Saturday, January 31, 2009

There was a time when we could've made each of the world's pandas the CEO of its own regional airline

Best blog evah.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

You can't get there from here?

I'm reading a piece that is forthcoming in PPR right now where the author defends what strike me as an odd pair of claims. The first is that if you believe p on the basis of the perceptual appearance that p, the belief could be justified only if the experience is a veridical one. (Good view!) The second is that you can form justified beliefs in false propositions if the belief is formed by way of inductive inference. (Boo!!!) If I know that it seems as if p is the case to Plum because of her hallucination and she believes p, it strikes me as exceptionally odd that I'd be right to think this sort of thought: I don't know whether Plum believes what she should about p. If she based on that on experience, she doesn't. If she based that on experiences and arrived at that by means of inductive inference, she does.

On treating something as a reason. Yes, again.

I've been thinking about the knowledge-action principle. I've also been thinking about whether knowledge of p's truth is sufficient for (a) p being a reason of yours and (b) p being treated by you as a reason of yours. Here's an argument. Thoughts are very much appreciated. (Context. I've been discussing the view that knowledge of p's truth suffices for p's inclusion in your evidence.)

In a similar vein, suppose we think of evidence as a reason that provides a subject with a justification for holding a belief. Some have defended the view that knowledge of p’s truth is sufficient for it to be epistemically permissible to treat p as a reason for action or including p in a piece of practical reasoning. Various arguments have been given for the view, but rather than reviewing those, let me add one of my own. Were it not permissible to treat p as a reason for action and include p in practical deliberation, there would be a conclusive reason to refrain from so doing. But, if there were a conclusive epistemic reason to refrain from including the belief that p is the case in practical deliberation, it would seem that such a reason ought to constitute a conclusive reason not to believe p in the first place. The existence of such reasons would seem to ensure that the subject could not satisfy the justification condition on having knowledge that p. Thus, it seems that the principle could admit of no counterexamples.

Now, the principle is about the permissibility of treating something as a reason rather than whether something is a reason. While this is a distinction that might matter to some, it is hard to see how someone who accepts an access principle such as AA could make use of such a distinction. For according to AA, on the hypothesis that something is a piece of evidence or a reason, the subject is in a position to know that this item is a piece of evidence or a reason. It is hard to imagine how someone might permissibly treat a non-reason as a reason when they were in a position to know that the non-reason could not be a reason. So, I have a difficult time seeing how someone who accepts AA could say that it is permissible to treat what you know as a reason for action while saying that it might nevertheless be the case that what is treated as a reason is no reason at all. It seems there is good reason to think that it is permissible to treat what you know as a reason for action. It seems that knowledge of p’s truth, then, ought to suffice for p’s inclusion in your evidence if we say that the reasons that can properly figure in practical deliberation constitute evidence for, say, beliefs about what ought to be done. The identification seems perfectly apt given the gloss on evidence as that which gives you a reason that can justify a belief.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Number 9?

Brian Leiter just linked to ultimate backwards countdown of Beatles tunes (here). I have to confess that I'm not a huge fan of The Beatles. Arguably, they're the most overrated band of all time. (Maybe that honor should really go to The Eagles. Things get tricky when you then toss into the mix Eric Clapton and Billy Joel. I'm treating one man bands as bands.) I'd hope that you'd agree that "Yellow Submarine" should not rank ahead of "Revolution 9" or any other song from The White Album. It certainly shouldn't have cracked the top 100. If you disagree with me on that smaller point, you certainly can't disagree with me on the larger point. What does it say about your precious Beatles if by your lights "Yellow Submarine" gets into their top 100, "Octopus's Garden" into their top 40, and "Strawberry Fields" into their top 10!?! I hope you're not a fan! Anyway, if you want to save The Beatles from the accusation that nearly everything they wrote was worse than "Strawberry Fields", I think you should go comment on the list.

Fun game. Assuming that "Strawberry Fields" truly is the eighth best song recorded by The Beatles, it seems that any band with seven songs better than that one ought to be recognized as being better than The Beatles. Get out your ipods and let me know your top ten bands better than The Beatles currently on your ipods. (The only rule is that those songs have to be on the ipod.)

