Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Avoid the scrapple.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Republicans now almost partially not racist!

Story here. Crucial detail here:
"In my opinion, this isn't funny and it's in bad taste," he [Saul Anuzis] said in a statement. "Just as important, anything that paints the GOP as being motivated in our criticism of President-elect Obama by anything other than a difference in philosophy does a disservice to our party."

Just as important.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Epistemology in Philadelphia

Drop me a line if you plan on attending the Eastern.

If epistemology is your thing, the thing for Sunday night:
GV-11. Society for Skeptical Studies
5:15-7:15 p.m.
Chair: Joseph Ulatowski (University of Wyoming)
Speakers: Otávio Bueno (University of Miami)
“Skeptical Presuppositions?”
Brian Ribeiro (University of Tennessee–Chattanooga)
“Hume’s Changing Views on the ‘Durability’ of Skepticism”
Joel Buenting (University of Alberta–Canada)
“Two Views of Pyrrhonism in Hume”

If you stay until Tuesday:
VI-E. Submitted Symposium: Justifying Full Belief
9:00-11:00 a.m.
Chair: Sarah Moss (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
Speaker: Tomoji Shogenji (Rhode Island College)
“The Degree of Epistemic Justification is Not the Probability”
Commentators: James Joyce (University of Michigan)
Brad Armendt (Arizona State University)

VIII-H. Colloquium: Epistemology
1:30-4:30 p.m.
Chair: Guy Rohrbaugh (Auburn University)
1:30-2:30 p.m.
Speaker: Russell Jones (University of Oklahoma)
“Baehr on the Value Problem”
Commentator: Dennis Whitcomb (Western Washington University)
2:30-3:30 p.m.
Speaker: Steven Reynolds (Arizona State University)
“Why We Should Prefer Knowledge”
Commentator: Dylan Sabo (Western Michigan University)
3:30-4:30 p.m.
Speaker: Clayton Littlejohn (Southern Methodist University)
“The Myth of the False, Justified Belief”
Commentator: Emily Given (University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

On balance?

Another delayed flight. I'm now in San Diego waiting for the pilots to arrive. I'm reading Conee and Feldman's new piece, "Evidence". It answers some of the questions I've had about their view, but it still leaves loads unanswered. They seem to hedge a bit about whether evidence is propositional. They don't come out and say whether they think evidence must consist of true propositions. They say that they reject E = K, but for reasons that strike me as obscure. Anyway, here's their latest statement of their view:

E: S is justified in believing p at t iff S's evidence at t on balance supports p.

I'm pretty sure I don't think this is right because I'm pretty sure that on every reading of "on balance", the right side could be true while the left is false. But, what does it mean to say that someone's evidence "on balance" supports a proposition? Any suggestions? If the conditional probability of p on someone's evidence is greater than .5, does that mean that their evidence "on balance" supports p? If that's not sufficient, what is?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

On Gettier's Notion of Justification

I recently had cause to trudge over to the library and check out the Shope volume. Don't know it? It contains just about every Gettier and Gettier-like case that found its way into print between 1963 and, I don't know, 1988. A friend told me that the most boring author he's ever read told him that it was the most boring thing he had ever read. I don't want to knock it, the volume has its virtues. In research for a response piece I'm working on, I needed some references and I found a reference to a piece I hadn't read before, Catherine Lowy's "Gettier's Notion of Justification" (here). It's really an eye-opener. I thought that this was an interesting passage:
It has become customary just to refer to Gettier's counterexamples as counterexamples to the justfiied true belief analysis of knowledge whereas Gettier actually specifies the general form of such analyses in the following way:
S knows that p iff,
(i) p is true
(ii) S believes that p, and
(iii) S is justified in believing that p,
and it is to this analysis that he claims to present counterexamples. The locution 'justified true belief analysis' is misleading here for it distracts from an important clee to the notion of justification which Gettier has in mind. It is important to note that Gettier uses the locution 'S is justified in believing that p' (rather than, for instance, 'S has the justified belief that l') consistently, not only in the justification condition of the definition but in the formulation of the crucial counterexamples and in the statement of his points about justification.

She goes on to say, "It seems clear to me to be clear in the light of Gettier's consistent use of the locution 'S is justified in believing that p' that the sense of justification Gettier has in mind is the sense in which a person is justified in believing something" (106). Fancy that.

Then there's this little gem of a passage:
...some writers have maintained that Gettier's renowned examples are not in fact counterexamples to the traditional analysis of knowledge, on the grounds that Gettier's second point about justification is wrong, i.e., that it is not the case that for any proposition, p, if S is justified in believing p and p entails q, and S deduces q from p and accepts q as a result of this deduction, then S is justified in believing q, and it is not the case, at least in the case where p is false

Here's why I think this is interesting. The distinction between personal justification and doxastic justification is often thought to be some ad hoc device externalists use to dodge objections. It seems to have historical roots that predate the internalism/externalism debate. It's also interesting that there was a time when people seemed to think that false beliefs can't justify further beliefs. These authors were pretty hard core externalists. Their views seem far more radical than even simple minded reliabilism.

At any rate, the specific reason I wanted to look at this volume was that there was a suggestion that W was in trouble because by defending E = K he had to deny that Gettier cases are possible. It's interesting to note that there were contemporaries of Gettier that seemed to think that Gettier's cases weren't genuine precisely because they involved forming a justified belief on the basis of a false belief and it seems that what convinced everyone that Gettier cases were unavoidable was the (apparent) discovery that this was an accidental feature of Gettier-like cases. It suggests that the question about whether false propositions constitute evidence was shelved, not settled. I suspect that the views that formed the dialectical situation of the late 70's were not so much rejected for good reasons but ignored. Some will start to come back in vogue much to the chagrin of epistemologists who think that these are newfangled views.

Friday, December 12, 2008


Some anonymous person has sent me a link to an anonymous blog: philosophy, gossipy.

A rival to the philosophy job market blog? Who knows.

(For the record, I have nothing to do with either blog. If I'm going to say potentially damaging things online I only do it with my name attached to it.)

The problem of armchair access

According to Silins (here), Evidential Internalism follows from a plausible access principle, the principle of armchair access:
(AA) If S’s evidence includes the proposition that p, it is possible for S to know that p is included in her evidence from the armchair.

Here is the argument. Let’s assume that it is possible for S to know that she has hands. Let’s call the proposition that S has hands, ‘HANDS’. According to E = K, if S knows HANDS, S’s evidence includes HANDS. According to E = K, if S’s evidence includes HANDS, it must be the case that HANDS is true. According to AA, if S’s evidence includes HANDS, it is possible for S to know from the armchair that her evidence includes HANDS. Now, it seems that if E = K is true, S ought to be able to know that it is true from the armchair. Let’s assume that she does. We can show that Evidential Externalism is false because it has false consequences about how we can have knowledge about the external world.

It seems that:
(1) S has armchair knowledge that her evidence includes HANDS.
(2) S has armchair knowledge that if her evidence includes HANDS, it really is that HANDS is the case.
(C) Thus, S is in a position to know that HANDS is the case from the armchair.

But, (C) is supposed to be absurd. It’s not entirely clear why it is supposed to be absurd. In order for (1) to be true, we have to assume that S has introspective knowledge about her experiences. If she forms the beliefs in response to her experience we would expect her to (i.e., she believes HANDS because she undergoes an experience indistinguishable from the veridical experience of hands) and her belief proved to be correct, would that belief not turn out to be knowledge? Silins does argue (convincingly, I think) that problems arise for E = K. But, the denial of E = K does not amount to acceptance of Evidential Internalism.

Note that you can reject E = K and still derive the (allegedly) dread consequence that S is in a position to know that HANDS is the case from the armchair if she knows that she has hands. You can derive that conclusion is we assume two further claims:

NIK --> E: If S knows p non-inferentially, p is included in S's evidence.
E --> T: If p is included in S's evidence, p is the case.

Assuming that these are known from the armchair, we can still derive (C) even if we reject E = K. If you're a fan of armchair access and bothered by (C), which do you give up?

Response 1: (AA), (~C), and (~(NIK --> E))
(C) really is a dread consequence. We ought to retain (AA) and reject (NIK --> E). Non-inferential knowledge alone is not sufficient for including some proposition in your evidence, you need armchair knowledge of a proposition for that proposition to be included in your evidence.

Note that by 'evidence', Silins means a reason that provides a justification for holding a belief. I have to say that I find it exceptionally odd to think that propositions known non-inferentially could not constitute reasons that could justify further beliefs. There might be some further argument that convinces us that we should say this, but I suspect that that argument would make the armchair access argument otiose.

