I Know London is the Capital of France

I teach logic online. In addition to my regular logic students I have several Classical Conversations tutors who audit my logic course. After I finish the lesson and my students leave, the auditors join the class live, turning on camera and mic, and we discuss the lesson. I appreciate these discussions, because I often learn as much from them as they do from me.

Yesterday we were discussing Introductory Logic Lesson 7, Self-supporting Statements, especially the concept of the self-report. A self-report is a statement about one’s own thoughts, beliefs, or feelings, which we generally (out of Christian charity) consider to be true. If someone says, “I believe that Jesus is God,” we take the statement to be true — not the statement that Jesus is in fact God, but the statement that they believe Him to be so. If someone else were to say, “I think that Jesus was a mere man,” I take their claim to be true as well; that is, the claim that they think that Jesus was a mere man.

As we talked about this, one of my auditors asked, “Can the phrase ‘I know’ introduce a self-report?” I boldly responded “Yes, because ‘to know’ is very much like ‘to believe.’ In fact, knowledge can be defined as true, justified belief. For example, I know that Paris is the capital of France, because I believe Paris is the capital, my belief is true, and I can justify it (by asking an authority, or visiting the L’Assemblee Nationale building in Paris).” She replied, “But what if someone said, ‘I know that London is the capital of France’? Isn’t that statement false? It is not a true belief, and so they do not in fact know it.”

To which I replied, “Huh.”

She was correct. “To know” is more objective than “to think” or “to believe”; the phrase “to know” requires the element of truth, but the other phrases do not. I had not thought through my answer carefully, and by the continued discussion I realized I was wrong. I learned something from my auditors.

So keep asking those tough questions. Don’t be afraid to think harder, and to continue to learn things that you think you know.  🙂


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