Sunday, September 7, 2008


Prepared by a clearer view of the justification in question, we are in a position to identify the nature of the truth connection. A proposition is epistemically justified to someone when it is evident to the person that the proposition is true.

Isn't this a disagreement?
A: It was evident to the detective that Mustard killed Plum.
B: But it was Peacock that killed Plum, not Mustard.


Geoff said...

Yes, it does sound like a disagreement. But that might be because "it's evident to S that P" presupposes P and not because it entails P. For example, this doesn't sound to me like something you couldn't truthfully say:

(a) It was evident to the detective that Mustard killed Plum, until he learned that Plum's real killer was Peacock.

That's definitely not as bad to my ears as:

(b) It was known to the detective that Mustard killed Plum, until he learned that Plum's real killer was Peacock.

Clayton said...

Thanks, Geoff.

I'd agree that (b) sounds worse, but I have to admit that (a) sounds false to me.

To your ear, isn't there a significant difference between your (a) and (a'):
(a') It seemed evident to the detective that Mustard killed Plum, until he learned that Plum's real killer was Peacock.

Whereas (a') seems wholly unproblematic, when I set it next to (a), (a) seems to me to be quite bad.

Michael said...

Hi Clayton,

It seems to me that from the detective's point of view, there couldn't be a distinction between it *seeming* evident that Mustard killed Plum and it *being* evident that mustard killed Plum. That is, iff it seemed evident to him that p, he would say "it is evident to me that p." If this is right, then your a' can't come apart from geoff's a, in terms of truth value.

Of course, this entails that if it seems evident to someone that p, then that person is epistemically justified in believing that p. In the terms of your example we would have to say:

A: The detective was epistemically justified in believing that Mustard killed Plum


B: Mustard did not kill plum

So it just comes down to a question of whether someone can be epistemically justified in believing something that is false; and this seems just to be a matter of defining the sense of "epistemically justified". Do we want to say that x is epistemically justified in believing that p only if p? You seem to be implying that the answer to this question is yes, while clearly in the view of the author you are quoting the answer is "no". I can't think of any criterion to settle this disagreement, but then it does not really seem necessary to settle it; or am I wrong?

Clayton said...

Hey Michael,

I agree with the first part, but while I think the detective can't appreciate the difference between (a) and (a'), _we_ can appreciate the difference.

I'm not sure that this entails that if p seems evident to someone, they are justified in believing p. It seems that all it takes for p to seem evident to someone is that they are firmly convinced, and firm conviction does not amount to justification.

Let me switch examples slightly. If someone says 'We hold these claims to be self-evident, that p, that q, that r, etc...', I cannot say that they are right while remaining agnostic as to whether p is true, q is true, r is true, etc... But, the difference between 'self-evident' and 'evident' seems to be a difference between factive and non-factive.

I'm only reporting how things sound to me. I've been flipping through the dictionary and 'evident' is treated as interchangeable with 'obvious' by some. I do think 'It's obvious that p' entails 'p'.

Anyway, the only reason this matters is that I've been reading Conee and Feldman's work all day and I thought it might be wise to do a short blog post before I pull out any more tufts of hair.

Cpl said...

That seems right. But if you wanted a non-factive evidentialism, could you just switch to defining justification in terms of what the subject has evidence for, rather than what is evident to them? The former is non-factive.

'There's something similar with appearance verbs - 'apparent that' seems (at least to me to be) factive, whereas 'appears that' is not.

Geoff said...


I do think that your "seemed evident" version sounds better, though I wouldn't call the difference between the two "significant". Maybe (a) seems fine to me because I'm doing some protagonist projection -- the reason (c) can sound okay despite its falsehood:

(c) Pre-Copernican astronomers knew that the sun was at the center of the universe.

I disagree about "self-evident", though. Or, I should say, I agree with what you say about the example you give, but I think (d) is right even though I know Naive Comprehension is false:

(d) Naive Comprehension was self-evident to Frege.

I guess that could be protagonist projection too.

(BTW I have the same intuitions in all of these cases if you replace "evident" with "obvious".)

Clayton said...

Agreed. I simply wanted to flag what strikes me as another bizarre use (misuse) of the language by C&F.

Interesting point about appears/apparent.

Agreed on the factivity of obvious. I think that the extent to which I find the Frege example right, I'd chalk that up to the same sort of phenomenon that leads us to say things like 'We learned that p' where 'p' turns out to be false.