Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Truth Norm

I find it difficult to follow lots of the moves in papers on the truth norm. Case in point. It's supposed (by some) to be a conceptual truth about belief that:

(NT) An agent ought to believe that p only if p is true.

Here's a passage from Andrei Buleandra's paper in Dialectica:
One problem with the above formulation of the norm of truth is that it's not easy to see how it can regulate one's thinking. An agent does not have a direct access to the truth, so, most of the time, he is unable to follow the norm. Shah attempts to solve this problem by using the distinction between objective and subjective norms. He argues that the norm of truth is an objective norm the acceptance of which activates in us truth-sensitive dispositions which constitute our acceptance of the subjective norm of evidence (Shah 2003, 481, fn. 41). The subjective norm is: one ought to believe that for which one has evidence. Shah writes:

The role of the objective norm, whose acceptance is expressed in the phenomenon of transparency, is to provide a standard of success for subjective norms of good evidence that an agent can directly apply to his deliberation. It thus is not a brute fact that subjective norms for rational belief must be evidential in character. Rather, this constraint falls out of transparency, which is just an agent's recognition of the authority of the objective norm of truth (Shah 2003, 471).

Thus, according to Shah, the fact that an agent applies the norm of truth to his doxastic deliberation explains the requirement of evidence for belief. The agent ought to believe that proposition for which he has evidence. Evidence points to truth and therefore, in searching for the truth, one has to be sensitive only to evidential factors. Only evidential factors can be reasons for belief.

First comment. There's something strange right at the start, "An agent does not have a direct access to the truth, so, most of the time, he is unable to follow the norm." Hmmm... Can't really "follow" a norm that doesn't tell you what should or may be believed, but you can easily avoid violating it by believing nothing. Even if you're just bent on getting in on the believing game, what justifies the move from "can't access the conditions that determine whether you manage to avoid violating TN directly" to "most of the time unable to follow". We can supply the missing premise, which is that any norm you cannot determine directly whether you've violated is one you most of the time won't follow, but that premise doesn't look very good.

Second comment. I'm not sure what objective and subjective norms are. Suppose the idea is that "ought" is ambiguous and what determines a norm's status as objective or subjective depends upon how "ought" is interpreted. Then the problem is that when the subject asks, "What should I believe?", only one of these norms (at most) will be relevant to that question. Suppose instead that "ought" is not ambiguous, rather, there are many obligations that you're under and some obligations have to do with objective matters (e.g., not believing the false) and some obligations have to do with subjective matters (e.g., bringing belief in line with the evidence). Now the objective and subjective norms can both address the question the subject has in mind when she asks, "What should I believe?", but it seems we can generate epistemic dilemmas:
(i) Necessarily, one ought to believe that for which one has (sufficient) evidence.
(ii) Possibly, one has (sufficient) evidence for believing p even if ~p.
(iii) Necessarily, one ought to believe p only if p is true.

There's no dilemma if you deny that you can have sufficient evidence for believing p even if ~p, but then it seems that we avoid dilemmas by means of infallibilism and skepticism.

There's no dilemma if you deny that "ought" is understood as anything but a prima facie obligation. But how are we supposed to work that out? Not in a Rossian way, I take it. Won't (iii) always trump (i)? Won't the view really amount to the claim that you ought to believe on sufficient evidence--when you're right to do so?

I've been looking through Shah's 2003 Phil Review paper and I think he avoids the mistake by not making it. He doesn't assert (i).

My concerns thus far are picky little concerns about trying to generate an obligation to believe falsehoods from a prohibition against believing falsehoods. There's this interesting passage that I wanted to comment on.
Steglich-Petersen (2006) argues that Shah's explanation of doxastic transparency in terms of following the norm of truth for belief is flawed because it is impossible for an agent to break the norm of truth while engaged in doxastic deliberation. Since a norm or a prescription is by definition something that can be broken it follows that the norm of truth is not actually a norm; doxastic deliberation is not regulated by any norm. Steglich-Petersen writes:
According to Shah and Velleman's explanation it is a necessary condition for an instance of deliberation to count as deliberation about belief that the deliberation exhibits transparency. This means that if transparency is produced by the norm of belief, this norm motivates one necessarily and inescapably to act in accordance with it. The transparency is immediate and does not involve an intermediary question about whether to conform to the norm of belief; the norm is thus unlike the norms governing promising. It is thus doubtful whether a consideration which necessitates motivation should be considered a normative consideration at all. This argument does not undermine the claim that deliberation about belief necessarily exhibits transparency, but only challenges the thesis that a norm or normative considerations can explain the necessity (Steglich-Petersen 2006, 507).

