Friday, December 23, 2011

The evidence for evidentialism is no such thing

The evidentialist view is that relations between your non-factive mental states and your beliefs determine what your evidence is and thereby which propositions you justifiably believe. Your beliefs are justified you have sufficient evidence for your beliefs (and you believe for the right reasons). Some evidentialists adhere to a strict ethics of belief, one according to which for any body of evidence there is one and only one attitude (believe, disbelieve, or suspend judgment) you can justifiably take towards the propositions you consider.

What evidence is there for evidentialism? Some evidentialists argue for evidentialism on the grounds that relations between your beliefs and your evidence determine whether your beliefs are rational or reasonable from the epistemic point of view. If justified beliefs are reasonably held beliefs and reasonably held beliefs are justified, it follows that your beliefs are justified if they are supported by sufficient evidence and unjustified otherwise. Others argue for evidentialism on the grounds that alternative views are faced with a version of Moore’s Paradox (Smithies 2011).

Suppose (if only for reductio) that the accessibility thesis (the conjunction of the positive and negative accessibility thesis) is false:

PAT: You have justification to believe p iff you have justification to believe that you have justification to believe p.

NAT: You lack justification to believe p iff you have justification to believe that you lack justification to believe p.

If the accessibility thesis is false, you can have simultaneous justification for certain doxastic attitudes that are not rationally co-tenable. (They are not rationally co-tenable because they give rise to an epistemic version of Moore’s Paradox.) If they are not rationally co-tenable, they cannot be attitudes that you have simultaneous justification for holding. So, the accessibility thesis is not false.

Now, consider the pragmatist view. The pragmatist thinks that you can have sufficient justification to believe p even if you have equally good evidence for p and for ~p—provided that forming the belief that p will further some significant practical end. (In cases where there is sufficient evidence for believing p or believing ~p, the evidentialist and pragmatist views agree that your beliefs are justified only if they conform to the available evidence.) I ask you to consider the view not because it is true (I have nothing but contempt for the view), but because I think it is a contingent matter whether anyone has sufficient evidence to believe it. Raised on a steady diet of pragmatist propaganda, it seems someone just might have sufficient evidence to believe that she has sufficient justification to believe p where she does not also have sufficient evidence that p is true. PAT implies that if our subject permissibly believes that she permissibly believes (say) God exists (where she has no more evidence that God exists than she does for the hypothesis that God does not exist), she permissibly believes that God exists even though she violates the evidentialist’s standards.

Here, now, is my anti-evientialist argument. William has sufficient justification to believe that he permissibly believes that he permissibly believes God exists. William, however, does not have sufficient evidence to believe that God exists. So, according to PAT, it is permissible to believe without sufficient evidence. According to the evidentialist, it is never permissible to believe without sufficient evidence. Thus, the evidentialist view is mistaken.

The evidentialist can respond by rejecting my claim that it is possible for someone to have sufficient evidence to believe the pragmatist view or by rejecting PAT. The first response is completely ad hoc since the evidentialist view is that the evidence you have depends upon psychological facts about you (e.g., what you seem to remember, what you find intuitive, how things look to you, etc.). Surely if by virtue of some contingent psychological facts someone can have sufficient evidence to believe evidentialism, someone can have sufficient evidence to believe pragmatism. Suppose instead that the evidentialist rejects PAT. If they do so, they have to dispense with one of the arguments for evidentialism. Is that all that damaging to the view? Not necessarily. There are other arguments for evidentialism. For example, there is the view that the justified belief just is the rational belief. The thesis S’s belief is rational iff it is justified (R=J) seems to support evidentialism because it seems natural to assume that following the evidence is what the rational person does. It is often what the rational person does, but perhaps the rational person follows the evidence and comes to believe that pragmatism is true. If the subject discovers that she holds beliefs that conform to the pragmatist’s standards, it might seem that her beliefs are rationally retained even if the subject’s beliefs do not conform to the evidentialist’s standards. (Perhaps the subject is non-culpably ignorant of the fact that she does not live up to the evidentialist’s standards.) If so, R=J does not support the evidentialist view. Indeed, R=J would seem to suggest that the evidentialist’s view is mistaken.


Richard (in the comments) asked what I think is _the_ question to ask. I've offered a sketch of an answer. Adequate? Well, if not yet, hopefully soon. Thanks, RC.

Permissions and probabilities

Kroedel (forthcoming) argues that if we assume that we are permitted to believe p iff we are justified in believing p, we can solve a version of Kyburg’s (1961) lottery paradox. Here is the set up. You know that there is a large and fair lottery. Only one ticket can win and the odds of any ticket winning is the same as the odds of any other ticket winning. It seems to him that:

(1-J) For each ticket, you are justified in believing that it will lose.

The paradoxical conclusion that is supposed to follow from (1-J) is that:

(2-J) You are justified in believing that all the tickets will lose.

It seems that (2-J) is false. What to do?
Kroedel suggests that (1-J) and (2-J) are equivalent to:

(1-P) For each ticket, you are permitted to believe that it will lose.
(2-P) You are permitted to believe that all the tickets will lose.

He says that (1-P) is ambiguous between a narrow- and wide-scope reading. On one reading, (1-P) is false. On one reading (1-P) is true, but it does not entail (2-P).

Let p, q, r, etc. be propositions about particular tickets losing. Let PBp be the sentence ‘It is permissible for you to believe p’. Here is the first reading of (1-P), a narrow-scope reading:

(N1-P) PBp & PBq & PBr

Kroedel says that (N1-P) is true. He is right that (N1-P) does not entail (2-P) because permissions do not agglomerate. If permissions agglomerate, whenever you are permitted to φ and permitted to ψ, you would be permitted to φ and ψ. If, say, we were sharing a cake and you were permitted to take one half or take the other half, you would thereby be permitted to take the whole thing if permissions agglomerated. Since you can be permitted to take part without thereby being permitted to take it all, permissions do not agglomerate. Having two permissions and using one can thereby lead you to lose the other. Likewise, being permitted to believe p and being permitted to believe q does not mean that you are permitted to believe both p and q (or believe the conjunctive proposition that p and q).

Contrast (N1-P) reading with this wide-scope reading of (1-P):

(W1-P) P[Bp & Bq & Br]

While (W1-P) does entail (2-P), Kroedel argues that (W1-P) is false. He says that the problem with (W1-P) is that it is plausible that if you are permitted to hold several beliefs then you are thereby permitted to have a single belief that is the conjunction of those contents. It would be if this closure principle were true:

(CP) If P[Bp & Bq & Br], then PB[p & q & r]

It is, as he notes, highly implausible that you are permitted to believe the conjunctive proposition [p & (q & r)], so if the permission to believe both p and q (together) carries with it the permission to believe the conjunction (p & q), we have some reason to think that (W1-P) is false.

Kroedel thinks that to solve the lottery paradox, we should say that beliefs concerning lottery propositions can be justified but there is a limit as to how many such beliefs we can permissibly form. He thinks that there is a reading of (1-P) that is true, (N1-P) and urges us to reject (2-P). Why should we accept (N1-P) or (1-J)? His suggestion is that the high probability of a proposition is sufficient for the permissibility of believing it (forthcoming: 3). What is wrong with (2-P)? The problem cannot be that if you were permitted to believe that all the tickets will lose you will thereby believe something you know is false. The lottery might not have a guaranteed winner and (2-P) still seems false. Perhaps the reason that (2-P) is false is just that the probability that all the tickets will lose is too low. It might seem that Kroedel’s solution should work given the following principle linking justification to probability:

(PJ) PBp iff the probability of p on your evidence is sufficiently high.

While (PJ) would (if true) explain why (1-P) is true and (2-P) is not, I think Kroedel has to reject (PJ). If he does that, his solution becomes otiose. We can dissolve the paradox by denying (1-J) and (N1-P) rather than worrying about whether these false claims entail further false claims.

To see this, notice that since Kroedel is committed to (N1-P) and denying (2-P), he is committed to the following claim:

(*) For a lottery with n tickets (assuming that n is suitably large number), you are not permitted to form n beliefs that represent tickets in the lottery as losers but for some number m such that n > m > 0, you are permitted to form m beliefs that represent tickets in the lottery as losers.

Suppose you had a ticket for a lottery with 1,000,000 tickets. You know that this ticket, ticket #1, is not terribly likely to win. Let us suppose that in a lottery this size, you are permitted to believe that at least one ticket will lose. You decide to make use of this permission and believe ticket #1 will lose. You know (or should know!) that forming this belief does not change the probability that ticket #2 will lose. Since you were permitted to believe it before believing ticket #1 will lose and its probability remains unchanged when you add that first belief to your belief set, you can add the belief that ticket #2 will lose without being compelled to abandon your belief that ticket #1 will lose. (It is not as if adding the belief that ticket #2 will lose to your belief set forces you to lower the probability that ticket #1 will lose.) Given (PJ), it seems you can permissibly believe both that ticket #1 and ticket #2 will lose. We can apply the same reasoning again and you can permissibly add the belief that ticket #3 will lose without having to abandon previously formed beliefs about losing tickets. Repeat. At some point, (PJ) says that you can add some number of beliefs about losing lottery tickets greater than m without impermissibly adding beliefs to your stock of beliefs. At this point, (*) says that you formed more beliefs than you are permitted to form. You cannot consistently endorse (PJ) and (*).

