Monday, January 29, 2007

Proper Functionalism as Internalist Evidentialism

I'm cross-posting this from my personal blog because it follows up on this post where I don't think I expressed the idea as clearly as I do here.

The thesis of this post is as follows:

(T) The "internalism/externalism" distinction is not as substantive as most think.

The argument for (T) will involve three premises, one of which I'll defend and the other two I'll assume, though I might make brief comments on their behalf.

Premise 1: If Conee-Feldman mentalist evidentialism is internalist and Plantinga can subscribe to the theory, then (T).
Premise 2: Conee-Feldman mentalist evidentialism is internalist.
Premise 3: Plantinga can subscribe to the theory.

Now Bergmann argues against P2, but I'll save a full defense of that for another day. It is clearly not externalist in a core sense intended by core externalists like Goldman and Plantinga, and it is "internalist" in a sufficiently close way to a sufficiently clear conception founded in discussions of mental and semantic content. At any rate the denial of P2 could probably easily support (T) anyway.

What I want to defend here is P3. First a working definition of evidentialism in the Chisholm-Conee-Feldman tradition.

(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.

Aside: Conee and Feldman like to think of evidentialism as a supervenience thesis, which has the advantage of avoiding the vagueness in evidence "fitting" but I'm going to stick with the core notion here both because I find the notion of supevenience unilluminating in general and uninformative in the present context. Supervenience theses are not so informative unless I know what it is in virtue of which the supervenience relation holds and, in the case of evidentialism, it has to do with evidence "fitting". I accept the difficulties with the notion of evidential fit: that's a research project, but the notion is sufficiently clear to proceed.

Now to mentalist internalism:

S The justificatory status of a person’s doxastic attitudes strongly supervenes on the person’s occurrent and dispositional mental states, events, and conditions.

I'm OK with supervenience here because given a phenomenal theory of evidence together with (EJ) we have an explanation of why the supervenience relation holds.

Now let's return to evidential fit. Note that even for a paradigm access internalist like Chisholm, there's more that goes into the justification than mental states. For Chisholm, the other part of the equation is epistemic principles. You take phenomenal input, run it through some algorithmic type thingy and it tells you the epistemic status of certain beliefs for you. That epistemic principles play a role in calculating justificational status in no way makes Chisholm's access internalism externalist. That would just be an abuse of established language. But then it shouldn't disqualify mentalism either.

Now there's the thing to note at this point: a Chisholm-Conee-Feldman internalist evidentialism can vary with respect to what you hold fixed to pair up doxastic states and epistemic status. For supervenience to hold the role would have to be played by some kind of necessary truth, but as I said I think the core version of evidentialism isn't the supervenience thesis but rather the "fit thesis" expressed in EJ. But then it's not essential to internalist evidentialism that the status-makers be necessary truths. They could be, for example, design plans. Enter Plantinga. If we take out the epistemic-principle-based epistemic status module and replace it with a design-plan-based module, we still have a theory which satisfies (EJ), it's just that status is now fixed by presumably contingent design plans rather than necessary epistemic principles.

This completes the argument for Premise 3 and thus for (T). The upshot, to repeat, is that I have interpreted Plantinga's proper functionalism into a theory of evidential fit, playing the same role in an EJ theory as epistemic principles do in Chisholm's. Thus, a plantingian proper functionalism can be inserted right into an internalist evidentialist theory of justification. And if that's true, then the way we've been thinking about internalism and externalism is not so helpful.

7 Comment(s):

  • Trent,

    Very interesting post, and I'm inclined to be somewhat sympathetic. However, I have just a few thoughts of my own, mostly intended to elicit clarification and to raise a few concerns (which may ultimately be semantic).

    At one point, you state principle (EJ) and then go on to say that you prefer to take it as stating the "core notion" of evidentialism. You note that Conee and Feldman like to express the core thesis of evidentialism in terms of supervenience, but you say that you find this generally unilluminating. But then you say the following (with emphasis added):

    "Supervenience theses are not so informative unless I know what it is in virtue of which the supervenience relation holds and, in the case of evidentialism, it has to do with evidence 'fitting.'"

