Saturday, June 19, 2010

Iceland Update

We leave very early tomorrow morning for Svinafellsjokull glacier tongue on Vatnajokull. I'm not entirely sure what that means, but we'll drive for a while. If we ever make it to the other side of the island, we'll hike on the glacier. On the trip there and back, we'll hike through some moss fields, see a glacier lagoon, dine on hot dogs at N1. Good stuff.

Iceland has live webcams where you can see things like the glacier lagoon just mentioned above, Blue Lagoon, and the street I walk every morning on the way to the coffee shop.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Good news!

Just received word from Erkenntnis that a piece I wrote on evidence has been accepted for publication. In it, I defend the view discussed over at TAR some months ago that evidence consists of true propositions and your evidence will be the true propositions you are non-inferentially justified in believing are true. [The-off-the-record view is that your evidence really consists of the propositions that you are non-inferentially justified in believing are true. Because there are no false, non-inferentially justified beliefs, the truth requirement in the official version is redundant. (I don't know why, but that view seems harder to get by the referees. (Okay, I know why. I've read the reports.))]

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Heavy, Ike.

From Jean Kazez:
Tis unconceivable that inanimate brute matter should (without the mediation of something else which is not material) operate upon and affect other matter without mutual contact; as it must if gravitation in the sense of Epicurus be essential and inherent in it. And this is one reason why I desired you would not ascribe innate gravity to me. That gravity should be innate inherent and essential to matter so that one body may act upon another at a distance through a vacuum without the mediation of any thing else by and through which their action or force may be conveyed from one to another is to me so great an absurdity that I believe no man who has in philosophical matters any competent faculty of thinking can ever fall into it.

Isaac Newton to Richard Bentley, February 25, 1693

Something handy to keep in your pocket for when faced with crude conceivability "arguments" against materialism.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Epistemic consequentialism (tidied up just a bit)

Maitzen (1995) argues that we ought to reject the nearly universally held view that our fundamental epistemic aim has to do with maximizing true belief while minimizing false belief on the grounds that a commitment to this view comes with a commitment to the universally rejected view that all and only true beliefs are justified. His argument fails, but the failure of his argument is instructive.

Goldman’s (1986, 1999) consequentialist approach(es) to epistemic justification should be susceptible to Maitzen’s objection. Goldman thinks there can be false, justified beliefs and unjustified true beliefs. Nevertheless, he seems to think that we can think of the justified belief as the belief that promotes something of epistemic value. True beliefs are, he says, intrinsically good. False beliefs are intrinsically bad. Withholding or suspending judgment is neither intrinsically good nor bad. The justification of a belief is not determined by the value of that particular belief, it is determined by whether the belief is permitted by a set of rules that would lead to a sufficiently high ratio of true to false beliefs by those who conform to those rules. Goldman is an epistemic rule-consequentialist (ERC). He is not an epistemic belief-consequentialist (EBC). I know of no actual advocate of EBC, but if someone were to advocate EBC, she would say that we ought to evaluate beliefs directly and determine their epistemic status by how well particular beliefs contribute to the epistemic good rather than assess beliefs indirectly by appeal to Goldman’s J-rules.

Maitzen offers us this argument against ERC, one inspired (in part) by Lyon’s (1965) objection to rule-consequentialist views in ethics:
(1) Upon pain of incoherence, ERC had better be extensionally equivalent to EBC.
(2) EBC would classify all true beliefs as justified and all false beliefs as unjustified.
(C) Thus, upon pain of incoherence, ERC had better classify all true beliefs as justified and all false beliefs as unjustified.
Because there are true beliefs that are not justified, we ought to reject both EBC and ERC.

Maitzen’s argument for (1) is straightforward. If the rule-consequentialist’s theory did not have the same evaluative consequences concerning the moral status of acts as the act-consequentialist’s view did, there would be an alternative set of rules the agent could conform to that would better promote utility than those proposed by the rule-consequentialist and thus should be preferred by the rule-consequentialist. If the act- and rule-consequentialist’s theory did have the same evaluative consequences, the views would be extensionally equivalent. Essentially the same point holds true for ERC and EBC. We simply shift our focus from acts to beliefs and from the intrinsically valuable consequences of acts to the verific effects of either individual beliefs or conforming to some set of rules.

I think Maitzen thinks (2) is pretty obvious. Here is what he says:
If the nominal aim is the reason for having, or pursuing, justification, then it ought to follow that beliefs are justified insofar as they serve the nominal aim and unjustified insofar as they do not. But this consequence gives rise to an obvious problem. If justification is essentially a matter of serving the nominal aim [i.e., to maximize true belief and minimize false belief], then it seems we would evaluate no true belief as unjustified and no false belief as justified … The reason is straightforward. If one seeks, above all else, to maximize the number of true (and minimize the number of false) beliefs in one’s (presumably large) stock of beliefs, then adding one more true belief surely counts as serving that goal, while adding a false belief surely counts as disserving it (1995: 870).