An argument, "it is impossible for an agent to break the norm of truth while engaged in doxastic deliberation. Since a norm or a prescription is by definition something that can be broken it follows that the norm of truth is not actually a norm"

So, I think it's possible to break the norm of truth while engaged in doxastic deliberation--you do so whenever doxastic deliberation results in a false belief.

Objection: breaking requires awareness.

Reply: I don't think that's right about the verb, but suppose it is. Consider the norm, "I oughtn't act without sufficient reason". Can that be broken? Maybe someone deeply irrational can break it. Same with the truth norm. Can someone rational break it in awareness? No. Same with the truth norm. So, while I agree that the truth norm is unlike the promising norm, it seems very similar to the "You should never act without sufficient reason" norm. Which is a norm.

Going to Boston!

Next December. Just received word that the paper I submitted has been accepted for the Eastern APA. I realized that I had a few different papers using the same title and couldn't remember which paper I submitted or where it was. After scouring emails and obscure corners of the hard drive, I've put my hands on it.

It's not the thought that counts

Abstract: Mentalists say that two subjects have the same evidence if these subjects are in the same non-factive mental states. Mentalism doesn’t tell us what evidence is. Mentalism doesn’t tell us it is to have evidence. The mentalist could say that evidence consists of facts or true propositions. The mentalist could say that our evidence will include any proposition that we know by means of observation. Mentalism could say either of these things, but it cannot say both of these things. That’s why we know that the mentalist is mistaken. Or, so I argue. After showing that we have evidence the mentalist says we cannot, I offer an argument for externalism about justified belief. I argue that our experiential beliefs can be non-inferentially justified only if they are true.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The GOP & Guy Fawkes!?!

Holy F&^#$ing S&$t

Followed a link from TAR to Brad DeLong's site and read this:
The Republican Governors Association has embraced the symbolism of Fawkes, launching a rather striking website,, with a video that showcases far more Hollywood savvy than one can usually expect from Republicans. Again, the Fawkes tale has been twisted a bit. This time, President Obama plays the roll of King James, the Democratic leadership is Parliament, and the Republican Party represents the aggrieved Catholic mass.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Chickens for Checkups

This is good for a laugh. Sue Lowden, who is running for Harry Reid's seat in Nevada, recommended "bartering" with your doctor. Initially it seemed she might have confused "bartering" with "bargaining". While the idea that you're going to bargain with your doctor over a kidney stone is amusing, it's not like she said that you should offer to pay him in chickens. Not until she did when given the opportunity to clarify her earlier remarks. Which she did.

Because I'm an avid watcher of The Thick of It*, I think I'm sort of kind of the kind of person who can understand how this sort of thing can happen. My initial response is that Reid's challenger is just clueless, but I think that's actually unfair. Suppose you're running for office and you're running as a Republican. You have to run against Obamacare. But, you're probably going to get hit with questions from people who want to know what's to be done about the high costs of health care. What's your answer going to be? Remember the rules. You're a Republican. You can't be in favor of any government program. You could follow Cantor's lead and tell a poor old woman to beg for the money she needs to pay her medical bills. Or, you could tell people to pay in chickens. Those really seem to be the only two things you can say if you're running as a Republican. You can say some stuff about tort reform and personal responsibility, but when people want to know what you plan on doing for them before they die, what can you say? As much fun as people are having with this poor woman, I think it's worth remembering that she stuck to the party line and managed to say batshit crazy things repeatedly with grace and dignity. She should get some sort of credit for that. The GOP, however, should be hammered for this sort of thing. They want to take away your Obamacare and make you pay your doctor bills with chickens.
Malcolm vs. Jamie. Who wins?

