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.

10 Comment(s):

  • Trent,

    It seems to me that you're right about the nonexistence of an entailment between (EJ) and (M) (that is, without a theory of evidence to fill the "gap"). I think, however, that the issue which generated this discussion was based primarily on the fact that "evidentialism" has -- for right or wrong -- certain connotations associated with it in most discourse. I'd be willing to bet that, more often than not, "evidentialism" connotes both (EJ) and an internalist theory of evidence. This seems to explain why the statement on the back of Earl and Rich's book says what it says (namely, that "evidentialism is a version of epistemic internalism"). And so I disagree that "this is a natural statement in the context [only] since it is on the back of a book authored by evidentialists who are internalists" (if you in fact meant for the "only" to be there). The statement is also natural because "evidentialism" simply does (I think, at least typically) carry internalist connotations, so much so that the very book which is titled Evidentialism contains an essay called "Internalism Defended" (and that in its very first section, even before the "Evidentialism" essay appears).

    (Maybe part of the original complaint which generated this discussion was even about unclarity of terms? I.e., it might seem that there are two evidentialisms, i.e., one being strictly (EJ), and the other being the wider view defended in Evidentialism? I'm not sure.)

    Otherwise, I think we're on the same page.

    Jason

    By Blogger Jason Rogers, at 10/12/2006 11:54 AM  

  • To be clear: I did *not* intend the only which you insert in brackets. If I intended anything mroe than what I said it would be "especially".

    I tried to make it clear my point was with the lay of the logical landscape not with demographics--I think I said that several times explicitly.

    Let me affirm here that I meant what I said.

    Let me add, though, that I don't think that there is not an implicature from "x is an evidentialist" to "x is a pragmatist" among the cognoscenti.

    I think it should be assumed that anyone is an evidentialist: it's platitudinous.

    What's true is that most externalists that I'm aware of just don't *care* much about evidence as compared to their externalist thingies.

    *Of course* one's beliefs should fit the evidence, it's just that--say they--there's more important stuff going on epistemically.

    Also, there are at least three internalisms as I said yesterday: There are evidentialisms corresponding to strong and weak supervenience theses: whcih yesterday I called "Strong Evidentialism" and "Weak Evidentialism" respectively.

    Then I said I liked to call the EJ version "Really Weak Evidentialism" or "Early Evidentialism" or "Core Evidentialism."

    I prefer the latter b/c even if naturlism goes the way of logical positivism and we no longer hope/believe/expect normative properties to supervene on non-normative properties, then we'd still want our beliefs to fit the evidence.

    PS - That's a much better picture, though more strange. :P

    By Blogger Trent_Dougherty, at 10/12/2006 12:07 PM  

  • Trent,

    I didn't mean to imply that you were doing anything other than charting the lay of the land, so to speak. I don't think that I implied any such thing, though maybe I did by asking that question about whether or not you meant for "only" to appear in your sentence. In any case, though, if that is enough for me to imply that you were doing something else in addition to charting the logical landscape, then it would seem to imply that you were doing something in addition to charting the logical landscape, for I was only quoting your own sentence about the "naturalness" of a statement on the back of the Evidentialism book. :-P

    In any case, if it came across that I was denying your charting of the landscape, or in some other way challenging the claims you've just mentioned, then I will now give my own (hopefully) unequivocal statement that I did not intend to do so. Your explicit statements that you were attempting to map the logical land did not fall on deaf ears. :)

    Jason

    By Blogger Jason Rogers, at 10/12/2006 3:52 PM  

  • Trent,

    I should add (as clarification): your mapping of the logical landscape aside, I was simply trying to locate the source of the strong inclination to think "internalism" on hearing "evidentialism." That strong inclination was what got the discussion started, so I was interested in it, even if the inclination is, strictly speaking, misguided.

    Speaking of that inclination, maybe it goes the other way, too? You say:

    "There are at least three internalisms as I said yesterday: There are evidentialisms corresponding to strong and weak supervenience theses: which yesterday I called 'Strong Evidentialism' and 'Weak Evidentialism' respectively.

    "Then I said I liked to call the EJ version 'Really Weak Evidentialism' or 'Early Evidentialism' or 'Core Evidentialism.'"