Response 2: (AA), (~C), and (~(E --> T))
(C) really is a dread consequence. We ought to retain (AA) and reject (E --> T).

I'm bothered by the suggestion that there can be false propositions that constitute evidence. For me, the worry is brought out by this exchange:
Scarlet: Does the prosecution have solid evidence against Mustard?
Green: Yes, they have all sorts of evidence against him: namely, that he was the last one to see the victim alive, that his alibi did not check out, that his fingerprints were on the murder weapon, and that he had written a letter containing details the police think only the killer could have known.

Now, consider a second:
Plum: How good is the prosecution’s evidence against Mustard?
Peacock: It seems that the evidence is pretty strong. However, Mustard’s prints are not on the murder weapon, his alibi checks out, and he was not the last one seen with the victim. This is all perfectly consistent with the evidence that the prosecution does have.

It seems as if Peacock’s assertion flatly contradicts Green’s assertion. But all that Peacock has done is assert that the falsity of certain propositions is consistent with other propositions about what the prosecution’s evidence consists of. So, unless we say that claims about what someone’s evidence consists of entail that those claims are true, it’s hard to see how Peacock’s assertion could contradict Green’s assertion. Peacock’s assertion speaks to the veracity of the prosecution’s claims rather than speaking directly about the evidence that they have.

Response 3: (~C), (~AA), (E --> T), and (NIK --> E)
Suppose (C) really is a dread consequence to be avoided at all costs. It seems that I know that:
(1) It's not wrong for me to believe I have hands.

This is a mildly anti-sceptical assumption. If this is true, I should also be in a position to know:
(2) It's not wrong for me to believe that I have hands given just the evidence I actually have.

Because (C) is a dread consequence, it follows from the denial of (C), (2), and (AA) that I should be able to work out that:
(3) It's not wrong for me to believe that I have hands given just the evidence that I have from the armchair even though this is not evidence that puts me in a position to know that I have hands.

But (3) clashes with the principle that asserts that if you know your evidence does not put you in a position to know, you oughtn't believe that proposition until you gather additional evidence. So, either (C) is not the dread consequence it's taken by internalists to be or it is but (AA) isn't the innocent principle it's taken to be. (Obviously, I don't think that (AA) is all that innocent because if (C) really is damning, it would force us to say that there are decisive epistemic reasons to refrain from treating some propositions known non-inferentially to you as evidence or would allow us to say that false propositions constitute evidence.)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Ought & can

There's been too much to do to post lately, but I thought I'd do a quick post. I'm not really sure what I think of 'ought' implies 'can', but I'd be curious to know whether people who found that principle attractive would also be attracted to 'ought' implies 'can for the right reasons'. Here's the basic idea. Suppose you oughtn't A, or that you ought to refrain from A-ing. There's some reason or reasons in light of which you ought to refrain from A-ing. If you couldn't A or refrain for the right sort of reasons, there would seem to be nothing we could assume that would be 'around' so to speak to ensure that we can successfully bring it about that we do what we ought to do. But, a principle such as this one, if true, cannot be true as a matter of luck. So, if OIC is true, it had better be that the reasons in light of which you oughtn't/ought are reasons in light of which you can. So, if this is right, it seems we can test proposals about whether some reasons bear on whether one ought to A by testing to see if these are reasons in light of which we can A. Right?

Here's a case where this might be relevant. Suppose someone says that morally you oughtn't believe something. According to the extended version of OIC, this can be true only if you can refrain from believing because of the moral reasons. But, as you can't, it can't be that you morally oughtn't believe.

I doubt this is particularly important, but I haven't had coffee yet. Off for coffee and grading.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


I tend to think that it's good news and I was fortunate enough to receive one this morning.

Anyway, here's a follow up from yesterday's post.

(Q) Is it permissible to treat the proposition _that you should (all things considered) A_ as a reason for action when you shouldn't A?

Monday, December 1, 2008

On treating something as a reason for action

Updated version. It's much clearer.

When is it permissible to treat something as a reason for action? According to Hawthorne and Stanley (forthcoming):

(KRP) When S’s choice is p-dependent, it is permissible for S to treat the proposition that p as a reason for acting if and only if S knows that p.

According Neta (forthcoming), we ought to reject KRP in favor of the weaker principle JBKRP:

(JBKRP) When S’s choice is p-dependent, it is permissible for S to treat the proposition that p as a reason for acting if and only if S justifiably believes that she knows that p.

It’s tempting to dismiss KRP on the grounds that it delivers the wrong verdicts in some Gettier cases. Here is Neta’s version of the objection. Suppose that you justifiably believe that your partner loves you and suppose further that you justifiably believe that you know that this is the case. Suppose further that aliens have replaced most of the humans in your area with indistinguishable, emotionless doppelgangers. Let’s suppose that you know that if you’re unloved, you are better off buying beer. You know also that if you are loved, you are better off buying your partner flowers. Thus, the choice whether to use the money in your pocket to buy beer or buy flowers depends on whether your partner loves you. It seems that it’s not wrong for you to choose the flowers over the beer acting on the belief that your partner loves you even if you don’t know that your partner loves you if the only reason you don’t know is that you live in love façade country. (If Hawthorne and Stanley say that it’s an excusable wrong, that still seems wrong as it seems there is nothing to excuse.)

There’s a sense in which it seems that something along the lines of JBKRP must be true. It seems that justification is a deontological notion in the sense that you should never believe without justification and it is always permissible to believe a belief if its justified. If you accept this while rejecting a justification account along the lines of JBKRP, you are committed to saying that situations can arise in which it is permissible to believe that p is the case but impermissible to include the belief that p is the case in deliberation even if you know that deliberation is concerned with some p-dependent choice. I shall argue that if justification accounts do border on the trivial, we are badly mistaken about what is involved in the justification of belief and Neta’s counterexample to KRP is a counterexample to JBKRP. If, however, we work with an orthodox account of justification, there is a wide range of cases that constitute counterexamples to JBKRP that don’t threaten KRP.

Suppose you face a choice between two options, staying and going. If you go there will be trouble, but if you stay there will be double. So, suppose that you ought to go rather than stay. Let p be the proposition that you ought (all things considered) to stay. Because p is false, you cannot know that p is the case. Because you do not know that p is the case, according to KRP you should not treat p as a reason for action. Suppose it is possible to justifiably believe that you know p even if you do not know that p. Then, according to JBKRP, it is permissible to treat p as a reason for action in, say, adopting means you know to be sufficient for bringing it about that you stay. But that’s absurd. How could it be permissible to treat the proposition _that you ought (atc) to stay_ as a reason for acting when it’s impermissible to stay?

It would be ad hoc to say that beliefs about what should be done cannot be both justified and false if the falsity of a belief is not generally regarded as a condition necessary for justifiably believing a contingent proposition about the external world. Not everyone thinks, however, that there can be false, justified beliefs. Sutton (2007), for example, has argued that we ought to identify justified beliefs with items of knowledge. So, if we were to say that the right to treat some proposition or fact as a reason for action is secured once you justifiably believe that the proposition or fact is the case and combine this with the knowledge account of justified belief, the resultant account is immune to objection just raised. However, if any Gettier case constitutes a counterexample to KRP, the same case constitutes a counterexample to JBKRP if we strengthen that account by insisting that there cannot be false, justified beliefs.

If you think, as I do, that it’s inconceivable that something along the lines of JBKRP could turn out to be false, it seems that you just might have to say that justification is factive. If justification isn’t factive, but some justification account of when it is permissible to treat something as a reason is correct, it should be possible for circumstances to arise in which it is permissible to believe p but not to include that belief in deliberation even though you know that the choice you face is p-dependent. The only alternative is to say that circumstances can arise in which it is permissible to deliberate from the belief that you ought to Φ even though it is impermissible to Φ. That possibility is difficult to make sense of. It suggests that the reasons that bear on whether to Φ are somehow different from the reasons that bear on whether to judge that you should Φ. If normative reasons demanded that we somehow act against our own judgment about what to do while keeping that judgment in place, it seems only the deeply irrational could manage to do everything that the reasons required. Reasons cannot be that unreasonable.

Monday, November 24, 2008

It's vast

I've received a proper citation from D&CPF. I've also received a copy of the paper from Alex and MC Naturalist. Thanks to the three of you for your help, it's sort of unbelievable. Now, I'll get to making proper work of the Feldman piece.]

Of course, I'm speaking of the conspiracy that's plotting against me. I know, you think there's no such conspiracy (unless you're part of it). But, I came to campus to take a look up an article in The Monist to find that the Fondren Library (which I'm now sitting in) only carries that journal through 1970 and that the remaining volumes are housed in the Bridwell Library. The only rational explanation for splitting journals up and speading them across the campus is a vast conspiracy. Of course, the Bridwell Library is closed on Sunday. Saturday and Sunday are my writing days. The conspiracy just keeps getting vaster.

