Sunday, April 6, 2008

Evidentialism and pragmatic encroachment

I've been trying to figure out what unites the evidentialists apart from their use of a common label. Conee and Feldman, for example, formulate evidentialism in such a way that you'd have to agree that two individuals' beliefs are going to be justificationally alike provided that they have the same evidence. I don't see Shah explicitly endorsing this sort of supervenience thesis in his defense of evidentialism. He seems more interested in showing that practical considerations cannot be among the normative reasons for belief. While the fact that believing p will further your practical aims might provide a reason for performing actions that have as a causal consequence your ending up with that belief, those are reasons for performing actions and _not_ reasons for belief.

On its face, it seems that Shah's thesis about reasons for belief is weaker than the thesis Conee and Feldman defend. Think about the dialectical situation. A standard thing for evidentialists like Conee and Feldman to say to link talk about evidence to talk about a belief's justificatory status is that a belief will be justified provided that there is sufficient evidence for the belief. If features of the practical situation can go towards determining whether there is sufficient evidence, we could say that while all the normative reasons that bear on whether to believe p are pieces of evidence the standards that determine whether there is sufficient evidence can vary in such a way that A and B have the same evidence but only A has sufficient evidence for believing some proposition.

It might be that Shah doesn't want to rule out the possibility of this sort of pragmatic encroachment but only show that when it comes to the normative reasons that bear on whether to believe p those reasons are constituted by pieces of evidence only. But, then his argument only addresses one sort of pragmatist (i.e., the one that thinks that practical considerations can be reasons for belief) and leaves untouched the arguments for pragmatic encroachment you'll find in Fantl and McGrath. So, could someone argue from the claim that only pieces of evidence are normative reasons that bear on whether to believe p to the further claim that the justificatory status of our beliefs will be determined by the evidence and only the evidence?

Whatever such an argument looked like, it would have to show that facts about the justificatory status of our beliefs supervene on facts about the normative reasons and are independent of any further facts not about those normative reasons. I'm curious as to whether people think this is a plausible thesis or whether it would be better to think that the arguments Shah offers cannot be taken to support the sort of evidentialist thesis you'll find defended by Conee and Feldman.

Fwiw, I think there are connections between normative reasons and a belief's justificatory status and think that there is something close to the assumption needed to close the gap between the two evidentialist theses that is right. I worry, however, that the assumptions about normative reasons that bear on whether to believe and the justificatory status of our beliefs are not going to lead to the evidentialist view. They might lead us to say pragmatic encroachment is impossible, but that's a different matter.

Alright, I have to go grade a pile of papers.


Tony Booth said...

Hi Clayton,

I was wondering if you could say what you thought a *normative* reason for belief was?

I can see the difference between a motivational reason and a normative (justification granting) reason is. But if this is the distinction you are after there surely is no further question of whether a normative reason contributes to a belief´s justificationary status. I thought Shah´s point was that we can´t have non-epistemic motivational reasons for belief and this, along with Bernard William´s deliberative contraint on reasons, means that we can´t have non-epistemic justificatory reasons either. I.E. only considerations concerning evidence are relevant in considering what justificationary status a belief has.

What am I missing?

Clayton said...

Hey Tony,

It seems that Shah is trying to derive a claim about what can move us, in part, from a claim about the norm that governs belief. So, it seems he's offering us an account of what moves us (i.e., an account of motivating reasons), but one that has implications concerning normative reasons.

There can be a further question that remains if you deny that all normativity has to do with the sort of reasons he's interested in. To paraphrase something he once told me, the evidentialist view he defends is the view that only evidence counts as currency but allows for the possibility that non-evidential considerations are needed for determining how much of that currency is needed to purchase the 'right to believe'.

So, I guess, if you deny that only facts about reasons determine the normative properties of a belief you can say that only evidence can serve as a reason for belief without thereby saying that only facts about evidence have a bearing on whether the belief is justified, permissibly held, etc...

Tony Booth said...

I see. Thanks very much for this. It looks to me like a nice (and plausible) move. I was slightly surprised that Shah makes the (pretty large, I think) concession you say he does. I guess the obvious question is why think that the non-evidential considerations needed for determining how much evidential currency is needed to purchase the 'right to believe' are not themselves facts about normative reasons?

