Sunday, December 17, 2006

On Behalf of Moderate Foundationalism

Jason and I were discussing a project I'm working on right now on probability and basic perceptual beliefs. He reminded me of some things Tim McGrew says in his "A Defense of Strong Foundationalism." Here is part of the relevant passage.

"probability arises from a relation between the probable proposition and a body of evidence. This simple fact about probability creates a fatal dilemma for moderate foundationalism. If there are basic beliefs that are merely probable, then they are not basic at all; they are inferred, probable in relation to some other beliefs that support them."

Clearly this is a non-sequitur so just a slip-up. From

(1) Probability is a relation between a proposition and a body of evidence.

it does not follow that

(2) All merely probable beliefs are inferred.

This is because the species of epistemic support relation which is relevant is a quasi-logical relation and so it holds regardless of what we do about it. We know that there are justified uninferred beliefs because we have them all the time. Most (to put it mildly) of our perceptual beliefs are basic, justified, and sub-certain (if we are rational). They are made epistemically probable (or reasonable) by the experiences which cause them. They are epistemically appropriate responses to our experiences (where "response" does not imply (or exclude) volition).

All Tim means to affirm, as far as I can tell, is that there is always some belief in the neighborhood we *could* have of which we *would* be certain (if rational), namely, the belief that it seems to us as if such-and-such is the case. I'm fine with that as long as we're talking about "This is thus" beliefs or something pretty close. My worry is one Plantinga makes use of. Suppose I have an experience as of a dolphin swimming by. I might not be certain that I'm applying "dolphin" correctly. The conceptual bit make cases a bit trickier, but the main point is the one about the non-necessity of inferring merely probable propositions.

20 Comment(s):

  • Trent,

    Certainly most of our perceptual beliefs are non-inferred in the way you describe. But I think that McGrew would want to claim that this is a psychologically significant fact (perhaps), but not an epistemically significant fact, about us. McGrew would likely contend--or so it seems to me--that the fact that our perceptual beliefs are justified but non-inferred in the way you describe does not imply that they are (epistemically) basic. Rather, he'd probably hold that they are epistemically non-basic, having some other (epistemically certain) base, though perhaps they are psychologically (at least at the level of consciousness) basic. If you look a little further down in the paper you cite, he talks about confusing "psychological priority with epistemic priority," and suggests that the phenomenal data of experience are epistemically certain and epistemically prior to our every-day perceptual beliefs, though perhaps not psychologically prior (for us adults). He says that "an adult's awareness of visual, tactile, and auditory stimuli is often subconscious but not therefore irrelevant to [the] justification of empirical beliefs."

    Just playing a bit of devil's advocate here, and also raising the point because (given the above) I'm not entirely sure where, or whether, you and McGrew disagree. Or, to say it another way: your point about the non-necessity of inference is right on--at least with regard to conscious inference; maybe McGrew thinks there's a subconscious inference here--but it's not entirely clear that this is to say anything "on behalf of moderate foundationalism" against McGrew's "strong foundationalist" view.

    Best,
    Jason

    By Blogger Jason Rogers, at 12/24/2006 4:18 PM  

  • He may be using the concept of epistemic basicality in that way (a way which I try to spell out a bit in my last paragraph), but I don't think that provides the missing premise in his otherwise enthymematic argument.

    Here is a reason why the psychological facts I advert to--uninferred basic beliefs that go beyond the phenomenal--are relevant which stems from evidentialism.

    The justification relation which the evidentialist is describing is a relation of at least three parts: a person, a proposition, and that persons evidence. The *actual* justificatory status of a belief is judged according to an *actual* body of evidence. Thus, if I have some extra-phenomenal belief which is in fact uninferred, my *actual* evidence just doesn't include any phenomenal beliefs. My evidence will include certain non-doxastic appearance states and *were I to reflect upon it* I *would* (perhaps) form beliefs about them which would then be part of my evidence (though notice that they seem superfluous, mere middle men). As it stands, however, we typically *don't* form such beleifs--beliefs about how things appear to us--and so they *aren't* part of our actual evidence.

    The short version is that since justification is indexed to persons, the persons psychology *is* relevant.

    By Blogger Trent_Dougherty, at 12/26/2006 10:16 PM  

  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Blogger Tim, at 1/30/2007 8:16 PM  

  • Trent,

    Actually, there's no slip here. If you look at the context of the argument you'll find that I'm explicitly presupposing (1) an internalist and doxastic conception of evidence, (2) a non-psychological conception of inference, and (3) an epistemic conception of probability. Your criticism at different points seems to involve rejecting at least (1) and arguably (2).

    You write:

    Most (to put it mildly) of our perceptual beliefs are basic, justified, and sub-certain (if we are rational).

