Epistemology seems to show that knowledge is always fallible. How can that position be satisfying at all? It seems to me that we are eternally condemned to hope we are going in the right direction and that our beliefs about the external world are true. Can't there be a compromise? Is there a way of tracking the truth with certainty?

  • "Certainty" ? It is hard to imagine. Human knowledge is fallible and revisable, but modern scientific knowledge is a good example of success in the process of attaining reliable knowledge; see Scientific Objectivity. Mar 26, 2019 at 10:32
  • I would question the assumption that knowledge is always fallible. Are you quite certain? I'm not sure what you mean here by 'tracking'. .
    – user20253
    Mar 26, 2019 at 12:45
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    Why should it be satisfying? It is a common platitude that the universe provides what we need, not what we want. If there is a good case for infallible knowledge then we should consider it, but our hopes and sentimental preferences are of no consequence. "Compromising" facts to match wishful thinking is not a good idea.
    – Conifold
    Mar 26, 2019 at 18:29
  • It is not clear to me what “tracking” the truth might mean. Mar 26, 2019 at 23:53
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    "Is there a way of tracking the truth with certainty?" There's a great Twilight Zone episode. Crook dies, finds himself in a place where he gets everything he wants, exactly the way he likes it. He soon finds it terribly boring. He says that if he's in heaven, he wants to go to the other place. His guide gives an evil laugh and says, "This IS the other place!"
    – user4894
    Mar 27, 2019 at 3:26

1 Answer 1


The Tracking Theory of Truth

A tracking theory of knowledge is one that describes knowledge as a belief that tracks the truth in a reliable way.

The tracking theory of knowledge was created by Robert Nozick as an attempt to deal with Gettier counterexamples to the previous definition of knowledge — that knowledge is justified true belief.

Philosophy Index, "Epistemology"

The Verification of Metaphysical Statements

There are at least two ways of justifying or verifying. First one could use the indirect method of accepting [the statement] as a tentative hypothesis and treating it as suggested by Stephen Pepper in World Hypothesis [Berkeley, University Press, 1942]...The second way involves verification by eidetic intuition. If [the statement] is, as we have assumed, a metaphysical statement, it tells us something about the essence of what there is. If, therefore, we can get eidetic intuition to function, we ought to be able to see or grasp the fact that the real is or is not the rational. However, even here we cannot expect eidetic intuition to function if we do not know the meaning of the statement. This signifies that at least in [some cases] eidetic intuition waits upon semantic intuition. In both the direct and indirect methods of verification or confirmation everything depends on what is meant by [a particular metaphysical statement].

Logic and the Nature of Reality, by Louis Osgood Katsoff (c1967), pps 105-6

Gettier problem

Edmund Gettier is an American philosopher and professor emeritus at the university of Massachusetts Amherst, who gained fame with his three-page article challenging the "justified true belief" definition of knowledge, prompting Robert Nozick (another American philosopher, he held the Joseph Pellegrino University Professorship at Harvard University) to develop his own epistemological system (the Tracking Theory of Truth) rejecting the principle of deductive closure. According to Nozick's theory,

...knowledge must consist of justified true belief that is "truth-tracking" — a belief such that if it was revealed to be false, it would not have been believed, and conversely.

Nozick believes that the truth tracking conditions are more fundamental to human intuition than the principle of deductive closure.

And although Gettier presented hypothetical cases designed to refute the justified true belief theory of knowledge, with which he intended to demonstrate that intuition is somehow faulty or inconsistent,

...recent studies have actually been providing evidence for the opposite hypothesis, that people from a variety of different cultures have surprisingly similar intuitions in these cases.

Wikipedia, various relevant articles

Is there a way of tracking the truth with certainty?

Generally speaking, yes, assuming that human intuition causes people to believe only such things as have not been proven to be false; and conversely, to disbelieve whatever has not been proven to be true.

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