    This language suggests to me that you think that evidentialism maintains that there is a supervenience relation which holds between justificatory status and evidence, and that the notion of 'fit' gets at that in virtue of which that supervenience relation holds. So far, then, it seems that you prefer (EJ) only because it mentions that in virtue of which the supervenience relation holds, and is therefore more informative than the supervenience thesis. There is no hint here that evidentialism can allow that such supervenience does not hold.

    You then go on to add something that suggests something like the above even more strongly (again, with emphasis):

    "Now to mentalist internalism:

    [(]S[)] The justificatory status of a person’s doxastic attitudes strongly supervenes on the person’s occurrent and dispositional mental states, events, and conditions.

    I'm OK with supervenience here because given a phenomenal theory of evidence together with (EJ) we have an explanation of why the supervenience relation holds."

    So... This could be an issue of semantics, but all of the above suggests to me that you do in fact think at least that mentalist evidentialism holds (1) that the justificatory status of a person's doxastic attitudes strongly supervenes on that person's occurrent and dispositional mental states, etc.—hence you say that you're OK with supervenience here and that (EJ) explains why it does in fact hold—and possibly also (2) that the epistemic justification of a subject's doxastic attitudes toward some proposition at some time strongly supervenes on the evidence that the subject has at that time (see p. 101 of the Evidentialism book)—hence you say (or at least suggest) that (EJ) can be stated as a supervenience thesis but that you prefer not to do so only(?) because (EJ) is more informative, in that its notion of 'fittingness' gets at that in virtue of which the supervenience relation holds.

    But then you go on to say (emphasis yours):

    "[A] Chisholm-Conee-Feldman internalist evidentialism can vary with respect to what you hold fixed to pair up doxastic states and epistemic status. For supervenience to hold the role would have to be played by some kind of necessary truth, but as I said I think the core version of evidentialism isn't the supervenience thesis but rather the 'fit thesis' expressed in EJ. But then it's not essential to internalist evidentialism that the status-makers be necessary truths. They could be, for example, design plans. Enter Plantinga. If we take out the epistemic-principle-based epistemic status module and replace it with a design-plan-based module, we still have a theory which satisfies (EJ), it's just that status is now fixed by presumably contingent design plans rather than necessary epistemic principles."

    This language now suggests to me that you're okay with saying that a view which denies that supervenience—as described by (S) and by Conee and Feldman's restatement of (EJ), which you seem to be okay with barring its uninformativeness—holds can still be called mentalist evidentialism. My questions are: (1) am I reading you right here, and (2) why do you think that such a view is still mentalist evidentialism? You must think the latter, I think, because you say that "Plantinga can subscribe to the theory," the theory being "mentalist evidentialism." But if you're right about how Plantinga might accept the theory, then he might do so by denying (S) and also denying the supervenience version of (EJ). From your wording, however, I take it that (S) just is mentalism (or "mentalist internalism"), and that it includes a strong supervenience thesis, so why call Plantinga's view here, which denies that supervenience thesis and hence denies (S), mentalist? And, if the core thesis of evidentialism, (EJ), simply explains what it is in virtue of which a supervenience relation holds between justificatory status and evidence, and can be restated as a supervenience thesis, why think that Plantinga's hypothetical view is evidentialism? Again, it denies that supervenience holds here, and so seems to at least deny the restatement of (EJ), and it likewise seems to deny that the fittingness of a subject's doxastic response to his/her evidence at a time is a necessary feature of that doxastic response to that evidence (rather, it's a contingent feature, grounded in design plans). The latter denial is equivalent to a denial that the 'fittingness' of a subject's doxastic response to his/her evidence grounds the strong supervenience relation between the response and the evidence, because it denies that the 'fittingness' of the response to that evidence is something that holds across possible worlds.

