Monday, October 23, 2006

Posting recently on Larry Horn's lecture on pragmatics reminded me about some thoughts I had about intuitions.

The following notion of intuitions will be pretty simple and have the result, I think, that we ought to be pretty conservative of intuitions (but not slaves to them).

The most accurate way I can think of to think of intuitions is as follows:

(TDI1) Intuitions are judgements that competent L-language users make about the truth-value of sentences in L.

Competence comes in degrees so the "weight" of an intuition as well as it's "strength" will vary. By "strength" I intend to indicate the confidence the target speaker has in the target judgement. By "weight" I intend to indicate the force such testimony would/should have for a 3rd party. Since the 3rd party in most cases will also be an L-speaker, she must weigh the judgements together (gives rise to interesting problems in the epistemology of disagreement, but that's another post).

I now take fluency in a language to be a species of expertise. It is not at all clear to me that professional lexicographers have more expertise in the meaning of terms than the ordinary fluent English speaker, since I afford quite a strong role of use in meaning (but that's another post).

So my second thesis is a strengthening of the first:

(TDI2) Intuitions are the expert opinions of fluent language users.

From this thesis I draw the following conclusion:

(TDI3) Intuitions have the warrant which accrues to expert opinions.

I think that's enough to piss off quite a few people so I'll stop there for now.

The Swamping Argument

Since my commentary was rather syncopated I thought I'd paste part of my recent post on the University Sterling's Value Project Blog here.

First, a little background:

The Swamping Argument is specifically meant to falsify the following naïve attempt to designate a method for explaining the value of knowledge over true belief.

(*) Find some property P which distinguishes knowledge from true belief and has value. Then surely EV(TB+P) > EV(TB).

But this is doomed to failure for P such that the *only* value P has is as a means to TB (thus my “pure-means”). The idea is that the property having been reliably formed is such a property.
My bottom line diagnosis is that Kristoffer was confusing the value of a *process* with the value of a *belief* which is the target of the Swamping Argument. In it's barest bones, the Swamping Argument can be put forward as an explanatory argument:

Datum: Necessarily, for any two true beliefs B1 and B2, if B1 is known and B2 is not, then EV(B1) > EV(B2.) [Technically it could be run as an existential claim, but then it's not a very interesting thesis.]
Reliabilism can't explain this datum for all that R-ism has to add to B1 is that it is R-formed. But that's only valuable as a means to truth, so given that we've got truth already ex hypothesi, so it doesn't actually add new value.

Now the comments where I take fairly seriously one suggestion.


This weekend at the 4th Biennial Rochester Graduate Epistemology Conference, I commented on a paper "An Argument Against Swamping" by Kristoffer Ahlstrom from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

He said there are very few epistemologists in Sweden, so I'm glad that a significant percentage of them (him!) are working on value-driven epistemology.

Having said that, there seems to be a misconception that advocates of the swamping argument against reliabilist theories of knowledge can't hold that reliable belief forming processes are valuable. I've run into this a surprising number of times, even among people able to formulate a reasonable version of the swamping argument.

I want my belief to have the property of having been formed by reliable belief-forming processes. So I value such processes. What's more, I value them precisely in virtue of my desire to have true beliefs, for it might reasonably be thought that forming beliefs according to such methods is likely to result in my having some more true beliefs (it might even be true by definition).

Still, for any *given* belief, if I know that it's true, what do I care how it was formed? Well, I might care, but not *merely* from the standpoint of my desire to have true beliefs. This seems to me to be the point of Jon's Two Lists Argument (VK, 45-48).

Having said *that* there is an interesting idea suggested by Ahlstrom which few will like, but to which I'm actually somewhat receptive to in other contexts. Ahlstom seemed to want to argue that there was some independent value in the property having been formed by a reliable belief forming process which accrues to a belief B having that property in virtue of that property's having the following property: being such that most instantiations of it are true. Let's call this higher-order property P*.

On the face of it, it doesn't seem like the value of that property can "seep down into" the object-level instantiation. The target belief just is true and an instantiation of P* which has has nothing clear to do with other instantiations of P* which may or may not be true. But consider this example of a common phenomenon: I take especial pleasure in the fact that I'm going to the same grad school as Marshal Swain, Peter van Inwagen, et al (and where Richard Taylor and Keith Lehrer taught). This will no doubt strike most as just pure irrationality, but it's not *abundantly* clear to me that there isn't something to such thinking.