There are two problems with the argument. The first premise seems not to be obviously true and the second premise seems to be obviously false. First, observe that Goldman is not a maximizing epistemic consequentialist. He thinks that a belief is justified if the rules that permit the formation of the belief are such that conforming to them would lead the believer to form a sufficiently high ratio of true to false beliefs. A belief does not turn out to be unjustified on his view simply because there is some set of rules such that conforming to these rules better maximizes epistemic utility and these rules do not permit the formation of the belief. Thus, Goldman would not be at all disturbed by the charge that his view is not extensionally equivalent to a maximizing form of EBC. Let’s bracket that worry for now, for even if Goldman did defend a maximizing form of consequentialism, it is not clear the argument for (1) works. If we asked which set of rules produces the best epistemic outcomes when a believer conforms to those rules, we might say that there is not some unique set of rules. The rule that EBC says determines which beliefs are justified or rightly held will be tied for first and there might be alternative rules that are extensionally equivalent. If, however, we focus on rules that produce the epistemically best results when internalized and complied with, it is not clear that EBC will be tied for first because EBC might have greater internalization costs than some alternative set of rules and if those rules are not extensionally equivalent to the rule that EBC says determines which beliefs are justified, arguably we have a consequentialist rationale for rejecting EBC.

Of course, debates between direct and indirect consequentialists will likely continue for some time and so Maitzen may well be right to say in response that there is no good value-theoretic reason to focus on rules that are optimific when internalized as opposed to optimific when conformed to. So, let’s look at (2) because it is here that I think Maitzen’s argument fails most dramatically. Simplifying matters just a bit, Goldman thinks that true beliefs have positive intrinsic epistemic value, false beliefs have intrinsic epistemic disvalue, and withheld judgments are neither intrinsically good nor bad. So, his view commits him to saying that all and only true beliefs are justified, right? It would if we assumed that the total intrinsic epistemic value (or disvalue) of believing p is always equal to the intrinsic epistemic value of believing p. The problem is that I cannot think of any good reason to assume this and can think of some pretty strong reasons to reject it.
Forming a belief can contribute value directly and indirectly. Any true belief, according to the epistemic consequentialist, is a good thing, but one good thing amongst many things of value to take account of. Any false belief, according to the epistemic consequentialist, is a bad thing, but one bad thing amongst many things of value to take account of. An advocate of EBC will say that in determining the epistemic status of a belief, we have to take account of the total epistemic value of believing p and then compare that to the total epistemic value of believing ~p as well as the total epistemic value of suspending judgment. Believing p when p would always come out better than believing ~p or withholding if beliefs never had valuable consequences or prevented us from attaining valuable consequences in the future, but that’s not how things work with belief. I might believe that it is a good idea to read Dianetics because I think it will be good for a laugh. I might have really good evidence that it will be good for a laugh. Maybe it is good for a laugh. If, however, I read it and end up joining a cult that brainwashes me and instills in me tons of false beliefs while cutting me off from sources of information that would have provided me with many true beliefs, the total intrinsic epistemic disvalue of believing (correctly) that reading Dianetics will be good for a laugh could turn out to be great. The total intrinsic disvalue might be far greater than the tiny bit of epistemic value that was attained by forming the true but disastrous belief. Examples like this can easily be multiplied, as could many less far fetched examples in which someone forms a series of true beliefs that constitute misleading evidence that thereby prevents someone from appreciating a vast number of truths they might otherwise have come to believe. So, even if Maitzen’s faith in Lyon’s collapse objection is not misplaced, it seems we have some reason to think that the justification he offers for (1) is actually a reason to reject (2). EBC simply would not classify all true beliefs as justified and all false beliefs as unjustified because no one who accepts EBC should work from the implausible psychological hypothesis that forming a belief never has consequences for the future.

Of course, once we see why Maitzen’s argument fails, we can see why epistemic consequentialism is so deeply implausible. There is a perfectly good value-theoretic reason for thinking that consequentialists ought to respect some version of the totalism. As Carlson observes, consequentialists in ethics will say that the morally relevant outcome of an action is not simply the action taken on its own but the possible world that would be actual if the agent performed the action (1995: 10). So, if we try to characterize the justified belief in consequentialist terms and take the epistemic good to be prior to the epistemic right, we should say that the epistemically relevant outcome of a belief is not simply the intrinsic value of the belief taken on its own. We should assess a belief by assessing the total epistemic value in the possible world that would be actual if the believer formed the belief. As the example above illustrates, no one in epistemology thinks we should accept totalism. The effects of forming a belief, whether they happen to be good or bad, has nothing at all to do with the epistemic status of a belief. And that is why EBC and ERC are hopeless.

