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?

10 comments:

Christopher Cloos said...

Hi Clayton…I’m not familiar with this Alson/Ginet dialogue, but from what you included in this post I’m not sure the problem with Ginet’s argument is the OIC to OIT move. According to Ginet’s argument, I cannot tell whether I ought to be confident that p if I a fact contributing to possessing justification for p is not recognizable. Alternatively, I cannot tell whether I ought *not* be confident that p if a fact that counts against possessing justification for p is not recognizable. There is nothing there to measure against the concept of justification I possess. Do I still, as you wondered, have the power to refrain from believing that p simply because I have or lack the ability to recognize a fact relevant to possessing justification for p? On Ginet’s argument the OIC <-> OIT link is preserved. You cannot refrain from believing because you cannot tell if you ought to refrain from believing. When you cannot recognize the justifier, you cannot tell whether the concept of justification you possess has been instantiated. Without such data you cannot directly recognize the difference between having justification and not having justification. As a free agent you might have the power to refrain from believing, but exercising that power when the grounds are inaccessible means you can act in a way that is not sanctioned by an ought. Given that you possess the concept of justification, yet you cannot tell whether you possess justification for p, you *cannot* correctly proportion your confidence in p, and there is no *ought* regarding the confidence you should possess. There is no ought, and you cannot.

Clayton said...

"As a free agent you might have the power to refrain from believing, but exercising that power when the grounds are inaccessible means you can act in a way that is not sanctioned by an ought."

I wonder why that is? Part of my worry about the argument is that it seems to want to do two things:
(i) establish that what you ought to do is determined entirely by what's directly accessible;
(ii) establish (i) by appeal to OIC.

All that OIC says is this:
If you ought to A, you can A; If you ought not A, you can refrain from A-ing.

Suppose I ought not vote Republican. According to OIC, this implies that I can refrain from voting Republican. This is precisely what I do if I never vote regardless of my reasons for staying away from the polls.

Christopher Cloos said...

In the quote you mentioned I was thinking of a defective case. I ought to believe that it will be sunny today because I can see the sun is shining. I ought to believe this because I can. Yet, I choose not to believe this because I am without my smartphone and cannot access the weather report. The weather report in fact says there will be sun this afternoon and rain tonight. What I ought to believe I can believe but I choose not to believe. And, as it turns out, this inaccessible justifier confirms my choice to believe contrary to what I ought. Ginet’s argument is not just (i) and (ii). It also includes the claim that I only *can* if I can *tell* whether I possess justification for p. So Ginet might claim, in the case above, that I can believe in line with the ought or against the ought because belief is flexible in that way, but I cannot be confident that p because the justifier directly accessible doesn't warrant confidence in p. I cannot be confident that p because I cannot tell if I possess justification based on what I directly see. And, in fact, what I see is not a good justifier of what will happen the rest of the day.

Ginet’s claim is about connecting ought and confidence with an accessibility requirement on justification. It is not directly about action (as in the Republican example) or about belief. It seems being confident that p does require direct recognition of the grounds in a way that believing that p does not. That is, in reference to his full argument.

I think the soft spot in the argument is the concept possession requirement. It might be possible to take a Williamson line regarding concepts on this point.

Christopher Cloos said...

In the quote you mentioned I was thinking of a defective case. I ought to believe that it will be sunny today because I can see the sun is shining. I ought to believe this because I can. Yet, I choose not to believe this because I am without my smartphone and cannot access the weather report. The weather report in fact says there will be sun this afternoon and rain tonight. What I ought to believe I can believe but I choose not to believe. And, as it turns out, this inaccessible justifier confirms my choice to believe contrary to what I ought. Ginet’s argument is not just (i) and (ii). It also includes the claim that I only *can* if I can *tell* whether I possess justification for p. So Ginet might claim, in the case above, that I can believe in line with the ought or against the ought because belief is flexible in that way, but I cannot be confident that p because the justifier directly accessible doesn't warrant confidence in p. I cannot be confident that p because I cannot tell if I possess justification based on what I directly see. And, in fact, what I see is not a good justifier of what will happen the rest of the day.

Ginet’s claim is about connecting ought and confidence with an accessibility requirement on justification. It is not directly about action (as in the Republican example) or about belief. It seems being confident that p does require direct recognition of the grounds in a way that believing that p does not. That is, in reference to his full argument.