Ten (Not top, but in alphabetical order)
10. Arcade Fire
9. Beach Boys
8. Beirut
7. Belle & Sebastian
6. Brian Jonestown Massacre
5. The Buzzcocks
4. The Clash
3. David Bowie
2. Deerhood
1. Elvis Costello

Friday, January 23, 2009

Banning laptops in the classroom

I've instituted a ban on laptops in the classroom and thanks to Kevin Timpe I now have a rationalization for the ban after the fact. (Thanks, Kevin.) A good read for students who moan about not being able to use laptops in the classroom, here.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Look right -->

That's a sympoze button. If you didn't know, Sympoze is Digg for philosophers. Andrew Cullison created the site and helped me install that snazzy little button so if you see something here or elsewhere you like, click the button and a scoop will be published on sympoze so that others know there's something out there worth seeing.

I wanted to help Andrew get the word out and let him know that I appreciated his hard work in creating both the site and helping me do the necessary modifications to the blog's HTML code to get the button working. I tried to post the directions so that other blogger bloggers wouldn't have to pester him, but for reasons too complicated for someone like me to explain I cannot post the code. Anyway, use the button and the site. Pester Andrew for help.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Good news and bad news

Classes started today for (most of) thee, but not for me. Tomorrow will be the first day. If you are trying to get into my philosophy of religion or some section of contemporary moral problems, I'm sorry to say that we're beyond full and at this point some might have to take the class standing.

Also, we have a new President! Sort of missed most of that today finishing off syllabi.
That sounds nice.

G-FA, "We have "merit raises": the formula for determining your raise is quite complicated, but VERY roughly, you'll get a ~$1000 raise for each full article you publish in a good journal, and a ~$4500 raise for a book with a major university press."

I've never heard of such a thing, have you?

Monday, January 19, 2009

Evidence and armchair access (II)

In a previous post, I argued that the principle of armchair access carries with it a kind of problematic sceptical consequence. You cannot consistently accept the principle of armchair access and say that we have non-inferential knowledge of the external world. That argument, however, rested on two claims that a defender of AA would not accept (i.e., that evidence consists only of truths (ET) and that non-inferential knowledge of p's truth suffices for p's inclusion in a subject's evidence (NIKSE)). My initial response was to say that while a defender of AA might not accept these claims (a) these claims are not without motivation (not posted) and (b) it seems that these claims ought to be innocuous when it comes to issues having to do with scepticism. In this post, I want to show that dropping ET won't make the problem go away. The problem is also not resolved by dropping NIKSE. So, we really do have good reason to reject AA and that reason does not really depend upon ET and NIKSE. Here goes:

The problems I've suggested arise for those who accept AA will not simply go away if we deny ET or NIKSE. While I think the right response is to drop AA, I can’t imagine that this is the response that those who defend AA would recommend. Suppose that instead of denying AA someone recommended dropping ET instead. Problems can still be generated for AA. Suppose that your evidence includes the proposition that you have hands. It follows from this assumption and AA that:

(12) You should be able to know from the armchair that your evidence includes the proposition that you have hands.

Since knowledge entails belief, if you do know what AA says you can know, it follows that:

(13) You believe that your evidence includes the proposition that you have hands.

It seems that if you are minimally rational and reflective, if you believe that your evidence includes p, you believe, inter alia, that p is the case:

(14) You believe that you have hands.

It seems that if you are minimally rational and reflective, you will not both believe p and believe yourself not to know that p. So, having given the matter reflection you accede that you believe yourself to know that you have hands. So:

(15) You believe that you have hands and that you know you have hands.

Assume also that you believe the assumption crucial to the argument against evidential externalism:
(16) You believe that you cannot know that you have hands from the armchair.