If anyone can think of another article in which someone defends the view that the justification of action depends (in part) on the external stuff while insisting that the justification of belief doesn't, I'd be forever grateful. If anyone has a copy of Feldman's 1988 article (something along the lines of "Objective and Subjective Duties in Ethics and Epistemology") and can email it, I'd be forever grateful.

Meanwhile, I've been reading through Herman's The Practice of Moral Judgment because she makes an honest effort at trying to reconcile the idea that, "the objects of moral assessment are not events or states of affairs, but willings" with moral intuitions that suggest that omissions, mishaps, accidents, and many other well-intentioned actions can have moral significance. She asks us to consider an example in which someone intends to return a borrowed clock but fails to do what she intends. Does the failure of execution have moral significance? It doesn't seem to show that there's any defect in the agent's will, but she concedes that there's a perfectly good sense in which the agent has failed to live up to her duties. As I understand it, she thinks that the story to tell will try to explain the special duty that the agent has to the person who loaned the clock in the following way: the agent realizes that her end was not realized and so she must either adopt a new end or adopt new means. Insofar as she's not free to adopt a new end (because there was the perfect duty to return the clock), this is why she can't "wash her hands" of the situation after the failure.

I think there are problems with this sort of treatment of cases involving good intentions and bad results, but it's perhaps worth noting that this sort of story seems to have no application whatsoever to cases in which the agent tries to perform an action that the agent had discretion in deciding whether to perform it and accidentally brings about some bad state of affairs in the course of acting on her intention to perform the action. If there's no Kantian story to be told about such cases, then we can set aside questions about the plausibility of the story, and note that intuition really does speak against the idea that the only objects of moral assessment are willings unless some story about reparative* (as opposed to reparative) duties can be told.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Yes, the folk are (typically) externalists

The survey results are in and of the 133 students polled, 75% said that there was a more stringent duty for Plum to assist Peacock.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The folk concept of justification


Cook. Peacock just moved into the apartment next to Plum and to welcome her, Plum cooked her dinner. She did not realize this at the time, but the mushrooms she used in making her dinner were poisonous. (So far as this is possible, imagine that she is not culpable or blameworthy for her ignorance. She used a field guide for distinguishing safe from unsafe mushrooms, but it contained a few typos.) Plum has on hand the stuff to give people who eat poisoned mushrooms, but only enough for one person. It just so happens that her other neighbor, Mustard, went out picking mushrooms. He picked poisonous mushrooms for himself and put them into his salad. Now, he and Peacock are equally sick and Plum can help only one.

The story continues.
Suppose Green is also into picking mushrooms but the book he picked up from the bookstore happens to be one that contains none of the errors that Plum’s book contained. Both study their books with equal diligence. Both have equally good memories. Both have exhaustive knowledge of the contents of their books. However, Green will always say truthfully whether a mushroom is poisonous whereas Plum will make the occasional mistake. We ask Green and Plum about a specific mushroom, one that we happen to know Green’s book is right about and that Plum’s book is wrong about. When asked, Green and Plum both believe that their answers are correct. However, Green’s belief is true and Plum’s belief is false.

I asked the following question.

(Q1) Should we say that Green’s belief is better justified than Plum’s belief? The results:

Yes: 26
No: 30

Make of it what you will. I'll note that the kids that said 'Yes' had higher grades on the exam.

Just kidding, I don't know if that's true.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Reparative Duties and Reasons

A really good question:
Suppose you think (like most people) that an action can (a) have unintended bad consequences but (b) not be morally wrong. If there are such actions and you perform one, I'd think that you have a prima facie duty to repair its consequences that is not a "mere duty of beneficence". I'm tempted to call it a "reparative duty", but clearly it wouldn't be if such duties only arise in response to past wrongs. That's just a terminological problem, though.

So that's the kind of duty Plum has to help Cook, and she doesn't have that kind of duty to help Mustard. That's why (a) is right. What's wrong with saying something like this?

Here's my answer. It's sketchy and I'm short on sleep, but I think the question really helps focus the discussion. Here goes. First, we have to figure out what 'wrong' amounts to. Let's say that we reject the closure view of wrongdoing and say that an action can be wrong without being all things considered wrong. On this usage, all that 'wrong' amounts to is this: there was a pro tanto moral reason not to do it.

Second, we have to figure out what your proposal would amount to if 'wrong' is understood in this way. It seems that the proposal would be that there can be reparative* duties in the absence of wrongdoing (I'm using the '*' to indicate that these are more stringent duties that apply only to some in the absence of a previous wrong on the relevant agent's part). That is to say, you can have a reparative* duty to rectify some bad state of affairs that others aren't under even though there was never prior to this time a pro tanto reason to refrain from bringing about this bad state of affairs. But, this is what's odd. If there were two people who could help, one who caused the bad state of affairs and one who did not, I take it that you'd want to say that the causally responsible agent is under some reparative* duty whereas the other is under some mere duty of beneficence. But, if there was never a reason for the first to refrain from bringing about the bad state of affairs, why would this be?

Now, much of this is sketchy and you might have a different sense of 'wrong' in mind. Obviously, the more you read into 'wrong', the more plausible your suggestion is. The less you read into 'wrong', the harder it is to work out the details of the view that I think you're proposing. But, it's a good question/suggestion.

Any thoughts would be much appreciated.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Poll & Argument

An overwhelming majority of students polled picked (a). Here's an argument. In Cook, it seems intuitively that Plum has a more stringent duty to assist Peacock than to assist Mustard. If Plum’s duty to Peacock was just some prima facie duty of beneficence, it would be difficult to see why the duty to Peacock is more stringent. It is tempting to think that Plum’s duty is no mere duty of beneficence. It seems it must be some kind of reparative duty and that the reparative duties do not depend on culpability or fault for the commission of the initial wrong.

Is this right? Is the reason that the duty to Peacock is more stringent is that Plum is righting some past wrong of hers by assisting Peacock?

[This is the poll from the previous post. Polling is still open.]

Cook. Peacock just moved into the apartment next to Plum and to welcome her, Plum cooked her dinner. She did not realize this at the time, but the mushrooms she used in making her dinner were poisonous. (So far as this is possible, imagine that she is not culpable or blameworthy for her ignorance. She used a field guide for distinguishing safe from unsafe mushrooms, but it contained a few typos.) Plum has on hand the stuff to give people who eat poisoned mushrooms, but only enough for one person. It just so happens that her other neighbor, Mustard, went out picking mushrooms. He picked poisonous mushrooms for himself and put them into his salad. Now, he and Peacock are equally sick and Plum can help only one. Pick the best answer.

(a) She has a stronger duty to help Peacock first because she poisoned her.
(b) She has a stronger duty to help Mustard first.
(c) She should help someone but it should not matter who she helps first.


Cook. Peacock just moved into the apartment next to Plum and to welcome her, Plum cooked her dinner. She did not realize this at the time, but the mushrooms she used in making her dinner were poisonous. (So far as this is possible, imagine that she is not culpable or blameworthy for her ignorance. She used a field guide for distinguishing safe from unsafe mushrooms, but it contained a few typos.) Plum has on hand the stuff to give people who eat poisoned mushrooms, but only enough for one person. It just so happens that her other neighbor, Mustard, went out picking mushrooms. He picked poisonous mushrooms for himself and put them into his salad. Now, he and Peacock are equally sick and Plum can help only one. Pick the best answer.

(a) She has a stronger duty to help Peacock first because she poisoned her.
(b) She has a stronger duty to help Mustard first.
(c) She should help someone but it should not matter who she helps first.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Justification and evidence


JE: The belief that p is part of what justifies S in believing that q only if p is included in S’s evidence.

I think this principle is an assumption in C & K's attack on Williamson. Is it true? That is difficult to say. Here's an argument that it's not, inspired by Dodd's criticism of Williamson and some stuff Pryor has been dealing with because of his dogmatism. Suppose that p is the belief that I have hands and it is supported by experience. Let's say that the experience is the evidence for p. If you accept dogmatism, you'll say that the evidence of the senses could suffice for justified acceptance of p even though p is not certain given the evidence. But, then it seems that once p is itself part of the evidence, the evidential probability of p raises from some value less than 1 to 1. More plausible, I think, to say that if you accept that you can justifiably accept p on the basis of evidence that leaves p less than certain, that is precisely why justified acceptance of p does not necessitate p's inclusion in your evidence.

I haven't checked, but I think this deals with C & K's argument that E = K is incompatible with closure as well.

I haven't addressed Juan's comments yet, but I have a very rough draft.