    Jason hit the nail on the head: I think you're using "basic" here in a psychological sense rather than in an epistemic one. If the less-than-certain probability of these beliefs is a function of the relations in which they stand to other beliefs, they are not epistemically basic. (The holding of this functional relationship is a critical component of the non-psychological, and potentially tacit, conception of inference I'm employing.)

    You go on:

    They are made epistemically probable (or reasonable) by the experiences which cause them. They are epistemically appropriate responses to our experiences (where "response" does not imply (or exclude) volition).

    Since I don't recognize a non-doxastic conception of evidence, I think this is just a mistake -- and one that plays into the hands of externalists like Bergmann. Your response to Jason seems to me to concede too much in that direction. In my view there are, in the last analysis, no non-doxastic appearance states; every occurrent experiential state is, eo ipso, the content of a tacit referential belief. Self-conscious noticing is not required.

    By Blogger Tim, at 1/30/2007 8:20 PM  

  • Hey Tim, glad you found this!

    I think that doxastic justification is a function of psychology (in addition to propositional justification). A belief is doxastically justified when its contents are propositionally justified and the belief is based on the evidence for which it is propositionally justified.

    We clearly have different conceptions of evidence. I confess I don't understand what a doxastic appearance state is. It *seems* to me that I've got a pretty clear grip on the difference between my (conceptualized) appearance states I host and the beleifs I base them on.

    By Blogger Trent_Dougherty, at 1/30/2007 8:23 PM  

  • Trent,

    I could've phrased that more felicitously: I think that, necessarily, there are no appearance states that fail to be accompanied by doxastic states that have, as their content, referentially-formed beliefs of the sort I discuss in the article in Pojman's anthology. Having such a belief, though not necessarily thinking about it and certainly not verbalizing it, is a necessary condition of having experience at all.

    Does that help?

    By Blogger Tim, at 1/30/2007 8:35 PM  

  • Well, that's what it sounded like you were saying, but I thought I *had* to be misunderstanding.

    I just can't think why that would be so.

    Do you defend this entailment in the Pojman piece? (I don't have a copy sadly.)

    By Blogger Trent_Dougherty, at 1/30/2007 8:47 PM  

  • Trent,

    I don't try to defend the position there, but I mention it:

    Having an experience at all, on this view, might come out to be equivalent to having a tacit referential belief.

    I think this is a conceptual truth. But you don't. So help me out: explain to me what it would be like to have an experience and not have, even tacitly or dispositionally, the belief that I was experiencing like dthat. ("dthat" = demonstrative "that")

    By Blogger Tim, at 1/30/2007 10:52 PM  

  • I don't know what tacit or dispositional beliefs are (or especially referential beliefs, never even heard that term before). I think I know what a disposition to believe is. But I'm confident there are lots of experiences I have whose content I have no serious disposition to be united in belief.

    I'm e-aware (Sosa) of lots of things I'm not n-aware of and I think instances of awareness are experiences.

    By Blogger Trent_Dougherty, at 1/30/2007 10:59 PM  

  • OK, I mispoke, I know what dispositional beliefs are, but not tacit or referential ones.

    By Blogger Trent_Dougherty, at 1/30/2007 11:02 PM  

  • Trent,

    I'm confused now. You started this thread off with a post trying to critique my argument, but now it seems like you're saying you haven't read the paper from which you're quoting. That's where I define and discuss referentially-formed beliefs (along with my 1995 book). Go here for an online copy, albeit with a few typos (one of which Jason caught).

    By Blogger Tim, at 1/30/2007 11:25 PM  

  • Trent,

    Since you brought up Sosa: his category of e-awareness is not sufficiently fine-grained to catch the distinction we're looking at here. I'm not claiming that tacit referentially-formed beliefs constitute or are sufficient for n-awareness, as I understand Sosa's use of that term. But the dichotomy between noticing something and having no doxastic concomitant of one's experience is a false one. I suspect that the error here is in the vicinity of the error of confusing psychological priority with epistemic priority.

    By Blogger Tim, at 1/30/2007 11:32 PM  

  • I'll look at the paper again, I'm sure I did not realize at the time that it was fundamental to your theory.

    I can't see that *any* kind of noticing *entails* belief, even conscioiusly noticing, and even "tacit" belief.

    Like I said, I could have all kinds of experiences which for whatever reason--gamma rays from alpha centauri?--I don't have a disposition to endorse in belief.

    I think in a theory of knowledge psychological priority has as much a role to play as epistemic priority. It's *people* who know things.

    I'm going to go learn about referential beliefs now...

    By Blogger Trent_Dougherty, at 1/30/2007 11:59 PM  

  • Trent,

    Give me an example of awareness without the sort of tacit referential belief I describe in the paper, and I'll give you an example of awareness that cannot, in principle, do any epistemic work.

    Of course, I'm going to define "epistemic work" in a robustly internalist fashion. Have you seen anything from our book besides the couple of chapters we sent you a few months ago? Chapter 2 in particular might be important for the notion of internalism we're employing, which seems thicker than the one you're describing (and defending) on this blog.

