Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Goldberg on Gettier Cases and Internalism

Sanford Goldberg has an interesting new argument against mentalist internalism about justification in Analysis. I'm working on committing myself to an internalist approach to justification at the moment; Goldberg's new paper isn't enough to force me to reconsider.

The master argument of the paper, which Goldberg lays out quite succinctly, is this, which I quote:
P1. The property of being doxastically justified just is that property which turns true unGettiered belief into knowledge.

P2. No property that is internal in the Justification Internalist’s sense is the property which turns true unGettiered belief into knowledge.


C. No property that is internal in the Justification Internalist’s sense is the property of being doxastically justified.

I think internalists have two fairly natural lines of defence. First, one might reject the very notion of some property that turns true unGettiered belief into knowledge, at least if we read 'turns into' in some kind of truth-making sort of way. No doubt there is in some weak sense a property P such that one has knowledge if and only if one has true belief, has P, and is not in a Gettier situation, but I see no reason to suppose that it will be a property any more interesting or natural than the disjunction, knows or false or Gettiered. (I rather suspect "Gettiered" itself can be understood at best conjunctively.) And I don't think there's any interesting sense in which this disjunction turns unGettiered true belief into knowledge.

In defence of this way of setting the issue up, Goldberg writes:
After all, ‘doxastic justification’ is a term of art, and so if we are to continue to use it, it must pick out something that is epistemically interesting. It picks out something epistemically interesting if P1 is true; but it is unclear whether it picks out something interesting if P1 is false. At a minimum, the burden of proof will be on those internalists who deny P1: if this is how they respond to the present argument, then we are owed an explanation of why we should care about the property of which the internalist is purporting to give us an account.

But there are other fairly natural reasons to care about justification available. For example, justification may be that property which permits knowledge, without being one that guarantees it.

The second way an internalist might resist Goldberg's argument is to reject the considerations he brings to bear in favor of his P2. He imagines someone in an evil demon situation who is an intrinsic duplicate of someone with a justified belief. Take her perceptual belief that p. Her belief must be justified, by the internalist's lights, but is not knowledge, since she is in an evil demon scenario. It is not knowledge, even if it happens to be true. This doesn't support the argument unless we can also establish that this is not a Gettier case; at the moment it rather looks like one. (She has misleading evidence for p, and reasonably forms the belief that p on that basis; it turns out that p happens to be true.)

To close off this avenue, Goldberg asks us to suppose that it is probable that our subjects beliefs are true, due to the machinations of the demon.
Still, it is easy to tell yet another variant of the Evil Demon case on which this move – to explain away the ‘no knowledge’ verdict by appeal to Gettierizing luck – is not plausible in the least. Imagine the following scenario, involving the Not-so-Evil Demon: it is just like the ordinary Evil Demon scenario except the Not-so-Evil Demon has conspired to make 65% of your Doppelgänger’s beliefs true (the other 35% being false owing to systematic illusions sustained by Not-so-Evil). Imagine your Doppelgänger in this world. For any perceptual belief (s)he has, there is a 65% chance that the belief is true. If it’s true, this is not merely lucky.

But stipulating facts about luck is a dangerous game. There is of course some sense in which the not-so-evil demon victim isn't merely lucky to believe truly, but is it the one relevant to Gettier cases? Probably not. Nothing in Gettier's original cases precludes probability of true belief of this sort. Go back to Jones and the Ford and Brown in Barcelona; suppose Brown is in Barcelona 65% of the time, and Smith believes that Jones has a Ford or Brown is in Barcelona, as in the original case, solely on the basis of the misleading evidence about the Ford. This is still a paradigmatic Gettier situation, even though there may be some sense in which the belief is true not merely by luck. Given this parallel, I think the internalist has every reason to regard the subject of the not-so-evil demon as in a Gettier case. So there are good grounds for resisting Goldberg's argument.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Metaphysical and Conceptual Knowledge Connections

