Tuesday, June 30, 2009

When do I know what I'm like when aroused?

I'm reading, and enjoying, Dan Ariely's book Predictably Irrational, which catalogues a number of systematic ways in which human economic decisions fall short of the sort of ideal that traditional economic theory assumes. Some, but nothing close to all, of the data was already familiar to me, and I've always been interested and impressed by the relevant experiments -- as, for example, cases in which A is preferred among {A, B}, but where B is favored -- including favored over A -- among {A, B, C}. Ariely has some interesting things to say about applications of this sort of data, both in obvious places (advertising) and in unobvious ones (courtship).

On the whole, I think I'd recommend the book. But I do think that Ariely badly misfires in his Chapter 5, "The Influence of Arousal: Why Hot Is Much Hotter Than We Realize." The main thesis of this chapter is that humans grossly underestimate the effects of future sexual arousal on future decision-making. For example, in their 'cool' state, humans tend to predict that they will behave, while aroused, in ways more responsible and moral than they in fact do. This thesis is eminently plausible, and Ariely is right about its implications for, for instance, ideal sex education. My problem with his discussion is that his experiments don't remotely establish his claim, but he pretends that they do.

As I said, his claim looks pretty plausible anyway, so criticizing his experiments and presentation is in some sense intellectual. That, obviously, isn't about to stop me.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Thought Experiments Lecture Slides

I'm kicking off the Arché Summer School this year; here are the slides for my talk. (PowerPoint) (pdf)

(This is mostly designed for the attendees, although I guess it's conceivable that others could find them interesting. I don't have a handout; instead, I have a URL where interested parties can look at the slides, quotes, references, etc. in more detail.)

New Sidebar Features

I've added two kinda neat things to my sidebar: "Current Research Topic" and "Currently Reading". So if for whatever reason you're wondering what philosophical issues I happen to be thinking about on any given day, or what book I have in progress, my sidebar's a good place to look.

I'm trying to figure out a way to get the updates there to show up in my twitter feed, but that is proving less than trivial. I've given up for the moment, but maybe I'll try again later.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Real-World Deviant Gettier Case

Something cool happened in our methodology seminar last week. Some people like to remark on real-world Gettier cases they find themselves in. I found myself last week in the presence of a real-life deviant Gettier case.

A deviant Gettier case (what Ben Jarvis and I have also called a 'bad Gettier case') is a situation in which the literal text used to describe a Gettier situation is satisfied, but in such a way so as to fail to provide a counterexample to JTB=K. Deviant Gettier cases play a central role in a disagreement Ben and I have with Timothy Williamson. What's cool about this deviant Gettier case is that (a) although I played a central role in producing it, I did so entirely without design, and (b) it's deviant with respect to one of the standard paradigms of Gettier cases.

Here's what happened.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Allegedly inconsistent knowledge principles

Matt Weiner argues that 'our use of the word "know" is best captured by' an inconsistent set of inference rules. His setup strikes me as strange. He writes:
These are the Knowledge Principles:
(Disquotational Principle)  An utterance of “S knows that p” at time t is true iff at time t S knows-tenseless that p.
(Practical Environment Principle)  S’s evidence concerning p is good enough for knowledge iff S’s evidence for p is good enough to make it epistemically rational for her to act on the assumption that p.
(Parity of Evidence Principle) If the evidence concerning p for S and T is the same, then S’s evidence is good enough for knowledge iff T’s evidence is good enough for knowledge.

The Knowledge Principles are inconsistent, given only the truism that different people can have different practical stakes. Take a Bank Case (DeRose 1992), in which Hanna and Leila each have the same rather good evidence that the bank is open Saturday, but acting on a mistaken belief would harm Hannah much more than Leila.  Hannah is in a high-stakes context, Leila in a low-stakes context.  The Practical Environment Principle, which entails that Leila knows that the bank is open and Hannah does not, here generates an inconsistency with the Parity of Evidence Principle, which entails that Leila knows if and only if Hannah does.