    Are there three internalisms or three evidentialisms here? :)

    Jason

    By Blogger Jason Rogers, at 10/12/2006 3:53 PM  

  • Alrighty, some thoughts and questions here.

    1) TD, I think you're original entry makes rightly clear that whether evidentialism entails internalism hangs on whether "Necessarily, evidence consists in mental states." I guess that was a forgone conclusion for me in the ways I had heard evidence discussed, but I apparently had not heard enough discussed! (You distinguished evidence in the sense in which a belief might count as evidence from that in which OJ's glove might count as evidence, a distinction I am certainly familiar with. But I had not really thought of these two things as species of the same genus, but rather two different genuses. Maybe I need to think about that a bit more. In any case, the sense in which I understood the term "evidence" as it relates to evidentialism was the sense in which a belief and other mental states might count, but not OJ's glove. Would OJ's glove count as "evidence" on what Williamson means by the term? Would it count on what anyone means by the term “evidence” as it relates to EJ?) The question it leaves me with (which you actually answered in your e-mail) is whether there is a general conception of evidence as it relates to EJ that the likes of Williamson (externalists) and Feldman (internalists) would agree upon sufficiently to make their competing theories of evidence (whatever those might be) theories about the same thing. If there is, then your point is established.

    2) TD, you say that: "What's true is that most externalists that I'm aware of just don't *care* much about evidence as compared to their externalist thingies.*Of course* one's beliefs should fit the evidence, it's just that--say they--there's more important stuff going on epistemically." I guess I'm confused. I thought the reason externalists cared about their "externalist thingies" was because those thingies were key difference-makers when it comes to determining if the justification condition has been met. If we can agree (which is not a forgone conclusion by any stretch!) that, say, Plantinga and Feldman would agree that K = truth, belief, a de-Gettierization condition, and some fourth evaluative condition (say, justification, epistemic aptness, whatever), my understanding is that externalists like Plantinga are saying their externalist thingies are key components to having that fourth evaluative condition. If that's right, then it doesn't make sense to me how Plantinga could affirm EJ. I would have thought Plantinga would say something more along the lines of "Doxastic attitude D toward proposition P is epistemically justified for S at t if and only if having D toward P fits the evidence *and* is produced by cognitive faculties functioning properly blah blah blah (or maybe he’d drop the evidence part entirely, thinking that not ever essential)." I'm assuming the fact of one's cognitive faculties functioning properly is not entailed by one's evidence being appropriately fit for belief. Hence, Plantinga could complain that even if your belief is fit for your evidence, you *still* don’t have enough for justification. And that *would* violate EJ, no? (I had thought that Plantinga could claim that two people could share the same evidence yet not both be justified since identicality of evidence does not entail identicality of proper function. Hence, justification is *not* just a matter determined by the evidence as EJ claims.)

    3) Relatedly, I’m curious what you think about what Feldman says at the top of p. 84 of Evidentialism. There he expresses concern over how competing theories of justification “cast doubt” on EJ, thus the need to defend it. I’m assuming he has the likes of Plantinga and other externalists in mind. If EJ is a platitude that all can happily affirm, what’s his consternation over?

    4) Remind me, what’s the weak supervenience thesis?

    5) Is “ostend” a word? Couldn’t find it in the dictionary. Related to ostensive and ostensible?

    By Blogger kdfkwak, at 10/12/2006 10:15 PM  

  • John,

    1. The general conception of evidence is a sign or mark of truth which supports a belief, provides it with positive epistemic status.

    This could be a doxastic state like a belief, a content of a doxastic state like a proposition, a non-doxastic state like being appeared to redly, an mixed state like my being caused by a red thing to host red qualia, or an extramental fact like there being blood on the knife.

    2. As I read him, Plantinga, for example, just doesn't seem to think justification is a very important concept.

    "I'm assuming the fact of one's cognitive faculties functioning properly is not entailed by one's evidence being appropriately fit for belief."

    I see it otherwise. I think a natural definition of evidential fit, if one is already interested in proper function, is that E fits H just in case were S's truth-directed faculties functioning properly in there (macro and micro) environments (etc.) then S would believe that H.