Epistemic Consequentialism

One of my favorites

Alot of people should read this.

[You might have guessed it. The drawing isn't mine. Copyright belongs to Allie Brosh.]

Friday, June 11, 2010

Nails in the consequentialist coffin?

In the previous post, I suggested that there was an assumption operative in Maitzen's collapse argument that wasn't warranted. I did want to raise two worries about epistemic consequentialism.

The first worry is this. As Carlson notes, a proper consequentialist view would not say that the moral status of an act is determined by the outcome of the act if the outcome included only the act itself. The moral status of the act is determined (in part) by the total or overall outcome of the act's performance. We might say that the morally relevant outcome is the possible world that would be actual if the action were performed. Or, something like that. Isn't _this_ the problem with epistemic consequentialism? The justification of a belief does not depend upon the outcomes or consequences of the belief's formation. Done.

The second worry is due to Michael DePaul. Again, let's suppose this:
Value of TB = 1
Value of FB = -1
Value of suspension of judgment = 0.

Consider the proposition that the number of sands in Iceland is even. If you believe and get it wrong, -1. If you believe and get it right, +1. If you suspend, 0. There are lots of propositions like this one. Pick some things you can't count and a location where they are found. One strategy is to always go with even. One strategy is to always go with odd. One strategy is to always believe after flipping a fair coin. Employ any of these and it seems likely that you'll do equally well. If you get things right half the time, you do just as well as you would if you suspended judgment. Intuitively, you ought to suspend judgment and you can't have justified beliefs about propositions like this. And the epistemic consequentialist accommodates this how?

Second thoughts on the collapse argument

In an earlier post, I passed over something that I shouldn't have passed over. There was an argument that suggested that if you model a theory of epistemic justification on some sort of consequentialist view, you'll be subject to a kind of collapse worry that forces you (upon pain of incoherence) to say that a belief is justified iff it is true. The argument, which was due to Maitzen, seemed to assume that rule-consequentialism collapsed into act-consequentialism. Then the idea was that an act-consequentialist in epistemology who thought of true beliefs as intrinsic goods and false beliefs as intrinsic bads would have to say that any true belief would be justified because it was intrinsically good and any false belief would be justified because it is intrinsically bad.


Let's assume this:
The value of TB = 1
The value of FB = -1
Suspensions of judgment have no value.

An epistemic consequentialist will probably endorse:
(1) The epistemic status of a belief, B, is determined wholly by the absolute or relative intrinsic value of the outcome of forming/holding B.
(2) The epistemically relevant outcome of a belief is the total future state of the world that would obtain if the belief were formed.

[I'm drawing on some of Erik Carlson's remarks.]

Of course, that includes the causal consequences of forming and holding the belief and so we would have to measure the values for forming/holding a belief to determine whether a belief counts as justified. So far, we haven't said enough to do that because we have thus far said nothing about the connection between rightness and value (apart that value is the sole determinate of rightness). Note that to argue from the assumption that an epistemic act consequentialist (belief consequentialist?) would be forced to identify TBs with JBs and FBs with Bs that aren't Jd, we would have to assume that there is nothing in the total future state of the world that would make it better to form a false belief than to suspend judgment or form a true belief. We would also have to assume that there is nothing in the total future state of the world that would make it worse to form a true belief than to suspend judgment or form a false belief. But that's an empirical claim that I see no justification for at all. It seems rather plausible that there are causal connections between the beliefs you form, so even if rule-consequentialist views collapse into act-consequentialist views, that doesn't show that the true/false belief distinction just amounts to the justified/unjustified belief distinction.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Collapse arguments

I've been thinking about the collapse objection to rule-consequentialism because there's an objection in Maitzen's PPR article from 1995 (?) where he suggests that Goldman's 1986 account of justification might be susceptible to a similar style objection.

Step One: Suppose our epistemic aim is something in the neighborhood of this: maximize true belief while minimize false belief.
Step Two: If this aim, the "nominal aim", is the reason for having/pursuing justification, it ought to follow that:
(i) beliefs are justified if they serve the aim;
(ii) beliefs are unjustified if they don't serve the aim.

Step Three: However, any true belief will serve the aim and will thereby count as justified by (i) and any false belief will fail to serve the aim and will thereby count as unjustified by (ii).