Two things strike me as really strange about this claim, even setting aside the question of whether these principles are plausibly constitutive of the meaning of 'knows'.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

All reasoning is deductive

Brian recently wondered whether philosophy is deductive or somehow ampliative. I don't think I believe in ampliative inference. I think that all reasoning is deductive.

By 'deductive inference,' I mean inferences where the premises entail the conclusion, and one is led to accept the conclusion on the basis of the believed premises. (I'll limit this to inference in belief, although I think there's a broader important notion that is neutral on the attitude in question.) I'll use 'ampliative reasoning' to refer to reasoning that is not deductive; where one concludes something that goes 'above and beyond' what was given in the premises.

Suppose I see that Herman has an iPhone, and come to believe on this basis that Herman has an object. It is very natural in this instance to represent my reasoning deductively:
Herman has an iPhone.
Therefore, Herman has an object.

(I don't much mind if you want to include a tacit premise to the effect that iPhones are objects. Put it in or leave it out, as you like.)

Some reasoning, however, is commonly thought to be ampliative. Just which cases are like this is a matter of some controversy. One might think that ordinary perceptual judgments are like that:
It appears to me as if I have pocket kings.
Therefore, I have pocket kings.

Or maybe standard cases of induction are like that:
Torfinn got angry the last twenty times someone mentioned two-dimensionalism.
Therefore, Torfinn will get angry the next time someone mentions two-dimensionalism.

I think there's generally thought to be a strong intuitive sense in which it is correct to formalize these arguments as ampliative, rather than deductive. But I just don't see it. These ampliative bits of reasoning are easily recast as deductive ones. One way to do this is to add to each a tacit premise at least as strong as the material conditional from original premise to conclusion. Another way is to take the inferences as being run against the background assumption that such a bridging principle holds. (I'm not sure how different these two ways are.) Either way, I'm trying to make sense of the intuitive idea that, in inferring Q from P, one demonstrates one's commitment to the material conditional P > Q. One cannot conclude that Q on the basis of P while regarding it as an open question whether it might be the case that P and ~Q.

Insisting that all reasoning is deductive will, I think, get us out of some messy problems. (Without going into detail here, I'm thinking about closure iterations, easy knowledge, and bootstrapping.) There must be some reason it's not the obvious choice, but I don't see what it is. What reason do we have to avoid positing tacit premises like these?

Site update

I finally got around to changing some things around on this site; I'm no longer embarrassed by it, although it still needs work. Let me know if you see anything wrong, or if you have suggestions for content/design/whatever.

Rational Imagination and Modal Knowledge

Rational Imagination and Modal Knowledge, with Benjamin Jarvis. Forthcoming in Nous.
How do we know what's (metaphysically) possible and impossible?  Kripke-Putnam considerations suggest that possibility is not merely a matter of (coherent) conceivability/imaginability.  For example, we can coherently imagine that Hesperus and Phosphorus are distinct objects even though they are not possibly distinct.  Despite this apparent problem, we suggest, nevertheless, that imagination plays an important role in an adequate modal epistemology.  When we discover what is possible or what is impossible, we generally exploit important connections between what is possible and what we can coherently imagine.

Quantifiers, Knowledge, and Counterfactuals

Quantifiers, Knowledge, and Counterfactuals, forthcoming in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research.
Many of the motivations in favor of contextualism about knowledge apply also to a contextualist approach to counterfactuals. I motivate and articulate such an approach, in terms of the context-sensitive ‘all cases’, in the spirit of David Lewis’s contextualist view about knowledge. The resulting view explains intuitive data, resolves a puzzle parallel to the skeptical paradox, and renders safety and sensitivity, construed as counterfactuals, necessary conditions on knowledge.

Explaining Away Intuitions

Explaining Away Intuitions, (2010) in Studia Philosophica Estonica, special issue on intuitions. Refer to published version, available here.
What is it to ‘explain away’ an intuition? Philosophers often attempt to explain intuitions away, but it is often unclear what the success conditions for their project consist in. I attempt to articulate these conditions, using several philosophical case studies as guides. I will conclude that explaining away intuitions is a more difficult task than has sometimes been appreciated; I also suggest, however, that the importance of explaining away intuitions has often been exaggerated.