More E = K

It's also worth remembering that there's not much that's new under the sun. According to Williamson, E = K. Assuming that 'knows' is factive, we get E --> T. There was a time when some thought that Gettier's examples were defective because they assumed the principle that someone can be justified in accepting a proposition, h, on evidence p even if p is false. Clearly, the thought was that evidence can justify only if it consists of true propositions. The problem with this, as Feldman pointed out long ago in his, "An Alleged Defect in Gettier-Counter Examples" is that even if the principle is true, there are still counterexamples to the JTB analysis. He gives examples in which there's a justified belief that is true, that doesn't constitute knowledge, and that doesn't derive from a false belief.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Once again into the E = K fray!

I'm reading Comesana and Kantin's forthcoming PPR piece, "Is Evidence Knowledge?" (here). They argue that E = K is incompatible with the existence of Gettier cases and that it is incompatible with closure. I don't have time for the second complaint, but I'd like to quickly address the first.

They attack: (E = K 1): The proposition that p justifies S in believing that q only if S knows p.

They allege that (E = K 1) is incompatible with Gettier cases, but focus on a single case, Coins:
You are waiting to hear who among the candidates got a job.
You hear the secretary say on the telephone that Jones got the job.
You also see Jones empty his pockets and count his coins: he has
ten. You are, then, justified in believing that Jones got the job and
also that Jones has ten coins in his pocket. From these two beliefs
of yours, you infer the conclusion that whoever got the job has ten
coins in his pocket. Unbeknownst to you, the secretary was wrong
and Jones did not get the job; in fact, you did. By chance, you
happen to have ten coins in your pocket

Minor point. Not every Gettier case has the structure of coins, so even if you can't say that there's a justified, true belief that fails to constitute knowledge in this case it hardly follows that Gettier cases as such are ruled out by (E = K 1). Less minor point. What's the problem supposed to be? They say, "What is justified in Coins is the belief that whoever got the job has ten coins in his pocket. But what justifies the subject in having that belief is (in part) his false belief that Jones got the job". Minor point. If this is a datum that our theories of evidence need to accommodate, then on any view on which our evidence consists of facts or propositions, there cannot be Gettier cases. Less minor point. Among the things that the subject knows is that the subject has this belief, the belief is well supported by the evidence, etc... It's hardly obvious that (E = K 1) rules out the false belief from playing some justificatory role. What it rules out is just this: that the content of the false belief is a part of the subject's evidence. In other words, it seems that C & K are really offering this argument:

(1) According to E = K, there are no false propositions that are included in a subject's evidence.
(2) If there are no false propositions included in someone's evidence, Coins is not a Gettier case.
(3) Coins is a Gettier case.
(C1) There are false propositions included in someone's evidence.
(C2) We must reject (E = K 1).

I'd reject the factivity of 'knows' and save E = K that way. Just kidding. Alan Hazlett has dibs on that move. While it's true that there cannot be false propositions included in someone's evidence if (E = K 1) is true, I distinctly remember asking a while back if _anyone_ thought that there could be false propositions included in someone's evidence and the response seemed to be that there couldn't. That's hardly an argument, but there's something very strange to this objection. Now, C & K say that, "there is no argument that we can think of to the effect that your (false) belief that Jones got the job plays no part whatsoever in justifying you in thinking that whoever got the job has ten coins in his pocket". But there is. It's the argument that says that false propositions cannot be included in your evidence.

Now, it might be a bad argument, but to paraphrase, bad arguments are a kind of argument. So, here it is. One problem with saying that there could be false propositions emerges if we think about these exchanges:

Scarlet: Do they have solid evidence against Mustard?
Green: Yes. They have all sorts of evidence against him; namely, that he was the last one to see the victim alive, that his alibi did not check out, that his fingerprints were on the murder weapon, and that he had written a letter to his brother containing details only the killer could have known.

Later, Peacock and Plum talk things over:
Peacock: How strong is their evidence against Mustard?
Plum: I've heard that the evidence is pretty strong. But, if Mustard’s fingerprints are not really on the murder weapon, his alibi checks out, he was not the last one
seen with the victim, and there is nothing in his letters that actually indicate he had any insider’s knowledge of the killings, that is perfectly consistent with the evidence they do have.

It seems that in speaking to Plum and Green contradict one another. The natural explanation for this is that if it really is part of the evidence that Mustard’s fingerprints are on the murder weapon, then it is true that his fingerprints are on the murder weapon. So, if that it is right, an assertion of the form ‘His evidence is that p, q, and r’ entails that p, q, and r are true.

The presentation of the example in Gettier's original paper:
Suppose that Smith and Jones have applied for a certain job. And suppose that Smith has strong evidence for the following conjunctive proposition:

(d) Jones is the man who will get the job, and Jones has ten coins in his pocket.

Smith's evidence for (d) might be that the president of the company assured him that Jones would in the end be selected, and that he, Smith, had counted the coins in Jones's pocket ten minutes ago. Proposition (d) entails:

(e) The man who will get the job has ten coins in his pocket.

Let us suppose that Smith sees the entailment from (d) to (e), and accepts (e) on the grounds of (d), for which he has strong evidence. In this case, Smith is clearly justified in believing that (e) is true.

But imagine, further, that unknown to Smith, he himself, not Jones, will get the job. And, also, unknown to Smith, he himself has ten coins in his pocket. Proposition (e) is then true, though proposition (d), from which Smith inferred (e), is false. In our example, then, all of the following are true: (i) (e) is true, (ii) Smith believes that (e) is true, and (iii) Smith is justified in believing that (e) is true. But it is equally clear that Smith does not know that (e) is true; for (e) is true in virtue of the number of coins in Smith's pocket, while Smith does not know how many coins are in Smith's pocket, and bases his belief in (e) on a count of the coins in Jones's pocket, whom he falsely believes to be the man who will get the job.

Deontological externalism

I'm quite fond of this argument:
(1) The notion of justified action is a deontological notion.
(2) The notion of justified action is an externalist notion.
(C1) Not all deontological notions are internalist notions.
(3) If justified belief were an internalist notion, justified action would either not be a deontological notion or would not be an externalist notion.
(C2) Justified belief is an externalist notion.

I've defended (3) previously appealing to considerations having to do with moral psychology and observations that often arise in connection with discussions of the toxin puzzle. Suppose (3) is true.* What defense can be given in support of (2)?

I'm planning on doing some polling this next week of students to test to see if their intuitions support (2). I suspect they will, but I'd also not be surprised if X-philes might not be able to generate data that seems to contradict (2). Here's the plan. I'll try to elicit intuitions about a specific sort of case. I'll focus on cases in which an agent takes due care but nevertheless brings about some bad state of affairs. I'll then see whether students are inclined to think that the agent has a more stringent obligation to assist those who are harmed by her having brought about this bad state of affairs than to assist agents who have been harmed by similar bad states of affairs but states of affairs not caused by the agent. My hunch is that they'll think that there's comparatively a more stringent obligation to the one whose harm was caused by the agent. Theoretically, I think that such a result would suggest that conditions 'external' to the agent can go towards determining the deontic status of the agent's actions. The thought is that the best explanation of the difference in comparative stringency is due to the fact that the initial course of action was wrongful and that the difference in the stringency of the duty is a reflection of the fact that the duty being discharged is no mere duty of beneficence, it is a duty of reparation.


* A joke I owe to Steve Sverdlik.
Geometry teacher: Suppose that this is an isosceles...
Concerned student: But teacher, suppose it isn't!


Why is there no additional reasoning that takes you from the judgment that you should straightaway A and the intention to A or the A-ing itself?

I suppose you could say that practical reasoning ends with the formation of the practical belief and that this is why the reasons that bear on whether to judge that you should A are just the reasons that bear on whether to A, but is there a better answer?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Obama, now that you work for me ...

Dear President-elect Obama:

First, congratulations on your victory.

Second, please disregard Chuck Norris' letter. I don't care if the guy does clog the toilet when he pees. Your biggest test is not whether you be able to lead the other half of the country that doesn't agree with your vision, views and policies. There is no "other half". Chuck sucks at math. He's not even that great at karate.

Another one of your 300 million bosses,

Clayton Littlejohn

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Good news and a question

I've just received word that I'll be presenting my paper on epistemic value, evidentialism, and the problem of epistemic encroachment at the Epistemic Goodness conference. It's rare that there are conferences are held in easy driving distance from Dallas, so I don't do as many conferences as I'd like these days. I should have a draft to post soon, but not too soon. It's grading and job season.

Here's the question. Must an essentially omniscient being have an infinite number of beliefs? I'd think that the answer is obviously 'Yes'. But, how to justify that answer?

