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.