    In the end, though, I'm less interested in what the P. man *would* say, than what he *could* say, since I'm more interested in logical-conceptual relationships than in demographics here.

    3. I don't know who he has in mind. People, like DeRose, *do* question it, but they *shouldn't*. Rich and Earl have both said many times it's meant to be platitudinous and their defense is usually of the form: "you've confused epistemic justification with something else (doxastic justification, personal justification, epistemic responsibility, deontological justification), you've misinterpreted the project."

    4. The weak supervenience thesis for evidentialism is that justification weakly supervenes on evidence. So not two individuals in the same world or set of nomologically possible worlds can differ in respects of justification without differing in respects of evidence (as opposed to strong supervenience where the thesis holds of any two individuals in any two worlds).

    The weak supervenience thesis for mentalist internalism is that no two individuals in the same world--or set of nomologically possible worlds perhaps--can differ in respects of justification without differing in mental respects.

    The extention to access internalism is straightforward.

    As I say I think original EJ is the core content, but the supervenience formulation is more straightforward.

    By Blogger Trent_Dougherty, at 10/12/2006 11:26 PM  

  • John, now on to Plantinga himself:

    I gave you my take on what the lowest common denominator of "evidence" is (which is backed up by Hacking 1975). For another view, one that actually is explicitly externalist and implicitly proper functionalist see the quote from Reid in note 11, p. 186 of WPF.

    The last section of Chapter 10 of WPF is P's consideration of Evidentialism. He explicitly endorses it (though the endorsement is someone obscured by his frustrating habit of treating justification theories as if they were theories of warrant):

    After a circuitous several paragraphs where he gradually widens the notion of evidence, he finally arrives at the Prime Epistemological Doctrine: phenomenal conservatism. Plantinga, p. 192-193.

    "It does not follow that this kind of evidence (merely phenomenal evidence) is not really evidence. And if we do take it to be evidence, then no doubt it will be true that in a well-formed noetic structure, belief is always on the basis of evidence. Indeed, how could it be otherwise....So the evidentialist is right: where there is warrant, there is evidence."

    Of course, he goes on to reject it as a theory of warrant, which it was, of course, never intended to be. In fact it is not *perfectly* clear that P actually does accept PC, but his treatment of the a priori makes me think he really does.

    Whether he does or not, though, it is clearly consistent with proper functionalism that would would accept PC.

    By Blogger Trent_Dougherty, at 10/12/2006 11:28 PM  

  • TD, Good stuff. Some follow up questions (sorry this is getting longer and longer, but I’m getting a ton out of this exchange):

    1) So you say that "evidence is a sign or mark of truth which supports belief, provides it with positive epistemic status," which perhaps is general enough to keep all happy and to keep us all talking about the same thing. Still, consider the following scenario. S's mental states provide sufficient mental state-evidence to make it internally rational to believe that Joe was stabbed, though he has no clue about the object in his kitchen drawer, viz., a bloody knife (which say, his knowledge of would only strengthen his case). Now, I think it's clear that internalists (who are naturally internalist about evidence) would and should (with respect to the conceptual boundaries of their position) say that that fact of the knife's being there accessibily doesn't make a lick of difference. That's not the kind of evidence that matters for epistemic justification. (Hopefully, so far so good.) What I'm wondering is whether there is any sense conceptually for someone who holds to a different theory of evidence (an externalist theory) to say that that fact *does* matter vis-a-vis justification (or, vis-à-vis EJ). Let's call what S has in his current state “internal rationality” (belief lines up with his mentally internal evidence, i.e., his mental states). I take internalists about justification to hold being internally rational just is being epistemically justified. Nothing else needed. Hence, EJ. Are you saying that it is conceptually permissible for someone to hold a theory of epistemic justification which makes the fact of the knife despite S’s unawareness of it matter to justification? (I had just taken for granted that no one would think *that* kind of evidence had anything to do with being epistemically justified. Think of all the scenarios in which we'd have to say that someone who was internally rational was not justified in virtue of the fact that there was some disconfirming fact that they had no awareness of and no reason to be aware of. Somehow, to me, that seems unpalatable.) Now, that kind of evidence clearly matters in a court of law, but to epistemic justification for S? The point is that for some reason for me those kind of facts seem to fall outside of the conceptual boundary of what things evidence should cover with respect to the use of the term “evidence” in EJ. Whatever evidence includes there, wouldn’t it be the case that the bloody knife just doesn’t count? (I guess, of course, even if I’m right about that, that doesn’t mean there still aren’t *some* kinds of things external to the mind in some sense which may well still qualify as evidence on this use. I’m more open to that than before, but will still need a bit of help. Even with your “red quale caused by a red thing,” I have a hard time seeing how someone would allow the mind external causal aspect to figure into their concept of evidence such that, say, a causal theorist of justification could say as they could do, “Evidence matters, but it’s not all that matter.” For them, the causal relations matter, and they matter in a way that wouldn’t be covered under their concept of evidence already.) Don’t know why, but somehow I got it fixed into my head that evidence just denotes whatever would be permitted by evidentialist internalism as making a difference to justification/internal rationality.