Suppose you say that the essentially omniscient being is omniscient and has the property of being omniscient essentially. If we say that an omniscient being knows every true proposition and believes no false propositions, we'd have to assume that there is an infinite number of true propositions known and believed by this being. I suppose you might say 'Well, there clearly is an infinite number of such propositions. There's an infinite number of mathematical truths.' That seems okay, but I suppose if someone really wanted to defend the idea that the omniscient being had but a finite number of beliefs or items of knowledge, they might say that this being's perfect knowledge of mathematics could be understood in terms of a finite set of beliefs in light of which this being is disposed to answer correctly any question about mathematics. But, this response assumes that the set of all mathematical truths could be derived from this finite stock of starting beliefs. I think, but I'm far from certain, that this has been ruled out by Godel's first incompleteness theorem.

But, what if someone just modifies the definition of omniscience. Suppose they think that no being could have an infinite number of beliefs and say that (a) the omniscient being knows everything that can be known or (b) knows as much as can be known. You couldn't argue that there are no omniscient beings by, say, arguing that such a being would have to have an infinite collection of beliefs and then argue that there are no actual infinities. I think this is sort of a cop out, but is there any contradiction to saying that the essentially omniscient being fails to know some mathematical truths if we work with this definition of omniscience? It seems that there is an infinite stock of propositions that can be known, but while on (a) that means that the omniscient being would have to have an infinite number of beliefs on (b) it's not so clear.

Embryonic stem cell research

It looks like Obama will reverse Bush's policies on funding for ESCR:
In August 2001, Bush barred the National Institutes of Health from funding research on embryonic stem cells other than that using 60 cell lines existing when he signed the executive order.

Researchers say the ban has limited their progress and want the opportunity to create new stem cells from human embryos. Many conservatives, however, object to the destruction of human embryos because they believe it ends a human life.

On his campaign Web site, Obama said he supports the creation of new stem cells from embryos created for in vitro fertilization treatments that would otherwise be discarded.

But White House spokeswoman Dana Perino on Monday suggested that the incoming Obama administration should consider keeping Bush's policy in place.

I've asked this before and figure I'll give it another shot. Suppose there are two embryos in an IVF clinic. One would be implanted first. If all went as planned, the second embryo wouldn't be needed and would be discarded. A coin is flipped and the coin determines which embryo is implanted first. It turns out that the first embryo successfully implants and the second is discarded. Suppose that had the coin flip gone differently, the second would have implanted and the first discarded. Does it make any sense to say that the first embryo was "lucky" to have won that coin flip? More to the point, does it make any sense to say that second was "unlucky" to have lost that flip and to be pitched with other unneeded embryos?

[Update. So far, no thinks that there can be lucky embryos. Flash forward twenty years. After the embryo implanted, it developed into a fetus. The fetus developed into an infant. That infant grew into Charlie. Should we say of that twenty year old, Charlie, that he was lucky that that embryo won the coin toss? Let's assume that Charlie's life is pretty good.]

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


AUSTIN — State Board of Education member Cynthia Dunbar isn't backing down from her claim that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is plotting with terrorists to attack the U.S.

The Texas Freedom Network, a watchdog group that monitors the board, released a public statement on Monday asking Dunbar to retract the statement.

"I don't have anything in there that would be retractable," said Dunbar, R-Richmond. "Those are my personal opinions and I don't think the language is questionable."

In a column posted on the Christian Worldview Network Web site, Dunbar wrote that a terrorist attack on America during the first six months of an Obama administration "will be a planned effort by those with whom Obama truly sympathizes to take down the America that is threat to tyranny."

It's too bad she can't be fired.

(You can read the rest of the story here.)

Monday, November 10, 2008


Why don't we start an international needling campaign? This month, start to needle your colleagues about getting referee reports done in time for the job market. If they start to moan about their work loads, you can tell them that some people manage to get their referee reports in on time even though they teach much, much more than they do. (If someone's teaching seven courses this semester, I take that back.) I can't speak for everyone, but speaking as an author if I had to choose between a 12+ month wait for a referee's report and a more reasonable time table for a verdict, I don't think I'd have any preference for the longer wait unless the comments were exceptionally good. (I doubt that the reason people take 12+ months is that they are trying to write up unimaginably good comments.) I don't think my preferences here are idiosyncratic. Maybe editors have different preferences, but I doubt it.

So, commence needling.

(Fwiw, I might have some vested interest here. I have a fair number of works that have been tied up in the review process for 11+ months. That being said, I've also had some success this year. I don't think that this bottleneck will necessarily keep me from getting the interviews I don't land this year. But, I know what it's like to go on the market without publications knowing that the manuscripts I've submitted should have received their verdicts prior to the job hunt. It's a horrible experience to go through and I can't understand why we'd be unwilling to do what must be done to spare our colleagues the pain and frustration.)

That's some good governatin'

From The Governator:
"It is unfortunate," Schwarzenegger said. "But it is not the end because I think this will go back into the courts. ... It's the same as in the 1948 case when blacks and whites were not allowed to marry. This falls into the same category."

[Update. I've never liked The Governator. (Well, I liked him before he was The Governator.) That being said, I'm glad he's speaking out on this. Anon asked how anyone could put same sex marriage in the same category as interracial marriage. Here's how. There's no difference between 'not different' and 'the same'. I don't see any difference between heterosexual and homosexual marriage. I don't think anyone else does, either. They think they do, but that's just an indication that there's something wrong with them. I'm tired of giving arguments, but if you have some you want to offer you can. Non-anonymous comments preferred.]

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Saturday! Saturday! Saturday! Saturday! Saturday! Saturday!

Bah! I've been grading all day. My goal is to grade 25 papers per day so that I might be able to get the grading out of the way in eight days and get a little extra time to finish off a draft of a paper on the ethics of belief that I want to submit for the Young Epistemologist Prize. I'm on the seventeenth paper right now and should be able to knock out the final eight while I still have the apartment to myself. The thing is that I keep getting distracted. It's the damn internets. They're great for hunting cheaters, but bad because when you get on them to hunt for the cheaters they keep leading you to things like recipes for making lasagna in your dishwasher. If you're feeling dangerous, try whipping up a batch of dishwasher lasagna florentine.


I've been wanting to see them for years and last night I had my chance.

I think music videos should generally not try to be better than this one. (It's not that it's good, it's just that trying to improve on this kind of misses the point.)

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Same sex marriage, conscience, and coercion

When it comes to assigning readings on same sex marriage, I'm never quite sure what to assign. I've always assigned a piece of Wedgwood's, but it's not easy to find something that argues against the recognition of SSM. There was some discussion at Crooked Timber and a few folks seemed to think that Jeff Jordan's, "Is it wrong to discriminate on the basis of homosexuality?" seemed to be a crowd favorite. It's a fun article to discuss, but I feel a bit dirty after the discussion. Really, this is the best that people can come up with to argue against the recognition of same sex marriage? It almost makes me feel bad for the opponents of same sex marriage.

He writes:
For the government to sanction same-sex marriage ... would ally the government with one side of the public dilemma and against the adherents of religious-based moralities ... In that event, the religion-based morality proponents are faced with a public, state sanctioned matter which they find seriously immoral. This would be an example of a resolution via declaration.

This is supposed to be very bad. For suppose we accept this principle:
A. no just government can coerce a citizen into violating a deeply held moral belief or religious belief.

Then we have our argument against same-sex marriage:
Principle (A), conjoined with there being a public dilemma arising over the issue of same-sex marriages, leads to the observation that if the state were to sanction same-sex marriages, then persons who have profound religious or moral objections to such unions would be legally mandated to violate their beliefs since there does not appear to be any feasible "exit right" possible with regard to state sanctioned marriage.

I don't think (A) is true, but so what. Loads of things that figure in our arguments aren't true, that's not the problem. The problem is that there's no obvious candidate for the belief that religious believers are coerced to act against if SSM is recognized.

If you think I'm wrong, tell me what the belief is. Don't quote me verse that tells you not to engage in homosexual conduct, that's not the issue. The issue has to do with matters in the public sphere and I'm sceptical that there's any injunction in either the Old or New Testaments for believers to use political means for preventing people from marrying in ways that these texts say we oughtn't. So, here's the question. Is there some imperative that religious believers actually believe themselves to be under to use the law to prevent same-sex couples from marrying? Does it have a scriptural basis in The Book of Hezekiah?

Thursday, November 6, 2008


(1) If you intend to A and it's not the case that you shouldn't so intend, it's not the case that you shouldn't A.

(2) If you believe that you should A and it's not the case that you shouldn't so believe, it's not the case that you shouldn't intend to A.