One might think that schools which have good M&E faculty/students will continue to do so (it's certainly been true in this case!). But w.r.t token faculty/students this can at best underwrite the expectation that they are likely to be good at M&E (no comments!). And one might think that processes or agents that have been reliable in the past are likely to continue to be reliable in the future. Still, this can at best underwrite the expectation that the next belief token will be true. So it seems to me at this point that the phenomenon sociologists call "basking in the reflective glory" are, at best, grounds for expectation of some target property which the Swamping Argument shows don't help solve the Meno Problem.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

More on Framing the Internalism/Externalism Debate

In my post I forgot to link to the post on my blog which discusses theories of evidence. Here it is.

One clarification in my point about PF and EP’s. In the discussion on evidentialism I focused on EJ rather than ES because I don’t particularly find supervenience a helpful notion. I don’t think I made clear that there’s probably no way to get strong supervenience out of PF, since, unlike EP’s DP’s (design plans) will vary not only from world to world, but from species to species within worlds.

It’s not clear to me that at some level of generality you won’t get supervenience of justification on broad mental types, but at that level of generality it might get unenlightening: any two individuals in any world who are alike in that their beliefs are supported by the experiences their design plans say ought to support those beliefs are alike in respects of justification.

However, it’s *also* not clear to me that this level of generality isn’t *more* informative in some respects. It’s a tough issue. So that’s what I’m not saying and what I’m not confident of. Here’s what I am saying and what I’m pretty confident of.

SUBSTANCE: There is no “relevant”/“substantive” violation of evidentialism in PF theory since anything that’s “external” about PF is, I think, true mutatis mutandis about EP’s.

True, DP’s will, on one theory of EP’s, vary more than DP’s.

FUNCTION FIXITY: Holding DP’s fixed the evidence is the only thing that determines justificatory status.


PRINCIPLE FIXITY: Holding EP’s fixed the evidence is the only thing that determines justificatory status.

P-FIXITY might seem odd since you can’t help but hold the necessary fixed. But this is *precisely* where I think I can support SUBSTANCE. Here’s a *really* internalist view: Bayesiansim. On personalist bayesianism (*not* a redundancy contrary to many) the EP’s are a persons conditional personal probabilities (how much *they think* one thing makes another probable). So here not only do EP’s vary from world to world and species to species but from *person to person*!

So how do the subjectivist internalist and the objectivist internalist differ? Just in respect of how fixed EP’s are. Now when evaluated along one dimention—the mental—both count as mentalist internalists because subjectivist EP’s are mental states, so supervenience holds BUT FOR A TOTALLY DIFFERENT REASON. This should tell us that supervenience isn’t doing much relevant explanatory work. what really matters in a theory is WHAT EXPLAINS FIXATION.

A really natural definition of internalism would have been (and John Turri seems to think it was):

MENTALISM*: Theory T is an internalist theory of epistemic justification iff THE TOTAL STORY ABOUT JUSTIFICATION makes reference only to mental states.

Notice that Rich and Earl’s view is not a species of MENTALISM* due to the requirement of necessary epistemic principles. Now *surely* the “real” debate is not about whether mentalism or MENTALISM* is the best. It seems to me the debate is about what determines fixity. After that—as is platitudinous—it’s all a matter of evidence.

Let’s call the fixors the “evidential superstructure” of a theory of justification (the theory of evidence would be the “meat” of the view (I’m not trying to connote anything but a form vs. matter contrast). Personalist Bayesians think mental states themselves determine the evidential superstructure, Chisholmians think necessary truths form the evidential superstructure, proper functionalists think design plans form the evidential superstructure.

This, it seems to me, is the most helpful way to frame the debate.


[This post is closely related to Trent's prior post, "Evidentialism for Everyone."]

So John (Kwak) and I tried to hash a little bit of this out yesterday in the grad office, and I think we arrived at conclusions something near to the following. (This is all very rough, and painting in some fairly broad strokes; I'm writing it in a hurry while out of town for the weekend. John, correct me if I’m mistaken or have missed something.)

First, one helpful way of framing the whole internalism/externalism debate – or at least of getting situated when it comes to remembering what we’re talking about – is to think back to Gettier’s article. Prior to that, I think it’s a fairly safe assumption that most people were thinking of knowledge as something like justified true belief, even if they weren’t entirely explicit about it. Gettier of course showed that something more is needed, and that’s more or less where it all began. One of the quests became that of discovering an analysis of knowledge that was not subject to Gettierization.