If Kroedel denies (*), he has to either accept (2-P) or reject (N1-P). If he does that, he has to abandon his proposed solution. If instead he retains (*) and denies (PJ), he has to deny one of the following:

(High) PBp if the probability of p on your evidence is sufficiently high.
(Low) ~PBp if the probability of p on your evidence is sufficiently low.

If he denies (Low), it is not clear why we should reject (2-P). If he denies (High), it is not clear what motivation there is for (N1-P). If forced to choose, it seems rather obvious that he should deny (High) rather than (Low). If he rejects (High), he can dispense with the lottery paradox much more quickly. If it is possible for the probability of p to be sufficiently high on your evidence and for you to be obligated to refrain from believing p, I cannot see what would be wrong with saying that your obligation is to refrain from believing lottery propositions. The only thing they have going for them from the epistemic point of view is their high probability.

There is a common objection to (High) and to (1-P). Can you know that some ticket in a large and fair lottery will lose? Right or wrong, many people think that you cannot know that a ticket in a lottery with 1,000,000 tickets will lose. Suppose this is right and suppose that you know that you cannot know that the ticket you have is a loser. If you believe that your ticket is a loser and know that you cannot know that your ticket is a loser, this is how you see things:

(1) This ticket will lose, but I do not know that it will.

If you believed such a thing, you would be deeply irrational. I would say that you cannot justifiably believe (1). The probability of (1) on your evidence, however, is quite high. So, (High) says that it is permissible to believe (1). So, (High) is mistaken. If (High) is mistaken, this takes some of the sting out of denying (1-J) and (N1-P).

One reason to think that you cannot justifiably believe lottery propositions is that you cannot justifiably believe what you know you cannot know (Bird 2007; Sutton 2005). Since you know you cannot know lottery propositions, you cannot justifiably believe them. There is a further reason to think that it would be better to solve the lottery paradox by denying (1-J) and (N1-P) than to accept these and reject (2-J) and that is that it seems you cannot have proper warrant to assert:

(2) Your ticket will lose.

You might explain why it would be improper to assert (2) given only knowledge of the odds that the ticket will lose on the grounds that you cannot know (2) and cannot have warrant to assert what you do not know. For various reasons, some people object to this suggestion on the grounds that there are propositions that the speaker does not know that the speaker does have sufficient warrant to assert. (Maybe you do not know that the building you see on the hillside is a barn, but if you do not know this just because you are in fake barn country, it is not obvious that you do not have sufficient warrant to assert that the building is a barn.) Suppose that knowledge is not necessary for warranted assertion. If not knowledge, what? Douven (2006) argues that reasonable belief is necessary and sufficient for warranted assertion. Given Douven’s account, we have to reject (N1-P) and (1-J) to explain why you do not have sufficient warrant to assert (2). You cannot properly assert (2) because you cannot justifiably believe (2). Thus, (1-J) is mistaken. Paradox dissolved.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Monday, November 28, 2011

4 Permanent Positions at King's College London

I have some exciting news that I can now share. KCL is advertising four permanent positions. Below are links to the relevant pages on the HR site along with a brief summary of each post. These ads should start appearing on places like, but I thought I'd get the word out now.

(1) Applications are invited for a Readership or Professorship in the Department of Philosophy at King's College London, starting in September 2012. The successful candidate will have expertise in one or more of the following areas: Philosophy of Mind, Philosophy of Psychology, Philosophy of Language. (here)

(2) Applications are invited for a Lectureship or Readership in the Department of Philosophy at King's College London, starting in September 2012. The successful candidate will have expertise in Ancient Philosophy. The Department has teaching needs in late ancient and medieval philosophy but applicants without expertise in these areas are also encouraged to apply. (here)

(3) Applications are invited for a Lectureship or Readership in the Department of Philosophy at King's College London, starting in September 2012. The successful candidate will have expertise in one or more of the following areas: Aesthetics, Post-Kantian German Philosophy. (here)

(4) Applications are invited for a Lectureship or Readership in the Department of Philosophy at King's College London, starting in September 2012. The successful candidate will have expertise in Political Philosophy. (here)

Undoing evidentialism

I'm off to Southampton on Tuesday to give a talk on evidentialism. My focus will be on a pair of claims. First, that your evidence supervenes upon your mental states. Second, that relations between your beliefs and the evidence you have on hand is what determines whether you would believe with justification if you believed on your evidence. I'm skeptical of both claims.

Think about the move away from infallibilism, the view that you have the right to believe p only if your reasons entail that p is true. The move is perfectly sensible. Conee rightly notes that the infallibilist view does seem to lead rather directly to external world skepticism. What the evidentialists do to avoid the skeptical conclusion is reject infallibilism as characterized above but retains another kind of infallibilism that I think is deeply problematic. They think that it's always wrong to believe without sufficient evidence and always right to believe with sufficient evidence. That second claim suggests that normative standing supervenes upon the relations between your beliefs and the evidence you have on hand. To justifiably believe p, your reasons don't have to entail p, but a description of your reasons has to entail that it's right to believe p. It strikes me that there are a number of problems with this approach. Among them, if you think that belief is governed by a truth norm, the second sort of infallibilism entails that the first is correct. The result is that the second sort of normativized infallibilism doesn't lead away from skepticism, but right back to it. Anyway, I'll be discussing further problems for the view and hope to post a paper on the issue soon.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

I'm thankful for gin and tacos. A taste:
I can't say it surprised me that people defended the cop. There are always people who will defend the cop. Believe it or not, I was taken aback by just how stupid their arguments were even though such things should not surprise me anymore. Most of all, though, it's amazing the extent to which these people who believe that government is pure evil will argue that A) the role of the citizen relative to the police is one of absolute, unquestioning obedience, B) the police are to be taken at their word at all times, and C) whatever type and amount of force the police choose to use is inherently right ...

Maintaining this curious set of beliefs depends on their equally curious understanding of what exactly the police are for. To the average conservative – old white people, suburbanites, the wealthy, moral traditionalists, etc. – the police are a personal valet service charged with protecting them from the brown people, the poor, the homeless, and the punk kids with their boom-boom music and bouncing cars. The rights of those groups are not an issue, you see, because they have no rights. Only "good, hard working Americans" truly have rights, and others forfeir their rights by their actions. If the police ask you to move from the sidewalk and you don't, then you no longer have any rights. They can do whatever they want and it's your own fault.

Needless to say, I've come across defenses of what the cops did to protestors on the UC campuses. (Naturally, from the very same sort of people who were protestors in their youth!) I'm thankful that when I joke about those people here, my students have a hard time believing that they're real (and also thankful that they don't get all worked up when I set Williams' Jim and the Indians example in the states).

Thursday, November 24, 2011

On what it's like

My initial reaction was that everything is a little bit different (e.g., kids want to know where Wally is, not Waldo), but a little bit better (e.g., rugby is objectively better than football; underground is better than driving).

Maybe things aren't just a little bit different:

If the headlines are to be believed, things are very different here.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Open Letter to Chancellors and Presidents of American Universities from Your Faculty

You can read the letter here.

If you are an academic who wishes to sign this letter, please contact Matthew Smith (matthew.noah.smith AT yale DOT edu) and give him your name, your department affiliation, and your university. Also, please be sure to use your university email. (If you're wondering what this is in response to, you can get an eyeful here.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Brutal responses to student protests

UC Berkeley

UC Davis

An open letter calling on Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi to resign can be found here.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


With all the horrible things happening in the world right now, this is what we all needed.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Can't you hear me knocking?

There's an interesting thread developing at New APPS on divine hiddenness (here). The argument from divine hiddenness has always struck me as prima facie plausible, if not the strongest argument for atheism around. The argument runs something like this:

(P1) If God exists, he is perfectly loving.
(P2) If a perfectly loving God exists, he wouldn't allow non culpable unbelief (non-belief and disbelief? I think both).
(P3) However, there is nonculpable unbelief.
(P4) Therefore a perfectly loving God doesn't exist.
(C) Therefore, there is no God.

Some authors think that you can have a meaningful relationship with God even if you don't believe that God exists. Dougherty and Poston offer this example:
Suppose that Jones – an unfortunate fellow – is locked in solitary confinement in a dark prison cell. Jones hears faint taps coming from the other side of his prison wall. The taps resemble the presence of another person willing to communicate, but it is not certain that there is another person in the other cell. Yet, Jones begins to tap back. Suppose this activity continues over a long period, and Jones can – with some effort – make sense of the taps as another person attempting to communicate with him. Suppose Jones’s credence (his degree of belief, rational confidence, or what have you) on the claim ‘there is another person in the cell beside me’ is 0.5. He seems to be discerning messages, but he realizes that it could just be in his head since the signs are ambiguous. Yet, given that the two persons are tapping back and forth to each other, it seems that they are in a personal relationship, one which in time could take on great significance (again, this latter part is of great importance). The interaction could be so meaningful and hope-inducing that it keeps Jones from going insane or perhaps even keeps him from dying or killing himself. Suppose also that, in fact, the tapping is coming from Smith who, many years later, meets up with Jones and they discover what was going on. We submit that this part of their relationship will take on new-found significance in their new relationship, something to look back on and cherish, and a surprisingly good foundation for deepening their relationship now that Jones’s credence has been raised to moral certainty by actually meeting Smith.