    By Blogger Tim, at 1/31/2007 4:31 PM  

  • Tim, I haven't read more than those chapters and I haven't had a chance to look back at the original paper, but if memory serves "referential beliefs" are of the "this is thus" kind.

    I think I have all kinds of experiences which have features I don't consciously demonstrate and so don't form the belief in question and for which I might not even have a disposition to form for reasons having to do with gamma rays from alpha centauri or mischievous brain scientists.

    Think of all the experiences I have in my peripheral vision about which I can be in the position just described. Yet they can still do epistemic work in that they can cause me to form certain beliefs since the information is still incoded in my brain.

    By Blogger Trent_Dougherty, at 1/31/2007 4:38 PM  

  • And I should add that I'm a phenomenal conservative, so there's nothing necessarily externalistic in that picture just described because the encoded information that p can cause in me a non-doxastic seeming state that p that can be evidence.

    By Blogger Trent_Dougherty, at 1/31/2007 4:40 PM  

  • And furthermore I think I can host the non-doxastic seeming state that p without believing that p and that seeming state still be evidence for some q such that it's obvious to me that p entails q. This is a species of unconscioius inference.

    By Blogger Trent_Dougherty, at 1/31/2007 4:42 PM  

  • Trent,

    "This is thus" wouldn't really characterize it accurately -- more like "I am experiencing like this" -- but let that go. I'm not claiming that one deliberately or self-consciously makes these mental moves, only that this sort of verbal expression is the best we can do at representing these beliefs when, as sometimes happens, they rise to the level of focal awareness.

    By "phenomenal conservativism" do you mean Michael Huemer's sort? If so, you might want to see my worries about that aspect of his system in my NDPR review of his book. One can be a "thin" internalist and hold PC (Chisholm is a good example too), but I think that in the end it's an untenable position.

    I have no idea what you mean about "hosting" the non-doxastic seeming state that p without believing that p and yet having p be evidence for you. Why think a thing like that is even possible? My suspicion is that this will turn on the conflation of psychological and epistemic priority again. But beyond that, haven't you just walked into Michael Bergmann's trap?

    By Blogger Tim, at 1/31/2007 9:45 PM  

  • I've been watching from the sidelines and now feel the need to ask for some clarification. (One caveat: I say this without having carefully read Tim's paper.)

    Trent speaks of "information [from experience] . . . incoded in my brain" and "non-doxastic seeming [or appearance] state[s]" caused by that information. Such seeming states he takes to be evidence. He acknowledges that we are not typically consciously aware of such states, but also that, were we to reflect for a moment, we "*would* (perhaps) form beliefs about them which would then be part of [our] evidence."

    Tim speaks of our having "tacit referential belief[s]," about which we do not necessarily think nor do we necessarily verbalize. Tim apparently takes these beliefs (or at least their contents) to be evidence; in any event, awareness without such beliefs cannot, he claims, do any "epistemic work." At the same time, he seems to acknowledge that these beliefs are "subconscious" or are at least not typically at "the level of focal awareness." Still, they can rise to that level of awareness upon reflection and then (presumably) become a part of the evidence of which we are conscious.

    I've intentionally just set up the two preceding paragraphs so as to appear parallel in structure. This is because it seems to me that there may be more similarity here between the two positions than is being acknowledged. Trent's "non-doxastic seeming states" are roughly equivalent to Tim's "tacit referential beliefs." Both (or at least their contents) play crucial evidential roles, both are typically subconscious and unverbalized, both can be brought to "the level of focal awareness" upon reflection and can then be consciously treated as evidence (and verbalized), both are (I think) that with respect to which our "every day" external world beliefs are probable, and so on. So what, then, is the substantive disagreement? That's a genuine question; I'm not sure if I'm just missing the obvious here or making a worthwhile point (or both?).

    In some respects, it seems to me that the fundamental disagreement may really just be over what gets called "belief." Tim calls Trent's non-doxastic seeming states "tacit referential beliefs"; Trent calls Tim's tacit referential beliefs "non-doxastic seeming states." I'm interested in thoughts from the both of you on this.

    Best,
    Jason

    By Blogger Jason Rogers, at 1/31/2007 11:17 PM  

  • An addendum: one obvious answer that's already been mentioned is that the disagreement comes down to one about non-doxastic vs. doxastic conceptions of evidence. Given my above comments, however, I don't see that to be of much help, since (obviously) "doxa" appears in each of those phrases. That is, Trent's conception may be non-doxastic simply because he calls his "non-doxastic seeming states," well, non-doxastic. Tim's conception may be doxastic because he calls his tacit referential beliefs, well, beliefs. My point is just that I don't care what you call it, it seems like you might be talking about the very same thing! :)

    Jason

    By Blogger Jason Rogers, at 1/31/2007 11:22 PM