Friday, April 25, 2008

A quick one while I'm supposed to be away

I'm down to my final 30 papers!!!!

My mind is stretched in all sorts of ways right now, so I thought I'd quick jot this down.

I'm wondering what the contextualist would say about this sort of example. Peter backs his car out of his driveway and hits a kid on a bike.

Bjorn and John discuss the matter in two different conversational contexts (not with each other). In Bjorn's context the standards for 'knows' are loose enough that had there been no kid there, Peter would have 'known' that the coast was clear. In John's context, however, the standards for 'knows' are stricter so that even if there had been no kid there, Peter would not have 'known' that the coast was clear. Now, it seems that Peter should have known better than to assume that the coast was clear, he could be properly blamed for hitting the kid. It also seems that if his epistemic position was such that he could have known that the coast was clear that it would be a mistake to say that he should have known better than to assume that the coast was clear.

With this in place, it seems that we have two contexts. In one, Bjorn can say that Peter's ignorance was non-culpable ignorance and blame is inappropriate. In another, John can say he should have known better than to just pull out without checking and so blame is perfectly appropriate.

Is this really tolerable? I can't help but think that what determines culpability is fixed entirely by what's in Peter's situation. I really don't like the idea that there could be two contexts in which one can properly say 'He's culpable' and another in which one can say 'He's not culpable'. Saying that, however, it seems that we'd either have to deny the link between 'knows' and 'should have known better than to assume' or the link between blame and 'should have known better than to assume'. To tie this in to earlier discussions, I'm pretty sure that there's such a thing as 'ordinary blame' and I'm pretty sure that ordinary blame interacts with knowledge. I'm starting to believe in ordinary knowledge against my better instincts.

5 comments:

Dotty wine said...

Yay! I got my paper back! Thankyou! I made a good grade :)

I think we talked about this in class. Whether or not he should be blamed for doing something and there are no bad consequences or he did the same thing and there happened to be a kid there. But I don't understand your new conclusion.

xnewmodx said...

peter bjorn and john? WHAT is the world could you have possibly been listening to?

Alastair Norcross said...

Hi Clayton,
Remember that just because you are a contextualist, it doesn't follow that just any assumptions can set an appropriate context. It's also not necessarily the case that responsibility ascriptions will follow the exact same contextualist contours as knowledge/justification ascriptions. Perhaps knowledge ascriptions can survive in laxer contexts than can responsibility ascriptions. If so, it would follow that there may be contexts in which one can truly make a responsibility ascription and truly deny a knowledge ascription. I don't see this as a problem, but I'm also skeptical about the existence of such contexts.

Clayton said...

Hey Alastair,

Agreed on the first point. I don't want to give the impression that the mere fact that a possibility is considered makes it relevant. Thinking about the possibility in which washing my hair causes the sun to explode is not really going to matter to judgments about responsibility.

As for the second point, I think this is an interesting issue. I suppose someone could say that certain kinds of ascription 'swing together' so that any possibility relevant for assessing responsibility will thereby be relevant to assessing a knowledge attribution. We'd have to see what the bridges look like. I'm toying with the following idea:

S does not know p if S should have known better than to believe p. S can be blamed for acting on the belief that p only if S should have known better than to believe p.

If there are logical connections such as these, it might seem implausible to say that there are contexts in which one sort of ascription is true and another not.

I'm not sure if this can force an invariantist about blame to go invariantist about knowledge (or force contextualism about knowledge onto those sympathetic to contextualism about blame). I'll need to give it further thought.

I'm curious, however. Do you think there's anything in the ballpark of these:
(i) If you should have known better than to believe p, you don't know p.
(ii) If you should have known better than to believe p, you can be blamed for acting on the belief that p.

Alastair Norcross said...

Hi Clayton,
I do think something like your (i) and (ii) are plausible (though I would prefer to stick to justified belief, because most cases in which you should have known better than to believe p will be cases in which p isn't true, and so it will trivially follow that you don't know p). I'm not sure, though, that the same sense of 'should' is in play in each case. My suggestion is that there may be contexts in which you could truly assert "it's not the case that you should have known better than to believe p, and, what's more, you are justified in believing p", or could truly assert "you should have known better than to believe p, and thus you can be blamed for acting on the belief that p". I suspect that if you were to assert both of those, that would itself change the context.