(Cool clip with Alastair Campbell esp. @ 6:00 mark.)

Monday, April 19, 2010

Summer vacation is just around the corner

This is where I'll be spending most of it. Not there, exactly, but on the same island. (A little island the locals call "Island", which we outsiders refer to as "Iceland" (Enjoy).) This is basically where we planned on hiking, but I imagine that our plans will change just a bit now that the gates of hell have opened and the glacier is now a glacier of FIRE!

When I was there in December, the kids seemed to be way, way into metal. Now I sort of get it.

(Thanks to Brad DeLong for the picture.)

Friday, April 16, 2010

Fox "News" and disjunctive "ought"

To be fair, "If you don't have health insurance, you either pay a fine or go to jail" does not entail "If you don't have health insurance, you go to jail". So, they probably lied two or three fewer times than the video suggests.

Happy Tax Day (w/ tax cuts for most)!

A priceless moment from yesterday's morning edition:
"ARNOLD: Now when it comes to taxes, the Obama administration has actually cut taxes for 95 percent of Americans through a federal income tax credit. Varley says she doesn't believe that, no matter what the government says. And regardless, she says, she's worried about what's to come with the rising deficit."

The discussion was with Christen Varley, the president of the Greater Boston Tea Party.

Full disclosure: I didn't get a refund this year, I owed. And, yet, I'm not bitching about tax day. I'm glad to be funding social security and medicare for the tea partiers.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The right and the good

I've been thinking about the possibility of deriving an account of the right from an account of the good in epistemology. Here's a sort of worry. Suppose we start with our value theory and then wave our hands around a bit and then say that justified beliefs are connected to the value we identified at the first step. So far, so good. The problem, as I see it, is that once you say that justified beliefs are justified because of the value, V, you have to explain why it is that something like results matter but consequences don't. von Wright has this distinction between results and consequences (I believe), and I think that the line that's natural for a certain kind of consequentialist to take is one on which the justification of an action is determined by both its results and consequences. Similarly, if believing p has all sorts of doxastic effects (e.g., leading to belief in q, blocking belief in r) and these effects are the bearers of value that determine whether the belief is justified, what justification is there for adopting a view on which the justificatory standing of some subject's belief that p is determined by that belief as opposed to the values that attach to subsequent beliefs believed only because p is believed. Just to make it concrete, suppose that there's no evidence that supports p but I know believing p will lead to many valuable epistemic states of affairs and actually maximizes the values we care about here. Does that mean the belief is justified? I'd think that a consequentialist of a certain stripe would say that, but then the challenge is to make the value-driven stuff do the driving while preserving the idea that epistemic evaluation is concerned with particular beliefs and not their effects.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

I hope this was ironic...

"We need another Ronald Reagan to kick Qaddafi back in his place. That the world's powers cower before a deranged tin-pot dictator is absurd and shows the madness of our age."

Daniel @ What's wrong with these people?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Obamar is a Terrist

Book 'em, Dawko

Dawkins and Hitch are going to try to arrest the Pope when he travels to the UK. Or, so the internets say (here). I have a hard time believing this is a real story, but I have a hard time not believing what I read on the internets.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

I want to remind you, as a historian?

Newt: The president of the United States—the most radical president in American history—has now thrown down the gauntlet to the American people. He has said "I run a machine, I own Washington, and there's nothing you can do about it." Now that's where we are. But I want to remind you as a historian that there are two rules. The first is that elections have consequences, and therefore 2006 and 2008 has a consequence—the consequence is Obama, Pelosi and Reid.

So really it would be more accurate to say that Obama was elected to run "the machine" and there's nothing Newt can do about it because his party lost. STFU. It's amazing to me that the guy who served his wife with divorce papers in a hospital while she recovered from cancer surgery not only makes public appearances, but is invited to speak.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Another entry to add to the list

of things that are wrong with the world: Pope Benedict XVI.

