Sunday, July 25, 2010

"There is no God!"

Friday, July 23, 2010


I haven't been gallivanting around the world sipping foie gras, I've been getting work done. [Yes, yes, I know. It's an obscure Steve Coogan reference. Carry on.]

A little paper on evidence, justification, and knowledge:
Does evidence consist of what you know or is it what you justifiably believe? Yes.

A revised version of my paper on phenomenal conservatism:
Defeating Phenomenal Conservatism

I really like the first thing. Basically, it's a new argument for the factivity of justified belief, one that builds on other work I've done on evidence and criticisms of Williamson that I think miss their mark. (Badly! These criticisms establish the factivity of justified belief.) One of things I do in the paper is address Williamson's rationale for thinking there can be false, justified beliefs. He says (rightly) that the justification relation is not deductive. True, I think, but misleading. The justification of a belief does not require that there is a deductive basis for it, but it does depend upon whether the belief can shoulder its share of the burden of providing support. If reasons and bits of evidence are facts, _that's_ why justification ascriptions are factive. The big picture mistake is in thinking that the justificatory standing of a belief is fixed by what the belief "stands on", its basis. That's part of it, but it also depends upon whether it can "stand" beliefs in turn. False beliefs can't do that. Or, so I claim. Read the thing and remain unconvinced!!!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

More objections to E = K

Rizzieri (forthcoming) presents a number of objections to Williamson’s claim that your evidence consists of all and only the propositions that you know (E=K). I think his criticisms of Williamson miss their mark.

Consider an example:
I believe that nobody can enter my office (O for now) because I believe that I have just locked the door (LD for now). Let us stipulate that I have inferred (O) from (LD). I pushed the lock in and gave it a quick twist to the left, which usually does the trick; however, my lock is damaged and does not work. Hence, (LD) is false.

About this example, Rizzieri remarks:
If Williamson’s proposal that (E = K) is correct then (LD) cannot serve as an evidential ground for (O). This generates problems for (E = K). The first difficulty is that it is very plausible that (LD) does partially constitute my evidence for (O). After all, I am justified in believing (LD), (LD) supports (O), and an explicit inference from (LD) is my most immediate basis or ground for (O).

It is hard to know what to make of this remark because it is hard to tell whether LD and O are propositions or propositional attitudes. If they are propositional attitudes, Williamson will (rightly) say that it is a category mistake to say that LD partially constitutes my evidence for O because beliefs do not partially constitute evidence for beliefs. Evidence consists of propositions.

Let’s fix this. Let’s say that the objection is this. LD is the proposition expressed by, ‘I have just locked the door’. O is the proposition expressed by, ‘Nobody can enter my office’. LD is supposed to be evidence for believing O. So, the worry is that Williamson has to deny:

(1) That I have just locked the door is evidence that nobody can enter my office.

If (1) is true, so is:

(2) Because my door is locked, it is more likely that nobody can enter my office than it would have been had my door been unlocked.

This entails:

(3) My door is locked.
But, (3) is false. So, (1) must be false. So, Williamson has to deny something false.

Each of the cases involving false, justified beliefs face the same problem. In each such case, Rizzieri wants to say that the content of such beliefs is part of the subject’s evidence, but we know this is not so because the problem with his first objection generalizes. Suppose S justifiably believes p but p is false. If he says that p is part of S’s evidence for q, he has to say that this is true:

(4) That p is evidence that q.

In turn, he has to say that:

(5) Because p, q is more likely to be true.

In turn, this entails:

(6) p.

Owing to the factivity of ‘because’ and the further fact that evidence for has to explain why it is that the propositions it serves as evidence for are more likely than they would have been had things been different, (4) is true only if (6) is.

Like nailing honey to a bee

I really have no idea what that means, but it's a good song and it seems hard to do. Sort of like working out what to say about having evidence.

F&M say that if you are non-inferentially justified in believing p, p won't fail to be part of your evidence owing to weakness in epistemic position. I think that's right. They are sort of hesitant to say that if you are non-inferentially justified in believing p, p is part of your evidence. They leave it open that p might fail to be part of your evidence for reasons other than weakness in your epistemic position. Like, p might not be evidence, for example.

Suppose evidence is factive. Can you say that it's possible to believe p, that belief is non-inferentially justified, but p is false? One view is that there's a gap between what you can justifiably treat as a reason and what is a reason. I wonder if that's a gap you can really maintain. It clashes with two thoughts that seem pretty good.

First, there's this view:
(Proper Basing) Doxastic justification is propositional justification plus basing. If you justifiably believe p, there is a reason to believe p and your belief is based on it.

If you oughtn't believe p unless you believe justifiably, you oughtn't believe p if either there's no reason to believe or there are reasons but they aren't the reasons for which you believe. Given the factive conception of evidence, Proper Basing seems to suggest that you cannot say that there's a gap between what your evidence is and what you can properly treat as if it is your evidence.

Second, there's this view:
(J-Closure) If you justifiably believe p, you have the right to draw the obvious consequences from p.