I think the soft spot in the argument is the concept possession requirement. It might be possible to take a Williamson line regarding concepts on this point.

Clayton said...

Hi Chris,

From what I can tell, Ginet thinks that the kind of confidence at issue is a kind of belief. So, his use (from 1975) might not match up that neatly with some of the things people now have in mind when talking about belief and confidence.

On the action point, I think that you're right that the claims he's making aren't directly about action. They are, however, pitched at a very abstract level and I think he thinks that his claims about OIC (and what OIC commits us to) pertain to obligations concerning belief as well as action. So, if there's no epistemic requirement of the kind OIT suggests for practical obligation, I think it's fair to ask him why we should think there's a kind of epistemic requirement on the grounds of epistemic obligation. It is, after all, what he's trying to establish--that every condition that bears on what we ought to believe is directly accessible.

Jeremy Fantl said...

Hi Clayton,

Here's Alston's 4: "S has this capacity only if S can tell, with respect to any proposed belief, whether or not S has justification for it."

I'm not sure what "this capacity" is. It's the capacity referred to in 3. But is it the capacity to withhold belief? Or the capacity to withhold belief wherever S lacks justification? You seem to be interpreting it as the former. But it seems like a plausible reconstruction of Ginet's argument if 4 really means something like this:

4*. S has the capacity to withhold belief where S lacks justification only if S can tell with respect to that belief whether or not S has justification for it.

That is, the capacity in question seems plausibly the capacity to ensure that S withholds on some p exactly when S lacks justification for p. And to ensure that, it does seem like S must be in some way sensitive to S's having or lacking justification. It may not be in general true that if S ought to phi then S has to be able to tell that ought to phi. But that leaves open the possibility that it is generally true that if S ought to (ensure that S phis only if S has justification for phi-ing) then S had better have access to whether S has justification for phi-ing.

This would require a rephrasing of 1:

1*. For all p, S ought to ensure that: (S withholds belief p just in case S lacks justification for p).

(Please distinguish this from the claim in which the quantifer is sucked under the scope of the "ensure that".)

I don't think 1* is a horrible misreading of what Ginet had in mind.

Clayton said...

Hi Jeremy,

While I agree that that's a plausible interpretation of what Ginet had in mind, my worry about the argument on that reading simply begs the question. It's no longer that he's deriving some epistemic requirement on obligation/justification from something independently plausible (OIC), but appealing directly to a controversial claim about access to deontically relevant conditions. So, maybe the best way to put my worry is that the argument won't work on my reading but begs the question on yours.

Jeremy Fantl said...

Here's the reconstructed argument (on my interpretation):

1*. For all p, S ought to (ensure that S withhold belief that p just in case S lacks justification for p).
2*. OIC.
3*. (Therefore) for all p, S can (ensure that S withhold belief just in case S lacks justification).
4*. Generally, S can ensure that (S phis just in case S is in C) only if S can tell whether S is in C.
5. S can tell whether S has justification for p (is in C) only if justification is directly recognizable.
6. (Therefore) justification is directly recognizable.

I'm not sure where this argument begs the question. Not in 1*, surely. 1* is just a claim about what S ought to do. It says nothing by itself about the recognizability or not of justification. And not in 4*, which says nothing about the necessity of noticing justification or anything normative at all. 4* is a (perhaps psychological, perhaps conceptual claim about "ensuring") claim about what it takes to ensure that one does something whenever and only whenever one is in a certain situation (how can you make sure you phi exactly when you're in psi unless you can tell when you're in psi?). It might be a false claim, but it doesn't beg the question, because it says nothing about justification and doesn't by itself entail 6. And it doesn't seem falsified by the considerations you invoke against Alston's original 4.

Clayton said...

Hi Jeremy,

I think I see more clearly now what you take the argument to be, but I still think that 4* is in need of defense (let's not call it question-begging). On its face, it seems false. Suppose I ought to refrain from believing that the number of stars is even if the number of stars is odd. Easy. Don't believe anything about the number of stars. I just don't see how Ginet can get a claim about what we're in a position to tell from premises about abilities.

Andrew Moon said...

Hey Clayton,
I didn't have time to read the post and discussion carefully, but I wanted to mention that in Mike Bergmann's book, "Justification Without Awareness", he has an in-depth discussion of the Ginet-Alston dialogue. I thought you might be interested in that.