All of that should be fairly uncontroversial, but it seems like controversy lurks somewhere very nearby. It begins like this: some people ended up taking it that “justified true belief” is pretty clearly some central element of knowledge, but that it needs to be supplemented by some de-Gettierization condition (no false grounds, no defeaters, whatever). Others ended up taking it that “justified true belief” just is knowledge, but that the “justified” part of the analysis needs to be redefined in some way. (Hence we have Goldman’s “What is Justified Belief?” article saying more or less that reliability is central to justification.) Finally, another group apparently ended up keeping the “true belief” part of the analysis but replacing the “justified” part by something that was supposed to be entirely different – warrant, or perhaps “positive epistemic status” (whatever that involves), say.

At the same time, despite these differences, some fundamental similarities ended up being present in all of the above views. Aside from holding the “true belief” part fixed, each of the above views seems to hold that there is some crucial evaluative “thing” in the analysis of knowledge, and that satisfying that evaluative condition (along with true belief) either gets you pretty close to knowledge – you just need to add some “fillip” to prevent Gettierization – or in fact gets you knowledge (in that this evaluative element – once it has been redefined in some way different from the traditional analysis that Gettier criticized – is itself enough to prevent Gettierization). So, more or less, the crucial thing in the debate about knowledge and justification became figuring out what exactly this evaluative “thing” is.

But part of the problem should now be evident. Once the focus was shifted to this evaluative “thing,” it seems like the fact that one group took this evaluative “thing” to be all that you need in addition to true belief to get knowledge – usually, if not always, these are externalists – and that the other group took this evaluative “thing” to be not sufficient (in addition to true belief) for knowledge, was lost. And the worst part about it was that, even though they were apparently talking about different sorts of evaluative notions – because one was intended to be all that you needed in addition to true belief, but the other was never intended to be such – they all (at least initially, particularly with Goldman’s article) wanted to call these evaluative notions justification. Or, if these notions weren’t explicitly called “justification,” they were at least all taken to be that “thing” that fits into the analysis of knowledge where “justified” used to be (although, again, some took it that whatever this “thing” is is sufficient, along with true belief, for knowledge, and others took it to be something that needed to be supplemented by a fourth condition). It seems like that is precisely where all of the confusion really begins.

How so? Well, look at what’s going on here with (EJ). It’s probably should be platitudinous. Why would someone deny it? Well, perhaps it's because of the phrase “epistemically justified” contained therein. Some people read it and presumably think, ‘Oh, here we’re talking about that third, not sufficient condition (in addition to true belief), that needs to be supplemented by a fourth condition in the analysis of knowledge. Sure, fine; obviously that thing is characterized by (EJ).’ But then the others read it and think, ‘This is supposed to characterize that “thing” that gets us knowledge in addition to true belief? No way! Clearly we need something more than “fitting the evidence,” or we’re subject to immediate Gettierization!’ (I think that maybe this latter way of thinking could be exemplified by Plantinga, at least in certain places; hence Trent complains that he treats evidentialism as a theory of warrant when it was never intended to be such. He apparently takes it to be providing a characterization of this third and sufficient (plus true belief) condition, whereas the evidentialist (usually?) doesn’t mean that -- he (the evidentialist) wants for it to be a characterization of that third but supplemented condition in the analysis of knowledge.)

So here we see the rationale that may -- perhaps wrongly -- be underlying rejections of (EJ). And, further, it seems like the only way to sort these things out is to be almost drastically explicit about what we’re talking about when we say things like “justification,” and “epistemically justified.” Once we are drastically clear about that, I think we end up seeing that there’s a lot less disagreement than there initially appears to be. For, as I’ve now noted to Trent in e-mail correspondence, if we’re entirely clear that the “justification” characterized by (EJ) and (M) is something other than this “thing” that, in addition to true belief, is by itself supposed to get us un-Gettierized knowledge, then it seems entirely possible that a proper functionalist externalist could also be a mentalist (as characterized by (M)) about justification. He could be a proper functionalist about warrant, and perhaps even hold that justification is neither necessary nor sufficient for knowledge, but still agree that justification – now explicitly not intended to be that thing which gets us knowledge in addition to true belief – is correctly characterized by mentalism (in fact, for some comments suggestive of something near to this, see Plantinga's comments about Chisholm on justification at p. 45 of his Warrant: The Current Debate). But, of course, it seems that most people would think that “proper functionalist mentalist” – even as here characterized – is an oxymoron (I say this based only on informal polls of a few philosophy graduate students :) ). That tells me that many, many people – probably including myself until recently – have been using notions like “justification,” "warrant," and so on, much too quickly, without being clear about what’s being said.