Suppose you justifiably believe p, but p's not itself a genuine reason. Suppose you infer an obvious consequence, q. Is there any reason that supports it? If you say there is, it seems a reason has come from nowhere. If you say there's not, why would you ever need to base your beliefs on reasons?

Monday, July 19, 2010

The lion will someday get snuggly with a lamb

But the battle between the factives and non-factives will never end. The latest skirmish can be found on Christopher Cloos' blog:

The factivity of reasons and evidence.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Objectivism, Perspectivism, and Contextualism

For reasons too complicated to get into here, Alphonse is a jury of one. He reviewed the case carefully and judged that the accused, Dave, was guilty as charged. He says it:

(1a) He is guilty as charged.

Let’s suppose that he is confident:
(2a) I know he is guilty as charged.

Let’s suppose we’re confident in him, and so we say that he’s right both times.

For reasons too complicated to get into here, there is another jury of one. This one member jury has the same evidence for believing that the accused is guilty (well, change the names but otherwise it's the same evidence), but he is not guilty. So, while this second speaker, Bridget, is perfectly reasonable in believing that she speaks the truth, she speaks falsely when she asserts (1b) and (2b):

(1b) He is guilty as charged.
(2b) I know he is guilty as charged.

Now, consider:
(3a) I ought to convict.
(3b) I ought to convict.
(4a) I know I ought to convict.
(4b) I know I ought to convict.

Suppose (3a) is true. It does not follow that (4a) is true, but there is no principled reason to think it has to be false given everything we have said. So, suppose it is true, too. What should we say about (3b) and (4b)? This is where things get tricky. The natural thing for the objectivist to say is that these claims are both false. According to the objectivist, you ought to Φ if Φ-ing is best-objectively and since it seems that convicting is not the best thing for Bridget to do, (3b) is false. Owing to the factivity of ‘knows’, the objectivist should say (4b) is false, too. The natural thing for the prospectivist to say is that (3b) is true. According to the prospectivist, you ought to Φ if Φing is
best-prospectively (i.e., maximizes expected value). Since we are assuming that Alphonse ought to convict, the same should be true for Bridget. The same options are best-prospectively for them. If (3b) is true and we have no reason to think that Alphonse owes an epistemic advantage over Bridget, perhaps the prospectivist should say that (4b) is true as well. Or, more guardedly, (4b) is true if (4a) is.

In cases like this, I think the objectivist enjoys an advantage over the prospectivist. Suppose Bridget convicts Clarence and after serving twenty years, Clarence is cleared of the charges. They clear him of the charges because of DNA evidence, evidence that was not available at the time of the trial. Intuitively, Clarence was wronged and is owed compensation. The prospectivist, it seems, has to deny this but this is what seems counterintuitive. It would not just be beneficent to help Clarence after he is freed. He is owed something. But, if giving him what he is owed is righting some past wrong, there has to be a wrong in the past and the prospectivist cannot find one.

This seems like a plausible principle:

(PP) If the speaker knew at the time of the conviction that she ought to vote to convict, the convicted will not be owed compensation for being sentenced.

This is the sort of the principle that the objectivist and prospectivist might agree on, they just disagree about when you ought to vote to convict. The objectivist says that what you should do depends (in part, on occasion) upon the facts ‘beyond’ the evidence, but the prospectivist denies this. The objectivist and the prospectivist deny that ‘ought’ is ambiguous.

Enter the contextualist. On one version of contextualism, one designed to accommodate some intuitions about Regan's mineshaft example, if the speaker asserts 'A ought to Phi', that is true only if A's Phi-ing is best-prospectively given the contextually determined body of evidence. This might be A's evidence, but it needn't be. Suppose Clarence knows he's innocent and so knows that Bridget speaks falsely if she asserts (1b) and (2b). We might imagine that Clarence cannot be present for the trial and so he knows just this: Bridget is conscientious and will review the evidence very carefully. Clarence knows the evidence either strongly points in favor of guilt or innocence, but not which. His lawyer texts him to say that a verdict has been reached, but his lawyer likes to create suspense and so he doesn't say what the verdict was. Because Clarence knows what he knows about Bridget and the evidence, it seems that on the contextualist view, Clarence can say truthfully, 'Whatever Bridget says about (3b) and (4b), she speaks the truth'. His lawyer then tells him that Bridget said that he should be convicted and that she knew that she should convict him. So, it seems, Clarence can say, "I know she shouldn't have convicted me and so know that she didn't know she should convict me, but she did speak the truth." So, according to Clarence, "Bridget spoke truthfully when she said "I know I ought to convict Clarence" but I know she should not have convicted Clarence".

That seems bad and now I wonder about (PP). Do contextualists think he gets compensation when he's exonerated? If they can say that Clarence is owed compensation, it looks like they have to say that speakers say something true when they say ‘Clarence is owed compensation in spite of the fact that the speaker who said ‘I know I ought to convict Clarence’ spoke the truth’. If we could climb down from these quotation marks, it seems that the contextualist is coming out in favor of owing compensation to those who are not owed compensation. If we cannot climb down from these quotation markes, it seems that the contextualist can take no position on (PP). I guess that's why contextualists haven't joined the innocence project.