Clayton said...

Hey Tony,

I can't say I know what his official view was (or is), but it struck me that there was a gap between the argument he offered to defend what he called 'evidentialism' and the sort of evidentialist view you'd find defended by Conee and Feldman. It seemed that the assumptions needed to close that gap were not assumptions that stood out as entirely plausible. For example, it seemed to assume that the only properties that had any bearing on the normative status of what we reason to are properties of what we reason from. There might be arguments for adopting such a view, but one would want to see what those amounted to.

tony booth said...

Yea, so the assumption needed to close the gap would be that only facts about reasons can determine a belief's justificationary state. Very interesting. Perhaps what someone defending that bridged gap would say is that it is perfectly natural to conceive of whatever else you think can determine a belief's j state as reasons (or facts about reasons). So the burden of proof is in 'your court' to show them otherwise?

Also, I might be missing the point about what we reason to and what we reason from, since I think the connection is not, for Shah, just an assumption. As I say, I think he argues for this via William's deliberative contraint on reasons.

Anyway, good luck with it - it certainly looks like a worthwhile project!! Down with those evidentialists!!

Clayton said...

Hey Tony,

I guess there's various ways of doing it, but one worry that seems to come in for no discussion in epistemology is something like this. We have an argument that seems to show that nothing can be an operative/explanatory reason for belief unless the subject takes it to be a normative reason. That cannot show that the only normatively relevant features of the belief are, as it were, provided by the reasons for which the subject believes (or the reasons for which the subject could have believed given the subject's subjective motivational set) if we assume that normative reasons only bear on whether to believe if the subject has access to them.

The question then becomes what motivates this assumption? It might be that for certain concepts (e.g., rationality?) the conditions that determine whether someone rationally believes p depends only on the subject's subjective motivational set, but why think that, say, permissibility, justification, duty conformity, etc... also depend only on how things are with the reasons that are potentially explanatory or operative?

What seems odd about trying to derive the evidentialist supervenience thesis defended by Conee and Feldman from the normative assumption that serves as Shah's starting point is this. Shah's explanation of the hegemony of truth-related considerations in theoretical deliberation is the idea that belief is governed by the following norm:
(T) You should not believe p unless p is true.

Grasping that this is the fundamental norm of belief, I suppose, one is powerless to reason from considerations one takes to be irrelevant to the truth of the relevant belief. Given this and Williams' assumption, we get that the link between evidence and reasons. But, to get the claim that Conee and Feldman are after we have to say that the normative reasons there are in virtue of (T) not only do not enjoin you to refrain from believing falsehoods (unless the evidence is sufficient for seeing the falsehood to be one), but also apparently give you reasons that become all-things considered reasons to believe falsehoods. All by itself, (T) generates reasons for us to transgress (T) when we're confused, ill-informed, etc...

I can imagine ways of making sense of the move from the assumption that (T) is the fundamental norm of belief to the evidentialist supervenience thesis C&F defend, but the assumptions seem highly dubious assumptions about reasons and rationality that next to no one would defend if we shifted our attention from theoretical to practical reasons. It's not for nothing, perhaps, that C&F seem to deny that belief is governed by (T) and say that while truth is a goal, interpreting the claim that truth is a goal is something we should not use normative concepts to do.

What I don't see in Shah's defense of evidentialism, then, is an argument that shows that 'outcomes' don't make a difference. What I don't see in C&F is any real attempt to provide theoretical underpinnings for evidentialism.

Clayton said...

Oops, I meant to say:
hat cannot show that the only normatively relevant features of the belief are, as it were, provided by the reasons for which the subject believes (or the reasons for which the subject could have believed given the subject's subjective motivational set) unless we assume that normative reasons only bear on whether to believe if the subject has access to them.

Tony Booth said...

Hi again, Clayton. Sorry, I don´t mean to take up to much of your time (so you needn´t answer my desultory queries) but I´m a little confused now...

