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.