So, Maitzen recommends revising the standard view about our epistemic aim.

I find this talk of the the reason for having justification strange, but let's set that aside for now. I'm more bothered by the idea that all TBs are JBs than all FBs are not JBs, but it seems to me that there's a way for Goldman to deal with these sorts of worries. Following Hooker's lead, can't Goldman formulate his rule-consequentialist approach to justification in terms of internalized rules rather than rule conformity? I thought the way that the collapse argument typically went was something like this. Suppose the rule-consequentialist says that an act is justified if it is permitted by a set of rules, R1, such that there's no other set of rules, R2, such that conforming to R2 is better from the point of view of utility than conforming to R1 is. Then, the objection continues, that conforming to the rule that the act-utilitarian sets down will always be at least as good or better than conforming to any alternative set of rules and so the rule-consequentialist view is either incoherent or extensionally equivalent to act-consequentialism. Suppose we say instead that an act is justified if permitted by a set of rules, R1, such that there's no other set of rules, R2, such that if R2 were internalized rather than R1, agents who internalized these rules would bring about more utility than those who internalized R1. Then the idea might be that we bring about more utility by internalizing some set of rules that is distinct from the act-utilitarian rule. Perhaps Goldman can avoid Maitzen's objection by opting for something along the lines of Hooker's account.

I confess that I still have a persisting worry about Hooker's account, which is that the view seems hard to motivate. I guess I can't say that the view is incoherent, but I worry that on purely value-theoretic grounds there is little that recommends it and I don't see any alternative way of arguing that this kind of rule-consequentialism is preferable to alternative consequentialist views.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Warrant and action

Had a really fantastic time in Edinburgh and wanted to write up a thought on an exchange I had concerning the warrant action principle.

The dialectic is a bit complicated, but Hawthorne and Stanley defend the idea that you shouldn't treat p as a reason for action and they think we can reasonably and rightly say things like this:

(1) You shouldn't have acted on the assumption that p since you didn't know that p.

Gerken suggested (plausibly, I think) that it's not reasonable to complain that someone acted on something they didn't know if the reason they didn't know is that their belief was Gettiered. He seemed to want to say something stronger, which is that really the only time it is proper to say that someone shouldn't have acted on an assumption is when they weren't warranted in believing that it's true. I agree, but we disagree on what it takes to believe with (sufficient) warrant or justification. Me: to believe with warrant/sufficient justification just is to believe in such a way that it's not improper to put that assumption into deliberation. Him: warrant/justification is something in the neighborhood of what orthodox views say.

Here's the problem case. I think on his warrant principle, this never comes out right:

(2) Although you were warranted in believing p, you shouldn't have acted on the assumption that p since you didn't know p.

The reason this won't come out right is that warrant for believing p rules out that you shouldn't have acted on the assumption.

Here's the worry: on orthodox views of warrant, you can have warranted false beliefs. Suppose that 'p' stands for 'I ought to push the green button' and suppose that that's false because you oughtn't push the green button.

(2g) Although you were warranted in believing that you should have pushed the green button and it was okay to push the green button, you shouldn't have acted on the assumption that you should push that button because you shouldn't have pushed that button.

If warranted belief suffices for permissibly acting on an assumption, if (2g) is true, I think this is true as well:

(3) Although you were warranted in believing that you should have pushed the green button, it's okay to push the green button on the assumption that you should but not okay to push the green button.

If, as seems plausible, 'You shouldn't A' entails 'You shouldn't A on any assumptions at all', (3) can't be right. So, I think you have to deny that there can be false, warranted beliefs about what you ought to do if you want to understand the warrant principle in the way that I think Gerken does. Now, he suggests that this might be because there's a special kind of 'outcome' ought. Maybe, but the case doesn't say anything about outcomes. The mistake might have nothing to do with hidden consequences, it might have to do with a mistake about the comparative weight of reasons where those reasons are all accessible to you.

It's worth noting that if you sever the connection between warrant and action to avoid the apparent counterexample, we can ask questions like this: Given that you were warranted in thinking that you should have pushed the green button, what were you supposed to do? If you say 'Something else', then the mark of the warranted is not the reasonable. If you say 'Push the green button', you aren't avoiding the counterexample. The problem with the first option is the tendency to think of the reasonable as the mark of the warranted. If reasonable just entails warranted, the objection stands.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Back to work

I've completed a draft on reasons and justification that I've posted (here) for interested parties. A final draft will be included in a forthcoming volume on reasons for belief edited by Andrew Reisner and Asbjorn Steglich-Peterson for Cambridge University Press.