Saturday, April 20, 2013

Another one for the knowledge norms

P: You stole from my kin!
U: Who was fixin' to betray us.
P: You didn't know that at the time.
U: So I borrowed it till I did know.
P: That don't make no sense!
P: It's a fool who seeks logic in the chambers of the heart.
I like this exchange. (From O' Brother Where Art Thou) As I see it, Pete wins. Evidence for the knowledge norm of practical reason?

Monday, April 15, 2013

Did Davidson slip? A quick one on reasons and causes

Finally tracked down my copy of _Essays on Actions & Events_.  There are places where Helen Steward describes a certain view about the relationship between singular and sentential causal claims as 'Davidsonian', but I wasn't entirely clear where Davidson defends the view.  Found it. In 'Causal Relations', he discusses the view that causes correspond to sentences rather than singular terms for events.  On such a view, the logical form of (1) is given by (2):

(1) The short circuit caused the fire.
(2) Because there was a short circuit, there was a fire.

He argues persuasively that these differ in logical form and it seems that one of the take away lessons of that we should think of causal relations as holding between events and causal explanatory relations as holding between something else entirely. (He says sentences, but I'd prefer propositions or facts. Let's just call everything in this lot 'dicta'.)  This leaves us with a question, which is how singular causal claims are related to sentential causal claims like (2).  Davidson suggests on pp. 155 that (1) entails (2), but (2) doesn't entail (1).

I'm sort of surprised to see Davidson say this.  If swallowing the Burgundy just is swallowing the poison, then wouldn't Davidson have to agree that both of these are true if one of them is?

(3) The swallowing of the Burgundy caused the death.
(4) The swallowing of the poison caused the death.

He wouldn't hold, however, that these are both true:

(5) Because there was a swallowing of Burgundy, there was a death.
(6) Because there was a swallowing of poison, there was a death.

I don't see how (5) and (6) can be entailed by (3) and (4) if both (3) and (4) is true but (5) is false.  The truth of the singular causal claims doesn't turn on how the event is picked out. Sentential claims like (5) and (6) seem to provide us with information about causally relevant features that isn't provided by the singular causal claims that Davidson suggests entails them.  So, he must be wrong, right?

I've been working through Davidson because I've been struggling to understand why he might have thought that reasons were causes.  He says that they are in 'Actions, Reasons, and Causes', but I don't see anywhere in there any reason to think that reasons are causes as opposed to dicta.  If he thought that sentences like (1) entailed (2) because (2) was really just some sort of generalization of (1) [a view that seems just completely unmotivated, so far as I can tell], then maybe he thought it didn't matter much whether we thought of reasons as causes or dicta. If there's no logical relationship between (1) and (2), however, maybe the question is a bit more pressing.

Here's a pitch for identifying reasons with dicta rather than causes.  First, let's assume that Davidson is right and nothing can be both a cause and something that corresponds with or is the explanans.  Second, let's note that we can identify the cause of an event and be utterly in the dark as to why something came to pass.  It seems that questions about relevance often arise after we've identified a cause.  It seems that these questions have all been put to rest, however, once an explanation is in place.  We should identify reasons with dicta rather than causes for just this reason.  When you have the reasons before you and they figure in a correct explanation, questions of relevance have all been settled. The singular causal claims don't settle these questions.  So, singular causal claims don't identify reasons.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Sincerity, Assertion, and a Case for Common Standards

Another quick post, this time on assertion.  I've been trying to finish off an introductory piece on the norms of assertion and I'm not quite sure what to think about a certain argument.  

Some of us think that there are common epistemic standards that govern assertion and belief. If (<-- assertion="" be="" belief.="" belief="" d="" div="" expect="" following="" if="" is="" it="" knowledge="" nbsp="" norm="" of="" onsider="" or="" say="" that="" the="" then="" thesis.="" we="" would="">
Commonality: If one must not assert p because one lacks sufficient warrant to do so, one must not believe p
Commonality implies that if knowledge is the norm of assertion, it must be the norm of belief. Question. Why should we accept Commonality?