Now our question is this. How can you square (15) and (16) with the additional claim that you should be able to know just on the basis of what you know from the armchair that your evidence includes the proposition that you have hands? It seems as if you acknowledge that you are committed to the truth of a proposition in virtue of what you take yourself to know from the armchair alone and yet you know that the truth of that proposition is not something that can be known from the armchair alone. If we agree that you should not believe what you believe yourself not to know, it seems you should not believe that you have hands just given what you know from the armchair and thus that you should not believe that the proposition that you have hands is included in your evidence. However, if you could know non-inferentially that you had hands, it follows from this and NIKSE that you should be able to know from the armchair that your evidence includes the proposition that you have hands. So, what are we to say? It seems that problems for AA arise given just the assumption that NIKSE is true. Rejecting ET will not make the problems for AA go away.

Now, the reader might say that the problem arises because we are assuming AA, NIKSE, and that it is possible for someone’s evidence to include propositions such as the proposition that you have hands. A moment’s reflection, however, and we should all appreciate that to deny that your evidence can include the proposition that you have hands is to force us to choose between the unattractive sceptical view that non-inferential knowledge of propositions about the external world is unattainable or NIKSE. So, it really does look as if acceptance of AA comes with a cost. It forces you to deny NIKSE. I think this is bad. There is a kind of sceptical conclusion we wished to avoid (i.e., that you cannot have non-inferential knowledge of the external world) and it seems exceptionally odd to say that this is best avoided by saying that we have less evidence than we initially thought having accepted that there is no further obstacle to the collection of evidence than having non-inferential knowledge of the truth of the propositions included in the evidence. Setting aside this sceptical worry, there is a further sceptical worry that we ought to consider. To deny NIKSE in order to save AA is to insist that all evidence is provided by introspection or reflection. It is, in other words, to deny that perception is a basic or autonomous source of evidence. On its face, it seems that a necessary condition on some source (e.g., perception, introspection, memory) serving as a basic or autonomous source of knowledge is that this is a source of evidence. If we cannot plausibly accept AA and say that perception provides pieces of evidence that introspection alone cannot, I have to confess that I am somewhat at a loss as to how I might then say that perception is a source of knowledge. To concede that perception is not a source of knowledge is to concede a lot to the sceptic.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Concessive knowledge attributions


I've just read Dougherty and Rysiew's piece on concessive knowledge attributions in PPR (here). They offer a pragmatic explanation as to why CKA's sound contradictory. Here's a CKA:

(1) I know that Harry is a zebra, but he might be a painted mule.

Why are CKA's interesting? Because there's really nothing we know that we believe on the basis of evidence that entails that what we believe is true. The worry is that it seems like (1) expresses the basic fallibilist idea, and yet it seems contradictory. If claims akin to (1) are uniformly false, the sceptic wins. In response to a challenge of Stanley's, D&R suggest that the truth-conditions for claims about epistemic possibility ought to be understood in terms of a subject's evidence rather than knowledge. On their view, 'q is epistemically possible for S' is true iff 'not-q is not entailed by S's evidence'.

Here's a worry. On their view, (1) can turn out to be true because what (1) amounts to is the claim that:

(1') I know that Harry is a zebra, but it is consistent with my evidence that Harry is a cleverly disguised mule.

The advantage of their view over, say, Stanley's view is that on Stanley's view 'q is epistemically possible for S' is true iff 'not-q is not obviously inconsistent with something S knows'. Thus, their view is an advance over Stanley's view only if (1') does not entail:

(1'') I know that Harry is a zebra, but it is consistent with what I know that Harry is a cleverly disguised mule.

(1') logically entails (1'') if S's having knowledge that p is sufficient for p's inclusion in S's evidence. They want (1'') to turn out false, but they get that only by rejecting a pretty plausible claim about the relationship between evidence and knowledge. (If knowledge of a proposition's truth were sufficient for that proposition's inclusion in the subject's evidence, then because the subject knows that Harry is a zebra the proposition that Harry is a zebra would be included in Harry's evidence. That proposition quite obviously entails that Harry is not some non-zebra cleverly disguised as a zebra.)

Now, I'm somewhat ambivalent towards K entails E because it implies that deduction is a way of acquiring evidence. I don't quite buy that. But, if we restrict evidence to that which is known directly, we can still generate the problem. Take any proposition we know directly through observation (e.g., that I have hands). It seems that the fallibilist will say that I can know this but will also concede that it might be that I'm mistaken about this. If non-inferential knowledge of this proposition's truth suffices for the proposition's inclusion in my evidence, D&R's account cannot explain how it could be true that:

(2) I know I have a hand but it might be an amazing prosthetic.