The case isn't supposed to cover the case of non-culpable disbelief, only to show that you can have a meaningful relationship given only partial belief (and a very low degree of belief, to boot).

What to make of the case? It's clear that the tapping can be meaningful in some sense, but it's also clear that it can be meaningful without being a meaningful relationship. Consider two versions of the case. In the first, Smith and Jones meet after being released from prison. In the second, Smith dies in prison and Jones learns about Smith from Smith's widow. In the second case, it seems it would be very, very weird for Jones to say this:

Yes we had a meaningful relationship for years, but we never met and I didn't know he existed until now. I always thought it was just as likely that he was a drip or a branch hitting a window.

Yet, that seems to be how they want to describe the case. If they resist this description of the case and say that there wasn't ever a meaningful relationship between Jones and Smith, I think they face some serious trouble. Focus now on their version of the case, the one with the happier ending. To show that there's a meaningful interpersonal relationship without belief in their version of the case, they'd have to say that the relationship became meaningful because they later met. Intuitively, whether the tapping constitutes a meaningful relationship shouldn't depend upon whether they meet later. It would be odd to think that the proper description of the relations between them while in prison depended upon what happens in the future.

I think there's a simpler solution to all this. Reject 2. A life of unbelief isn't the worst thing in the world. (Surely it's better to let a handful of rational people never believe in God than allow a handful of genocides.) If you're a theist, you have to think that God is permitted to let (literally) the worst things in the world happen. Done and done.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Indexing with Word - What to do when it all goes wrong

I've been writing the index for Justification and the Truth-Connection. (Coming soon from Cambridge University Press!) This is a really arduous process, so I thought I'd offer an important tip for those working on macs with Microsoft Word.

Before you start your index, it would be a good idea to create a copy of your file and set it aside so if your index goes bad, you can junk your file and start over.

One of the annoying things about indexing in Word is that it's a pain to get your entries removed if something goes wrong. There's nothing in the program (that I've found) designed to remove your index entries without going through and removing them manually from the text. I had about 4500 entries to delete, so this gets a bit tedious. You can do a find and replace and substitute a space for XE which will prevent entries from being compiled, but code corpses will litter your document after that. If you had to get rid of an old index and enter a new one, it's going to be a nightmare going back through the document with its eviscerated indexing entries to enter new ones. (Basically, for every entry you create, you'll have something like this: {XE "blah blah blah"} in the text. If you do the find and replace, you'll be left with this: { "blah blah blah}. It keeps you from having an entry in your index that reads "blah blah blah", but the garbage is left in your text unless you manually delete it.)

If you must delete all of your index entries, I discovered a better trick that you might use. (If you have a better trick than this, do let me know.) For various reasons, I had to buy a copy of Pages before I could get my hands on Microsoft Office. I had to buy Microsoft Office (regrettably) to do the index to the book. In the states, you can get a copy of Office for about $10 if you have a campus discount. Here, Office costs about eight times that on Amazon. (Ten times that if you try to use the education discount through the Apple store!) If you copy your document and paste into a Pages file and save that file as a .doc file, the index will be completely removed. You can then make a fresh start. I'm posting this because none of the other tricks I found online for removing or deleting an index in Word on Mac were all that great.

You can get a copy of Pages for about $20 from the app store. If you don't want to do that, you can also email me a copy of your file and I'll send you back a .doc file with the index stripped away. (cmlittlejohn AT google DOT com)

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Archers, abilities, beliefs, etc...

Consider the thesis that knowledge is just cognitive success from ability (KSA).

Pritchard and Whitcomb argue that KSA is mistaken and that the ability condition on knowledge does not give Greco and Sosa the anti-luck condition they need. Whitcomb offers an example that I think helps us see why KSA is mistaken:

Weights: Hoodlums at the shooting range put weights in most of the arrows’ tips. Champion archers shoot, and due to the weights they miss. Audrey gets to shoot, and by luck she gets the one quiver of unweighted arrows. Through skills that almost always bring target-hits, she makes those hits. Her shots are successful and, moreover, they are successful through virtue.

He says that this case is a case of practical success from ability and that it is analogous to Harman’s newspaper case. (Pritchard thinks that the case described earlier in which the targets are protected by force fields is analogous to the Ginet-Goldman fake barn case. ) Assuming that this is a case of practical success that manifests the agent’s abilities (which seems quite intuitive), we can state the Pritchard-Whitcomb argument against KSA as follows:

1. Weights and Fake Barns are analogous in all relevant respects.
2. Weights is a case of success from ability.
3. (Therefore) Fake Barns is a case of success from ability.
4. Fake Barns is not a case of knowledge.
5. (Therefore) Fake Barns is a case of success from ability without knowledge.

Because they defend KSA, Greco and Sosa have to reject (5) and reject one of the argument’s premises. Greco rejects (1). Sosa rejects (4). Let's focus on Greco's response.

Greco’s strategy for responding to the Pritchard-Whitcomb argument is to say that the practical and epistemic cases are not analogous. Abilities, cognitive or otherwise, should be understood as dispositions to reliably bring about some result under suitable circumstances. Cognitive abilities are understood as dispositions to bring about true beliefs in appropriate conditions and environments. Practical abilities can be understood as dispositions to bring about intended ends in appropriate conditions and environments. While Coop might have the ability to identify barns in, say, real barn country, Greco says that he does not have the ability to identify them in fake barn country. As such, judging correctly that the structure he sees is a barn is not success due to ability just as, say, Coop hitting a baseball blindfolded cannot be attributed to his ability to hit baseballs.
As for Audrey’s shot, he says this:

The ability to hit a target, like any ability, is defined relative to conditions that are appropriate for that sort of ability. In particular, we do not require that an archer is reliable (relative to an environment) in conditions involving arrow-weighting hoodlums. Accordingly, worlds where meddling hoodlums affect performance are not deemed relevant for determine whether [someone] has the ability in question, even if meddling hoodlums are in [her] actual environment and even … This is similar to Jeter’s ability to hit baseballs in Yankee Stadium – it does not matter whether there is some trickster in the stadium who could easily shut off the lights.

It is not clear to me whether our intuitions about the fake barns case is due to the fact that we think Coop does not have the cognitive ability to identify barns in the conditions or environment in which he forms his belief. We can describe the case that way, but it is not obvious to me that we have to in order to elicit the relevant intuition. Perhaps the best way to show that there could be cases of epistemic and practical success from ability that are analogous and that would threaten KSA is to focus on Weights and set the fake barns case aside.

Greco agrees that when Audrey hits the target she intends this is a case of success from ability. While he thinks that the Audrey’s shot is not analogous to Coop’s belief, I think he would think that if Audrey had beliefs about whether her arrows will hit her intended targets that these beliefs will be analogous to Coop’s beliefs. So, let’s think about Audrey’s beliefs in Weights. In drawing back the string, she thinks to herself that if she aims just like this while pulling the string back just like so that she will hit her mark if she releases the string. If Audrey truly is a skilled archer it might be that she would readjust her shot if she did not believe this.

I want to ask two questions about her means-end belief. Her means-end belief is correct in the case we described. Is it a case of cognitive success from ability? Is it a case of knowledge? To keep things clear, consider three propositions:
6. Audrey’s hitting the target is successful through her ability.
7. Audrey’s means-end belief is successful through her ability.
8. Audrey’s means-end belief constitutes knowledge.

My intuition, which I think Pritchard and Whitcomb share, is that while (6) and (7) are true, (8) is not. So, like the, I think we could use this case to show that KSA is mistaken without having to say that the case is analogous to the fake barns case or the newspaper case. I expect that Greco would agree that (8) is mistaken. Given his commitment to KSA, he has to reject (7). I think he should accept (6). Not only is it intuitive, his objection to the Pritchard-Whitcomb argument was that the cases are not analogous. Since he rejects (1), he should concede that there can be cases of practical success from ability where the agent’s actions are guided by belief’s that are not an example of cognitive success from ability. Perhaps the four of us can agree that her belief does not constitute knowledge because she easily could have drawn a weighted arrow, in which case her belief would have been mistaken and she would have failed to bring about her intended end in the way she intended. The problem with the position that I think Greco has to defend is that it seems that (6) would only be true if (7) were true.

If Audrey’s shot truly is a case of success from ability, there should be no principled objection to saying that she hit her intended target intentionally. Assume she did hit her target intentionally. Let’s think about how things have to be for her to hit her intended targets intentionally. If things had gone differently and she had grabbed a weighted arrow, she would have had a false means-end belief. If she had a false means-end belief, one of two things would have happened. She would have missed her mark or she would have hit her mark without hitting it in the way she intended to. Either way, she would have not hit her mark intentionally because she would not have had the necessary control over whether her intended ends would be realized.

