Thursday, December 10, 2009

Eastern APA

Had a strange dream about the APA last night. The drive in to NYC took longer than planned, there were notes apologizing that there wasn't enough beer at the talks, NYC was suffering from a severe and prolonged coffee shortage, and I couldn't hear the questions from the audience over the traffic noise. (The talk was outside at an abandoned gas station.) For reasons that weren't entirely clear, the members of the audience would all raise their hands at once. Not to ask questions, it was as if they were voting.

Upon waking, I saw that Matt had sent me his comments. Spooky.

The paper I'm giving is one of a handful of papers where I try to motivate claims about epistemic norms by appeal to claims about non-epistemic norms supported by intuition. There seem to be two responses to the general strategy:

R1: Anyone who buys into epistemic internalism will simply not have the intuition that the deontic status of an action can depend (in part) upon features of the situation that the subject is non-culpably ignorant of.

R2: Anyone who thinks about it will realize that the deontic status of actions depend (in part) upon features of the situation that the subject is non-culpably ignorant of and that the epistemic status of attitudes never depends upon features of the situation but only the subject's non-factive mental states.

If only we could get the R1 and R2 people in a room. My response to R1 people is (in part) that there are R2 people. R2 people are tough, they seem to require a real response. This isn't a response (yet) so much as some questions and hand waving.

An example:
GIN/PETROL
The first gin and tonic was delicious, so you order a second. You promise to share this one with your partner. The drink you are given looks like a gin and tonic, has the limes you’d expect a gin and tonic to have, but it is in fact petrol and tonic. You give it to your partner to drink and she becomes violently ill as a result.

Someone who is sympathetic to (R2) might say the following:
While you oughtn't give your partner the stuff, it's not the case that you shouldn't say that your partner should drink the stuff. The giving is wrong but the saying that you should give is not epistemically wrongful

You can only say this if you believe that faultless wrongdoing is possible. You have to think that you’re obliged to refrain from giving someone a drink containing petrol when you justifiably believe that it’s gin and know that you’ve promised to give them some of your gin drink. You have to believe that there are inaccessible normative reasons not to Φ that not only bear on whether to Φ but can still manage to defeat whatever reasons count in favor of Φ-ing. These inaccessible reasons aren’t diminished in strength just because they are inaccessible and so these reasons can be the ‘winning’ reasons.

I can’t see how this response to GIN/PETROL could be right unless we were to assume:
(FW) There can be cases of faultless wrongdoing, cases where the subject is obliged to refrain from Φ-ing when the subject was nevertheless rational, reasonable, and responsible in Φ-ing.

In defense of the idea that there deontic status of action and normative standing of attitude/assertion you can say two things. First, you can say that (FW) is false. If (FW) were true, morality would make unreasonable demands on us. Morality is, if anything, reasonable. Here’s what Fantl and McGrath say about the case:
… it is highly plausible that if two subjects have all the same very strong evidence for my glass contains gin, believe that proposition on the basis of this evidence, and then act on the belief in reaching to take a drink, those two subjects are equally justified in their actions and equally justified in treating what they each did as a reason, even if one of them, the unlucky one, has cleverly disguised petrol in his glass rather than gin. Notice that if we asked the unlucky fellow why he did such a thing, he might reply with indignation: ‘well, it was the perfectly rational thing to do; I had every reason to think the glass contained gin; why in the world should I think that someone would be going around putting petrol in cocktail glasses!?’ Here the unlucky subject is not providing an excuse for his action or treating what he did as a reason; he is defending it as the action that made the most sense for him to do and the proposition that made most sense to treat as a reason (forthcoming: 141).

If (FW) is false, the facts that the subject is ignorant of cannot be the facts that oblige the subject to act against her justified judgment about what to do and say. So, cases like GIN/PETROL aren’t a threat to Link:

(LINK) If S oughtn't Φ, an advisor epistemically oughtn't advise S to Φ.

Essentially, this is (R1). The problem with (R1) is that it isn't supported by intuition. Indeed, it is counterintuitive.

Suppose instead that (FW) is true and suppose factual ignorance can excuse, but does not obviate the need to justify giving your partner the petrol. Since there was no overriding reason to give your partner the petrol, you shouldn’t have given her that stuff to drink. Even if we assume (FW) is true, it still isn’t obvious why we should think that GIN/PETROL poses a threat to (LINK).

There has to be some explanation as to why the facts that the subject is non-culpably ignorant of adversely affect the normative standing of an action without adversely affecting the normative standing of the assertion that the action is to be performed. Any explanation as to how there could be no epistemic obligation to refrain from asserting that someone should Φ when the relevant agent shouldn't Φ would either focus on the epistemicness of the epistemic obligations or the obligatoriness of epistemic obligations.

You can’t say that it is the obligatoriness of the obligation that provides the explanation. If (FW) is true, there’s nothing about obligation, per se, that requires that the subject knows, is in a position to know, or is in a position to justifiably believe the obligation to be an obligation. This is not quite the same point, but it is related to a point that Gibbons make which is worth repeating. If we’re going to talk about normative reasons that bear on action and belief, at some level of abstraction we should expect reasons for action and belief to behave in the same way. They are, after all, reasons. What goes for reasons goes for obligations.

Someone could try to explain how it could be that non-normative facts bear on the deontic status of the action but not the assertion by focusing on the epistemicness of the obligations we’re under. This isn’t promising either. Epistemic obligations have to do with the pursuit of truth and avoidance of falsity. Practical obligations have to do with the pursuit of the best. Either you are really into the idea that faultless failures to bring about the best are failures to meet your obligations or you think this makes a joke out of morality. If you think that a faultless failure to produce what is actually deontically best is not a failure to live up to your obligations, you don’t accept (FW) and so won’t try to explain how there could be a moral obligation to act against the advice in GIN/PETROL. If you think that faultless failure to bring your beliefs/assertions in line with the truth is not a failure to meet your epistemic obligations but think that (FW) is true and that a faultless failure to bring about what is deontically best is a failure to meet your moral obligations, you are appealing to some difference between the epistemic and the practical that you haven’t explained.

1 comment:

Philip said...

Hey Clayton,

I'm an R2 guy and I'm inclined to accept (FW) and reject (LINK).

I think the right thing for folks like me to say here is that claiming that an agent is epistemically unjustified or irrational is analogous not to claiming that any agent has failed a practical obligation, but rather to claiming that the agent is blameworthy or at fault. And the norms that govern being at fault are (like the ones that govern justification)internal.

So the internalist needn't be seen as appealing to an unexplained difference between the epistemic and the practical. Rather, they are claiming that the epistemic notions in question are analogous to a different type of practical evaluation.