Knowledge shows up in theories a lot lately. Or should I say that 'knowledge' shows up in statements of theories? One question I'm hoping to research a fair amount in the near future concerns the status of theoretical claims about knowledge. The knowledge first program, broadly construed, says that knowledge has some kind of priority or privileged status, which makes it a good candidate to explain other states. (My broad construction applies not just to the Williamson project, but to all of those recent projects that posit strong theoretical roles for knowledge, such as the knowledge-action links of Hawthorne and Stanley.) Here's a question I'm interested in: how should we understand the knowledge first attitude? Here are two candidate interpretations:

  1. Knowledge, the mental state, is metaphysically (relatively) fundamental; it is among the (more) basic building blocks of the world. Questions about knowledge are questions about the (relatively) natural epistemic joints.

  2. KNOWLEDGE, the concept, is conceptually (relatively) fundamental; it is among the (more) basic ideas in our understanding of the world. Questions about knowledge are questions about our (relatively) fundamental conceptual framework.

(The hedges there indicate that knowledge 'first' should surely not be meant to imply absolute priority; one can subscribe, for instance, to the metaphysical interpretation of the knowledge first project and still believe that physical particles are the most fundamental bits of the universe; knowledge is prior to most of psychology and epistemology, perhaps, but not prior to physics.)

My suspicion, which I'm not yet in a position to make good on, is that a lot of authors are fairly indiscriminate about this distinction, and furthermore that it matters. But I'm not at all ready to argue for that claim; I need to re-read a lot of this literature with the question in mind. In this blog post, however, I'll highlight a number of passages that suggest each of the readings. Inclusion on this list is not meant as an indication either that the author endorses one interpretation over the other, or that the author is in any way confused on the matter; this is just a list of passages that strike me as suggestive of one of the two views, so that eventually I can look back and have a whole list of material to scrutinize.

I'll continue to update this blog post as I find passages that appear relevant. Suggestions, of course, are extremely welcome!

Knowledge, stakes, and closure

I've been sitting in on, and enjoying, Carrie Jenkins's grad seminar in epistemology. Today, one of our grad students, Kousaku Yui, brought up a pretty interesting suggestion in response to Jason Stanley's stakes-relative approach to knowledge. I didn't recognize the point as one that I've seen discussed before -- if there is a literature on it, I'd be very interested to see it.

The worry is this. Jason thinks that when the stakes are high, it's harder to know. But stakes aren't just a feature of an individual at a time; stakes are high for certain propositions when the truth or falsehood of those propositions make a big difference. It's possible to be such that the stakes for p are high, but the stakes for q are low. For example, it may be very important to Hannah and her wife Sarah whether the bank is open tomorrow, but not at all important to them whether it will rain tomorrow. In such a case, they would need to meet more exacting 'standards' in order to know about the bank than they would to know about the rain. That's a little bit counterintuitive, but only in the way that pragmatic encroachment is generally a little bit counterintuitive.

But here's what might be a deeper problem. Suppose someone is in a situation like the one just mentioned -- the stakes for p are high, but the stakes for q are low -- but where the subject knows that if q, then p. If so, then it's easy to know q, but hard to know p; but it looks like anyone who knows q could easily infer p. Closure plus the possibility of a case with this structure looks like they entail that the stakes-sensitive view can't be right.

Do we have to say such cases are possible? I don't see anything that forces us to, but certain cases are very naturally described in that way. Suppose Hannah and Sarah have an important bill, as per the standard high-stakes bank case; it's very important to them whether the bank will be open on Saturday. Suppose also that they have a friend Franklin who is a bank teller, and they have some small interest in whether he will be at the bank on Saturday. Here, however, the stakes are low -- nothing much hangs on whether they're correct about Franklin's location on Saturday. Assume that they have a good enough position for arbitrary strong knowledge standards for the proposition that Franklin will be at the bank only if it is open. So we have:

  • p: The bank is open Saturday

  • q: Franklin is at the bank Saturday

  • The stakes for p are high

  • The stakes for q are low

  • Everyone knows that if q, then p.

If Hannah and Sarah have a middling epistemic position with respect to q, then it looks like they're in a position to know q, but not to know p. But this violates closure.

