Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Vacation!

I'll be on vacation and offline until June 5th. Assuming the volcano doesn't start to misbehave, we fly to Paris tomorrow and end up in Edinburgh in early June for the Episteme conference (here). I'm very excited about Paris and very, very excited about bicycling through Provence. After that, a quick trip to London and a train ride to Scotland. Hope the paper goes well, I'll be sticking my neck out a bit more than I should in front of some intimidating philosophers.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Knowledge isn't the norm

Suppose there are epistemic norms of assertion, belief, and practical reasoning. According to Williamson (2000), knowledge is the norm of assertion:

KA: You ought not assert p unless you know p but are warranted in asserting p if you know p.

According to Hawthorne and Stanley (2008), knowledge is the norm of practical reasoning:
KPR: You ought not treat p as a reason for acting (for some p-dependent choice) unless you know p but are warranted in treating p as a reason for action if you know p.

According to Sutton (2007), knowledge is the norm of belief:
KB: You ought not believe p unless you know p but are permitted to believe p if you know p.

There is a simple and powerful argument against each of these proposals. These norms are epistemic norms. KA says that if you don’t know p, there is a conclusive epistemic reason to refrain from asserting p or an undefeated epistemic reason not to assert p. KPR and KB tell us there are similar reasons that bear on whether to believe and whether to treat something as a reason for action when deliberating about what to do. These norms tell us nothing about the non-epistemic case for or against asserting, believing, or treating something as a reason for action. Think about KA and KPR. Does the epistemic assessment of assertion or treating something as a reason for action tell us something about the normative standing of the agent’s beliefs? Will situations arise where we say that you believed what you should have concerning p but weren’t in a position to assert that p is true? Will situations arise where we say that you believed what you should have concerning p but weren’t in a position to treat p as a reason for Φ-ing when we acknowledge that you knew that Φ-ing was the thing to do if p? It doesn’t seem that the conditions under which it’s appropriate to believe p and to express your belief by saying that p is so differ in any significant way, whatever epistemic case is to be made against the act of speaking your mind should constitute an epistemic case against forming the belief you did. It doesn’t seem that the conditions under which it’s appropriate to believe are but a proper subset of the conditions under which it’s appropriate to rely on that belief when you know the content of the belief is what matters to the relevant bit of reasoning. So, it is tempting to say that the following links hold:

BPR: If you conform to the epistemic norms that govern belief by believing p, you conform to the epistemic norms governing practical reason by treating p as a reason for action (for some p-dependent choice).
BA: If you conform to the epistemic norms that govern belief by believing p, you conform to the epistemic norms governing assertion by asserting that p is the case.

These knowledge norms tell us whether it is epistemically permissible to believe, assert, or treat something as a reason for action. According to BPR and BA, there aren’t different epistemic standards that apply to beliefs on the one hand and the expressions of belief or reliance on belief in reasoning on the other. Because we don’t rely on some two-stage process of epistemic assessment to determine whether someone who believes has the warrant to speak her mind or reason from what she takes herself to know, I think it’s clear that we assess things epistemically as if we accept BPR and BA. To be justified in believing p requires that you believe p permissibly. It can’t be that you shouldn’t believe p, but you believe p justifiably. Two things of consequence follow. First, a commitment to either KA or KPR comes with a commitment to KB. Second, a commitment to KB comes with a commitment to KJ:

KJ: You can’t justifiably believe p unless you know p.

The problem, of course, is that KJ is false. Gettier cases show that it’s possible for someone to justifiably believe something they don’t know to be true. So, we can see that knowledge isn’t the norm of assertion, practical reasoning, or belief. The problem isn’t just that there are counterexamples to KJ. The real problem is that if we acknowledge that knowledge and justified belief are distinct because we appreciate that there’s more to knowledge than just justified belief, we should see that it is incoherent to say that the additional factors that distinguish mere justified belief from knowledge should figure in epistemic norms. It is incoherent to say this because to say this, BPR and BA imply that someone can be epistemically prohibited from believing what she permissibly believes. So, if knowledge and justified belief are distinct, there’s no question that it’s justification that’s the norm of assertion and practical reasoning because it’s utterly vacuous to say that justification is the norm of belief.

Note that for all I’ve said, it might be that justified belief is a lot more like knowledge than most epistemologists currently believe. I’ve said that JB is utterly trivial:
JB: You ought not believe p unless you justifiably believe p but are permitted to
believe p if you justifiably believe p.

