Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The contingent apriori

This came up in a discussion thread on facebook (do we have to start citing that now?) and I thought I'd do a quick post. The question was whether there were examples of the contingent apriori that did not involve indexicals or demonstratives. Floated a possibility that I think I discussed with Turri some time ago that I also think figures in his forthcoming PPR paper. Suppose you know that there's a large and fair lottery coming up and you have a ticket for it. If you think you know your ticket will lose, the question is whether you can also know the lottery conditional apriori:

(LC) If I have a ticket in a fair lottery with n tickets, my ticket will lose.

I think that in some ways, this is a poor choice of examples. There are difficult questions about whether you can know lottery propositions and this muddies the waters a bit. Let's try something a bit different.

Suppose you're a fallibilist who thinks that if S has fallible grounds, FG, S can know some contingent proposition p by believing p on FG. Consider the fallibilist conditional:

(FC) If I have FG, p.

I know apriori that if I don't have FG, FC is true. I won't know apriori that FC is true in a world in which I have FG and ~p. But, is there any possible world in which I know FC apriori?

Someone could say that there's a possibility of error that comes with believing FC, but that's true when it comes to believing p on the basis of FG. Assuming that the fallibilist is right, this "possibility" of error is not sufficiently threatening to prevent you from knowing p. So, the question is whether it is sufficiently threatening to prevent you from knowing FC apriori.

Here's an argument for the claim that fallibilists ought to believe in the contingent apriori:
(1) The possibility if being mistaken in believing p when you have FG does not prevent you from knowing p and the same possibilities of error that arise when you believe on FG are the possibilities of error that arise when you believe FC on apriori grounds.
(2) The the threatening possibilities aren't sufficiently threatening to prevent you from having aposteriori knowledge, they aren't sufficiently threatening to prevent you from having apriori knowledge.
(C) You ought to think you can know FC apriori if you think you can know aposteriori that p is true on the basis of FG.

The argument for (2) is basically this: differences between apriori and aposteriori knowledge need to be explained, not brute.

I don't buy the argument, but I think it's interesting. I suspect that (1) is mistaken. ((2) might be as well.) Knowledge-threatening possibilities are not just a function of your evidence or grounds, but also your situation externally characterized. In describing someone has having FG, we might rule out certain knowledge threatening possibilities that don't get ruled out if all we have is someone who can entertain the conditional FC. So, there's no particularly compelling reason (yet) to think that fallibilists ought to embrace the contingent apriori.

So, perhaps the response works if we assume this: the set of knowledge threatening possibilities an individual needs to neutralize differ depending upon whether the individual:
(a) knows that she has FG vs.
(b) knows that FC is true if ~FG or if p.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The public is the problem

According to a new CNN poll, only one-third favor extending tax cuts for the wealthy.

According to the internets, more than one-third of the voters who went to the polls earlier this month voted for Republican candidates in every race. (Yes, even in races with witches, wrestlers, racists, idiots who fantasize about life in the SS.)

Maybe it's time to stop blaming the politicians who do pretty much what they threatened to do if elected and start blaming the knuckleheads to vote for Republicans because they want their elected officials to act like Democrats.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Fetal value and potential personhood

This is one of those head scratching moves that makes me think I must be missing something obvious, but I've seen in a few places lately people defending the claim that the fetus has intrinsic value (or is intrinsically valuable) because it is a potential person. It seems that the thought is that something is intrinsically valuable because it can become something else, but I would have thought that this would be a clear case of instrumental value. It's valuable as an instrument in the production of some other thing.

Yes, I realize that something can be both intrinsically and instrumentally valuable, but we're looking for a reason to say that the fetus has the first sort of value and while I'm not denying that it has that sort of value, it looks like we're looking for the explanation in the wrong sort of place.

Perhaps the thought is that the fetus is not an instrument to something that is intrinsically valuable because the fetus doesn't undergo substantial change in the production of a person? Still seems dubious.

Perhaps the thought is that the fetus is intrinsically valuable because there's something intrinsic to the fetus that is what drives the changes by which something of intrinsic value comes to be? Perhaps, but then it just seems like the fetus has instrumental value in large part because of its intrinsic makeup. Still not seeing the move to intrinsic value.

I think Jeff McMahan's view is that all you get out of potential F-hood is instrumental value and I sort of thought that was obvious, but I'm left scratching my head because a number of quite clever and intelligent people have been saying otherwise. Thoughts? [Not an invitation to tell me about how wonderful and valuable the fetus is apart from its status as a potential person. This is a question about the concept of potential F-hood, not a question about fetuses, really.]

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Berman Introduces Birther Bill

One of our state representatives has filed a birther bill requiring candidates running for President to show their birth certificate to the Texas secretary of state (here).
“This bill is necessary because we have a president whom the American people don’t know whether he was born in Kenya or some other place,” Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler, said in reference to President Barack Obama and of House Bill 295. “If you are running for president or vice president, you’ve got to show here in Texas that you were born in the United States and the birth certificate is your proof.”

Berman’s bill specifies that “the secretary of state may not certify the name of a candidate for president or vice-president unless the candidate has presented the original birth certificate indicating that the person is a natural-born United States citizen.”

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The sky is falling!

Texas is facing a budget shortfall that is proportionately larger than the one facing California. This couldn't possibly hurt Perry in his bid for re-election.

(I'm not saying that he can be faulted for all of our woes, but he surely shouldn't be bragging about the great shape that Texas is in. The sky really does look like it's about to fall. I can only imagine that eduction is in serious, serious trouble here.)

Monday, November 1, 2010


Just a quick question about the dark doctrine (i.e., the doctrine of double effect). I agree that Thomson's Loop Case makes it hard to defend the DDE on its standard understanding, but as a logical point, if the DDE is understood as saying only that there is a moral difference between effects intended and foreseen or that it's prima facie wrong to intend an evil means in the pursuit of some end, doesn't it survive that purported refutation? Yeah, it's permissible to turn the car at the guy with the intention of hitting him, but that's consistent with the obviously correct thought that it is prima facie wrong. And so that's consistent with the thought that one wrong arises because of the agent's intentions. Is there some reason that explains why the DDE is taken to be an absolute principle or is this just some historical quirck?