Might Jason say that in such a case, the high stakes for p force the stakes up for q as well? He might, but it seems like a pretty strange thing to say. Intuitively, it doesn't matter to them much at all whether Franklin is at work on Saturday. Their bill situation has nothing to do with Franklin. Maybe we can wrap our heads around the idea that the bill makes it harder to know that the bank is open -- but can it really make it harder to know where their friends are?

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

E = K as foundationalism?

I'm re-reading Timothy Williamson's Knowledge and Its Limits for a reading group at UBC. I'm struck by this passage, from the introduction to Chapter 9 on Evidence.
[W]e may speculate that standard accounts of justification have failed to deal convincingly with the traditional problem the regress of justifications—what justifies the justifiers?—because they have forbidden themselves to use the concept knowledge. E = K suggests a very modest kind of foundationalism, on which all one's knowledge serves as the foundation for all one's justified beliefs.

I'm not at all sure what to make of this. I'm very impressed by E = K, but I have a hard time seeing reason to accept either of these claims:

  1. E=K is a kind of foundationalism

  2. E=K provides a solution to the traditional problem of the regress

Here's the story about foundationalism and the regress that I tell to my undergrads. I think it's pretty standard; if its somehow idiosyncratic, I hope someone will tell me. Everybody thinks that the justification for some beliefs depends on other justified beliefs. How do those other beliefs get justified? Maybe by yet further justified beliefs. Foundationalism is the thesis that there are basically justified beliefs -- beliefs that are justified in some other way than by being supported by other justified beliefs. If you're not a foundationalist, then you think that all justified beliefs are justified by other justified beliefs; for any given justified belief, there must be a chain of justified beliefs in successive support relationships that never ends, either because it continues infinitely, or because it doubles back on itself. Insofar as these latter two options are implausible forms of regress, there is intuitive support for foundationalism.

So as I understand it, what it is to be a foundationalist is to think that there are basic beliefs — i.e., beliefs that are justified, not in virtue of being supported by other justified beliefs. I'm surprised to see Williamson suggest that his view is a foundationalist one; E = K appears to me to be neutral on the question of whether there are basic beliefs. The Knowledge First project is consistent with the traditional idea that knowledge entails justified belief; I don't think it's a stretch to say that, on Williamson's view, knowledge is a (special, metaphysically privileged) kind of justified belief.

So if one's knowledge is among one's justified beliefs, then read literally, the claim that "[all of] one's knowledge serves as the basis of all one's justified beliefs" is tantamount to the claim that the chains of justification of the sort foundationalists talk about are in fact circular: some of my justified beliefs—the knowledgable ones, at least—are supported by chains that include themselves. But this is anathema to foundationalism, as the label for that view makes vivid.

Maybe I'm reading uncharitably literally; the thesis is that the knowledge is basic, and it supports the mere justified beliefs. All the knowledge is at the bottom of the pyramid and nowhere else. This now looks like foundationalism, but it carries the commitment that all knowledge is basic: all knowledgable beliefs are justified, not in virtue of being supported by other justified beliefs. This is a stronger claim than any I'd thought Williamson was committed to; I'm not sure it's particularly plausible. There is such a thing as inferential knowledge; in such cases, it seems very intuitive that justification depends on justification of the beliefs from which it's inferred. If you're a knowledge first program, you shouldn't think that's the main thing or the fundamental thing or the most interesting thing going on -- knowledge first people should be more excited about the fact that the knowledge of the conclusion flows from the knowledge of the premise -- but I see no reason to deny that there's also justificatory dependence at a less fundamental level. But foundationalism is (I thought) precisely about justificatory independence.

So what's going on? Does Williamson intend a weaker sense of 'foundationalism'? Or am I wrong about what the traditional sense would require, given his comments? Or is Williamson really committed to the thesis that if S knows that p, then S's justification for p does not depend on S's justification for any other proposition?