Pretty damning story is coming from the AP (here). The short version. Catholic Church says that Ratzinger didn't play any role in blocking the removal of pedophile priests but the latest evidence suggests that he was involved in resisting efforts to have a priest removed and cited, "the good of the universal church" as a reason to be concerned about efforts to have a priest removed. Of course, there will be some quibbling and haggling about words like "resist", "obstruct", and "block", but if it takes six years for an accused priest to be removed, you can only push the intend/foresee distinction so far without breaking it.

He's back and he's still entertaining!

I thought that if you were passing yourself off as a newsy kind of guy, you were announcing your retirement after giving this interview:
With a deadpan, Beck insists that he is not political: "I could give a flying crap about the political process." Making money, on the other hand, is to be taken very seriously, and controversy is its own coinage. "We're an entertainment company," Beck says.

No such luck, I'm afraid.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Put this in your teapot and steep it!

Links to two graphs for the mad hatters in the tea party:

(1) America is the the least redistributive first world nation. (Here).

(2) Job losses since the start of the great recession--the numbers look much better under Obama than Bush (Here).

The folk say the darndest things

"That is a made up fact"

So says Megan Fox. Are statements of fact factive? Cripes, I hope so.

Google "made up fact" and you get 1,920,000 hits. (Probably more now, thanks to this post.)

In other news, I found out earlier this evening that I won Alexander Pruss' contest with an argument for denying that persons are/can be properties (here). Instead of doing actual work, I've been finding ways to spend my prize money at Amazon. I'll put it towards Judith Thomson's latest (she also thinks you shouldn't believe falsehoods!) and Ruth Chang's collection on incommensurability.

The contest was a great idea, I hope to someday run something similar. Thanks to Alexander for running the contest, for picking my entry, and for my generous prize.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Jonathan hearted Sanjaya?

One of my students just informed me that Jonathan Dancy was responsible for the "We Love Sanjaya" campaign. (Or, so says his Wiki page.) I won't even mention the other questionable bits about leather that I'm having a hard time believing. This must be the price of fame.

(HT: Tyler Rutherford.)

Friday, April 2, 2010

Philosophers do it for reasons, but nobody's doing something for a reason is itself something they do

It's hard to find things that John Searle says that I would accept. Case in point:
"when one has several reasons for performing an action, one may act on only one of them; one may select which reason one acts on"

(Thanks to Neil Sinhababu for pointing to this passage.)

There must be some user manual for the mind that John Searle has that I don't. I don't know how someone can select which reason to act on. Acting for one reason rather than another happens, sure, but why think it something you do or choose to do?

Suppose we say that:
(i) What you do/choose to do has moral worth only if it is done for the right reasons; and,
(ii) A-ing for reason R1 rather than R2 is itself something you do.

If 'A-ing for R1' denotes an action, say, B-ing, _it_ has moral worth only if B-ing is done for the right reason. (If it is something you do and you can select the reason, surely you could choose to do it for the wrong sort of reason (e.g., you choose to act for the moral reason rather than the prudential reason for the reason that your mind-reading girlfriend who examines only the first layer of your motivating reasons is likely to be deceived into thinking you are a good person when in fact you are a cad). Seems like a regress looms given (i). Denying (ii) looks good. (I think this is essentially an argument from W.D. Ross and I think Alvarez and Hyman run a version of it in their paper where they argue that actions aren't events.)

Now, it's true (I think) that you can choose not to act for some reason by not doing the act that would be motivated by that reason. So, if I choose to sleep with someone knowing both that we're in love and that I'll get a free lunch out of the deal, I don't think I can choose to sleep with this someone for the lovey reason rather than the foody reason and choose not to act on the foody reason (or choose to sleep with someone from the other reason). Of course, I can determine that I won't act from the foody reason at all by simply refusing to sleep with this someone. But, that's another matter entirely.

Is that wrong? The problem isn't just a regress. I have no experience I'd describe as the experience in which I choose or decide to act for one reason rather than some other one. I've never thought, "Well, now that the question as to whether to do that is settled, what shall my reason be for doing it?"