It's wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything on insufficient evidence. Sure, let's take that as given. Is it wrong ever, anywhere, for anyone to believe on sufficient evidence?

That depends on what 'sufficient' means, I suppose, but on any non-sceptical view, it's possible to permissibly judge that p is true having only non-entailing evidence. If two subjects have the same evidence, if it is sufficient for the first to judge that p, I take it that the evidentialists ought to say the same for the second. (To bracket worries about pragmatic encroachment, fix all the rest of the mental states, too.)

Suppose that there's some fact f such that it meets these conditions:
(i) this fact doesn't supervene on the subject's evidence;
(ii) this isn't a fact the subject can reasonably take to be a fact given her evidence;
and (iii) in light of this fact the subject oughtn't A.

If such a fact exists, I think we've refuted evidentialism about epistemic permissibility. But, maybe there are counterexamples to (1) and (2).

That's a BIG country

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

7:23 EST

I'm calling it for Obama.

Way ahead of major news organizations.

I see that Josh Marshall is doing some live blogging and has some exit polling data:
Georgia: McCain 50%, Obama 48%
Indiana: Obama 52%, McCain 46%
Virginia: Obama 54%, McCain 45%

He hasn't called it yet. Coward. I didn't wait for any facts to come in and he's worrying about the significance of the facts in front of him. Some of us just reason a bit more boldly than others.

Dole is out! Seems Hagan, a godless lib, has turned Helms' former district blue!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Friday, October 31, 2008

Lucky embryo!

We discussed Marquis' future like ours argument Monday and Wednesday this week and I've been trying to think of ways of explaining why someone might be sceptical of the idea that the fetus has a future like ours. I've posted on this before and noted that in trying to get away from having to assume that the fetus is a person, it looks like someone could reject the idea that the fetus has a future like ours as follows:
(1) You don't share your future with anything that isn't you.
(2) You have always been a person.
(3) The fetus is not itself a person.
(C) You don't share your future with any fetus.

The problem is that there are a fair number of folks who simply deny (2) and say that you were once a fetus. You weren't just a fetus, mind you, you were also a fetus that didn't have a mind. What to say then?

Let's try something different. Suppose there are two embryos in the lab in an IVF clinic. One would be implanted first and if all went as planned, the second embryo wouldn't be needed and would be discarded. A coin is flipped and the coin determines which embryo is implanted first. I confess that it doesn't make much sense to me to say that the embryo that wins the toss is "lucky" in any sense, not even if the first embryo is the only one that develops into an infant. If it's not good for the embryo to become an infant, then it seems that there's a perfectly good sense in which it's not correct to say that the fetus has a future like ours--whereas it is good for us to live out our futures, the same cannot be said for the fetus. Our living out our futures can be a benefit to us and our losing out on them can be bad luck, the same, it seems, cannot be said for the embryo.

Monday, October 27, 2008

McCain the Socialist (Part N)

Brokaw just drove the stake through the heart of that socialist canard and then sprayed the body down with holy water for good measure!

If you don't watch the video, here's the gist. McCain in 2000 met his Joe the Plumber, but she was a daughter of a doctor. Seeming to have no patience for those who gripe about taxing the income of the rich at a higher rate than the income of the poor and the middle class, he panders not at all and dismisses out of hand the suggestion that you're a socialist if you support a progressive tax plan. Then in 2004, McCain gives us this gift:

It's amazing. 34 seconds into the clip McCain takes a shot at The Bridge to Nowhere and then thirty seconds later goes all "socialist".

Thursday, October 23, 2008

McCain the Socialist (Part II)

Just start at 2:13. That's where the good stuff is.

Young woman: Why is it that someone like my father who works hard and goes to school for thirteen years gets penalized in a huge tax bracket because he's a doctor?

McCain: I think it's to some degree because we feel, obviously, that wealthy people can afford more.

Young woman: Aren't we getting closer and closer to, like, socialism and stuff?

McCain: Here's what I really believe. When you are, reach a certain level of comfort, there is nothing wrong with paying somewhat more.

Old school

I'm flipping through a copy of Essays on Knowledge and Justification (I was two when it was published), and I find in Pappas and Swain's introduction, this curious passage:
In Gettier's example, Smith is justified in accepting [Jones is the man who will get the job and Jones has ten coins in his pocket] despite the fact that (1) is false. It has been argued, however, that if a person is justified in accepting a proposition h, then h is true. If this contention is correct, Gettier's examples would be effectively short-circuited. But the contention is dubious.

The suggestion is due to Robert Almeder, and here's why his contention is thought to be dubious:
First, people have what would normally be regarded as excellent evidence for propositions that turn out to be false. For instance, at one time sme people had good evidence for believing the Ptolemaic account of the universe and so had excellent evidence for the false proposition that the planets travel in circular orbits. The kind of justification involved in such a case is what we typically call inductive. One feature of such cases is that the evidence that constitutes the justification is compatible with the denial of the proposition justified ... If the content under question where correct, then it appears that many inductive justifications would simply not qualify as justifications at all, and this surely flies in the face of accepted views about justification

Is this really a good objection? It assumes that the properties necessary for S's X-ing to be justified are properties necessary for S to have a justification. Thus, if S's X-ing can be justified only if S's X-ing has F, S can have a justification only if S's justification has F. The context suggests that S's justification can only be S's evidence. That assumption is dubious. If we think of a justification as that which someone would cite in explaining or defending themselves from the charge of wrongdoing, that their actions were permissible will not be part of the justification itself. It is, however, a condition necessary for being justified.

Suppose I know, on the basis of good inductive evidence, that the sun is going to come out on Saturday. Now imagine someone with the same evidence that believes this mistakenly. If we say that the second subject's belief isn't justified, it doesn't seem to follow that we had different justifications for our beliefs. If, however, we said that truth were a condition necessary for having a justified belief, it would follow that in spite of our having the same justifications, only on of our beliefs would be justified.

Here's the second objection:
It is easy to imagine two cases which are identical in all respects, i.e., same evidence and same circumstances, expect that the proposition justified is true in one case and false in the other. For instance, we might suppose another example just like Gettier's in which (1) is true, rather than false. If the contention in question were correct, we should have to say in the one case that the belief is justified, but in the other that it is not. What explanation could there be for this difference? Surely not simply that the proposition justified is true in the one case, but false in the other!

Fair enough, that's not an explanation. But, here's an explanation. The belief in the one case conforms to the norms governing belief, but the other does not. Or, the belief in the one case gives us evidence that we might use to justify further beliefs, but the other does not.

Whatever the merits of such a response, it's sort of surprising that it's not considered. It's sort of surprising to see how transparent the evidentialist assumptions are. It's more than just sort of surprising to see on the next page this passage:
The following principle does seem right ... If h is justified for S on the basis of evidence, e, then no elements of e that are essential for that justification are false.

Right, so if we put all of this together, we get this. If some proposition is false, it is not included in someone's evidence. If, however, some proposition is justifiably believed, it can be false. So, there are justified beliefs in propositions such that those propositions are not part of our evidence.

I don't like that last bit. I thought that if you were sympathetic to internalism facts about our evidence are supposed to be accessible from the armchair. But, unless you're just opting for the view that propositions or facts are not the right sort of beasts to be pieces of evidence, I can't see how you can consistently maintain both:
NFE: No false propositions are part of our evidence.
JFB: The falsity of the belief that e is true is not itself going to prevent the belief that e is true from being justified.

Really good news!!!

I've just received word that my paper on Moore's Paradox and epistemic norms has been accepted by the Australasian Journal of Philosophy.

I can't tell you what a relief this is. I'm biased of course, but I had thought it was a decent paper. The thing is that the darn details were so darn hard to iron out, I worried I'd never get it quite right enough. To be honest, I probably never would have if if weren't for an anonymous referee who was willing to give me close to ten pages of suggestions and more encouragement than I deserved. So, to my anonymous commentator, I want to say how much I appreciate your help. I think I'm going to crack open a bottle of wine and celebrate. Only a little, though, it's a school night.

McCain the Socialist

Here's a good place to start to learn about John McCain's position on tax cuts and class warfare:
“I am concerned that repeal of the estate tax would provide massive benefits solely to the wealthiest and highest-income taxpayers in the country. A Treasury Department study found that almost no estate tax has been paid by lower- and middle-income taxpayers. But taxes have been paid on the estates of people who were in the highest 20% of the income distribution at the time of their death. It found that 91% of all estate taxes are paid by the estates of people whose annual income exceeded $190,000 around the time of their death. …

“We have no idea what our financial or economic situation will be ten years from now. … We may want to have the flexibility to provide significant tax relief for lower- and middle-income taxpayers. Other unforeseen issues may arise. The point is that we must think beyond the horizon. Making the repeal of the estate tax permanent fails to take these new circumstances into account.