Kvanvig mentions an argument for Commonality in his paper on assertion and lotteries, but I don't think that he endorses the argument. If I recall, he mentions it, sets it aside, and offers an argument that strikes me as being entirely plausible. Forget _that_ argument, though, and consider the one that he sets aside. The argument appeals to a kind of sincerity norm:
Sincerity: One must not assert p unless one believes p.
The argument can be stated as follows:
P1. One must not assert p unless one believes p.  P2. One must not believe p if C obtains.C. One must not assert p if C obtains.
I think I have two worries about the argument.  The first is that I'm not sure the 'must' is the right kind of 'must'.  Commonality, I take it, is about a distinctively epistemic requirement. It's not clear to my mind whether Sincerity is about a distinctively epistemic requirement.  Actually, I wouldn't think that insincerity in assertion is an epistemic failing at all.  So, there's the worry about equivocation here.  Even if that's a worry that we can put to rest, isn't the argument invalid?  Compare it to this one, which I think must be invalid:
P1. One must not apologize for breaking the neighbor’s window unless one breaks the neighbor’s window.
P2. One must not break the neighbor’s window if the neighbor has not given one permission to break it.
C. One must not apologize for breaking the neighbor’s window if the neighbor has not given one permission to break it.

Am I right that these arguments are parallel? Am I right that the second argument is invalid? (It seems the premises are true and the conclusion is false. That's pretty good evidence of invalidity, isn't it?)

Friday, April 12, 2013

Reasons and abilities

I really like this paper of John Hyman's. Go read it.

Welcome back.  After hemming and hawing for a while, I've come around to the idea that you can't act for the reason that p unless you know p. Previously, I had argued that various sorts of Gettier cases caused trouble for the idea. I know think that I'm wrong.  I don't want to dwell on that.

Hyman offers an account of knowledge according to which it's a species of ability, not belief.  Knowledge is the ability to do things, or refrain from doing things, or believe, or want, or doubt things, for reasons that are facts (441).  While this strikes me as entirely correct, a weaker claim would do for my purposes. Let's suppose knowing p entails having the ability to X for the reason that p.  

In previous work, I've grappled with some of Fantl and McGrath's suggestions about justification and reasons. Their view is that to justifiably believe p, one must have the right to treat p as if it's a reason.  It wasn't always clear to my mind whether they thought that to justifiably believe p, p must be a reason that you can treat as such. In places they seemed to like this idea. In others, it wasn't clear.  As far as I can tell, their current view is that motivating reasons can consist of falsehoods, so they might endorse both the authority idea and the ability idea: 

Authority: To justifiably believe p, one must have justification to treat p as if it's a reason.
Ability: To justifiably believe p, one must have the ability to treat p as a reason for X-ing (for some appropriate X).

It's also clear, I think, that if they were convinced that to X for the reason that p, p has to be true, they'd drop Ability and retain Authority.  Now, I think splitting these two up is a rather strange idea. If we want to understand the point of belief, surely the point of belief is to provide one with reasons that one can then reason from and treat as reasons. If any belief doesn't do that, it seems to violate the fundamental norm of belief. Norm violations can be excused, but they don't count as justified when there's no further norm that would require the belief.

That's a big picture sort of argument. I don't expect it to persuade anyone unless I add in lots and lots of detail that I won't repeat here. Instead, let me offer an alternative line of argument. On standard accounts of doxastic justification, doxastic justification is propositional justification plus proper basing. To justifiably believe p, one must have a justification to believe p and that has to be the reason for which one believes.  With this much in place, we can easily establish this much: to justifiably believe p, there must be something known that serves as the basis for one's belief.

In some cases, it's clear that there's no further reason apart from the fact believed that's eligible as a basis for belief. If so, the distinction between justification and knowledge should collapse.  What about the other cases? It will be interesting to see if the argument can generalise. (I think it can, but doing so will wait for later. It just repeats some arguments connecting the factivity of evidence to the factivity of justification discussed in the book.) Anyway, surely this is controversial enough. There are only a handful of people who think that to justifiably believe with non-inferential justification one must know.  

I'd be curious to know whether there's any principled reason for pulling apart assessments of authority from assessments of ability.  I think people think that justification is a normative concept, knowledge might be a concept that's tied to abilities, and assume that there's a kind of independence here. Maybe there's no good reason to think that.  Maybe claims about abilities have some bearing on claims about normative authority.