This, I think, is why I’ve said that philosophy needs to hit the "reset" button, and why John continues to urge the creation of some Philosophical Standards Institute that establishes how such terms shall be used from now on. :)

So, briefly: As long as we’re clear that “justification” means “that in-some-way evaluative ‘thing’ that is not intended to be sufficient (in addition to true belief) for Gettier-proof knowledge” (maybe something like “evidence-sensitive rationality,” if that's not question-begging) then (EJ) does seem platitudinous, and it seems like even (M) is not nearly as controversial as it may otherwise appear. Externalists may accept both. On the other hand, if by “justification” we mean “that in-some-way evaluative ‘thing’ that is sufficient for Gettier-proof knowledge (in addition to true belief),” then “controversial” is the name of the game. Even (EJ) will likely be vehemently denied by some.

In any case, I think (in my current hurriedness) that that’s close to where things stand… Maybe. :) I'd love to hear further thoughts on this.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Evidentialism for Everyone

Universality Thesis (UT): Nothing in externalism entails the negation of evidentialism.

Nota Bene: This is not a *demographic* thesis about what intersections of logical space are more populated than others. Rather, it is a thesis about the *topology* of logical space, regardless of who may or may not live there.

There is a misleading statement on the back of Earl and Rich's _Evidentialism_ book. It states: "Evidentiaism is a version of epistemic internalism." This is a natural statement in the context since it is on the back of a book authored by evidentialists who are internalists. However, it is not correct tout court.

That is, UT is true. An equivalent statement of it is:

UT: Possibly, there is an externalist evidentialist.

The quick way to prove this possibility is to ostend its actuality: Timothy Williamson.

On p. 146 of _Knowledge and Its Limits_ he notes that "Rational thinkers respect their evidence." A natural reading of this is the original definition of evidentialism:

EJ Doxastic attitude D toward proposition p is epistemically justified for S at t if and only if having D toward p fits the evidence S has at t.

Yet Williamson has an externalist theory of knowledge. He asserts the formula "E=K", i.e. one's evidence is identical to one's knowledge. Since knowledge is not restricted to the contents of one's own mind, and knowledge is evidence, evidence is external to the mind. This is a denial of the internalist supervenience thesis:

M If any two possible individuals are exactly alike mentally, then they are alike justificationally, e.g., the same beliefs are justified for them to the same extent.

Williamson glibly remarks of classical internalists:

they interiorize evidence: it becomes one's present experience, one's present degrees of belif, or the like. Those attempts are quaint relics of Cartesian epistemology....If one's evidence were restricted to the contents of one's own mind, it could not play the role that it actually does in science.
So we have the best kind of argument of the possibility of externalist evidentialism: an actual example.

This shouldn't be in the least surprising: evidentialism was originally meant to be a platitude: that anyone ever denies it is merely the result of misunderstanding.

But wait...there's more!

We also have perfectly general reasons to see that externalism and evidentialism are compatible. If we wanted to try and substantiate the misleading claim on the back of the Evidentialism book that ""Evidentiaism is a version of epistemic internalism." we'd have to show that.

EJ Doxastic attitude D toward proposition p is epistemically justified for S at t if and only if having D toward p fits the evidence S has at t.

conceptually entails

M If any two possible individuals are exactly alike mentally, then they are alike justificationally, e.g., the same beliefs are justified for them to the same extent.

On the face of it, it looks bleak. The connecting premise would have to be an internalist theory of evidence itself, that is:

(EI) Necessarily, evidence consists in mental states.

Whereas I think that's the best way to think of evidence, the denial of (EI) is not incoherent. One could hold, for example, a theory of evidence that endorses the common sense legal view that evidence consists in things like finger prints and broken glass. You could also hold a plausible mixed view that evidence consists in mental states that were readily accessible as well as information that is "at one's fingerprints" in the sense that it would be about as easy for the subject to look up the information, in a nearby book, say, as to remember it (I actually think this mixed view is *quite* plausible).

The coherence of externalist theories of evidence ensures the possibility of an externalist evidentialism and so UT is vindicated.