    I'm worried that I might be coming off a bit uncharitable here. Perhaps you mean to say only that Plantinga could accept (EJ), although not its attempted restatement in terms of supervenience—he could accept that 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, as long as 'fittingness' is a contingent matter determined by the design plan. This much seems quite right. I'm just somewhat confused because at times you seem to suggest that the supervenience interpretation of (EJ) is the evidentialist one, in which case Plantinga couldn't be an evidentialist here, and also because mentalist thesis (S) just does affirm strong supervenience, and yet Plantinga's hypothetical approach seems to deny it (unless I'm missing something). So it's not clear to me that Plantinga could affirm mentalist evidentialism, or even just evidentialism (depending on what we think of the supervenience thesis).

    Thoughts?

    Jason

    By Blogger Jason Rogers, at 1/29/2007 6:36 PM  

  • Sorry for the excess verbiage; I've already left one comment, but I want to attempt to give some clarification.

    To be clear, the hypothetical Plantingan (Plantingian?) view is that the fittingness of a subject's doxastic response to his/her evidence at a time is a function of the contingent design plan of the subject—this contingent design plan is, to use your language, what "pairs up" doxastic responses and epistemic status. But then the view is consistent with the following scenario.

    Subject S has doxastic attitude D toward proposition P at time T, and has evidence E, and doxastic attitude D fits S's evidence E at T, and so (according to (EJ)) doxastic attitude D is epistemically justified for S at T.
    Subject X has doxastic attitude D toward proposition P at time T, and has evidence E, and doxastic attitude D does not fit X's evidence E at time T, and so (according to (EJ)) doxastic attitude D is not epistemically justified for X at T.

    X's design plan is different from S's. Fittingness of doxastic response is explained in terms of these design plans. By virtue of their differing design plans, the same doxastic attitude differs in justificatory status with respect to the same evidence—in one case the attitude fits the evidence and in the other case it does not, because of design plan differences. This is the paradigmatic form of a counterexample to evidentialism according to Conee and Feldman (but then again, they hold that evidentialism is at bottom a supervenience thesis, so maybe this isn't of as much significance to you).

    But it seems to me that the same can be said with respect to mentalism's core thesis (S). For consider the following:

    Subject S has doxastic attitude D toward proposition P at time T, and has set M of occurrent and dispositional mental states, events, etc., and doxastic attitude D is epistemically justified for S.
    Subject X has doxastic attitude D toward proposition P at time T, and has set M of occurrent and dispositional mental states, events, etc., and doxastic attitude D is not epistemically justified for X.

    Again, X's design plan is different from S's. X is designed to hold doxastic attitude D toward proposition P under certain mental conditions, and S is designed to hold that attitude toward that proposition under other mental conditions. In some possible world where X is designed precisely as S is designed in the current scenario, X's doxastic attitude D toward P would then be epistemically justified for X. So strong supervenience does not hold between the justificatory status of a person's doxastic attitude and that person's mental states, etc. This denies (S), and if we take evidence to be mental states (and vice versa), it also leads directly to a denial of the supervenience version of (EJ).

    The view I've just expressed seems quite similar to a view expressed in Michael Bergmann's recent book. He takes the view to not be evidentialist. I don't see that it is either. But even if it is evidentialism (and here semantics may be the issue), why is it a version of mentalist evidentialism?

    Jason

    By Blogger Jason Rogers, at 1/29/2007 6:39 PM  

  • Herewith the clarifications:

    1. Nothing I say, I think, entails acceptance of the falsity of the evidentialist supervenience thesis. After all, I think proper-functionalism is false. I'm even inclined to think that in some sense it is necessarily and even conceptually false. However, there is another sense in which it is epistemically possible and logically or conceptually possible. I think a lot of concepts are run together in current thinking on modality. I suppose it's kind of like natural kind terms. In some sense, water could have failed to be H20, and in some sense it's "necessarily" H20. So I think the evidentialst supervenience thesis is not only true but necessarily true in the same sense that water is necessarily H20, but its also true that we can can conceive of it as being false, we can conceive of justification the way a proper-functionalist could think of it. I think the sense of "possible" in which a propper-functionalist mentalist evidentialism is possible is sufficiently interesting.