“We will need resources to deal with … responsible tax reform that benefit lower- and middle-income taxpayers.”

—Senate floor statement opposing HR 8, a bill to permanently eliminate the death tax, June 11, 2002.

McCain the socialist in video (here).

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

On the market

I'm sure a fair number of you are on the market right now. Good luck. If you're not on the market, but are looking for a candidate I suppose I'd mention that I'm desperately looking for a position. Preferably, a position in philosophy. I suppose if that fails, there has to be some advertising firms that could use a philosopher on staff. Someone's going to have to call Dove on this gem:
We asked one woman to wash with Dove. We asked another woman to wash with soap. If you could see the difference, you would see that soap leaves an invisible layer of scum on the skin.

Yeah, that doesn't seem right to me.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

It's nice that Powell endorsed Obama, but ...

... I don't think this is appropriate:
Powell's endorsement has been much anticipated because he is a Republican with impressive foreign policy credentials, a subject on which Obama is weak. At the same time, he is a black man and Obama would be the nation's first black president.

I have no idea what place that second line has in the article, and I don't know why Stephen Ohlemacher decided that it was his place to say that a candidate is weak in his foreign policy credentials in a news piece for the AP.


This is ...

... as close as we'll get to a presser with Palin before the election.

People do realize that this is insane, right?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Obama the socialist

Since the charge is now being thrown around, here's a bit of advice. The next time someone says "Obama is a socialist", ask them what they think "socialism" means. If they say that under socialism the means of production are owned by some collective, social entity you can give them a gold star and say that while they are not conceptually confused, they are factually ignorant. There's nothing that Obama is trying to do that McCain isn't trying to do that is the slightest bit socialist. If they say that under socialism, we return to Clinton's tax policies and every dollar you make over $250,000 will be taxed at 39% rather than 36% you can give them a slap to the face. That's the cure for conceptual confusion. You can say that a better example of recent socialist tendencies would be the bailout Bush proposed and McCain supported. From The Telegraph:
Conservative economist Alan Reynolds, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, ... [said]: "Public ownership of mortgage-backed bonds is merely an investment. Public ownership of equity is socialism."

Jonathan Hoenig, the chief executive of the Capitalist Pig hedge fund, added: "It's a major negative for the economy. It pushes this country further and further toward socialism.

"We now join the Soviet Union, North Korea and Cuba as countries in which the government owns, it doesn't just referee, but owns a major stake in the financial system. That's been a disaster for any economy that's ever tried it. It's not the government's role to own banks."

"Socialist" isn't one of my fighting words. If it is among someone's fighting words, she could at least use it correctly.

You might further point out that it's inconsistent with the free market ideology that was supposed to be the ideology of the Republican Party to propose ways of using tax policy to interfere with the mutually beneficial arrangements between employee and employer (e.g., the arrangement whereby employees are given health care by their employers as a kind of compensation) in order to produce socially attractive aims like handing out tax credits of $5000 to families. That's the kind of crap that has Nozick rolling over in his grave. Of course, if they don't know what "socialism" means, don't expect them to know who Nozick is.

Shorter post. Clinton = not socialist. Obama = not socialist. Bush = quasi-socialist. McCain = enabler of Bush's quasi-socialist policies in self-denial.

Slightly less shorter post. This is a lesson in how right wing anti-intellectualism can bite someone in the ass. Republicans can go to bed being all right wing and wake up all socialist inciting mobs of sometimes racist white folk to join them in some hair-brained scheme to use our tax dollars to seize the means of production.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Hey, Joes

Here's Joe the plumber:

I'm officially sick of Joe six pack and Joe the plumber.
Here's Joe after the debate.

Joe the plumber thinks it's "scary" that people making more than $250,000 per year will have to pay 39% tax on every dollar over that threshold instead of the 36% he'd be paying for every dollar under? If you're literally scared of having to pay 3% more on each dollar you make over $250,000 each year, you are a coward. If you're going to call anyone who doesn't support the flat tax a 'socialist', you're an idiot. But, if you want to call McCain a socialist with a scary tax plan, you'd at least be consistent. You'll note Joe wouldn't do that.

Who is Joe the plumber?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Home world reliabilism

Majors and Sawyer (2005) have defended a version of reliabilism, home world reliabilism, which says that what is necessary for justified belief is not reliability in normal worlds or reliability in the scenario in which a belief is actually formed, but instead says this:

Rhw: S’s belief that p is justified only if the processes that produced S’s beliefs are reliable in S’s home world understood as that set of environments relative to which the natures of her intentional contents are individuated (2005: 272).

To understand the view, it is important to understand something about the individuation of intentional contents. Thanks in large part to the work of Putnam (1975) and Burge (1979) it is now widely believed that features of the external environment are among the conditions that go towards determining the contents of our intentional states. Burge (1979) defended the view that it is possible for two individuals that are microphysical duplicates to have different beliefs if they were raised in different environments and the further view that the contents of their perceptual states could also differ in light of differences in their environments (1986). If our first individual had been raised in a linguistic community like ours where ‘gold’ was used to refer to a metallic element atoms of which had 79 protons in its nucleus and our second individual was raised in a linguistic community similar to ours that used ‘gold’ to refer to a superficially similar metal atoms of which did not have 79 protons in its nucleus, what these two speakers would assert if they said ‘That is gold’ would differ. (For example, what the first speaker says might be false if said while pointing at a hunk of fool’s gold even if what the second speaker says could be true if said while pointing at the same hunk.) Suppose these speakers then added, ‘Well, that is what I believe, at any rate’. Just as ‘That is gold’ would express different propositions, ‘I believe that that is gold’ would express different propositions. Unless we are prepared to say that one of these speakers cannot correctly self-ascribe beliefs, we have to say that their assertions and beliefs differ in content. The conditions that determine what these individuals believe include their ‘narrow’ conditions (i.e., the conditions held constant when we say that these two individuals are microphysical duplicates) and the conditions found in their environment (i.e., the conditions that determine whether they have been interacting with gold or some superficially similar metal that is not gold).

To see why this matters, note that in setting up the new evil demon thought experiment, we were asked to imagine that there was an individual that is mentally just like us (i.e., an epistemic counterpart) that was situated in an environment that is radically different from our own insofar as this subject was systematically deceived and cut off from causally interacting with her environment in the ways that we do. Anti-individualists might say that this is latent nonsense. It is impossible for a subject to satisfy the first condition and be mentally just like us whilst being situated in a radically different environment because a condition necessary on being mentally just like us is that the subject causally interacts with the kinds of things that we do. The home world reliabilist can say that the new evil demon thought experiment does not cause trouble for reliabilist accounts of justification because when we describe a systematically deceived subject, we are not describing a genuine possibility in which an epistemic counterpart of ours has beliefs produced by wholly unreliable processes. Thus, the home world reliabilist can say that if a subject is an epistemic counterpart of ours, that subject’s beliefs are justified and to the extent that this subject’s mental life is like ours, we have to assume that this subject is not prevented from causally interacting with her environment in the way that the systematically deceived subjects would have to be.

As Comesana (2002: 264) notes, however, it isn’t clear that an appeal to anti-individualism alone can take care of the problem because the problem can reemerge in the form of ‘switching’ cases. Let us suppose that anti-individualism is true and that it is impossible for a subject that is tormented by a Cartesian demon from birth to be an epistemic counterpart of ours. By depriving this subject of the opportunity to causally interact with an environment like ours, the demon prevents this individual from acquiring the kinds of intentional thought contents that we have. What if a subject were allowed to acquire the kinds of thought contents we have by interacting with her environment for a period of thirty years, but the day after the subject’s thirtieth birthday the demon decides to cause her to hallucinate and deceive her about her surroundings? Intuitively, it seems that this newly deceived subject is no less justified in forming her beliefs, but her beliefs will now be wrong as a rule. The home world reliabilist might say that their view delivers this verdict because if the subject had been forming beliefs in the kind of epistemically hospitable environment in which she initially had been forming her beliefs, her beliefs would have largely turned out to be correct. (This seems to require the home world reliabilist to individuate environments in such a way that with the demon’s decision to start deceiving our hapless subject the subject is thereby ‘moved’ into an environment that is not part of the ‘home world’.) I suppose that those sympathetic to Goldman’s (1979) original formulation of reliabilism would be bothered by the implication that so far as the facts that matter to justification are concerned, nothing of significance happened when the demon decided to deceive the subject. It is also odd that on the home world reliabilist view, if the subject thought to herself just after the switch that the beliefs formed after her thirtieth birthday were justified, that belief would be true, but if the subject inferred that those very same beliefs are produced by reliable processes, that belief would be false.