____
Oops. In a footnote, D&R sort of address the worry I raise. They write:
Just as EPk per se is neutral about what knowledge is, EPev itself is neutral as to what counts as evidence—whether it includes, or is restricted to, one’s experiences and (apparent) memories, one’s beliefs, and so on. For the same reason, EPev doesn’t require a specifically internalist handling of evidence. Maintaining the distinction between EPk and EPev does require rejecting Williamson’s (2000) principle that ‘E=K’—i.e., that one’s evidence is one’s knowledge. But that principle is sufficiently controversial that most would join us in assuming that the distinction between EPk and EPev is real.

I don't think this goes far enough. You can reject E = K on the grounds that knowledge of p's truth is not necessary for p's inclusion in S's evidence. You can raise the problem I raise if you think that non-inferential knowledge of p's truth is sufficient for p's inclusion in S's evidence. And while E = K might be controversial, I don't think that the principle I've appealed to is nearly as controversial. Yes, there are people who think that evidence is not propositional. But, that is not something D&R are assuming in their discussion. So far as I can tell, to deny that non-inferential knowledge suffices for a proposition's inclusion in someone's evidence is tantamount to denying that this way of acquiring knowledge is a way of acquiring evidence. And, that calls into question the very idea that the way of acquiring knowledge truly is a source of knowledge. On its face, a necessary condition on some source being a source of knowledge is that it is a source of evidence. So, they don't ignore completely the worry, but I don't think they've addressed it satisfactorily.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Evidence and Armchair Access

According to the principle of armchair access:

AA: If p is included in my evidence it is possible to know from the armchair (i.e., on the basis of reflection or introspection) that p is part of my evidence.

Objection: AA leads to a kind of sceptical result. AA leads to the result I know from the armchair that I have no non-inferential knowledge of contingent propositions about the external world.


(1) My evidence is limited to propositions I can know-armchair belong to my evidence. [Assumption of armchair access]
(2) If p is part of my evidence (a) p is the case [ET].
(3) If I non-inferentially know that p, p is part of my evidence [NIK].
(4) If my evidence includes the proposition that I have hands, I have hands and I know-armchair that I have hands [(1), (2), (3)].
(4) But, it's absurd to think I know-armchair that I have hands.
(5) If my evidence cannot include the proposition that I have hands, either I'm handless or I cannot know non-inferentially that I have hands [(2), (3)].
(6) My evidence cannot include the proposition that I have hands [(2), (3), (4)].
(7) Either I'm handless or I cannot know non-inferentially that I have hands [(5), (6)]
(8) If I have hands, I cannot know non-inferentially that I do [(7)].
(9) Thus, whether I have hands or not, I cannot know non-inferentially that I do [(8) and factivity of 'knows'].

This doesn't rule out having knowledge of the external world. It only rules out having such knowledge without inferring it from propositions about matters known to you via introspection or reflection. That rules out a lot, I think. Now, the move from (1) to (4) might seem dodgy since it is mediated by an assumption about evidence (i.e., that evidence consists of truths) and knowledge (non-inferential knowledge suffices for a proposition's inclusion in your evidence). But, I don't see that these assumptions could be responsible for generating any untoward sceptical consequences. When NIK does, in effect, is say that the acquisition of evidence is cheap. ET is, so far as I can see, supported by solid linguistic evidence and I can't see how we are better positioned to respond to sceptical arguments by saying that our evidence is just the same even if everything we believe is mistaken and everything we seem to experience an illusion. Maybe that's just me. Anyway, it's late but I thought I should jot this down before I forget it. Let's hope there are no glaring mistakes.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Bits about bits of evidence

Good or bad objection to Williamson?

Knowledge has an irreducibly normative element. Evidence, however, ought to be construed in non-normative terms. While facts about evidence might ground certain normative facts, those normative facts are not themselves conditions that ground facts about evidence. Thus, evidence does not require knowledge. It might require acquaintance, awareness, or some other such thing that is similar to knowledge. However, if we focus on, say, inferential knowledge it seems that there's more involved to that sort of knowledge than there is to evidence.