    2. You are right that my main concern is that proper-functionalism is compatible with EJ. What I didn't repeat from the previous post was all the stuff about "holding X fixed" so, yes, mentalism will also be downgraded to a more intuitive "core" notion as follows:

    (M-) Holding considerations of fit fixed all that goes into justification is the mental states of the individual.

    I think that says all that really needs to go into mentalism. I should not have lazily pasted in the supervenience definition in. I fully intend to scale it back to its "core" notion in the same way. Thanks for catching this.

    Please let me know if I've failed to address any issues you raised.

    By Blogger Trent_Dougherty, at 1/30/2007 12:52 AM  

  • Trent,

    Thanks, these clarifications are helpful. My comments are as follows.

    It looks like we have two "core" theses here:

    (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.
    (M-) The justificatory status of a person's doxastic attitude is determined by that person's occurrent and dispositional mental states, events, and conditions.

    Now the hypothetical proper functionalism you've described can accept both (EJ) and (M-), but only if, with respect to (EJ), the fittingness of a subject's doxastic attitude with respect to some evidence is a contingent feature of that response, and, with respect to (M-), the justificatory status of the doxastic attitude is "contingently determined" (if that makes sense), where the contingency is a function of the cognizer's design plan. So it does indeed seem possible that some form of proper functionalism could accept these "core" notions of mentalist evidentialism.

    My worry now, however, is that we're fudging the terms too much in order to say this. For example, your original argument was as follows:

    1) If Conee-Feldman mentalist evidentialism is internalist and Plantinga can subscribe to the theory, then (T) the "internalism/externalism" distinction is not as substantive as most think.
    2) Conee-Feldman mentalist evidentialism is internalist.
    3) Plantinga can subscribe to the theory.
    C) The internalism/externalism distinction is not as substantive as most think.

    It now seems to me that this argument has at least one false premise. First, there are now at least two ways of reading (2) and (3), or so it seems to me. We can read (2) with an emphasis on the front, i.e., as saying that Conee-Feldman mentalist evidentialism is internalist. That seems seems true (leaving Bergmann's considerations aside). But now (3) is false, as per my comments above; Plantinga can't subscribe to that theory, he can only subscribe to "core" mentalist evidentialism (which is not Conee-Feldman evidentialism). On the other hand, the alternative reading is that "Conee-Feldman mentalist evidentialism" and "the theory" refer to be the "core" mentalist evidentialism that we've now described. On that reading, (3) seems true to me, but (2) seems false. The only way in which both (2) and (3) are true is if the argument equivocates here, i.e., means "Conee-Feldman mentalist evidentialism" in (2), but means "core" mentalist evidentialism by "the theory" in (3). If that's the case, then, aside from the argument's equivocating, premise (1) is false. For (1) is plausible only if the terms "Conee-Feldman mentalist evidentialism" and "the theory" (to which Plantinga can subscribe), in the antecedent of (1), refer to the same view; otherwise, why think that the consequent is true (the fact that Conee-Feldman can subscribe to one theory and Plantinga can subscribe to another tells me nothing about the internalism/externalism distinction)? Etc., etc.

    Now, in some sense, this is an objection you've already anticipated. That is, you seem simply to think that (M-) and (EJ) (with the appropriate caveats about 'fittingness') just are the core notions of mentalist evidentialism, and also that this mentalist evidentialism is plausibly considered internalism. So it seems to me that you'll take the second reading I've suggested of (2) and (3) above (namely, that the respective terms refer to this "core" theory), and you'll say that both (2) and (3) seem true to you. Though (2) seems false to me on that reading, you'll perhaps insist that this "core" mentalist evidentialism is still plausibly internalism. After all, the Chisholmian internalist sort of view refers to epistemic principles as that which explains the 'fit' of a doxastic attitude with respect to some evidence, and those principles aren't in any sense internal, but even so we still hold up that view as a paradigm case of internalism. Likewise, Plantinga's view refers to design plans, and they're external, and they play the same role that Chisholm's epistemic principles play here, so why not call this internalism too?