Combine JB with BA and BPR and we have to say that justified beliefs are whatever those things are that warrant assertion and warrant treating something as a reason for action. If you shouldn’t assert false propositions and shouldn’t treat false propositions as reasons for action, it may well be that the only real difference between justified belief and knowledge are the conditions that make for Gettier cases. There’s little that we can say about all the Gettier cases that is informative and true, but this much seems right. The cases that figure in such conditions almost always seem to involve conditions that have little significance for what we should do or what we should say in those kinds of situations, so perhaps these cases bring to light a variety of normatively insignificant aspects of knowledge.

REFERENCES
Hawthorne, J. and J. Stanley. 2008. Knowledge and Action. Journal of Philosophy 105: 571-90.
Sutton, J. 2007. Without Justification. Cambridge, MA: MIT University Press.
Williamson, T. 2000. Knowledge and its Limits. New York: Oxford University Press.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Oh, Sarah

From Sarah Palin's latest facebook missive:
My remarks at the NRA Annual Meeting regarding the anti-Second Amendment sentiments of Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi were as follows:

“President Obama and his allies like Nancy Pelosi have been relatively quiet on the gun control front – not because they don’t want to limit your rights, but because they’re afraid of the political consequences. Don’t doubt for a minute that if they thought they could get away with it, they would ban guns, and ban ammunition, and gut the Second Amendment.” (emphasis added)

That’s what I said. And here’s what Barack Obama himself once said: “Even if I want to take them away, I don’t have the votes in Congress.” (emphasis added)


Icing on the cake:
As for Nancy Pelosi – she’s a San Francisco Democrat. That should be proof enough. But if you require more: She has an F rating from the NRA and supports gun bans and registration laws.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Epistemic Norms of Practical Reason?

The opening remark of Jessica Brown's Phil Compass piece, "Knowledge and Practical Reason":

It has become recently popular to suggest that knowledge is the epistemic norm
of practical reasoning


I wonder what an epistemic norm of practical reason is supposed to be. Here's a candidate norm:
JPR: If you justifiably believe p, it is proper for you to treat p as a reason for action.

I think JPR can be read in two ways. First, as a claim about what's epistemically proper for you to treat as a reason. Second, as a claim about what's epistemically and practically proper for you to treat as a reason. On the second reading, if you treat p as a reason for acting and A in light of that, it might be that A-ing is wrong, but not because p was treated as a reason for doing something. There might be other non-p related reasons not to A, p might not favor A-ing, but what we've ruled out are explanations as to why A-ing was wrong that cite p, p's negation, or things that entail either p or p's negation.

Suppose you want to read it only in the first way because you think that if JPR is read the second way, there are counterexamples. Circumstances can arise in which it is epistemically proper to treat p as a reason for action (i.e., it is not wrongful on epistemic grounds for you to have treated p as a reason for action), but it is practically improper to have treated p as a reason for action. In what sense, then, is JPR an epistemic norm of _practical_ reason?

Obviously, if you justifiably believe p, you can't be epistemically criticized for believing p. Now, perhaps the idea is that there's believing p and there's relying on the belief that p when thinking about what to do. You mull it over and come to believe that you ought to A. JPR says that you can't be criticized for treating p as a reason for believing you ought to A. Okay, but that bit of reasoning is theoretical reasoning, not practical reasoning. It's reasoning to a belief.

Perhaps the idea is that once you believe you ought to A that's often what you do. I'm not entirely convinced, however, that we assess the action, the A-ing, in epistemic terms. We might assess the reasoning that led to it in epistemic terms, but that still looks a lot like JPR is doing the work of a norm of theoretical reason.

On the second way of understanding JPR, it is obvious why it is an epistemic norm of practical reason. It is a norm that ensures that once a belief attains a certain epistemic status, practically speaking, it's not wrong to plow ahead as if p is the case. Maybe JPR thus understood is false, but it's not obvious that you're in the game of offering an epistemic norm of practical reason if you defend JPR on the first understanding.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Ilario Pantano shoots two unarmed prisoners about 60 times and wins GOP nomination

I think he won because of it, not in spite of it. That's speculation, but I think he and I agree that that's basically what it came down to. (His book: Warlord: No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy.)

Key passage here:
"In April 2004, Pantano killed two unarmed Iraqi detainees, twice unloading his gun into their bodies and firing between 50 and 60 shots in total. Afterward, he placed a sign over the corpses featuring the Marines' slogan “No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy” as a message to the local population."

You might be sick of the Dems because you don't think they play hard enough hardball with Wall St. or because they drag their feet on DADT, but it's an important reminder of what you get when you don't support them.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Weigh the pros & cons vs. Weight of the pros & cons

I think differences between pros and cons are interesting. A friend I was talking with in Oberlin (which was so, so much fun) didn't think the differences between pros and cons were nearly as interesting as I thought.