It seems to me that objectivists and prospectivists can have an honest debate about whether someone like Clarence is owed compensation for a past wrong, but I don't see how the contextualist can contribute to this debate.

Isn't it ironic?

I haven't read much about this ruling on DOMA, but a casual read suggests that the problem the court had with DOMA is that it interferes with the those states that want to define for themselves what marriage amounts to. So, right wing attempt to pick on homosexuals is struck down on the right wing principle that the states should have greater autonomy. I hope a few right wing heads explode over this one (here). If I didn't have work to do, I'd probably head to what's wrong with these people and read the comments. But, well, I have work to do. I know they must be suffering a bit tonight and I can take a small measure of comfort in that.

(As you might have guessed, the judge is one of those long hair Nixon appointees. Seriously, someone needs to do something about these out of control Republican appointed judges.)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The correct way to deal with a situation vs. what you ought to do

Suppose you're a rule consequentialist. I think you should think that situations could arise where you know that one of the available options, B, is better than A (i.e. contains more total intrinsic value), but you ought to pick A anyway. So, maybe you can get a smidge more utility if you break a promise than keep it, this is a fact that isn't lost on you, but it wouldn't thereby follow for the rule-consequentialist that the promise should be broken.

I think this much is pretty straightforward. This is what I'm not so sure about. Consider:

(1) Although you ought to have done A, the correct thing to do in the situation described is pick B.

(2) You know that the correct way to deal with the situation described is pick B. After all, you know that that's what you're supposed to do.

It seems to me that (2) is the clear winner here. So, I'm curious as to whether we should say that if you know you ought to A, the correct way to deal with the situation is to A.

Notice I haven't said that "correct" and "ought" come to the same thing, I'm just floating the idea that what you know you ought to do will thereby be the "correct" way to deal with the situation.

Why isn't 50/50 good enough?

I've been thinking about epistemic consequentialism lately and trying to understand Goldman's view from _Epistemology and Cognition_. In terms of the value theory, it's pretty simple: true beliefs are intrinsically good, false beliefs are intrinsically bad, and they have the same magnitude of value. One interesting feature of the view is that it seems Goldman has available a kind of rationale for saying that you can only justifiably believe p by conforming to J-rules if doing so will lead to a sufficiently high truth ratio, one that doesn't lead to a greater number of false beliefs than true ones. If you were to form no beliefs at all, you'd be better off than if you formed a greater number of false beliefs than true ones. So, Goldman can explain why we're not justified by following rules that lead to more failures than successes. I haven't seen much discussion of this, but if you think about it, it's not obvious what entitles the epistemic consequentialist to say that a sufficiently high truth-ratio is required for justification as the consequentialist thinks you should respond to your situation in such a way that there's not a better way of responding available. There's our explanation. Not believing anything is an option, an option that is neither good nor bad, and so an option that contains more bad than good comes out as second best at best.

Okay, but that brings me to the problem. Goldman thinks of J-rules as giving permissions. If you're in a situation where the best you can do if you believe anything at all is get things right 51% of the time and you are permitted to believe nothing, shouldn't you be permitted to follow the rules that get things right 51% of the time? If an option is better than a permissible option, can you really say that that option is ruled out on consequentialist grounds? It seems not. But, then again, if an option is as good as a permissible option, it's hard to see how you could argue that that option isn't permissible on consequentialist grounds. So, why wouldn't rules that get things right precisely half the time be good enough to justify belief?

This matters, I think, because we know that if the evidence for h is just as strong as the evidence for ~h, there's a decisive reason to refrain from believing h and from believing ~h until you get more evidence. A similar point holds true for rules you know lead to true just as often as false belief.

It seems the obvious fixes are these. First, require something of believers. Require that they believe in ways that promote the good. Here's what I like about this. You can still say (I think) that justification requires getting things right at least 50% of the time. Here's what I don't like about this. I think the notion of positive epistemic duties might make sense given the consequentialist framework, but I don't think there are positive epistemic duties. Second, muck around with the value theory. As SB reminded me in an email, Riggs has suggested that we might be wise to say that false beliefs are not just bad, the magnitude of the value of false belief is greater than that of true belief.

I think there are ways still of causing trouble for a view modified in this second way, but here's one. (I had some back and forth tweeting about this, but thought I should post a little something here.) Consider the following rule:

(R) If the # of Fs is finite but too large to count, believe that the number is composite.

Following that rule, you'll get things right more often than not, but believing in accordance with that rule isn't believing with justification. To flesh the intuition out a bit, believing that the number of grains of rice in the kitchens of Austin is prime is believing a known unknown (in Sutton's terminology). You can't justifiably believe known unknowns. So, you can't believe with justification by believing in accordance with (R).

There are two objections. First, if you believe the number of grains of rice in Austin is composite and it is, you know. If you know, you justifiably believe. Second, you can't know that this is so, but you can justifiably believe what you know you cannot know.

I'm not moved by the objections, but I'm also not sure what my intuitions are. I tend to think that you can't justifiably believe these things and know you cannot know them. I'm very confident that if you know you're not in a position to know p, you cannot justifiably believe p. (Some discussion here.)