While you will not intentionally Φ by Ψ-ing when you intend to Φ by Ψ-ing and believe falsely that you will Φ by Ψ-ing, you do not regain the necessary control simply because you happen to have a true means-end belief. Suppose Audrey grabbed a weighted arrow, fired, and the arrow cut just the path towards the target that she intended. Suppose it did this because the arrows were weighted with iron and a powerful magnet was placed just behind the spot that Audrey intended to hit. She hit what she intended to hit, her means-end belief might well have been true, but she knew nothing about the magnet and she did not intentionally hit her mark.
What does it take to put Audrey back in control if not a true means-end belief? Suppose Audrey needs to get into the safe, believes for no reason whatever that the combination to the safe is 12-34-56, and she unlocks the safe acting on her baseless belief. We would not say that she intentionally punched in the correct combination. Too much luck was involved. We might say that if she has a correct means-end belief that is rationally held we can deal with this case, but there are more cases in the offing that cause trouble for this proposal.

Suppose Audrey had excellent evidence that the combination was 12-34-56. Coop told her that this was the combination on Monday. Unfortunately, Coop was mistaken on Monday when he said this. On Monday, the combination was 12-34-55. The note that he fished from Ben’s coat pocket with the combination was smudged. Fearing that Coop discovered the combination to the safe Ben changed the combination moments before Audrey entered his office to 12-34-56. She punched in the correct code believing reasonably and correctly that the code was correct, but it still seems she did not intentionally enter in the correct code. The connection between what she intended to do and what it would take for her to bring about what she intended seems too accidental for us to say that she had the right kind of control to have brought about her intended end intentionally.

What do we need to add so that the agent who acts on a means-end belief brings about her intended end intentionally? Knowledge would do the trick. If Audrey knew that she would hit the target by firing in just the way she did, she would hit her target intentionally. If she knew that by typing in 12-34-56, the safe would open, we could say she intentionally entered in the right combination. If nothing short of knowledge will do the trick, however, Greco’s defense of KSA is bound to fail. If nothing short of knowledge would do, we would have to say that (6) is true in Weights only because (8) is. Remember that Greco rejects (7) and (8). Thus, he needs to explain how Audrey hitting the target could be a case of success from ability if the correctness of the means-end beliefs that guided her actions were not themselves a manifestation of her cognitive abilities. I think it cannot be done. When we think that the correctness of the agent’s means-end belief is not an instance of cognitive success through ability, we will be disinclined to say that the actions guided by these beliefs will be cases of success from ability. Thus, it seems (6) and (7) stand or fall together.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

When will we learn that there is more to propriety than truth?

The truth account of assertion states that an assertion is proper iff it is true (Weiner 2005). Did you know that Pelling (here) produced a clever counterexample to the truth account? No? I thought not.

CP asserted:
1. This assertion is improper.

If CP’s assertion is true, we have a counterexample to the truth account. If CP’s assertion is false, we have a counterexample to the truth account. It is very tempting to say that we have a counterexample, one way or the other.

Certainly some assertion must be proper. If proper assertion is not simply true assertion, perhaps we should say that an assertion is proper iff it the speaker knows that it is true (Williamson 2000). If I were to credit CP for his counterexample to the truth account I would assert:
2. I can properly say that that was a proper counterexample.

If (2) is correct, the knowledge account says that I know (2). If I know (2), CP’s assertion gave us our counterexample to the truth account. If CP's assertion gave us our counterexample to the truth account, then either:
3. CP’s assertion was false and proper.

4. CP’s assertion was true but improper.

If (3) is correct, we have a counterexample to the knowledge account. (The knowledge account states that no false assertions are proper.) If (4) is correct, CP might have hit upon a counterexample, but he could not properly assert that he did. (He would have to know (1) and know that (1) is improper to assert.) If he could not properly assert that he had produced a counterexample to the truth account, the knowledge account says that he did not know that he had a counterexample to the truth account. I would credit him for his counterexample if I could know (2), but I cannot. Nobody can. Even if we cannot know (2), might we know that (1) is a proper counterexample to the truth account? You could know (1) was a proper counterexample if you knew (3) or (4). You can know neither (3) nor (4). (Why? Because you cannot know 'This assertion is proper' is false & proper and cannot know 'This assertion is proper' is true & improper.) So, nobody knows that CP produced a clever counterexample to the truth account. If, however, anyone of us can properly credit him for his counterexample by properly asserting (2), he should be credited for discovering the counterexample to the knowledge account.

If knowledge is required for proper assertion, maybe we should not say that CP produced a counterexample to the truth account, but certainly, you might think to yourself, it is proper to believe that he has. If you disagree and think he has not produced the goods, reread the first paragraph. If you think you know that he has produced the goods, reread the second. Adler (2002: 25) says that we cannot believe what we recognize we do not know. This explains why we cannot believe that the number of stars is even or that God understands my atheism. I used to think that was right, but now I disagree. I believe (1) is a counterexample to the truth account. Suppose we are capable of believing what we take ourselves not to know. Huemer (2007: 149) says that we cannot justifiably believe what we take ourselves not to know because we are committed upon reflection to endorsing our beliefs as beliefs that constitute knowledge. I used to think that was right, but now I disagree. I am justified in believing (1) is a counterexample to the truth account.

Perils of late night blogging! First, "proper" in (1) should've been "improper". Second, there's nothing much new under the sun. See Weatherson's posts (which I must have read and didn't remember):

Alright, thanks to Brian Weatherson and Gabriele Contessa for catching my slip. I'm going to crawl back under the rock I've been hiding under for a while and keep my errors a bit closer to my chest.

Friday, August 19, 2011

In which Perry stabs the Discovery Institute in the back

On the campaign trail, Perry can't keep straight on the distinction between creationism and creationism, er, creationism and intelligent design. Video here.

I don't know if this is right, but the last I had heard, the state had not yet managed to get creationism/intelligent design onto the curriculum. I guess that means that Perry told the kid that Texas was doing something illegal, which it would be if he wasn't just wrong about what's now taught in schools. Ignorance seems to be the cause of, and solution to, so many of Perry's problems. [Gawker confirms that this is right.]

Sunday, August 14, 2011

On the evils of vasectomies

Now that Perry has entered the race, we can focus on the issue that matters most--the moral difference between engaging in homosexual sex acts and having a vasectomy. Not that I've studied the issue in depth, but I think the standard argument for the immorality of homosexual sex acts is that those who have engaged in them have 'severed' the connection between sexual behavior and reproduction much in the way that Perry did when he had his father in law (yes, that's true!) perform a vasectomy on him. Here's a crucial excerpt from the Humanae Vitae on this topic (here):
Unlawful Birth Control Methods

14. Therefore We base Our words on the first principles of a human and Christian doctrine of marriage when We are obliged once more to declare that the direct interruption of the generative process already begun and, above all, all direct abortion, even for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as lawful means of regulating the number of children. Equally to be condemned, as the magisterium of the Church has affirmed on many occasions, is direct sterilization, whether of the man or of the woman, whether permanent or temporary.

Similarly excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means.

Neither is it valid to argue, as a justification for sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive, that a lesser evil is to be preferred to a greater one, or that such intercourse would merge with procreative acts of past and future to form a single entity, and so be qualified by exactly the same moral goodness as these. Though it is true that sometimes it is lawful to tolerate a lesser moral evil in order to avoid a greater evil or in order to promote a greater good," it is never lawful, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil that good may come of it—in other words, to intend directly something which of its very nature contradicts the moral order, and which must therefore be judged unworthy of man, even though the intention is to protect or promote the welfare of an individual, of a family or of society in general. Consequently, it is a serious error to think that a whole married life of otherwise normal relations can justify sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive and so intrinsically wrong.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Beckwith on Thomson on Abortion

Quick update: This is Thomson's 1995 article:

I'm in Boulder for RoME 2011. Prior to the official conference, the Boulder philosophy department held a panel to discuss Judith Thomson's classic paper on abortion. (Happy 40th!) Francis Beckwith was the first speaker and I thought I'd offer a few points on her behalf. His remarks seemed to follow some remarks he made earlier in a piece in the American Journal of Jurisprudence:
If it is true that no one position on the fetus's moral status wins the day, this is an excellent reason not to permit abortion, because an abortion may result in the death of a human entity who has a full right to life. If one kills another being without knowing whether that being is an entity with protected moral status, and if one has reasonable grounds (as Thomson admits) to believe that the being in question has that status, such an action would constitute a willful and
reckless disregard for others, even if one later discovered that the being was not a person.

Thomson is apparently saying that the different positions on the fetus's moral status all have able defenders, persuasive arguments, and passionate advocates, but none really wins the day. To put it another way, the issue of fetal personhood is up for grabs; all positions are in some sense equal, none is better than any other. In fact,
Thomson writes that "while I know of no conclusive reason for denying that fertilized eggs have a right to life, I also know of no conclusive reason for asserting that they do have a right to life." n37 But if this is the case, then it is safe to say that the odds of the fetus being a human person are roughly 50/50 (if we wanted to put a number on a "not unreasonable" position held be a sizeable number of well-informed and educated adults in the world). Given these odds, it would seem that society has a moral obligation to err on the side of life, and therefore, to legally prohibit virtually all abortions.

