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Good afternoon!. Bellringer : The astronomer Carl Sagan said “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” What did he mean by this? Do you agree?. Chapter 1 Overview. The world is a confusing and contradictory place.

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good afternoon

Good afternoon!

Bellringer: The astronomer Carl Sagan said “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” What did he mean by this? Do you agree?

chapter 1 overview
Chapter 1 Overview
  • The world is a confusing and contradictory place.
  • How do we make sense of all the confusing and contradictory beliefs?
  • The world is, in fact, far larger than our personal “worlds”
common sense
Common Sense
  • Our “common sense” probably contains inaccuracies and biases that we are not aware of.
  • Common sense” consists of beliefs that can be based on prejudice, hearsay and blind appeals.
      • Hearsay: unverified, unofficial information gained or acquired from another and not part of one’s direct knowledge. (Examples: gossip or rumors)
our mental map
Our Mental Map
  • Mental Map: our ideas of what is true and what is false, what is reasonable and what is unreasonable, what is right and what is wrong, etc…
    • Our mental maps may give us a distorted picture of reality
    • Our ideas and beliefs come from many sources… our own experience, parents, friends, teachers, books and the media… It is possible that there are inaccuracies in some of this knowledge, since we don’t always have the chance to check up on some information.
paradox of cartography
Paradox of Cartography
  • There is no such thing as a “perfect map.” A perfect map would be useless, because it would be life-sized.
  • It has often been thought that certainty is what distinguishes knowledge from mere belief.
  • Certainty: The idea here is that when you know something you are certain that it is true and have no doubts about it.
  • Belief: When you merely believe it, you may think it is true, but you are not certain.
looking at 4 ways of knowing
Looking at 4 Ways of Knowing
  • Language
    • I know because somebody told me, but maybe….
  • Perception
    • I know because my 5 senses inform me, but maybe…
  • Reason
    • I know because it is logical, but maybe…
  • Emotion
    • I know because my heart/moral compass guides me, but maybe…
  • * We acquire knowledge about the world through language, perception, reason and emotion, but none of these ways of knowing can give us certainty.

Radical doubt

    • Do we truly exist?
    • What is the utility of radical doubt?
    • Are some areas of knowledge more certain than others?
  • there is no such thing as absolute truth that exists in an objective way independent of what anyone happens to believe is true.
  • truth is relative (truth may be different for different individuals or for different cultures)
  • * According to relativism, truth is relative to the individual; but the fact that we take seriously the idea that someone may be wrong in their beliefs suggests that relativism is false. E.g. Is the earth flat?
  • Since we live in a world with few black and white certainties, we must rely more on judgement than proof in deciding what to believe.
  • Good judgement is the ability to balance scepticism with open-mindedness
  • E.g. Aliens visiting Earth at some point
  • “We should cultivate a healthy scepticism as an antidote to intellectual—and financial—gullibility
  • If you are too gullible, you will find plenty of charlatans and hucksters out there who will be only too willing to relieve you of your money
gullibility scenario
Gullibility scenario:
  • Someone approaches you asking for some change for bus fare. What do you do?
the danger of scepticism
The Danger of Scepticism
  • If we’re too sceptical, then we run the risk of halting intellectual progress and knowledge will stagnate
  • E.g Continental drift first proposed in 1912, guffawed at, resurrected in 1960s
reasonable knowledge
Reasonable Knowledge
  • In determining if a knowledge claim is reasonable, we need…
  • Evidence
    • There should be some positive evidence supporting the claim
    • Also we need to look for counterevidence
reasonable knowledge cont d
Reasonable Knowledge, cont’d.
  • Coherence
    • Does the claim fit in with our current understanding of things?
    • We must examine our doubts of a belief one at a time
    • “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”
argument ad ignorantiam
argument ad ignorantiam
  • The fact that you can’t prove that something isn’t true, doesn’t make it true


  • Since you cannot prove that ghosts do not exist, they must exist.
  • Since scientists cannot prove that global warming will occur, it probably won't.
  • Fred said that he is smarter than Jill, but he didn't prove it, so it must be false.
why do beliefs matter
Why do beliefs matter?
  • Do people have the right to believe what they want to believe?
  • Are some beliefs more worthy of respect than others?
why do beliefs matter cont d
Why do beliefs matter, cont’d.?
  • Our beliefs define who we are
  • Our beliefs can affect our actions, or what others do to us (e.g. being executed for heresy or witchcraft)
  • Some beliefs are misguided and dangerous, e.g. cigarettes and gummy bears
    • What other examples can you think of?
chapter 1 conclusion
Chapter 1 Conclusion
  • Knowledge is not static; it has a history and is ever evolving
  • Three possible solutions to the problem of knowledge that each have limitations
    • Common Sense
    • Certainty
    • Relativism
  • Problem of knowledge has no easy solution, so we must use judgement in trying to decide what to believe