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Rationality and Fregean Content

I haven't been updating my blog since moving to UBC last fall, partly because I've been busy preparing new courses and grant applications and settling into a new city. (My two biggest professional bits of news over the last while, for anyone interested who hasn't already heard elsewhere, are that The Rules of Thought, my book with Ben Jarvis, is now under contract with OUP, and I'll be beginning an Assistant Professorship at UBC this summer.)

I'm now starting to shift back into research mode, however, and blog activity may come back up accordingly.

One of the philosophy books that has been on my 'to-read' list for a long time is Jessica Brown's Anti-Individualism and Knowledge; I've been interested in the relationship between mental content and epistemology for a while now. Of course if I'd been cleverer about it, I'd've read the book while I worked at St Andrews and spoke to Jessica regularly, but: better late than never.

Among the interesting things Jessica is up to in her book is an argument that Fregeanism about content is inconsistent with -- or at least, fits poorly with -- anti-individualism. This is the negation of one of the chapters of The Rules of Thought, so I wanted to attend especially to the argument. (Thanks to Sandy Goldberg for bringing this connection to my attention recently.)

One of Jessica's arguments boils down to this. (I'm looking at pp. 200-201.)

  1. Fregean sense depends for its motivation on the transparency of sameness of mental content.

  2. Anti-individualism is inconsistent with the transparency of sameness of mental content.

  3. Therefore, if anti-individualism is true, then Fregean sense is unmotivated.

In defense of (1), Jessica suggests that, were it possible for a subject to be wrong about whether two token concepts express the same content, the failure to make logically valid inferences would be consistent with full rationality. Celeste is in a Frege case.
Celeste fails to make the simple valid inference ... since she does not realize that the relevant thought constituents have the same content and thus that the inference is valid. Further, she can come to the correct view only by using empirical information. On this view, her failure to make the simple valid inference does not impugn her rationality, for even a rational subject would fail to make a valid inference that she does not realize is valid.

Jessica suggests that Fregeanism is motivated by the possibility of rationally holding what would be according to non-Fregean views contradictory sets of beliefs, or rationally declining to infer according to what such views would say are logically valid inferences. I agree -- a central motivation for Fregeanism is to explain why there's nothing irrational about believing Hesperus to be F and believing Phosphorus not to be F. But why does this rely on the assumption of the transparency of sameness of content? Jessica says in the passage above that there is an alternate explanation available, if transparency is denied: one doesn't make what is in fact a logically valid inference because one doesn't realize that it is valid, and this is consistent with full rationality.

Jessica's argument seems to rely on this claim:

(Reflection) If a subject doesn't realize that an inference is valid, then she faces no rational pressure to make it.

But Reflection strikes me as a pretty dubious principle in generality. Suppose somebody is pretty dense, and fails to realize that modus tollens is a valid inference form, and so fails to realize that various instances of it are valid. She sits there and thinks if it has an even number, then it's red and it's not red, and finds herself with no inclination to infer it has no even number. Surely her ignorance doesn't excuse her rational failure. So Reflection is false in generality; so arguments that rely on Reflection are unsound. It looks to me like Jessica is relying on Reflection, so I think her argument is unsound.

That said, there is admittedly an intuitive difference between my dense character and Jessica's ignorant one -- Jessica's character's failure to infer in accordance with valid inferences would be corrected by suitable empirical information; mine presumably wouldn't. Could this motivate a weakening of Reflection to render Jessica's verdict while avoiding the problematic one? Maybe, but it looks to me like it'd end up pretty ad hoc. (One upshot of Timothy Williamson's work on apriority is that it's very difficult precisely to state the kinds of connections to empirical investigation that underwrite certain intuitions.)

The Fregean can say this: failure to infer according to logically valid inferences is a rational failure, whether or not the subject recognizes the inference as a logically valid one. This, combined with the intuitive verdicts (no rational failure) about Frege puzzle cases, implies Fregeanism, but does not require any thesis about the transparency of content. This seems to be to be the natural thing to say.


Edit: Aidan McGlynn tells me that John Campbell and Mark Sainsbury are on the record against (1) in Campbell's 'Is Sense Transparent?' and Sainsbury's is 'Fregean Sense' in his collection Departing From Frege. I'll be interested to read them.