Imagine the police are able to identify someone as a murderer with only one piece of evidence: his DNA matches the DNA of the genetic material found on the victim. The police subsequently arrest him, and he is convicted and sentenced to death. Suppose, however, that it is discovered several months later that the murderer has an identical twin brother who was also at the scene of the crime and obviously has the same DNA as his brother on death row. This means that there is a 50/50 chance that the man on death row is the murderer. Would the state be justified in executing this man? Surely not, for there is a 50/50 chance of executing an innocent person. Consequently, if it is wrong to kill the man on death row, it is then wrong to kill the fetus when the arguments for its full humanity are just as reasonable as the arguments against it.

Two points before bed. First, Thomson does _not_ say that none of the views concerning the moral status of the fetus wins the day. She concedes that she knows of no conclusive reason to reject the views that prolifers have concerning the moral status of the fetus but nevertheless thinks she can give plausible arguments that the view is wrong. I don't have conclusive reason to reject lots of things that are nevertheless quite implausible. It certainly doesn't follow that a lack of a conclusive reason makes all views equally reasonable. It certainly doesn't follow from the fact that I lack conclusive reason for rejecting your view that your view is at all reasonable. Thomson concedes that the prolifer might not be flatly unreasonable in rejecting her arguments against this view, but this concession is certainly not the same thing as Thomson suggesting that she and the prolifer are epistemic peers.

Second, the cases differ in an important way. In the case of the possibly wrongly convicted convict we suffer from non-normative ignorance or uncertainty, not normative ignorance or uncertainty. In the case of abortion, we're alleged to suffer from normative ignorance or uncertainty. There are moral views that say that these differences carry no moral weight, but I think these views are deeply flawed. Suppose someone thought that the arguments for the prolife view and the opposition view were equally good and thought that there's a 50/50 chance that one of these views is right. Suppose also that they own a revolver. Which would be worse for them, that they have an abortion (which, given normative uncertainty) has a 50% chance (in some sense of 'chance') or that they play Russian roulette with a sleeping child that has only about 17% chance (in some sense of 'chance') of killing the child. I take it that the answer is obvious. Francis needs to distinguish expected from expectable value.

Post #667

I just read this wonderful post over at X-Phi (here) and this seemed appropriate (from Politico):
Veterans of Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s unsuccessful 2010 primary challenge to Perry recalled being stunned at the way attacks bounced off the governor in a strongly conservative state gripped by tea party fever. Multiple former Hutchison advisers recalled asking a focus group about the charge that Perry may have presided over the execution of an innocent man — Cameron Todd Willingham — and got this response from a primary voter: “It takes balls to execute an innocent man.”

On the factivity of reasons and justification

On my flight this afternoon while squashed between two terribly unpleasant people (Who'd you rather sit by, an adult that reads Guns & Ammo or a kid that reads Guns & Ammo? Why choose, you could sit in between both while you think about ways to ask for an armrest without coming across all socialist.), I managed to bang out some revisions to an argument in which I try to derive the factivity of doxastic justification ascriptions from the assumption that reasons for belief consist of facts. Enjoy!

In this post, I want to show how we to derive FactivityJ from FactivityE:

FactivityJ: If you justifiably believe p, p is true.
FactivityE: If p is a justifying reason of yours, p is true.

The derivation requires three assumptions about doxastic justification:
Proper Basis: If you justifiably believe p, you have some justifying reason for this belief and your belief is based on it.
Same Basis: If you justifiably believe p on the basis of some reason, q, any of your epistemic counterparts that justifiably believes p on the basis of some reason will believe it on the basis of q.
J-Closure: If you justifiably believe p, you have sufficient justification to believe at least one of p’s obvious logical consequences and could come justifiably believe this proposition if you form this belief by means of competent deduction.
These assumptions are reasonably uncontroversial, but I can offer a brief word in support of each of them.

According to Proper Basis, whatever you justifiably believe you have a justifying reason to believe and this reason is the reason for which you believe what you do. If Proper Basis were false, it would be possible to (i) justifiably believe something without having any reason whatever to believe it or (ii) to justifiably believe something you need good reasons to believe without believing for good reasons. On its face, (i) seems rather implausible since it seems contradictory to say that although Agnes has no reason to believe the market will recover, she justifiably believes that it will or to say that there is no justification for Agnes’ belief that the there will be an uptick in consumer confidence, but she nevertheless justifiably believes there will be. Once (i) is rejected, it is hard to how to defend (ii). Consider these remarks from Pollock and Cruz:
One could have a good reason at one’s disposal but never make the connection. Suppose, for instance, that you are giving a mathematical proof. At a certain point you get stuck. You want to derive a particular intermediate conclusion, but you cannot see how to do it. In despair, you just write it down and think to youself, “That’s got to be true.” In fact, the conclusion follows from two earlier lines by modus ponens, but you have overlooked that. Surely, you are not justified in believing the conclusion, despite the fact that you have impeccable reasons for it at your disposal. What is lacking is that you do not believe the conclusion on the basis of those reasons.

It makes little sense to say that you cannot justifiably accept the proof’s conclusion without justifiably believing the premises of the proof if belief in those premises plays no role in convincing you of the proof’s conclusion. If you have the premises before you but they do not move you to accept the conclusion, how could you be better off epistemically for having them?

Agnes thinks the conservatives will do badly in the upcoming elections. The reason she thinks this is that she thinks that they overreached in the recent budget negotiations. According to Same Basis, Agnes’ epistemic counterparts will believe what Agnes believes for the same reasons that Agnes does if their beliefs are based on any reasons at all. If Agnes’ reason for believing that the conservatives will do poorly in the upcoming elections is not that the liberal base is energized, her epistemic counterparts will not believe the conservatives will do poorly in the upcoming elections for the reason that the liberal base is energized. If some subject is Agnes’ epistemic counterpart, they are in the same non-factive mental states as Agnes for their entire lives and the causal relations between their mental states are the same as the causal relations between Agnes’ mental states. On standard accounts of the basing relation, causal relations among your mental states determine which reasons move you to believe or to act. If we hold these relations fixed, the reasons for which epistemic counterparts believe what they do will not vary, provided that these subjects believe what they do for reasons.

Notice that J-Closure is far weaker than standard formulations of closure principles. Maybe you cannot justifiably believe that the animal in the cage is not a cleverly disguised mule even if you justifiably believe that it is a zebra. Maybe you can justifiably believe you have hands without being in any position to justifiably judge that you are not a handless BIV. Even if you thought that cases such as these constituted counterexamples to unrestricted closure principles for justification, remember that J-Closure is restricted. J-Closure only requires that for any proposition you justifiably believe you have sufficient justification to believe one of that proposition’s obvious logical consequences. Can you justifiably believe you have hands without having sufficient justification to believe the disjunctive proposition that you either have hands or you do not? Not if you have a modicum of logical ability.

With these assumptions in place, I can now show that it is impossible to justifiably believe false propositions concerning contingent matters of fact. Let’s start with the case of non-inferential justification. Suppose your belief concerning p is justified non-inferentially. According to Proper Basis, you have some justifying reason for this belief and your belief is based on this reason. If your belief is based on p itself, FactivityE tells us that p must be true. Thus, there are no non-inferentially justified, false beliefs.

Suppose your belief about p is inferentially justified. According to Proper Basis, you have some justifying reason for that belief, q, where q is the basis on which you believe p. According to FactivityE, q is true. If we suppose q entails p, p must be true as well. Thus, there are no inferentially justified, false beliefs based on entailing evidence. What about cases of inferentially justified beliefs based on non-entailing evidence? If we suppose you justifiably believe p on the basis of q where q does not entail p, the argument just offered does not apply. No matter. According to J-Closure, if you justifiably believe p you could justifiably believe some obvious logical consequence of p. Let’s suppose that you do justifiably believe p and suppose further that r is an obvious logical consequence of p. You competently deduce r from p and all through modal space your epistemic counterparts follow your lead. In some possible world one of your counterparts justifiably concludes that r is the case on the basis of p. According to Proper Basis, p is one of your counterpart’s justifying reasons. According to FactivityE, your counterpart is in a p-world. If you justifiably believe r, Proper Basis implies that you have a justifying reason. According to Same Basis, your justifying reason is what your counterpart’s justifying reason is, so your justifying reason for believing r has to be p. According to FactivityE, you are in a p-world. Our argument is complete. You cannot justifiably believe any false propositions concerning any contingent matter of fact regardless of whether your belief is non-inferentially justified, justified by entailing evidence, or justified by non-entailing evidence.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

On positive epistemic obligations

Mark Nelson has a paper on this issue in Mind which I tried reading today, but I was waiting in Jiffy Lube and Ellen was on (not that I wanted to watch, but I can't read when a TV is on). I'll take a look at that later. Here's an argument on the general issue. (Andrew, this is for you.)

