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.