It is hard to know if these are serious problems for the view, but it is worth noting that if the home world reliabilist response is complete, it has to say something about the epistemic status of a demonically tormented subject’s beliefs. Even if no subject tormented from birth by a demon has thoughts or perceptual experiences with the contents that ours have, unless the home world reliabilist is going to say that such subjects have no beliefs at all, we can ask whether such a subject is justified in believing whatever they happen to believe. We know that the home world reliabilist will have to say that if these subjects have justified beliefs, there must be some matters about which their beliefs are reliably correct. It is hard to imagine what these subjects might have reliably correct beliefs about. Note also that the view’s verdicts might not be quite in line with the intuitions to which the critics of reliabilism appeal. Suppose that philosophers ‘discovered’ that some sort of error theory is true. Although the folk might believe things are colored, noisy, good, or what have you, philosophers learn that the world contains no secondary qualities or moral properties. Are we to say that in light of this hard earned philosophical discovery, the ordinary judgments that ordinary folk make about colors or moral properties can never be justified? It seems that the home world reliabilist would have to say that if we were to discover that a subject’s beliefs are not reliably correct by taking account of facts that ordinary folk are non-culpably ignorant of, we would have to pronounce their beliefs as unjustified. It is not clear that this is consistent with the basic intuition that underwrites the new evil demon argument.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

McCain is now accusing Obama of supporting infanticide

I just received an email from McCain-Palin. The email consisted of an editorial from The Washington Post authored by Terence P. Jeffrey where Obama is accused of supporting infanticide. Here's the content of the email:
Saturday, October 11, 2008
The most telling debate Barack Obama ever had was not with John McCain but Patrick O'Malley, who served with Mr. Obama in the Illinois Senate and engaged him in a colloquy every American should read.

The Obama-O'Malley debate was a defining moment for Mr. Obama because it dealt with such a fundamental issue: The state's duty to protect the civil rights of the young and disabled.

Some background: Eight years ago, nurse Jill Stanek went public about the "induced-labor abortions" performed at the Illinois hospital where she worked. Often done on Down syndrome babies, the procedure involved medicating the mother to cause premature labor.

Babies who survived this, Nurses Stanek testified in the U.S. Congress, were brought to a soiled linen room and left alone to die without care or comforting.

Then-Illinois state Sen. Patrick O'Malley, whom I interviewed this week, contacted the state attorney general's office to see whether existing laws protected a newborn abortion-survivor's rights as a U.S. citizen. He was told they did not. So, Mr. O'Malley - a lawyer, veteran lawmaker and colleague of Mr. Obama on the Illinois Senate Judiciary Committee - drafted legislation.

In 2001, he introduced three bills. SB1093 said if a doctor performing an abortion believed there was a likelihood the baby would survive, another physician must be present "to assess the child's viability and provide medical care." SB1094 gave the parents, or a state-appointed guardian, the right to sue to protect the child's rights. SB1095 simply said a baby alive after "complete expulsion or extraction from its mother" would be considered a " 'person,' 'human being,' 'child' and 'individual.' "

The bills dealt exclusively with born children. "This legislation was about preventing conduct that allowed infanticide to take place in the state of Illinois," Mr. O'Malley told me.

The Judiciary Committee approved the bills with Mr. Obama in opposition. On March 31, 2001, they came up on the Illinois Senate floor. Only one member spoke against them: Barack Obama.

"Nobody else said anything," Mr. O'Malley recalls. The official transcript validates this.

"Sen. O'Malley," Mr. Obama said near the beginning of the discussion, "the testimony during the committee indicated that one of the key concerns was - is that there was a method of abortion, an induced abortion, where the - the fetus or child, as - as some might describe it, is still temporarily alive outside the womb." Mr. Obama made three crucial concessions here: the legislation was about (1) a human being, who was (2) "alive" and (3) "outside the womb."

He also used an odd redundancy: "temporarily alive." Is there another type of human?

"And one of the concerns that came out in the testimony was the fact that they were not being properly cared for during that brief period of time that they were still living," Mr. Obama continued.

Here he made another crucial concession: The intention of the legislation was to make sure that (1) a human being, (2) alive and (3) outside the womb was (4) "properly cared for."

"Is that correct?" Mr. Obama asked Mr. O'Malley.

Mr. O'Malley tightened the logical knot. "[T]his bill suggests that appropriate steps be taken to treat that baby as a - a citizen of the United States and afforded all the rights and protections it deserves under the Constitution of the United States," said Mr. O'Malley.

But to these specific temporarily-alive-outside-the-womb-human beings - to these children who had survived a botched abortion, whose hearts were beating, whose muscles were moving, whose lungs were heaving - to these specific children of God, Mr. Obama was not willing to concede any constitutional rights at all.

To explain his position, Mr. Obama came up with yet another term to describe the human being who would be protected by Mr. O'Malley's bills. The abortion survivor became a "pre-viable fetus."

By definition, however, a born baby cannot be a "fetus." Merriam-Webster Online defines "fetus" as an "unborn or unhatched vertebrate" or "a developing human from usually two months after conception to birth." Mr. Obama had already conceded these human beings were "alive outside the womb."

"No. 1," said Mr. Obama, "whenever we define a pre-viable fetus as a person that is protected by the equal protection clause or other elements of the Constitution, what we're really saying is, in fact, that they are persons that are entitled to the kinds of protections that would be provided to a - a child, a 9-month-old - child that was delivered to term."

Yes. In other words, a baby born alive at 37 weeks is just as much a human "person" as a baby born alive at 22 weeks.

Mr. Obama, however, saw a problem with calling abortion survivors "persons." "I mean, it - it would essentially bar abortions," said Mr. Obama, "because the equal protection clause does not allow somebody to kill a child, and if this is a child, then this would be an antiabortion statute."

For Mr. Obama, whether or not a temporarily-alive-outside-the-womb little girl is a "person" entitled to constitutional rights is not determined by her humanity, her age or even her place in space relative to her mother's uterus. It is determined by whether a doctor has been trying to kill her.

Terence P. Jeffrey is a nationally syndicated columnist.

Here's the response from Media Matters:
The Washington Post reported that "[a]bortion foes are now accusing [Sen. Barack] Obama of being an abortion-rights extremist" and purported to give the views of both the proponents and opponents of the "Born-Alive Infants Protection Act," which Obama voted against as an Illinois state senator. But at no point did the Post note that the Illinois Department of Public Health had reportedly said that the alleged conduct the Post identified as having been the impetus for the bill was already illegal.

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McCain's base?

Saturday, October 11, 2008


I'd been kicking around this idea in a few blog comments and notes to self that it would be interesting to respond to arguments against moral realism by arguing that such arguments would prove too much by doubling as arguments against epistemic realism. I'm now sitting here drinking a decent coffee cup of wine reading Cuneo's The Normative Web kicking myself for not thinking of this earlier while thinking I'm somewhat relieved that he's done all the hard work for me.

You might be wondering why I'm blogging on a Saturday night at 2:00 a.m. It's in part because my new schedule involves passing out from 3:30 until 7:00 on Friday afternoons after my week of teaching is done. It's in part because I'm somewhat motivated to get some reading done instead of thinking about the horrors of another year on the job market. I'd like to think that this year is going to go better than last, but it's looking like there aren't that many jobs this year. At this point, I'm not sure any changes to my cv are going to matter. (That being said, there's about a dozen folks who could prove me wrong. They could finish reviewing my papers and recommend acceptance!) I'll just sit back, expect the worst, and start thinking about where I want to wait tables next year.

Sarah Palin is turning out to be a bold choice, no?

Monday, October 6, 2008

Overheard in Dallas

Not by me, but by Amy:
Girl in store: Is this (pointing to a small plant) an actual Meyer Lemon Tree?
Clerk: Yeah, it grows to be around 3 feet tall.
G: Does it actually grow lemons?
C: Yeah.
G: Yeah, but does it grow real lemons?

Sunday, October 5, 2008

That's not foresight we can believe in!

Here's a little gem of an interview McCain gave to Mother Jones in December, 1998.
MJ: You not only have had combat experience in Vietnam, but you were also a prisoner of war. When you look at terrorism right now, with people like Osama bin Laden, do you have any reservations about watching strikes like that?

JM: You could say, Look, is this guy, Laden, really the bad guy that's depicted? Most of us have never heard of him before. And where there is a parallel with Vietnam is: What's plan B? What do we do next? We sent our troops into Vietnam to protect the bases. Lyndon Johnson said, Only to protect the bases. Next thing you know.... Well, we've declared to the terrorists that we're going to strike them wherever they live. That's fine. But what's next? That's where there might be some comparison.

HT to TPM.