Wednesday, November 15, 2006

On the Reliabity Condition for Justification

Alrighty, I've been trying to think of how to formulate an argument for the point I was trying make earlier today at lunch. I'm stuck, but not in a way that is entirely detrimental to my position. Let me explain.

Consider two scenarios. In scenario UNICORN, S sees a horse with a misshapen ear and mistakenly thinks that it is a horse with a horn. He coins the name "unicorn" for its kind, and says, "That's a unicorn." He later comes across several other horses with misshapen ears and each time he thinks that it is a horse with a horn and thus says, "That's a unicorn, too." Now, after this, S discovers that everything he called a unicorn was just a horse with a misshapen ear. In my view, the right thing for him to say here is, "Well, I guess those weren't unicorns after all because unicorns actually have horns." Here, though the property of having a horn was not had by any of the objects S called a "unicorn," still the property of having a horn is essential to being a unicorn. And both the fact that he thought the horses he saw had horns and that he called them "unicorns" on the basis of that perception suggests to me that having a horn is essential to something's being a unicorn, despite the fact that nothing S ever saw actually had this property.

Now consider scenario WHINNY. Here, for the first time S hears the sound of a whinnying horse. He's never seen a horse before this, let's say. Now, let's say that every time he hears the whinnying sound, he finds out that a horse is making the sound. Now, let me just stipulate here that for this illustration, at no point does S come to think that what is essential to being a horse is to make that sound. However, he picks out horses on the basis of figuring out what satisfies the description "makes a whinnying sound." And it works perfectly because there happen to be no other animals that make that sound, let's say. Here, the property of being that which makes a whinnying sound is the basis for identifying instances of horses, but it is not essential to what a horse is (even in S's own mind).

Given the coherence of both types of scenarios (indeed, I think both kinds happen all the time), I'm not sure it's possible to construct an argument from the premise "S recognizes instances of X on the basis of property P" to the conclusion "Therefore, P is an essential property of X." It just seems to me, though, that it's right to say in UNICORN the property of having a horn was a basis for identifying instances of unicorns (or what he thought were unicorns) and that there is a way in which that property was fit to serve that role because it is an essential property of unicorns. However, in WHINNY, it's not right to say that the property of making a whinnying sound, though the basis for identifying instances of horses, is an essential property of a horse.

Now, when it comes to knowledge, my claim is just that when I've claimed to have a justified belief (and I'm using "justification" for the third condition for knowledge, hence it is an essential condition for knowledge by definition), I did so in virtue of thinking that beliefs based on certain mental states/experiences are based on states/experiences which reliably connect to the truth. I identified instances of justified beliefs on the basis of their being formed on the basis of experiences that I implicitly but vitally assumed were reliable. Were a belief formed on the basis of an experience I did not think was reliable, I wouldn't have identified that belief as an instance of a justified belief. (Note, this consideration implies not just that an indicator that a belief was a justified one was only that I thought it was based on reliable evidence, but that it is in fact based on reliable evidence. Whether I was actually in position to know that a belief is based on reliable evidence is beside the point. The point is that I took it for granted that my mental evidence was reliable, and that was a crucial factor in determining which beliefs to call "justified," viz., those that were based on that kind of evidence. To be justified was to be based on states/experiences that were not simply thought to be reliable, but in fact were. And my calling beliefs "justified" reflects that I just took it for granted that I could tell, wrongly or rightly, what kind of beliefs were based on such evidence.)

OK, so it's clear (to me) that the apparent exemplification of the property "based on evidence that reliably connects to the truth" was what I partly based my judgments on as to which beliefs were justified and which weren't. Now, where does this leave us? Well, you could make this analaogous to UNICORN or to WHINNY. You could claim that my identifying certain beliefs as justified beliefs on the basis of their appearing to be based on evidence that was reliable is like S's identifying instances of what he thought were unicorns on the basis of the essential property "being a horse with a horn," or you could say that it's more like S's picking out horses on the basis of the exemplification of the unessential property "makes a whinnying sound." I don't have an argument for why it has to be the case that it is more analagous to UNICORN than to WHINNY. I'm inclined to think there is one that could be constructed, but for the time being it is all I can claim that at least in *my* case, it is clear to me that the right analogue is to UNICORN. And that was demonstrated when I heard Feldman's twin scenario (You and your BIV twin) and found my first reaction to be, "Hmmm... they both are internally rational/reasonable/responsible,etc, but it's not at all clear that they are both knowledge-level justified."

One final point. Maybe I could at least say this in favor of an analogue to UNICORN. In WHINNY, if I told S that I found a horse that doesn't whinny, there'd be no incoherence in saying that to him, since whinnying is not an essential property of horses, even to him. But in UNICORN, if I told S I found a unicorn that has no horn, he'd say, "That's impossible." Similarly, my first instinct when you tell me that a person could have a justified belief based on mental states/experiences that doesn't reliably connect to the truth is to say, "Huh? That's incoherent. Internally rational, yes. But third-condition-of-knowledge-justified? That can't be." Hence, what I was calling "justified belief" had as an essential quality that the basis for the belief was a reliable basis. (But of course, I could be the weird one in all this, though I honestly don't think I am relative to the masses.)

Thursday, November 02, 2006

A Dilemma for Deniers of a priori Intuition

In our Self-evidence reading group, Earl has several times expressed skepticism about there being a phenomenology associated with a priori intuition (what we'll call the mode of grasping a self-evident proposition). A couple of times he's seemed to indicate that, parallel to Hume's statement about the self, he just doesn't see anything when he looks inside for such things.

It could be that in the back of his mind is something like the following assumption.

(FA1) Necessarily, for every experience E, E's phenomenal character is constituted by at least one of the sensuous characters associated with the five sensory modalities and my nothing else.

I think (FA1) pretty clearly false though, so I'm not sure what Earl is thinking. I here offer a dilemma on behalf of such qualia.

D1 Necessarily, for any experience E, E has phenomenal character just in case there's something it's like to have that experience.
D2. Necessarily, for any experience E, E's phenomenal character is what it feels like to host E.
D3. A phenomenal concept =df a concept one can have only by being in a certain experience.

Argument A
1. Either there's something it's like to grasp the validity of modus ponens.
2. If there is not something it's like to grasp the validity of modus ponens, then no one has ever known they've grasped modus ponens.
3. But some have known they've grasped modus ponens.
4. Thus, there's something it's like to grasp modus ponens.

In a forthcoming paper Rich and Earl say that one's evidence that one is frustrated can include "a palpable sense of your own frustration". Now "palpable" is ambiguous in just the way "felt" is. It can mean felt with the five senses or felt in some broader sense. I see no reason to think that one could not have evidence that one is frustrated apart from how one looks, smells, sounds, feels, or tastes to oneself (though one can have such evidence).

It could be that the ambiguity is there on purpose to put off discussion of phenomenology, but I think such cases depend on introspective phenomenology and so we've got a more general dilemma stemming from all the things we think we know that we wouldn't if introspective phenomenology didn't provide evidence.

Self-evident but False

I've been thinking about our discussion of Audi's "Self-Evidence" a bit more (but just a bit) and I can now see no compelling reason to think that there can't be self-evident but false propositions. Furhtermore, I don't see that anything of any especial value is lost as a result.