Sunday, August 26, 2012

On knowledge norms

An objection.  Hawthorne and Stanley, from their JPhil paper:

Consider also how knowledge interacts with conditional orders. Suppose a prison guard is ordered to shoot a prisoner if and only if they are trying to escape. If the guard knows someone is trying to escape and yet does not shoot he will be held accountable. Suppose meanwhile he does not know that someone is trying to escape but shoots them anyway, acting on a belief grounded in a baseless hunch that they were trying to escape. Here again the person will be faulted, even if the person is in fact trying to escape. Our common practice is to require knowledge of the antecedent of a conditional order in order to discharge it.
The principle to take from this seems to be this:

KAct: If you oughtn't X unless C obtains, you oughtn't X unless you know C obtains.
Consider two claims about knowledge and warranted assertion:

KAN: You oughtn't assert what you don't know.
KAS: You may assert what you know.

P1. In C1, you know p but aren't in a position to know that you do [~KK]. 
P2. You may assert p in C1[P1, KAS].
P3. You shouldn't assert p in C1 unless you know p in C1 [P1, KAN]. 
P4. You shouldn't assert p in C1 unless you know that you know p in C1 [P3, Kact].
P5. You don't know that you know p in C1 [P1].
P6. You shouldn't assert p in C1 [P4, P5].

P6 is incompatible with P2, so something has to give.  I think Kact has to be false, but I also think that principles in the neighborhood of Kact have to be more fundamental than principles that govern assertion.  Since KAS seems much more plausible than KAN or Kact, I'd try to winnow the requirements on warrant, permission, etc. to something much weaker.  I'd also worry about the coherence of principles in the neighborhood of Kact.  I discuss this worry in the book and in my JPhil paper.  In the literature, everyone seems to be fixated on Gettier cases and false belief cases, but these structural problems strike me as much more interesting.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

If Ayn Rand and Paul Ryan had a love child, he would be indistinguishable from his parents

First we had Kim Kierkegaard and now we have Paul Rand. Trolling of the highest quality:

Sunday, August 12, 2012


One of the virtues of insomnia is that you can get the jump on snarky hashtags:

If you want to read up on Rand, you should look at this piece on Rand and William Hickman.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Evidence and Epistemic Reasons

Some people seem to think that epistemic reasons and evidence come to the same thing. (Call this 'the equivalence thesis'.)  I suspect that some people think that this equation suggests that some sort of evidentialist view must be the correct one. 

Don't think these things! 

Here's the quick and dirty argument (inspired by some things that David Owens said (or, probably said-this is from recollection) in Reason without Freedom).  Suppose that you shouldn't believe p unless you have sufficient evidence to believe p.  You might, if you like, think of the evidence you have as epistemic reasons that somehow help to justify believing p.  According to the equivalence thesis, all the epistemic reasons will be evidence that concerns p.  But that cannot be.  If you don't have sufficient evidence to believe p, you oughtn't believe p. If you oughtn't believe p, you have a decisive epistemic reason not to believe p. This reason, however, is not some further bit of evidence you have.  So, the equivalence thesis must be false.  Some epistemic reasons must not be further evidence you have.  If it were, the obligation to refrain from believing without sufficient evidence couldn't be binding on you.

There's a point here that's simple, but important, and that is that it's undeniable that some epistemic reasons will have a bearing on whether you should believe p whether or not you have those reasons in your cognitive possession.  The fact that you don't have sufficient reason to believe p, for example, constitutes a decisive reason not to believe p even if it's one that you're non-culpably ignorant of. 

If the undeniable point is indeed an undeniable point, it shows that lots and lots of things that people say about justification are mistaken.  I've argued that McDowell misses just this point when he tries to show that we need to reject the traditional view of experience in his epistemological argument for disjunctivism.  I also think that people miss this point when they criticize people for defending externalist epistemic norms.  What's wrong with these norms, people often say, is that they imply that we have decisive reasons not to believe even when we're non-culpably ignorant of these reasons and it is reasonable not to refrain from believing in just the way that these (alleged) reasons tell us to.  Well, that cannot be what's wrong with truth or knowledge norms, not if the undeniable point is correct, for this feature of truth and knowledge norms is a feature that all norms share in common.