    But here, I think, is why. I think internalism is more plausibly distinguished from externalism in the following way. Internalism holds that contingent factors external to the mind make no difference to the justificatory status of a given doxastic response. This captures the intuitive internalist response to the New Evil Demon problem for reliablism, for example, which might get loosely expressed as follows: "differences in environment or in the cognizer's makeup (with the exception of his mental states) don't affect justificatory status—it's the mental states that matter." The hypothetical Plantinga-style mentalist evidentialism is not internalist in this latter sense; it says that those other facts (or at least some of them) do matter. Now it's true that even Chisholmian internalism makes reference to factors beyond mental states, but those factors are necessary truths, i.e., the epistemic principles. On this view, then, there's still some sense in which it really is the mental states alone which matter, for the epistemic principles, as necessary truths, just couldn't be otherwise. This, to me, captures the distinction between internalism and externalism. Thus Conee and Feldman, in "Internalism Defended," say (with respect to Alston's internalist externalism) that "if actual frequencies of association, or something else external to the mind and contingent, can make Alston's objective probability vary while the internal grounds remain the same, then his theory is a kind of externalism" (p. 57 in the Evidentialism book). Likewise, I say that the "core" mentalist evidentialism, because it allows for Plantinga's hypothetical position as we've described it, is not internalism, and (2) is false.

    Again, this might be an issue of semantics. If it is, though, then I'm still worried that your argument might only show that the "internalism/externalism" distinction is not that substantive simply by redefining internalism, or at least using the term in what seems to me to be a non-intuitive, and perhaps non-standard, sense. With that new sense in mind, it's not that surprising that the internalism/externalism distinction is confused. But in the sense of "internalism" that I've expressed above, the distinction remains substantive, and premise (2) of the argument to the opposite conclusion is—if by "mentalist evidentialism" you mean the "core" theory we've now described, which allows for caveats about 'fittingness'—false.

    Jason

    By Blogger Jason Rogers, at 1/30/2007 2:42 AM  

  • Yikes, sorry I'm so long-winded! These comments really don't seem that long when I'm writing them. :-\

    By Blogger Jason Rogers, at 1/30/2007 2:49 AM  

  • Jason, thanks again for the helpful comments.

    I. Semantics
    A. "Conee-Feldman"
    I think that what I've identified as the core of mentalist evidentialism is the core of *Conee-Feldman* evidentialism. The supervenience theses were, historically, added on. In "Evidentialism" in particular it seems to me clearly a compromise to cover problems pertaining to "fit" even though they say something like it's "how we prefer to think about it". I think the preference is relative to the problems of saying what "fit" is. So I really do think the core notion is *their* core notion.
    B. "Internalism"
    It's not so much that I really want to call properfunctional view "internalist" as that I want to show that the substantive applicability of the term makes the distinction suspect or at least useless and unhelpful. On the flip side, the fact that considerations of fit are external to the agent even for *access* internalists like Chisholm shows the same thing. It seems to me that any decent theory of justification is going to have to treat what's going on in the head *and* how those things are related and so treat both internal and external factors.

    What I'm committed to is a phenomenal theory of evidence. So I think the most relevant applications of "internalist" and "externalist" here have to do with theories of mental states themselves. I think narrow content is all that can constitute evidence where as others think that world-involving wide content matters. I'm an "internalist" here and those guys are the "externalsits". So I think the terms apply to a theory of evidence quite nicely as opposed to their misleading application in theories of justification.

    C. "Externalism"
    I think I just disagree with Rich and Earl that contingency should be a sufficient condition for externalism. On the face of it, there's no conceptual connection between the necessary/contingent concepts and the internal/external concepts. I think this just points to the necessity of drawing finer distinctions. In fact, I think a distinction between the "necessitarians" and the "non-necessitarians" is an interesting and relevant opposition in a way that "internalist" vs. "externalist" is not.

    By Blogger Trent_Dougherty, at 1/30/2007 1:37 PM  

  • I really like this statement.."think that says all that really needs to go into mentalism. I should not have lazily pasted in the supervenience definition in. I fully intend to scale it back to its "core" notion in the same way."

    By Anonymous xl pharmacy, at 11/15/2011 11:40 AM