It looks like the assumption you are questioning isn´t the one I thought you were. Is the point that Shah´s move from motivational to normative reaons relies on errantly assuming some form of access internalism? It seems to me that access internalism is perfectly benign. Even some externalists, like Bergmann, seem to take it on board. And I guess one can plausibly answer the question of why think that, say, permissibility, justification, duty conformity, etc... also depend only on how things are with the reasons that are potentially explanatory or operative via appeal to some principle like Williams´ or that ´ought implies can.´

I´m afraid I need to have my hand held through why access internalism is an assumption no one who was working on practical reasons would accept. I also don´t know what you mean by the worry that ¨outcomes can make a difference.¨

I´m totally with you, however, on the point as regards C&F´s failure to provide the theoretical underpinnings for evidentialism. At one point, I think, Feldman argues that his version of evidentialism is vindicated in virtue of the fact that only by believing in accord with evidentialist principles can one achieve what is of epistemic value. He then defines what epistemic value is as rational belief, which, unless the account is utterly question-begging, has to be thought of as something akin Shah´s motivational account of reasons for belief (roughly). But Feldman doesn´t provide an argument for that. So I´m totally with you on this score.

I think it is certainly a worthwhile project to compare and contrast C&F´s version of evidentialism with Shah´s. It might also be interesting to see how Jonathan Adler´s argument for evidentialism figures here. I think his is, essentially, a very similar line to Shah´s. What do you think?

Clayton said...

Hey Tony,

I'm finding this all very useful, so I'm glad we're having this discussion.

You wrote:
It looks like the assumption you are questioning isn´t the one I thought you were. Is the point that Shah´s move from motivational to normative reaons relies on errantly assuming some form of access internalism?

I didn't mean to imply that Shah's move requires any sort of access internalist requirement, but I can see how to try to take some steps from his view towards C&F's view by means of that assumption. (It won't help with pragmatic encroachment worries that some say show that the level of evidence necessary for justified belief can vary as the practical stakes of that belief's being true vary, but it might help address certain reliabilist worries.)

Myself, I think we ought to reject the access requirement. At least, we should reject that requirement if understood in a certain way. I'd agree that a reason's being _your_ reason might require a kind of access requirement. That's probably benign. I'd reject the view that a reason's bearing on whether to X depends on it being a consideration to which you have epistemic access. And, if that assumption is needed to, say, reject the possibility that truth, knowledge, reliability, etc... have some bearing on whether to believe, whether a belief is justified etc..., I think some work needs to be done.

If we think about, say, moral or practical reasons I think it's plausible to say (as Williams does ironically) that a reason can be a reason that bears on whether one ought to X even on an occasion where one does not have access to that reason. (That the stuff in the glass is petrol and not gin as you believe is why you oughtn't drink that stuff, but it's not a reason you have access to until after you drink it and learn the hard way.)

It seems the assumption needed to shore up the argument from, say, Shah's view to C&F's view is an argument that either there are no reasons apart from considerations to which we have access or that such reasons are normatively idle until we access them. I think we have good reason to reject this view for practical and moral reasons, so we ought to ask what's so special about reasons that bear on belief. At this point, people say that it is due to the 'epistemicness' of epistemic reasons but that's not an answer because if you ask them what makes a reason an epistemic reason they'll likely say that those reasons are connected to truth.

I think you're right, by the way, that there are similarities between Adler and Shah's work on evidentialism. I don't see much difference at all, to be honest.

Tony Booth said...

Thanks for all that, Clayton. Much clearer.

I see what you mean about the access thing in practical reason. I hadn´t thought of that. Interesting.

I´m still in favour of access internalism though, but we aren´t going to settle that debate here!! Still, even if I´m wrong, I would be careful about this line of objection. It *looks* like a lot of what is driving your objection is: evidentialism implies internalism, and internalism is wrong! But then you need to show why it is, and that is not going to be child´s play given how contentious the externalism/internalism debate is. So you´d have to spend a disporportionate amount of space in a paper or whatever doing this. So, for what it is worth, I would try to make sure that it was clear that your objection did not depend on the falsity of internalism.

Again, totally with you re. the point about appealing to ´epistemicness´. I wonder what you´d get if you were a value pluralist evidentialist...And, yea, I think you are right:there is no substantive difference between Shah and Adler.

Clayton said...

Hey Tony,

Agreed, I think it wouldn't be good to argue against evidentialism by arguing against access internalism.