I'm interested in the issue of positive epistemic obligations in part because the following strikes me as a plausible argument against the view that the rational and the justified amount to the same thing:

1. If the rational and the justified were the same thing, then if there were only one rational option available, it would be obligatory.
2. There are situations in which it would be irrational to withhold judgment as to whether p and irrational to disbelieve p.
3. (Therefore) If the rational and the justified were the same status, you would be obligated to believe p.
4. There are no positive epistemic obligations.
C. (Therefore) the rational and the justified are distinct statuses and the former does not make for the latter.

In support of (2), think about situations in which you are in the same non-factive mental states as someone who is trying to settle the question as to whether p and then hits upon evidence they know is conclusive evidence for p. To withhold judgment or to judge that ~p in such a situation does seem irrational. Nevertheless, I think we should not say that this is a situation in which you are epistemically obligated to believe p. If so, then we have our conclusion.

What is wrong with the idea of positive epistemic obligations? First, intuitively, I just do not see what wrong you could be guilty of if you do not bother to draw conclusions from the evidence you have. If you believe p and fail to believe p’s obvious logical consequences, what of it? Not forming the obvious logical consequences of what you believe is not like not bothering to help those less fortunate than you.

Second, I have a hard time seeing any plausible account of positive epistemic obligation. If there were positive epistemic obligations, there should be some principle that identifies a condition, C, such that if your belief meets C, you ought to have that belief. Suppose that condition is truth. Since we cannot believe all the true propositions, much less all the true propositions we can grasp, we have a violation of ‘ought’ implies ‘can’. The same problem arises for the view that you ought to believe all the known consequences of your evidence.

What if instead the principle said that you ought to form as many beliefs as you can that satisfy C? This still seems problematic. You have two options. You can head to the library or you can head to the laboratory. In the library it is easy to learn new truths. It takes more work to form beliefs that satisfy C in the lab, which means that the number of beliefs you could form that meets C in the library is greater than the number of beliefs you could form that meets C in the lab. Suppose further that the beliefs that you would form in the lab and the library differ in content. Now, suppose you head to the lab. The beliefs you form there constitute knowledge, but forming those beliefs means that you cannot form the beliefs you would have formed in the library. You would not satisfy the principle, but certainly you meet your epistemic obligations if all of your beliefs constitute knowledge. Discovering that p rather than learning that q and that r is not like deciding not to save the greater number.

One way of getting around the problem is to specify the obligation in such a way that it is relative to interests (or something like that). Then the principle might be something like this:

(HPO) If you're interested in whether p, you ought to believe p if your belief satisfies C.

Two problems. First, the rationality of withholding doesn't depend upon whether you're interested in settling a question. So, if this is what we're forced to, the problem that I think arises for the view that rationality just is justification doesn't go away. Second, I don't think this is a positive epistemic obligation. If there are positive epistemic obligations, shouldn't they apply to you even if you don't really care to settle questions?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Alston's argument from epistemic poverty

Alston offers us this example in the hopes of causing trouble for the deontological view of justification:
S has lived all his life in an isolated primitive community where everyone unhesitatingly accepts the tradition of the tribe as authoritative. These have to do with alleged events distant in time and space, about which S and his fellows have no chance to gather independent evidence. S has never encountered anyone who questions the traditions, and these traditions play a key role in the communal life of the tribe. Under these conditions it seems clear to me that S is in no way to blame for forming beliefs on the basis of the traditions. He has no failed to do on anything he could reasonably be expected to do. His beliefs about, for example, the origins of the tribe stem from what, so far as he can see, are the best grounds one could have for such beliefs. And yet, let us suppose, the traditions have not been formed in such a way as to be a reliable indication of their own truth. S is deontically justified, but he is not believing in a truth-conducive way.

On one understanding of the deontological view, beliefs are justified when the believers who hold them have these beliefs without failing to meet any of their epistemic obligations. While Alston believes that the isolated subject meets her epistemic obligations (and accuses others of insensitivity if they were to deny this), he thinks that the isolated subject’s beliefs are not justified. What is missing, he says, are truth-conducive grounds. He seems to think that you can live up to your epistemic obligations even if you have no such grounds for your beliefs, but you cannot believe with justification unless they serve as the bases for your beliefs.

The argument I want to discuss can be stated as follows:
1. The culturally isolated subjects meet their epistemic obligations.
2. If they meet their epistemic obligations, their beliefs are justifiably held.
3. (Therefore) Deontologism implies that their beliefs are justified.
4.If deontologism implies that their beliefs are justified, plausible internalist views will deliver the same verdict.
5. (Therefore) Any plausible internalist view implies that their beliefs are justified.
6. Their beliefs are not justified.
7. (Therefore) Every plausible internalist view delivers the wrong verdict in cases of cultural isolation.

Alston does not say that his objection is intended to serve as an objection to all internalist views, but I think that if his argument succeeds against the deontological view, it should succeed against any remotely plausible internalist view. To see why, notice that Alston’s argument is supposed to succeed even if there are such things as epistemic obligations. If there are no epistemic obligations, the deontological view is sunk and the argument would be otiose. If, however, there are such things as epistemic obligations and we assume that (1) is correct, the internalist would have to say that it is possible to justifiably believe p even if your epistemic obligation is to refrain from holding this belief. Since the justified is the right or the permissible, this is not a tenable position and so the internalist should either deny (1) or deny (6).

Can the deontologist deny (1) or (6)? Alston thinks not. I take it that he thinks (6) is intuitively compelling. As for (1), Alston suggests that since his culturally isolated subject is free from blame, the deontological theory has to acknowledge that this subject’s beliefs are justified. Building on this, he remarks:
Deontological justification is sensitive to cultural differences because it depends on what can reasonably be expected of one, and that in turn depends on one’s social inheritance and the influences to which one is exposed. But truth conductivity does not so depend. Hence they can diverge.

Dialectically, I do not think this is a very effective objection. To wield this objection, you have to think that the culturally isolated subject has met her epistemic obligations and that her beliefs are nevertheless unjustified. Just as the internalist should not try to evade the objection by divorcing the justified from the right or the permissible, the externalist objection should not force us to divorce the justified from the right or the permissible.

In my opinion, Alston’s case is underdescribed. If we imagine that Alston’s subject has lived up to the canons of good reasoning, (1) seems intuitive and the interanlist can say with some plausibility that (6) is false. If, however, we imagine that Alston’s subject has not lived up to the canons of good reasoning, (6) seems rather intuitive and (1) does not. Alston might say that anyone who rejects (1) has unreasonable expectations and on this point he might be right. On the larger point, it is a mistake to think that your obligations are limited to what you can be reasonably expected to do. We cannot reasonably expect that everyone’s moral views will converge or that everyone will act as if their views have converged. Perhaps we cannot expect those who live in cultures with moral practices that differ from ours to behave in the ways that they should. We certainly should not embrace cultural relativism on these grounds, but then why should we think that epistemic obligations ‘shift’ in response to differences in ‘social inheritance’? (Even if you were tempted to embrace some sort of relativism, why not relativism about justification?) The link between what can be reasonably expected and what epistemic or moral duty requires is not what Alston takes it to be.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

What to do about Uncle Freddie

She asked how uncle Freddie was doing. The past few days have been quite bad for him, I said. He was killed by a bus just over a month ago. The first few weeks nothing good happened that he would have missed, but he really would have liked it when the cousins visited. We are thinking about cancelling the wedding. He really would have wanted to be there and the deprivations are getting to be a bit much.

So, a bit of context. We've been reading Bradley's book on Well Being & Death. I have to say that I think Bradley has to be right, but there are little issues along the way that bother me. Among them is the thought that your death is bad for you after your demise. If Freddie had not been hit by that bus, he would still be with us today and would have really loved to have seen the cousins. So, his death is bad for him when the cousins visit because that's what he has been deprived of. Since he would have loved the wedding we're planning, should we worry about the further deprivations it would cause him if we have it now rather than wait to have it until after he would have died had he not been hit by the bus?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Ali-G on Consequentialism

(If you happen to be one of my students, Ali G's question at the end is what I hope you hear.)

HT: Luca Baptista

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

From deontologism to internalism (updated)

[After realizing that this needed further elaboration, I've rewritten the post. CC's concerns had to do with a previous post and hopefully they've been addressed.]

In this passage, Ginet explains why he thinks deontologism supports a kind of access internalism:
Assuming that S has the concept of justification for being confident that p, S ought always to posses or lack confidence that p according to whether or not he has such justification. This is simply what is meant by having or lacking justification. But if this is what S ought to do in any possible circumstance, then it is what S can do in any possible circumstance. That is, assuming that he has the relevant concepts, S can always tells whether or not he has justification for being confident that p. But this would not be so unless the difference between having such justification and not having it were always directly recognizable to S. And that would not be so if any fact contributing to a set that minimally constitutes S’s having such justification were not either directly recognizable to S or entailed by something directly recognizable to S.