As I've argued previously--you can accept lots of things that phenomenal conservatives say and maintain that some acts are objectively wrong if you say that a reason to A cannot justify the action unless that reason is at the very least available to you but a reason not to A can "unjustify" an action even if it isn't available to you. (Yes, some object on the grounds that reasons always have to be available to do any work, but I think the weights of the reasons that are available to you might be unavailable to you and still determine what's right and what's not.)

Cases where this thought is helpful:
(a) Explaining how you can say both that appearances justify while resisting the claim that it's only the total appearances at a time that go towards determining whether someone should do what they reasonably think they ought to do.
(b) Think about a decently run trial that results in the conviction of the guilty party and an essentially identical trial that results in the conviction of an innocent party. I think we can say that the case for convicting was equally strong in both cases but sufficient for convicting only in one because in only one was there the absence of a reason not to convict (a reason grounded in the fact that the accused didn't do the thing he's accused of doing). Apply this sort of thought to perceptual justification. What's the difference between the good and bad case? Suppose it's at least this: the belief in the bad case isn't justified but the belief in the good case is. Does this require special "factive reasons"? No, no factive reasons are necessary. The difference between the good/bad case isn't explained by appeal to special very, very strong reasons to believe but the presence of a common justifying element with the absence of a "con" in the good case and the presence of a "con" in the bad. The justificatory status of a belief is a function of both pros and cons, so eliminating the negative in the good case is just what makes the good case good.
(c) Right reasons views. Why does the person who responds to the evidence correctly count as better off than a peer who responds to the evidence incorrectly? Not because the peer who responds rightly has something good going for her that her peer lacks, but because the peer who responds wrongly has something bad going for her that her peer lacks--messing up the response to the evidence.

Anyway, I don't know if that's at all clearly written. I'm very, very tired.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Knowledge in an Uncertain World

My review of Jeremy Fantl amd Matt McGrath's Knowledge in an Uncertain World is now available at NDPR: here.

Forgive the opening lines. It's hard to write opening lines. I do think it's a fantastic book and I can't remember having as much fun working through a book as I had with that one. I think there's a line missing from my review. I meant to say that F&M can probably deal with the problem of false justifying reasons and the problem that arises for a certain understanding of JJ+ by distinguishing the conditions under which something is a reason and the conditions under which it is properly treated as if it is one. Off the record, I don't think the distinction holds up. But, that's off the record.

And in this The Corner...

... Jim "Mad Dog/Pariah of the Right" Manzi!

Brutal, brutal beating

Not all that glitters is gold

This is from Huemer's APQ paper, "Phenomenal Conservatism and the Internalist Intuition".

Suppose that some condition, E, is external in one of the senses delineated above and is a non-redundant part of some sufficient condition, C, on justification. It seems very likely, then, that it would be possible to construct a case in which, for some person S and some propositions p and q,
i) S satisfies E with respect to p but not with respect to q;
ii) S satisfies all the other parts of C, with respect to each of p and q;
iii) S does not satisfy any sufficient condition on justification other than C, with respect to either p or q;
and
iv) It seems to S that he is in the same epistemic position with respect to p as he is in with respect to q, and S has no reason for suspecting that either proposition is more justified or more likely to be true than the other.


So, for example, maybe S's belief in p is formed by a reliable process and S's belief in q is formed by an unreliable process. What's wrong with that?
If Reliabilism is a correct theory, then [assuming that her beliefs about dogs and unicorns are produced by processes that differ significantly in terms of their reliability] Susan would be justified in believing that the purple unicorn exists, but unjustified in believing that the dog exists. Internalists will find this counter-intuitive. To see why, consider things from Susan's point of view. It seems that, if one has adequate justification for believing that p and none for believing that q, it follows that one rationally should (or at least may) believe that p while refraining from believing that q. In addition, it seems that, at least normally, including in scenarios like the above, a rational person might recognize and report their own doxastic situation. Thus, Susan might say something like the following to one of the people in her virtual world; call remarks of this form the Absurd Speech:
I seem to be aware of a dog, just as I seem to be aware of a unicorn. These two experiences seem equally reliable to me, and in general, seem alike in all epistemically relevant respects. However, I believe that there is a unicorn, and I do not believe that there is a dog. I have no reason to think that the unicorn experience is any more likely to be accurate than the dog experience; I just accept the content of the one and not the other, for no apparent reason.


He then remarks, "On Reliabilism, the above would be a rational thing for Susan to say, or, more importantly, would (if true) be a report of an epistemically rational state of mind. But the Absurd Speech is not a rational thing to say. Nor is this a matter merely of the propriety of asserting what the Absurd Speech asserts; even to think to oneself what the Absurd Speech says would be a mark of irrationality."