    2) This should be part of the above point, but for sake of adding breaks for ease of reading …. Here’s the characterization that would previously have made good sense to me. Evidence consists in mental states. Evidentialism holds that it is the fitness of belief to mental states that makes one internally rational, and internal rationality is all that is needed for justification. Externalists deny this, claiming more than evidence (on my present usage) matters. It takes more than internal rationality to get you to justification. Now, TD, you are suggesting that I realize that evidence *can* allow for more than mental states. Fine. But explain to me then this: How is it that for an externalist about justification the external elements which matter to justification but which are *not* permitted conceptually as part of what evidence (broadly understood to allow internalist and externalist theories of evidence) – since they after all claim that evidence is not all that matters for justification – can be characterized such that their characterization does not overlap with the external element that *can be* covered under the notion of evidence itself? I am potentially open to acknowledging such a position can be had, but just having a hard time seeing it right now.

    3) Re. Proper function. I say: "I'm assuming the fact of one's cognitive faculties functioning properly is not entailed by one's evidence being appropriately fit for belief." You say, “I see it otherwise. I think a natural definition of evidential fit, if one is already interested in proper function, is that E fits H just in case were S's truth-directed faculties functioning properly in their (macro and micro) environments (etc.) then S would believe that H.” Now, I *know* you’re not interested in demographics, hence, what Plantinga would say. But for me, the only reason I was talking about the theory of Proper Function in the first place was to consider *Plantinga’s* theory of proper function (he coined the title for a specific view, didn’t he?). And on that theory, it would take *more* than just the evidence to get justification, no? The quote you gave from Plantinga which states that “where there is warrant, there is evidence” only shows evidence to be a necessary condition for warrant, not sufficient. And for me, until good reason can be given to me otherwise, I think the quality that Plantinga is focused on here just is that fourth evaluative condition above truth, belief, and de-Gettier so that he’s basically saying that fourth condition (i.e., justification) may require evidence, but having evidence is not all that is needed for justification. (OK, now I *know* Plantinga wouldn’t endorse my expression there. But my assumption right now is that if Plantinga does require a de-Gettierization condition, then for all intents and purposes his evaluative quality “warrant” – or at least the part of what provides warrant that he’s focused on here – basically serves the same role as justification. Hence, I can say things of him as I have.) I mean, correct me if I’m wrong, but wouldn’t Plantinga say his theory is not an evidentialist theory, but an alternative to it?

