Thursday, October 28, 2010

Knowledge Norms and Pragmatic Encroachment

I'm thinking a bit more today about the point I made in a post yesterday about the use of intuitions about cases to evaluate knowledge norms. That point was basically that facts about whether S knows p and whether S is well-enough situated epistemically in order appropriately to X don't by themselves say anything about the knowledge norm of practical reasoning; S may know p without X's being appropriate just by virtue of p's not being a good enough reason to X. Yesterday I used this observation to rebut a certain kind of argument against knowledge norms.

I now think that, in addition to that use, this observation undercuts certain implications sometimes drawn from knowledge norms. In particular, I think it points to a lacuna in one of the central arguments of Fantl and McGrath's defense of pragmatic encroachment. I think this is a pretty fair reconstruction of their §4.3:

  1. KJ: If you know that p, then p is warranted enough to justify you in phi-ing, for any phi.

  2. Consider some low-stakes action, X, for which LOW has q as a sufficient reason; LOW can appropriately perform X. (Their example: Matt knows the train is a local; this justifies his boarding it.)

  3. There is a possible counterpart of LOW in the same epistemic position but with higher stakes, HIGH, such that HIGH cannot appropriately perform X. (Their example: Jeremy really needs to get off at a local stop; the stakes are too high for him to risk boarding.)

  4. So q is not well-enough warranted to justify X in phi-ing.

  5. So HIGH does not know q.

  6. So two subjects in the same epistemic position can differ with respect to knowledge of q.

  7. So purism is false.

(For maximum faithfulness to F&M's broader intentions, we should understand this entire argument, including its conclusion, as being offered under the conditional assumption that fallibilism is true -- that it's possible to know that p, even though there is some epistemic possibility that not-p.)

I'm concerned with the move from (3) to (4). It has pretty much the same form as the arguments sketched above, except that it's holding different bits fixed. Jessica Brown argued from what she saw as intuitive verdicts about knowledge and appropriate action against the knowledge norm; Fantl and McGrath argue from intuitive verdicts about appropriate action and the principle of the knowledge norm against the knowledge verdict Brown found intuitive. My argument shows the flaw in both of these arguments. (In a sense, they are instances of the same argument, run in different directions.)

The move from (3) to (4) relies, like Brown's surgeon case argument, on the assumption that the knowledge of q, the non-actionability of X, and the knowledge norm are incompatible. But as I've shown, they're not. They're incompatible only on the assumption that q is, if possessed as a reason, a good enough reason to X. And there just aren't obvious intuitive verdicts about facts like these; neither are there clear theories that dictate which claims like these to accept. It's obvious enough whether S knows q, and whether S would be justified in Xing -- but whether q itself is well-enough justified to be among the reasons S has for Xing is an esoteric question on which naive intuitions are silent.

Everybody who accepts (2) and (3) has to think there's some important difference that derives from a change in the stakes that bears on actionability. But you can think this without giving up on KJ, fallibilism, or purism, if you want to. You can say that what propositions are good enough reasons to X depends in part on the stakes. That is: whether p is known is stakes-independent; so too is whether p is warranted enough to be a reason for phi-ing, for any phi. What varies by stakes is whether p, supposing that it is a reason, is by itself a good enough reason to phi. When the stakes are high, p, though still genuinely a reason, isn't a good enough reason. In lower stakes, p is a good enough reason. Insensitive knowledge; insensitive reasons for action; sensitive needs of actions for reasons.

This does look to me like a significant and substantive gap in F&M's argument. I'm generally pretty sympathetic to F&M-style views -- I'm a different sort of contextualist than those who are motivated by 'intellectualism' -- but this does look to me to be a potentially promising avenue for resisting pragmatic encroachment from F&M-style arguments.

It will not obviously help, however, with the knowledge intuitions about bank cases and the like. Lots of pragmatic encroachment people seem to be turning their emphasis away from these cases recently, in favor of broader theoretical arguments. Certainly, this seems to be one of F&M's aims. I rather suspect, though, that the pragmatic encroachment theorist may end up needing to rely on judgements about cases more than they think. (I don't know that that's a problem.)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Knowledge Norms and Intuitions about Cases

Here's a boring thought experiment that doesn't demonstrate anything.
Smith burgled the house last night; Detective Stanley is investigating the crime scene. He acquires evidence sufficient for knowledge that the burglar came in through the window, but finds very little evidence about whether it was Smith or someone else who committed the crime.

