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.


dtlocke said...

Hi, Clayton. I've really been enjoying this string of posts.

Incidentally, I wonder what results you would have gotten had you asked:

(Q1*) Should we say that Green is more justified in having his belief than Plum is in having her belief?

I know some philosophers draw a distinction between a belief's justification and a believer's justification in having a belief. Has there been x-phi work examining whether intro to philosophy students also draw that distinction?

Switching gears a bit, I'm particularly interested in the argument you present in your post "Deontological Externalism". Lately I've become fond of what we might call the mirror image of your argument: it seems to me that "justified action" is an internalist notion and that this implies that "justified belief" is an internalist notion.

But we at least agree on this: we both think that the question of whether "justified action" is an internalist/externalist notion has implications for the question of whether "justified belief" is an internalist/externalist notion. Do you know of anyone who has said such a thing explicitly in print?


Clayton said...


Actually, I did some polling to see if students thought that Plum was justified in her belief. (I'm actually a huge advocate of drawing the personal/doxastic justification distinction. In my dissertation, I argued that it was the neglect of this distinction that was largely responsible for the persistence of the internalism/externalism debate. I have a piece in CJP defending that distinction.)

I intend to do some studies to test students to see if they treat these comparative judgments differently:

(1) Plum is no less justified in her beliefs than Green is in his.

(2) Plum's belief is no less justified than Green's belief is.

(3) Green has a better justification for his beliefs than Plum does for hers.

When it comes to justified _action_, it seems that my students are externalists. It seems that they will say that someone's actions can be wrongful even if there is nothing accessible to them to alert them to this fact. I'll post some of this data as well.

Like you, I'm somewhat inclined to think that the justification of action and belief had better 'swing together'. If you had anything that you were working on, maybe we could swap papers. I've got one piece out under review where I defend the link and one where I use the link to argue that there cannot be false, justified beliefs. Obviously, I doubt I'll persuade you to go crazy externalist with me, but I suspect that the first piece we'll agree about a lot on.

Anyway, if interested they are "Belief's Aim and its Justification" and "The Myth of the False, Justified Belief" respectively. I'll defend the second at the Eastern in December. Neither will likely be out in print anytime soon.


dtlocke said...

Unfortunately I don't have anything in draft at the moment. But if you're so inclined to send either of your papers my way, I'd love to take a look!