    4) You say that from the vantage point of Earl and Rich, people who challenge evidentialism are just confused and are thinking about something besides epistemic justification. My view is the only reason they (Earl and Rich) hold that is because evidence for them has to be something presumably internal to the mind. Hence, what seems platitudinous is that to be internally rational just is to fit one’s attitudes to their mind-internal evidence. Nothing could be more obvious. And for them, I think it just seems to them obvious that internal rationality is what epistemic justification amounts to. But what I think externalists about justification are saying is that internal rationality is just not enough, there’s got to be more than that to get you epistemic justification. To me, that is not what seems as platitudinous and, to make our externalist friends not seem like they just can’t get the obvious, I think we’d have to assume that that is what they have in mind. But this would only make sense if there was something in the concept of evidence they were being handed that drew a line separating things like the fact of proper functioning or the fact of having the right causal aetiology (out) from mental states (in). It seems to me that on what you’re saying, what should have happened is everyone looks at EJ and says, “Great. No doubt about it.” And the externalist says, “Now, let me give you my externalist theory of evidence and let’s talk about whether evidence is mind-internal or not.” And if it happened that way, that’d be fine to me. Then the interesting discussion would be over whether evidence consists in only mental states or instead can include facts about one’s belief-forming process which are not internal to the mind. But we’d all be happy to say that it’s all about the evidence. But, as you yourself said, externalists think there are these externalistic “thingies” which matter above and beyond the evidence. And again, I understand them to be saying that they matter with respect to the evaluative condition, i.e., justification, essential for knowledge. For you, TD, are you saying that it is coherent and meaningful for them to claim that (whether they are right or wrong) or are you saying that they only claim that because they are confused over what the term ‘evidence’ can properly cover? If ‘evidence’ can cover things like mind-external facts about one’s belief forming process, then it would have to be the latter, and I guess the externalists who claim more than evidence matters are just really, really, really, really, really, really confused.

    By Blogger kdfkwak, at 10/13/2006 8:06 AM  

  • John, I'll give a detailed reply during class, but your last statement sounds *exactly* right to me!! :-)~

    By Blogger Trent_Dougherty, at 10/13/2006 9:17 AM  

  • John,

    1) We probably agree about *what's true* about what "matters" in a core sense of justification, and you are obviously correct about the internalist about evidence/justification not counting the knife in the drawer is evidence. We are also in agreement that many externalist theories of evidence seem really counter-intuitive and even "pointless" in the framework of epistemology from c.1600-1963. It's just that externalists don't care. They tend to be interested in a sort of paradigm shift.

    I forgot to mention that Weatherson blogged about this a bit this summer, arguing for an externalist theory of evidence: I looked for it on his blog but couldn't find it (his blog was attacked at the beginning of the semester) my metablogging is here. Duncan Pritchard notes several other externalist theories of evidence (he mentions Williamson who's ommission was merely an oversight, but the other two (McDowell and Neta) were new to me).

    A mixed view is pretty plausible though if you already find mentalism more plausible than access internalism. Some of my evidence--memory evidence say--is no easier to access than this open book right here in front of me. So some days I'm not an internalist.

    2) You ask:

    "How is it that for an externalist about justification the external elements which matter to justification but which are *not* permitted conceptually as part of what evidence (broadly understood to allow internalist and externalist theories of evidence) – since they after all claim that evidence is not all that matters for justification – can be characterized such that their characterization does not overlap with the external element that *can be* covered under the notion of evidence itself?"

    Um, what? :-)~ Seriously, that's tough to parse, I'm not at all sure what the question is. Here's my interp: Let YES = {x: x is external to the mind & x matters to justification & x is an item of evidence} Let NO = {x: x is external to the mind & x matters to justification & x is NOT an item of evidence} You *seem-to-me* to be asking how we know the intersection of YES and NO is not the null set. But that can't be right because the definitions of the sets give you that.

    Are you asking what lines can possibly be drawn between external factors relevant to justification which count as evidence and those that (are relevant and) don't (count as evidence)? In infinitely many ways I suppose, but why would they want to? What's the big picture here? Perhaps this will help (it's kind of a shot in the dark).

    Let T be S's theory. T consists in a theory of evidence E and a theory of justification J. E defines evidence as the contents of the books in one's bedroom. So S is an externalist about evidence. J defines justification as coherence with basic beliefs. So here we have an externalist non-evidentialist. It's kind of a wired theory, but coherent.

    3) The first part confuses me. Then you ask "wouldn’t Plantinga say his theory is not an evidentialist theory, but an alternative to it?"

    Not on my reading of the quote above. He doesn't *just* say that warrant (and therefore knowledge) entails evidence.

    4) I'm not much more interested in psychology than demographics, but I think EJ is (and should be) platitudenous tout court. The fact that it loses obviousness on externalist theories of knowledge is evidence against externalism, not an argument against the platitudenousness of EJ.

    Finally, I continue to agree that externalists are very confused.

    By Blogger Trent_Dougherty, at 10/13/2006 1:58 PM