Here are two intuitive verdicts that aren't in any tension at all:

  1. Stanley knows that the burglar came in through the window.

  2. Stanley would need to have more evidence in order for it to be appropriate for him to arrest Smith.

Everybody can accept these obvious claims. In particular, these obvious claims are in no tension with the knowledge norm of practical reasoning, which claims that p can be an appropriate reason for action for S if and only if S knows that p. It would be an anemic objection to the knowledge norm to point out that Stanley knows that the burglar used the window, but needs more evidence in order for it to be appropriate to arrest Smith. That the burglar used the window just isn't a strong enough reason to arrest Smith, so this case doesn't tell us anything about what is and is not a reason. So it doesn't tell us anything about knowledge norms.

The moral of the story is that claims about who knows what, and about what actions are inappropriate, are in general insufficient to refute the knowledge norm of practical reasoning. (So, mutatis mutandis, for the knowledge norm of assertion.)

When you look at the case given above, this moral is really obvious. But sometimes, I think, it's neglected. Jessica Brown, for instance, argues against the knowledge norm of practical reasoning by citing this case:
A student is spending the day shadowing a surgeon. In the morning he observes her in clinic examining patient A who has a diseased left kidney. The decision is taken to remove it that afternoon. Later, the student observes the surgeon in theatre where patient A is lying anaesthetised on the operating table. The operation hasn’t started as the surgeon is consulting the patient’s notes. The student is puzzled and asks one of the nurses what’s going on:

Student: I don’t understand. Why is she looking at the patient’s records? She was in clinic with the patient this morning. Doesn’t she even know which kidney it is? Nurse: Of course, she knows which kidney it is. But, imagine what it would be like if she removed the wrong kidney. She shouldn't operate before checking the patient’s records.

We have, as before, a pair of intuitive verdicts: one attributing knowledge, and another denying appropriateness of action. Brown considers this to be a counterexample to the knowledge norm of practical reasoning, but the case of the burglar shows that this cannot not enough. Just as the burglar argument was transparently invalid, because the burglar's use of the window wouldn't be sufficient reason for arresting Smith, Brown's argument is valid only on the assumption that the disease in the left kidney would be a sufficient reason for operating without checking the charts. But Brown has given us no reason to think that is so. It's entirely open to the defender of the knowledge norm to argue that knowledge of p is sufficient for p to be a reason, but that in this case, p isn't a good enough reason for action.

This strategy is always available. I think this shows that trading in intuitions about who knows what, and who ought to do what, is not a helpful strategy for evaluating knowledge norms.

Modals and Modal Epistemology

I've just uploaded a new draft of my paper on modals and modal epistemology. (I posted an earlier draft a few weeks ago.) If anyone's interested, it's here:

Modals and Modal Epistemology

Comments are extremely welcome. I hope to submit it soon, so if you wanted to provide feedback in the next week or so, you'd be a total hero. But I'm interested to hear thoughts later, too, of course.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Merely verbal disputes are rare

Pretty much everybody, I think, agrees that some disputes are merely verbal. For example, I may overhear someone say "Derek has big hair," think of my colleague Derek Ball, and retort, "you're wrong, Derek has short hair." If it turns out that my interlocutor was referring not to Derek Ball but to Derek Parfit, then our dispute was merely verbal. She and I were talking past one another; "Derek" in her mouth meant something different than did "Derek" in mine, and it turned out we were both right in our respective claims about each "Derek." So much is pretty uncontroversial, I think. When one party says sentence S, expressing proposition p, and another party wrongly takes q to be expressed, and takes himself to disagree in arguing against q, we have a merely verbal dispute.

In some recent work, Dave Chalmers argues that the phenomenon of merely verbal disputes is broader than the example above suggests. He rejects the necessity direction of
A dispute over S is verbal iff the parties use S to express distinct propositions p and q (respectively) and the parties do not disagree over the truth of p or of ¬q.

His argument appears to be one involving intuitive counterexamples. I'm not convinced.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Imagination and Belief in a "Single Code"?

A robust and celebrated fact is that imagining that p is often in various respects similar to believing that p. For example, when I imagine, say in the context of engaging with a fiction, that a great injustice has been committed, I feel angry in a way similar to the way I'd feel if I believed that a great injustice has been committed.

Shaun Nichols attempts to offer an explanation for this and other similarities in his paper "Imagining and Believing: The Promise of a Single Code". I'm having a pretty hard time seeing how his explanation is supposed to work.

The explanation Nichols offers, citing his previous work with Steve Stich, is that imagination and belief are distinct propositional attitudes with distinct functional roles, but that the propositional contents of each are given by representations in the "same code". What exactly does this mean?