There are two things that are strange about this--the reliabilist isn't defending a view of rationality, but justified belief. Moreover, the force the example seems to depend upon views about second-order justification and the example doesn't make clear whether the subject has adequate justification for falsely believing claims about the epistemic status of her first-order attitudes. Let that pass. Notice that we can do similar things with action. We can have someone intend to perform an action on Monday and an action on Tuesday where:
i') S satisfies some condition, E, with respect to the first action, A1, but not the second, A2;
ii') S satisfies all the other parts of C, with respect to each action;
iii') S does not satisfy any sufficient condition on justification other than C, with respect to either action;
and
iv') It seems to S that he is in the same practical position with respect to A1 as he is in with respect to A2, and S has no reason for suspecting that either action is more justified or more likely to be right than the other.

We can get similarly absurd speeches out of the agent. Should we conclude, then, that justified action is internalist in this way?

Suppose the agent sincerely and reasonably believes she's obliged to do A1 and A2. I can't then see how her obligation could be to do something else. But, it seems that the rationality of the agent's judgments about whether to perform A1 and A2 will be a function of how things appear to her and it will be a contingent fact whether genuine reasons appear to her to be reasons at all, whether the stronger of the available reasons will seem stronger, or whether non-reasons appear to the agent to be reasons. If any of this happens, the agent's actions won't be justified, but the agent will be able to engage in the same speech acts as above. So, what gives? Either the absurdity of the above speeches are not a good guide to justification or anyone who thinks that they are will have to deny that there are normative truths that we can miss if we deliberate rationally. That view is quite clearly incompatible with the sort of objectivist view about morality that Huemer defends in other places.

From bad to worse.
Suppose you judge that you ought to A. Suppose the judgment is reasonable. Are you permitted to do other than A? If you're not permitted to do other than A, then you're obliged to do A. Someone who thinks of justification in such a way that it's impossible for a case in which (i')-(iv') are satisfied could say that you're justified in doing other than A. But, if you're obliged to do what you rationally judge you're obliged to do, what do you say about cases like these:
(a) You judge that you ought to A rather than any of the alternatives to A-ing. You judge that you ought to B rather than any of the alternatives to B-ing. What you don't realize is that A-ing is an alternative to B-ing and vice-versa (i.e., can't do both).
(b) You judge that you ought to A but you can't A for reasons inaccessible to you. Either 'ought' doesn't imply 'can', or you can't reasonably believe you ought to A if you can't A. Both are bad.

Internalists need to show that you can't get from Huemer's internalist principles to the view that you ought to A if you rationally judge you ought to A. The problem is that there are cases where you ought to do what you rationally judge you ought. The difference between such cases would be an external condition.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Cool Firefox Tool: LeechBlock

Worried about online time leeches? I was. Horrible, horrible Tetris addiction. I installed Leech Block for Firefox. It's free. Wonderful investment.

Leech Block

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Success!

I received word this morning from Philosophy and Phenomenological Research that they've accepted my piece on fallibilism and concessive knowledge attributions. Title? Fallibilism and Concessive Knowledge Attributions.

The gist of it:
* Stanley's objection to Rysiew's pragmatic account stands. You can't deal with Stanley's objection in the way that Dougherty and Rysiew try by revising the standard treatment of epistemic modals. They say that epistemic possibilities depend upon a subject's evidence rather than a subject's body of knowledge. This doesn't help. Not if you want to accomodate Lewis' observation that you can raise a skeptical hypothesis and elicit a proper concession from someone that she might be mistaken in believing some mundane claim about the external world.
* To show that CKAs aren't really a threat to non-skeptical fallibilist views, you just have to show that there's more to epistemic necessity than just knowledge. I say that that's personal and impersonal certainty. (Here I draw on Stanley's work. He argues that knowledge doesn't require certainty and I use similar arguments to show that epistemic necessity does and an independent line of argument to show that there's more to epistemic necessity than just knowledge.)
* Bonus: Someone could be a contextualist about epistemic modals if the account sketched in the paper is correct because someone could be a contextualist about 'certain' (as Stanley suggests). If there's more to epistemic necessity than just knowledge, you can give the contextualists about 'knows' the epistemic modals but deny that we need contextualism about 'knows' to accommodate intuitions about proper concession.

The paper owes a lot to Stanley's work. Basically, I insert myself into a debate between Stanley and Rysiew to argue that an objection Stanley raised in his Analysis piece wasn't successfully dealt with. I had written an early version of this paper many, many years ago that I wanted to call ''Might' made right'. That can't happen now, the title has been taken. In the original paper, I wanted to try to block an argument from intuitions about proper concession to contextualism by arguing that mere knowledge won't give you epistemic necessity. I didn't really have a venue that I thought would be interested, but luckily there was another round of debate and I could jump in.