In stating this objection, I've been intentionally ambiguous between two ways of talking about evidence. There's the evidence you have and there's the evidence there is. I don't think E = K is intended as an account of the evidence there is. It's instead intended as the evidence you have. (I think, but correct me if I'm wrong.) So understood, it seems subject to the following sort of counterexample:

(D) Suppose I believe p on the basis of the apparent perceptual experience that p but fail to know p simply because I know q: that there are operative devices in my area that tend to create the false appearance that p.

'D' is for defeat. I don't think it's wrong to say that p is part of my evidence or the evidence I have. I can't rightly use that evidence, but I don't feel the intuitive pull towards saying that p is in no way included in my evidence. Don't expect an argument for that, it's just an intuition. What I don't think is crazy is that we distinguish between the evidence a subject possesses and the evidence that the subject can rightly reason from once we take account of the possessed defeaters the subject has. And, if we can make sense of that distinction, it should lend some credence to the idea that the lack of a right to reason from p is no sure indication that p is missing from someone's evidence.

The objection first occurred to me in thinking up possible objections to the following principle linking justified belief and evidence:

JE: If S's belief that p is justified, S's evidence includes the proposition that p.

It seems to put the cart before the horse to move from normative claims about the standing of beliefs to claims that don't appear to be normative about the possession of evidence. There are other objections to JE, besides. That's the next bit about bits of evidence.

Good or bad objection to JE?

Hob and Nob have observed that for 300 days running, at least one egg was waiting for them in the hen house. (Assume they know that there are hundreds of healthy hens in their hen house.) It seems that both Hob and Nob have sufficient justification for the belief that on the 301st day, there will be at least one egg waiting for them in the hen house. Suppose Hob believes that on the 301st day (i.e., the next day for them) there will be at least one egg waiting for them in the hen house. Suppose Nob does not believe this. Before opening the door to the hen house, both Hob and Nob consider the disjunctive proposition that either there will be at least one egg on this day or a witch has cursed their birds. According to JE, Hob can deduce from his evidence that this is so. Nob cannot. That seems weird.

I think there's something like this objection in one of Neta's papers but I have to confess that while this was part of the inspiration for the example, I'm not confident that this was in his paper.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Reasons and rationality (again)

Suppose I believe I ought to A straightaway but don't form the intention to A or A in accordance with any intention. I just sit there. It seems:
(1) I'm irrational in a way I oughtn't be.
(2) Either (a) I oughtn't refrain from A-ing if I believe I ought to A or (b) I oughtn't both: believe that I ought to A and refrain from A-ing.
(3) For various reasons, (a) can be ruled out.
(4) If (b), there is an undefeated reason for me to avoid believing I ought to A and not intending to A.
(5) If (4), reasons that speak against A-ing speak against believing that I ought to A.
(6) If (4), reasons that favor believing that I ought to A thereby favor intending to A and A-ing accordingly.
(7) (b) is true.
(8) The reasons that bear on whether to A bear on whether to judge that you ought to A (and vice-versa).

Obviously (3) needs to be cashed out. (I've done this before in commenting on van Roojen's paper on conditionals and detachment at RoME.) As for (2), either the wide- or narrow-scope principle is going to capture the judgment that (1) is true. What about (4)? That seems to follow from the general idea that 'oughtn't A' entails 'There is a reason not to A' and 'The reason not to A is undefeated by reasons to the contrary'. I don't know if Broome denies this, but I can't see why he would. But, then (5) and (6) look pretty good.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Slightly better than being a parole officer ...

... and way better than being a roustabout. Proof. Thanks, to Brian Leiter.
I have to admit that I didn't know you could be a roustabout unless you were a character in a Decemberists' song.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

For hangovers

Among other things, try Coke and Milk. Inspired by Laverne De Fazio whose preference was for Pepsi and Milk (here).

Happy New Year's Day!

I'm finally back from Philadelphia after having successfully convinced everyone that the false, justified belief is a myth. Woke up this morning with an R&R from Mind. The year is off to a good start.