Quantifiers and Epistemic Contextualism

Quantifiers and Epistemic Contextualism, Version of 25 May, 2010. Forthcoming in Philosophical Studies.
I defend a neo-Lewisean form of contextualism about knowledge attributions. Understanding the context-sensitivity of knowledge attributions in terms of the context-sensitivity of universal generalizations provides an appealing approach to knowledge. Among the virtues of this approach are solutions to the skeptical paradox and the Gettier problem. I respond to influential objections to Lewis’s account.

Knowing the Intuition and Knowing the Counterfactual

Knowing the Intuition and Knowing the Counterfactual, (2009) Philosophical Studies, 145(3), September 2009: 435-443. Please refer to published version here. For a Philosophical Studies book symposium on Timothy Williamson's The Philosophy of Philosophy. See also Williamson's response here.
I criticize Timothy Williamson’s characterization of thought experiments on which the central judgments are judgments of contingent counterfactuals. The fragility of these counterfactuals makes them too easily false, and too difficult to know.


Dreaming, with Ernest Sosa. Forthcoming in The Oxford Companion to Consciousness.

Thought-Experiment Intuitions and Truth in Fiction

Thought-Experiment Intuitions and Truth in Fiction, with Benjamin Jarvis. (2009) Philosophical Studies 142 (2), January 2009: 221-246. Please refer to published version, available online here.
What sorts of things are the intuitions generated via thought experiment? Timothy Williamson has responded to naturalistic skeptics by arguing that thought-experiment intuitions are judgments of ordinary counterfactuals. On this view, the intuition is naturalistically innocuous, but it has a contingent content and could be known at best a posteriori. We suggest an alternative to Williamson’s account, according to which we apprehend thought-experiment intuitions through our grasp on truth in fiction. On our view, intuitions like the Gettier intuition are necessarily true and knowable a priori. Our view, like Williamson’s, avoids naturalistic skepticism.

Scepticism and the Imagination Model of Dreaming

Scepticism and the Imagination Model of Dreaming. (2008) The Philosophical Quarterly, 58 (232), July 2008: 519–527 doi:10.1111/j.1467-9213.2007.546.x  Penultimate draft; please refer to published version, available online here.
Ernest Sosa has argued that the solution to dream skepticism lies in an understanding of dreams as imaginative experiences – when we dream, on this suggestion, we do not believe the contents of our dreams, but rather imagine them.  Sosa rebuts skepticism thus: dreams don’t cause false beliefs, so my beliefs cannot be false, having been caused by dreams.
I argue that, even assuming that Sosa is correct about the nature of dreaming, belief in wakefulness on these grounds is epistemically irresponsible. The proper upshot of the imagination model, I suggest, is to recharacterize the way we think about dream skepticism: the skeptical threat is not, after all, that we have false beliefs. So even though dreams don’t involve false beliefs, they still pose a skeptical threat, which I elaborate.

Intuitions and Begging the Question

Intuitions and Begging the Question. Under Review. Version of 4 July, 2009.
What are philosophical intuitions? There is a tension between two intuitive criteria. On the one hand, many of our ordinary beliefs do not seem intuitively to be intuitions; this suggests a relatively restrictionist approach to intuitions. (A few attempts to restrict: intuitions must be noninferential, or have modal force, or abstract contents.) On the other hand, it is counterintuitive to deny a great many of our beliefs—including some that are inferential, transparently contingent, and about concrete things. This suggests a liberal conception of intuitions. I defend the liberal view from the objection that it faces intuitive counterexamples; central to the defense is a treatment of the pragmatics of ‘intuition’ language: we cite intuitions, instead of directly expressing our beliefs via assertion, when we are attempting to avoid begging questions against certain sorts of philosophical interlocutors.