There's nothing in the evidentialist view that requires them to adopt the access internalist requirement. Williamson, for example, might adopt a kind of evidentialist view while allowing that two individuals might have different evidence for reasons that they do not have privileged access to. (If you accept E = K, it seems you ought to reject a certain kind of access requirement.)

As for the value pluralist idea, I think it's interesting. I've tried to write a paper attacking pluralist accounts of epistemic justification and there's a passage in Adler's epistemic akrasia paper/BOE book that suggests that he's opposed to a kind of epistemic pluralism. Whereas a certain kind of pluralist might say that there's many ways of being right much in the same way that there are many ways of being beautiful, it seems that while practical reason concludes much in the way a hand of poker does, theoretical reasoning concludes much in the way that gin rummy does. In the one case, the best will do. In the other, only one outcome will suffice.

Bernard Williams also attacks a kind of epistemic pluralism by pointing out that one of the marks of pluralism is the possibility of rational regret accompanying knowledge that one has done right. It isn't clear that there is in addition to 'moral residue' any sort of 'epistemic residue'.

tony booth said...

Yea, well Williamson´s ´evidentialism´ is a whole different ball game. Not sure I´d cherish taking him on though!!

I like the William´s argument (though I´m quite partial to pluralism about justification as worked out by Alston). Any chance you could let me know where makes it?

Thanks in advance!!

Clayton said...

I think that Williams' remarks concerning residue and belief can be found in his paper, "Ethical Consistency". I'd have to double check.

I've been working out a view that allows us to say that epistemic evaluation is concerned with the agent's evidence, but not in the way that the typical evidentialist would have us believe. It's modeled on the idea that the fundamental norm of truth is the truth norm and that the reason evidence matters is because evaluating a subject's evidence and her beliefs is the means by which we determine whether the subject is epistemically responsible. The twist is that justification depends negatively on epistemic responsibility. Irresponsibility might make otherwise justifiable attitudes unjustified but responsibility alone cannot ensure that the belief is justified as that requires conforming to the norms that govern belief. So, on this view, a belief is justified if it faithfully represents how things are and is faultlessly held. I agree with Shah and others that belief is governed by the truth norm, but argue that given a bunch of other stuff about reasons that requires us to say there are no false, justified beliefs. However, given that the normative status of the belief depends only negatively on the reasons that move the agent to believe, we can deny that the subject's justification has to entail the truth of the relevant belief.

I think the view nicely parallels some things we want to say in ethics. If we have a duty of non-maleficence, say, we can say that someone's actions will fail to be justified if the action involves the imposition of harm or if given the subject's perspective it could have been expected to lead to harm and there was no real reason that overrode the reason associated with the duty of non-maleficence.

Tony Booth said...

Thanks for the reference, Clayton. I´ll look it up.

Your view sounds interesting, though controvertial - especially the part about there being no false, justified beliefs. I guess the plausibility will depend on the details of your account. However, here is a knee-jerk worry: if we claimed that every false belief were unjustified and every true belief justified wouldn´t we be in danger of making justification irrelevant? I.e. wouldn´t knowledge just turn out to be true belief?

Clayton said...

Hey Tony,

I don't want to say that truth _suffices_ for justified belief, but only that truth is _necessary_. If someone believes what is true but cannot reasonably assume that it is true, I wouldn't say that the belief is justified. That they believe what they cannot reasonably take to be in conformity with the norms of belief thereby ensures that the belief is one that oughtn't be held.

The view isn't all that different from the knowledge account of justified belief defended by Unger and Sutton. The differences between us have to do with the normative significance of that which distinguishes the true beliefs reasonably assumed to be true from knowledge. I say they are normatively insignificant. They can't.

I don't know what to say about making the concept irrelevant. I don't think that _keeping_ the concept relevant at the expense of a correct analysis can be something that guides theory selection. I see no reason to think that the correctness of the analysis depends on the concept's being relevant for the purposes some have hoped it would be relevant to. Anyway, I don't think that if the account I defend is right our interest will wane because the question of justification is really central to doxastic deliberation.

Tony Booth said...

Yea, perhaps the way to go is to think of epistemic justification as a concept worth exploring in its own right, independently of its role in turning true beliefs into knowledge. At least, I seem to be headed in that direction myself...but would use this as a consideration in favour of pluralism about justification...