimony of other witnesses. It could be reasonable to say the jury knows that a man in a pineapple shirt stole the pineapples, and that a man was caught in a pineapple shirt, but not that they were the same man. They only have account of what they saw, and what they saw was not a man stealing the pineapple, simply a before and after. As the jury, it is likely impossible to ever say we know who stole the pineapple, as we are simply relying on the account of others. As it was in old times, there was no technology, and so no cameras, meaning no surveillance. To them, an “account” could simply have meant the word of someone close and trusted. These days, we must more heavily scrutinize our “accounts” because we are capable of gleaning much more than simply testimony.

  3. If I were to be stuck in jury duty given this particular case, I would not claim that I knew (in other words, was certain) that Joseph stole the pineapple. While there are pieces of evidence that appear to direct our attention towards that specific conclusion, all that can be said in the end is that the evidence is purely circumstantial. Through this vein of reasoning, I would say that Joseph actually being the thief would have been happy coincidence—proving my belief that he had in fact stolen the pineapple to be correct. And yet, there is nothing that leads to this idea of it being knowledge.

    If, hypothetically, my judgement had been incorrect, Theaetetus’ definition would be very obviously flawed. The root problem with Theaetetus’ definition is that subjective judgements are interchangeable with knowledge of ‘facts’, which is essentially going through a thought process like: if situation (1) occurred, and situation (2) occurred in proximity to situation (1), then situation (1) and situation (2) must be related. Which, when broken down, is clearly incorrect—as with the example with Joseph and his supposed pineapple thievery.

  4. I could not really say that Joseph stole the pineapple based on the account provided. The belief is correct but the justification behind that belief is not actually sufficient for the belief to be correct. To claim that Joseph stole the pineapple then would not be knowledge, but instead maybe a belief. The issue encountered in this example is that the account is true, and the judgement is also correct, but the judgement is not actually based on the account, only related. There is no definitive tie between the two.

    An example that shows why this definition can not be one for knowledge can be seen in the idea that the moon revolves around the sun. Before we knew this to be fact, many still believed it to be true. The justification was a religious one, that believed God’s greatest creation, man, to be at the center of the universe. While the statement that the moon revolved around the earth would be correct, the reasoning is faulty and because of this, one does not know but instead believes it to be true.

    Perhaps a better definition for knowledge would be one that states that knowledge is true judgement based on a true account. This ensures that the account that establishes the idea is true, and that the idea based on the account is also true.

  5. Based on the definition of knowledge in Theaetetus as “true judgment with an account,” I may claim that I know “Joseph stole the pineapple” and may consider this as knowledge. Going strictly by the definition, there is nothing to suggest that this is not the case. We have a true judgment, since the pineapple was in fact stolen by Joseph, and we have an account. Nothing is mentioned in the definition about the truth value of this account however, only that it is a necessary component of knowledge. What is problematic here is that the account in this case is not correct, and it is only by luck that it coincides with a true judgment.

    The tale of Joseph and the pineapple points out an unfortunate flaw in the definition. In certain cases, chance is permitted to play a part in reaching a judgment. This renders the process of reasoning unsound, and thus invalidates any conclusion we might draw from the evidence. In this light, the statement “Joseph stole the pineapple” clearly does not count as knowledge. We cannot claim to know something is true if it follows from a faulty process of reasoning. To correct this, something must be appended to the definition to eliminate all cases where luck might play a part. This however is a challenging problem, since exhaustively ruling out all the possible conditions where chance could be a factor seems nearly impossible.

  6. I would not say that I know “Joseph stole the pineapple”; it is fairer to say that I believe/imagine that “Joseph stole the pineapple”, and that my belief/imagination happens to be true. I think one distinction between knowledge and belief is that there is a lack of evidence in the latter. Let us use the example to demonstrate this distinction; we have two key facts: (1) a suspicious masked person and Joseph wear the same shirt and (2) Joseph has remnants of a pineapple. The question is, what can we prove from the facts separately? Based on (1), there is a chance that Joseph and the masked man is the same person; however, neither are we certain of it, nor can we say that the suspicious masked man must be the thief in the first place; no solid conclusion is arrived at. Based on (2), just because a pineapple is lost and Joseph has a pineapple does not mean that Joseph is a thief; again, no solid conclusion is arrived at. Miraculously, when we combine (1) and (2), our active brains with a full capacity of imagination naturally picture the story of a masked Joseph stealing the pineapple and him later caught unmasked; however, since neither (1) nor (2) individually leads to any solid conclusion, their combination does not, either. In other words, the so-called evidence, (1) and (2), is not efficient or sufficient in proving our intended conclusion that Joseph is the thief. Therefore, we do not know “Joseph stole the pineapple”.

    The problem with Theaetetus’ definition is, with a given account, we can arrive at many subjective judgments, with the possibility that none of them is true. For example, given the fact/account that Jenny is on her bed, person A may judge that she is sleeping, and person B may judge that she is sick, while Jenny is in fact simply playing her computer on the bed. Although Theaetetus emphasizes that it must be a “true judgment”, true is ambiguous and inaccurate, because it can either mean that the judgment turns out to be a truth, or that the judgment is truly what the person judges/believes. To fix the problem, I suggest that we define knowledge as reasonable judgment with an account, and let reasonable judgment here be defined as a judgment that can be unmistakably arrived at with the given account. In this way, we avoid judgments that turn out to be true by pure luck.

  7. Personally, I do not think that it is a kind of knowledge. Getting back to the the definition that Theaetetus gave firstly as knowledge is perception, I believe that one cannot examine the authenticity of perception as every individual’s perception is unique. However, when knowledge is regarded as the true judgment with account, it emphasizes that people must find out whether the knowledge is correct or wrong, collecting evidence to support it. Thus, in this story, most of jury and police seem to be confused by the “account” they found.

    To begin with, their judgement toward the “pineapple stolen accident” is based on their perception. From a metaphysical perspective, there is something wrong between transformation from the daily-life stuff to the image formed in mind. What they observed is true as all witness achieved the agreement, however, their impression and inference on the court surpassed the fact itself. They constructed the relationship with the pineapple costume and the person who stole the pineapple directly and spontaneously. Pineapple on the clothes seems to be the symbol of “pineapple thief”, providing implication of the “account”. Nevertheless, this type of correlation can be very reasonable sometimes, encouraging people to mix two totally different things together, finally engendering the unreliable judgment. Obviously we discuss about the way people construct relationship between two objects, but one point we need to remember is that not every object in the world could be related by people directly. The “perception” here sounds more like “hallucination” as people did not find the video recording the whole process which captured the action of exchange of costumes, but only trusted a part of the fact, then being decisive to define one’s guilty. Eventually, this judgment is based on the useless relationship created by people as no one realized that it might have other possibilities.

    Obviously we cannot only make judgement through the account made by ourselves. We need to collect the evidence from monitors or other more “objective” stuff. As monitors only record things happened, it will not turn the fact into image or add any unnecessary evaluation on it. Restoring every action taken really does help.

  8. I do not know that Joseph stole the pineapple because it was by sheer coincidence that he was wearing the shirt that made the original suspect described by the jury a suspect. The jury’s description of the suspect was only the pineapple shirt that Joseph had on and that a man was acting suspicious around the pineapples. Even though Joseph indeed steal the pineapples, he was not the target of interest to be brought in. The original man who was wearing the pineapple shirt was. So no, I do not believe that I know that Joseph stole the Pineapple because the account was wrong. If he was accused based on his facial structure, hair color, etc., that would be a better account to base the accusation for who stole the pineapple.

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