Alston offers us this rendition of Ginet’s argument:
1. S ought to withhold belief that p if S lacks justification for p.
2. What S ought to do S can do.
3. Therefore, S can withhold belief wherever S lacks justification.
4. S has this capacity only if S can tell, with respect to any proposed belief, whether or not S has justification for it.
5. S can always tell this only if justification is always directly recognizable.
6. (Therefore) Justification is always directly recognizable.

He takes issue with (5) and invites us to consider an analogous claim having to do with the justification of action:
Consider the ethical analogy that is inevitably suggested by Ginet’s argument. There is an exactly parallel argument for the thesis that the justification of actions is always directly recognizable. But that is clearly false … Would I be morally justified in resigning my professorship as late as April 12 in order to accept a position elsewhere for the following fall? This depends, inter alia, on how much inconvenience this would cause my present department … There is no guarantee that all these matters are available to me just on simple reflection. Why should we suppose, without being given reasons to do so, that the justification of beliefs is different in this respect?

While I happen to agree with Alston that the justificatory status of an action does not depend upon just what the agent can directly recognize (i.e., determine to be true upon reflection if she has the relevant concepts), I am not sure the example has quite the force Alston takes it to have. If Alston knew upon reflection that the permissibility of resigning depended upon facts that he could not know and could easily obtain and he decided to resign without first checking these facts, it seems plausible that he would act without justification. If, however, he did not know upon reflection that he needed to check these facts before making a decision, it seems relatively plausible that he could justifiably make a decision without first considering these facts. If it turns out that his resignation was a major inconvenience, this might show that the action was regrettable, but it is not clear that it shows that the agent acted without justification.

I think the real problem with the argument comes a step earlier. What justification is offered for (4)? Suppose we do sometimes have the power to withhold judgment as to whether p is true. Does our ability to withhold depend upon whether we have sufficient evidence or justification? It seems not. If not, then even if justifying reasons were invisible, unknowable, inaccessible, etc…, their presence or absence would have no bearing on what we are able to do or whether we are able to withhold. So, naturally we could withhold when those reasons happened to be absent, but this lends no support to the thought that we could identify (reflectively or otherwise) whether the reasons to withhold are present or not.

Ginet either conflates “ought” implies “can” with “ought” implies “can tell that you ought” or he takes OIT to be a consequence of OIC:

OIC: In circumstances under which S ought/ought not Φ, S can Φ and can refrain from Φ-ing.
OIT: In circumstances under which S ought/ought not Φ, S can tell whether or not she ought to Φ.

While OIC might be true, OIT is most likely false. It seems there are three serious objections to OIT. First, in cases of conflicting reasons where there is a case both for Φ-ing and a case against Φ-ing, you might know of the relevant reasons without knowing which reasons are stronger. It seems you should not against the stronger reason.

Second, there is a structural problem with OIT. Suppose you have an obligation to remove the left kidney. If so, OIT tells us that you can tell that you have an obligation to remove the left kidney. If your obligation is, inter alia, the obligation to remove the left kidney only if you can tell that this is your obligation, OIT tells us that you are under this obligation only if you can tell that you can tell that your obligation is to remove this left kidney. So, your obligation to remove the left kidney depends upon whether you can know that you know that you know, etc… Assuming, as is plausible, that you can have obligations to Φ where you are not in a position to know that you are in a position to know that you are in a position to know that you ought to Φ, we have to reject OIT.

Third, suppose both OIT and OIC are true. Because water is H2O, you cannot bring someone a glass of water without bringing them something containing oxygen and hydrogen. If you ought to bring them some water, you ought to bring them something containing oxygen and hydrogen. So, according to OIT, you can know that you ought to bring them something containing oxygen and hydrogen. So, if anyone in medieval times ought to have brought someone water or refrained from bringing them water, they were in a position to know that they would bring them something containing hydrogen and oxygen. So, should we conclude that they had no obligations to bring or refrain from bringing someone water because of their ignorance of chemistry?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Goldman and the problem of stored beliefs

Goldman's argument from Internalism Exposed seems to be something like this:

1. Internalists must either say that (i) the only facts that contribute to the justification of an individual’s beliefs at this moment are reflectively accessible at this moment or (ii) they are reflective accessible or can be retrieved by memory at this moment.
2. If the internalists opt for (i), the internalist cannot account for the intuition that we justifiably believe certain propositions where we cannot identify anything in our present conscious mental life that could justify these beliefs.
3. If the internalists opt for (ii), the internalist cannot account for the intuition that we can justifiably believe many things now where we cannot identify anything in our present conscious mental life that justifies these beliefs and cannot retrieve from our memory any adequate justification for these beliefs.
4. We can justifiably believe propositions that we learned earlier where we cannot identify anything in our present conscious mental life that justifies these beliefs and cannot retrieve from our memory any adequate justification for these beliefs.
5. (Therefore) Internalism delivers the wrong verdicts by classifying justified beliefs stored in memory as unjustified.

Feldman says that internalists have the resources to account for the intuitions that underwrite Goldman’s argument. We do now justifiably believe many propositions we learned in the past where there is little in our conscious mental life now that could be identified with the evidence we had for originally forming the belief, but maybe the internalist can concede this much. If you took Latin in high school, you might now realize that you believe that Caesar once wrote that Gaul was divided into three parts. What currently justifies your belief that Caesar once wrote this? It might not be any conscious state that you are in now, but what about non-occurrent recollections of past experiences? Maybe you have some vague recollection of studying Latin. I can vaguely recall someone telling me that the one thing I will remember from my days in Latin is that Caesar once said that all of Gaul was divided into three parts.

The real force of Goldman’s argument, however, is not touched by this point. We do not have this ability to conjure up sketchy recollections of past experiences to serve as justifiers for our beliefs. Even if we can, it's hard to think we can place much weight on them. There are no sketchy recollections of past experiences that could plausibly be taken to justify any of the dozens of beliefs I have about the United States’ history or the hundreds of beliefs I have about Texas’ history. On this point, Feldman also has a response. For stored beliefs where we do not have any apparent recollection of the events that happened while we acquired these beliefs, our beliefs can currently receive justification from associated feelings of confidence as well as stored beliefs that give us justification for thinking that our memories are reliable.

Goldman’s thinks that if we were to adopt this approach, we would be led to adopt an absurdly permissive view. Suppose Sally reads about the health benefits of broccoli in the New York Times and retains the belief that broccoli is healthy while forgetting where she read this and what evidence was offered for this belief in the article. Contrast this with a case in which Sally comes to form the same belief by reading some disreputable rag like the National Inquirer. About this case, Goldman says:
[Sally’s] broccoli belief was never acquired, or corroborated, in an epistemically sound manner. Then even with the indicated current background belief, Sally cannot be credited with justifiably believing that broccoli is healthful. Her past acquisition is still relevant—and decisive. At least it is relevant as long as we are considering the “epistemizing” sense of justification, in which justification carries a true belief a good distance toward knowledge. Sally’s belief in the healthfulness of broccoli is not justified in that sense, for surely she does not know that broccoli is healthful, given that the National Inquirer was her sole source of information.

If Goldman is right, the defects a belief had earlier continue to undermine a belief’s justificatory status now even if you are currently non-culpably ignorant of these defects.

Goldman might be right on this point, but I don't think it's obvious. Suppose Cooper believes now that his head is not made of glass. His mental life now is much like yours, so if you wonder what reasons Coop has for thinking his head is not made of glass, imagine his reasons are similar to the reasons you have for thinking that your head is not made of glass. Suppose, however, that Coop’s head is made of glass. Consider two versions of the case. In the first, Coop is deceived by a Cartesian demon from the moment the lights first came on until his eventual death. The demon never gives him any clue that this is so. In the second, Coop’s mental life is identical to Coop’s mental life in the first case with only one small difference. In the second, the demon pulls back the curtain to reveal to Coop that all of humanity has been systematically deceived. Coop refuses to consider the evidence presented to him, evidence that defeats whatever justification he previously had for his beliefs. Frustrated by Coop’s refusal to see reason, the demon wipes all traces of their meeting from Coop’s mental life and Coop continues to believe that his head is not made of glass. Here's the key point. I see no difference in the justificatory standing of Coop’s beliefs in this case. Dialectically, I think the problem with the example is this. If you think that the perceptual beliefs of those who are systematically deceived are justified in spite of the fact that they are generated by a Cartesian demon, you should certainly count Coop’s beliefs as justified in the first case. You should do the same for the second. If, however, you think that the beliefs held by the systematically deceived are not justifiably held, I think you could certainly say that Goldman is right and beliefs stored in memory are not justified nor if they were unjustified when formed. The reason this is a problem is that nearly everybody thinks that it is obvious that the beliefs Coop forms when deceived by a demon on the basis of his experience are justified. To use the example Goldman uses, he either has to say that the Coop cases differ in some important way from each other or say that my case differs from his. The first option, as I said, seems implausible. The second option also seems implausible. For my case involving Coop to differ from his case involving Sally, he would have to say that Coop’s beliefs are justified in both versions of the case and that Coop is better off than Sally when it comes to the justification of his beliefs.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Something older, something newer. Both borrowed.

I found this passage strange:
Prepared by a clearer view of the justification in question, we are in a position to identify the nature of the truth connection. A proposition is epistemically justified to someone when it is evident to the person that the proposition is true.