Sosa on Virtues, Perception, and Intuition

Sosa on Virtues, Perception, and Intuition. Version of 19 January, 2009.
I critically evaluate Ernest Sosa's (2007) contrast between intuitive justification and perceptual justification. I defend a competence-based approach to intuitive justification that is continuous with epistemic justification generally.

Who Needs Intuitions?

Who Needs Intuitions? Two Experimentalist Critiques Version of 9 January, 2011. To appear in Booth and Rowbottom, (eds.) Intuitions, Oxford University Press.

A number of philosophers have recently suggested that the role of intuitions in the epistemology armchair philosophy has been exaggerated. This suggestion is rehearsed and endorsed. What bearing does the rejection of the centrality of intuition in armchair philosophy have on experimentalist critiques of the latter? I distinguish two very different kinds of experimentalist critique: one critique requires the centrality of intuition; the other does not.

Dreaming and Imagination

Dreaming and Imagination, (2009) Mind and Language, 24 (1), February 2009: 103-121. Please refer to published version, available online here.

I argue, on philosophical, psychological, and neurophysiological grounds, that contrary to an orthodox view, dreams do not typically involve misleading sensations and false beliefs. I am thus in partial agreement with Colin McGinn, who has argued that we do not have misleading sensory experience while dreaming, and partially in agreement with Ernest Sosa, who has argued that we do not form false beliefs while dreaming. Rather, on my view, dreams involve mental imagery and propositional imagination. I defend the imagination model of dreaming from some objections.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Experimentalist Pressure Against Traditional Methodology

Experimentalist Pressure Against Traditional Methodology, Version of 11 September. Under review.
According to some critics, traditional armchair philosophical methodology relies in an illicit way on intuitions. But the particular structure of the critique is not often carefully articulated—a significant omission, since some of the critics arguments for skepticism about philosophy threaten to generalize to skepticism in general. More recently, some experimentalist critics have attempted to articulate a critique that is especially tailored to affect traditional methods, without generalizing too widely. Such critiques are more reasonable, and more worthy of serious consideration, than are blunter critiques that generalize far too widely. I argue that a careful (empirical!) examination of extant philosophical practices shows that traditional philosophical methods can meet these more reasonable challenges.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Country Cooking from Central France: Roast Boned Rolled Stuffed Shoulder of Lamb (Farce Double)

Country Cooking from Central France: Roast Boned Rolled Stuffed Shoulder of Lamb (Farce Double), read by Isaiah Sheffer on PRI's Selected Shorts.

A posteriori knowledge of a priori abilities

Stephen Yablo argues that knowledge of things like shapes, insofar as they depend on visual imagination, cannot be a priori. Here is one of his arguments:
[S]ome imagined reactions are a better guide to real reactions than others. Imagined shape reactions are a good guide, you say, and you are probably right. But it is hard to see how the knowledge that they are a good guide could be a priori. If the mind’s eye sees one sort of property roughly as real eyes do, while its take on another sort of property tends to be off the mark, that is an empirical fact known on the basis of empirical evidence. I know not to trust my imagined reactions to arrangements of furniture, because they have often been wrong; now that I see the wardrobe in the room, I realize it is far too big. It is only because they have generally been right that I am entitled to trust my imagined judgments of shape. (458)

I think, however, that there is a conflation here between knowledge and knowledge of knowledge. It is a controversial thesis that, in order to know via the deliverances of an evidential source, one must know that source to be reliable. But even if that controversial thesis is true, it doesn't entail that in order for one to know a priori via the deliverance of some source, one must know a priori that that source is reliable; that would be a much stronger claim, and not obviously a plausible one.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Blog up and running (I hope)

Sorry for all the technical difficulties in the past week. It now appears that my blog works. I'm still hoping to import my posts from my old blog, but, I'm sorry to say, I'm becoming decreasingly optimistic. We'll see. Expect things to shift around here quite a bit over the next few weeks; my coding skills are mediocre at best, so there's a bit of trial and error involved, but I sort of have an idea now how I'll set things up around here.