When the State of California Knows Stuff: An Answer to a Precocious Eleven Year Old (400 words)

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Question

Create a one-page response to the following philosophical thought experiment:

A precocious eleven year old you met earlier has returned to your house. She comes up to you and you brace yourself. She says, “I read at the local 7-11 store a notice that was posted. It said ‘smoking is known to the State of California to cause lung cancer.’ How does California know that? How does California know, like, anything?”

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First, I would explain to the precocious eleven-year old that people can know certain things about the world. For example, if I smoke a cigarette I can tell you about how it feels, the taste of the tobacco, and other things that I experience. If I am a scientist, I can examine the chemicals that make up cigarettes and I can tell you the effects these chemicals have on human beings. How do I know? I base it on experience. Smoking causes lung cancer is a fact that people have come to know based on many studies into this matter. If new information comes out that smoking cigarettes does not cause lung cancer, then the State of California will have to change the warning. However, let us assume that the scientists who have studied whether or not the chemicals in cigarettes cause cancer are a group of people. So, it is safe to say that groups of people can know things....

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