Friday, June 11, 2010

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.

Wait.

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.

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