From Earl Conee's paper, "The Truth Connection". To my ear (admittedly, unreliable at times), the claim that it is evident to so and so that some proposition is true sounds like it says that the proposition in question has to be true. So, this is a strange thing to say after spending the earlier parts of the paper arguing that a proposition can be justified and justifiably believed even if it is false. Any thoughts on what "evident" means?

Anyway, it is evident to me that the following remarks are all true:
Roderick Chisholm has, to my mind, developed the foundationalist theory of justification in more detail, with more precision, and with a deeper systematic understanding of the issues involved than any other defender of this general position. At the same time, he has produced a theory of such technical intricacy that the reader lacking Providential guidance sometimes feels like Herr K striving to reach the castle, occasionally catching glimpses of it, but always being shunted into side streets. Beyond this, Chisholm often introduces principles and definitions (and subtle qualifications of such principles and definitions) without explaining their underlying motivation. Chisholm's philosophy is played close to the vest. Furthermore, he often assigns ordinary words technical senses that depart in significant ways from their ordinary senses, and then uses these terms to define other terms. For all these reasons, Chisholm is often hard to understand and easy to get wrong.

--That was from Fogelin's Pyrrhonian Reflections on Knowledge and Justification.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Hume, you Foxy Hedgehog

The argument that I would insist on, replied Demea, is the common one: Whatever exists must have a cause or reason for its existence, as it is absolutely impossible for anything to produce itself, or be the cause of its own existence. In working back, therefore, from effects to causes, we must either (1) go on tracing causes to infinity, without any ultimate cause at all, or (2) at last have recourse to some ultimate cause that is necessarily existent ·and therefore doesn’t need an external cause. Supposition (1) is absurd, as I now prove:
In the ·supposed· infinite chain or series of causes and effects, each single effect is made to exist by the power and efficacy of the cause that immediately preceded it; but the whole eternal chain or series, considered as a whole, is not caused by anything; and yet it obviously requires a cause or reason, as much as any particular thing that begins to exist in time. We are entitled to ask why this particular series of causes existed from eternity, and not some other series, or no series at all. If there is no necessarily existent being, all the suppositions we can make about this are equally possible; and there is no more absurdity in nothing’s having existed from eternity than there is in the series of causes that constitutes the universe. What was it, then, that made something exist rather than nothing, and gave existence to one particular possibility as against any of the others? External causes? We are supposing that there aren’t any. Chance? That’s a word without a meaning. Was it Nothing? But that can never produce anything.

So we must adopt supposition (2), and have recourse to a necessarily existent being, who carries the reason of his existence in himself and cannot be supposed not to exist without an express contradiction. So there is such a being; that is, there is a God.

I know that Philo loves raising objections, said Cleanthes, but I shan’t leave it to him to point out the weakness of your metaphysical reasoning. Your argument seems to me so obviously ill-grounded, and ·even if it succeeded· to offer so little help to the cause of true piety and religion, that I shall myself venture to show what is wrong with it.

I start by remarking that there is an evident absurdity in claiming to demonstrate—or to prove by any a priori arguments—any matter of fact.
•Nothing is demonstrable unless its contrary implies a contradiction.
•Nothing that is distinctly conceivable implies a contradiction.
•Whatever we conceive as existent, we can also conceive as non-existent.
•So there is no being whose non-existence implies a contradiction.
•So there is no being whose existence is demonstrable.

I offer this argument as entirely decisive, and am willing to rest the whole controversy on it.

You claim that God is a necessarily existent being; and the friends of your line of argument try to explain this necessity of his existence by saying that if we knew his whole essence or nature, we would perceive it to be as impossible for •him not to exist as for •twice two not to be four. But obviously this can never happen, while our faculties remain the same as they are now. It will always be possible for us at any time to conceive the non-existence of something we formerly conceived to exist; the mind can never have to suppose some object to remain always in existence, in the way in which we always have to conceive twice two to be four. So the words ‘necessary existence’ have no meaning—or (the same thing) no meaning that is consistent.

Furthermore, if we do go along with this claimed explanation of necessary existence, why shouldn’t the material universe be the necessarily existent being? We dare not claim to know all the qualities of matter; and for all we can tell, matter may have some qualities which, if we knew them, would make •matter’s non-existence appear as great a contradiction as •twice two’s being five.

I have found only one argument trying to prove that the material world is not the necessarily existent being; and this argument is derived from the contingency both of the matter and the form of the world. ‘Any particle of matter’, Dr Clarke has said, ‘can be conceived to be annihilated; and any form can be conceived to be altered. Such an annihilation or alteration, therefore, is not impossible.’ But it seems very biased not to see that the same argument applies just as well to God, so far as we have any conception of him; and that our mind can at least imagine God to be non-existent or his attributes to be altered. If something is to make his non-existence appear impossible, or his attributes unalterable, it must be some qualities of his that we don’t know and can’t conceive; but then no reason can be given why these qualities may not belong to matter. As they are altogether unknown and inconceivable, they can never be proved incompatible with ·the nature of matter as we know· it.

Actions, reasons, and causes

I've been hunting through Davidson to find the arguments for the claim that reasons are causes. He says:
a person can have a reason for an action, and perform the action, and yet this reason not be the reason why he did it. Central to the relation between a reason and an action it explains is the idea that the agent performed the action because he had the reason.

That sounds fine. So, we might imagine two subjects with the same reasons for acting who act for different reasons and demand some causal story that explains why the reasons for which they acted differ. Why would such a story identify the reasons as the causes of the action? All we need is some causal difference between the stories, so I don't see why the causes themselves have to be the reasons. Here's a view. Reasons are facts. There are also what Audi calls "reason states", states that represent reasons. So long as there are different causal relations among the reason states, we give Davidson everything he wants without accepting the view that the agent's reasons for acting consisted of beliefs, desires, or combinations thereof.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Have Conee and Feldman infiltrated Fox News?

Headline: White House Releases ‘What It Says’ Is The President’s Birth Certificate

See here.

[Explanation: Conee and Feldman are just way too modest in describing our evidence. Post on this to follow.]

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Quick question on the badness of death

I'm sympathetic to the idea that the badness of a death depends upon what would have happened if the person lived rather than died. So, I'm sympathetic to the idea that it's worse for the healthy individual to be struck by a bus and killed than it is for an otherwise similar subject who would have died of a burst aneurysm if he hadn't been struck by a bus and killed. (Keep all else similar.) While I'm sympathetic, I do have a worry.

Damien is pretty good at his job. He's a demon bent in killing the young and the healthy. Alice is an angel who isn't powerful enough to prevent Damien from killing. Still, she wants to make things better. So, she might try to hasten a birth so as to extend life on the front end if she thinks Damien will strike the subject down on some particular date. (Maybe she sees that he's penciled in a trip to Detroit twenty years hence.) I think on some occasions, she might make a death less bad by extending life this way. Does she make a death less bad, however, if she straps a ticking time bomb to Damien's victims set to go off after the time of the death Damien intends for them? Intuitively, I don't think this makes the deaths less bad even if it means that Damien's victims don't lose out on as much as other subjects that are victimized in similar ways. Similarly, I don't think Damien can make his subjects' deaths worse by defusing these bombs so that if his attack on them failed they would have lived long lives.

Just curious if others share this sort of intuition and worry about the idea that the badness of a death is a function of the difference the death made.

One potential problem with the example is that the second potentially fatal sequence only determines the magnitude of the difference made by the first potentially fatal sequence if these processes are independent. My initial hunch is that the worry doesn't turn on constructing examples in which the processes are linked in the way I've described, but that's just a hunch. I do feel the pull of the claim that the badness of a pedestrian's death depends upon how long they would have lived if they hadn't been struck by the bus (and the quality of life that awaited them in the nearest world(s) where the pedestrian isn't struck).

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Motive & Rightness

Received two books today. My copy of Bradley's Well Being and Death arrived at the office and Sverdlik's Motive and Rightness was waiting for me at home. I'm really excited to read Steve's book. I'll try to post some thoughts about it in the days to come. One of the things I miss most about life in Dallas is talking shop with Steve. Spent a considerable amount of time talking with him about the moral status of motives and intentions. Never could quite convince myself to believe everything he said, but I often thought that I probably should. I've long been in the camp that says that motives and intentions have little to do with the deontic status of an action. What we learn by scrutinizing someone's motives or intentions is something about the person and something about the moral worth of the agent's action. The permissibility of the action itself, however, never turns on what moved the agent to perform the action but only on whether there was a sufficiently good reason to act as the agent acted.

One of the reasons I was convinced that this view is the right one is that I'm convinced that our obligation is always to perform an act of some type or types and that doing something from one reason rather than another available reason isn't going to determine whether the thing you do is fitting or not. That needs to be spelled out and I've tried to do that. What I'm interested in seeing is why Steve thinks otherwise. Well, I have some idea as to why he thinks otherwise, but that's from reading papers that were available before the book. Now I'm interested to see how he's tied it all together.

So, the plan is to blog about the book in the weeks to come.