Friday, January 11, 2013

Who Needs Intuitions? Two Experimentalist Critiques

I've just finished what I hope is nearly the final set of revisions on a paper on intuitions, philosophical methodology, and experimental philosophy. This is my oldest paper that I haven't given up on; it derives from material that was in my Ph.D. thesis in 2008. If anybody wants to read it, comments are very welcome. (I'm due to submit it by the end of the month, so comments are especially helpful if they're before then.)

Who Needs Intuitions? Two Experimentalist Critiques
Abstract. A number of philosophers have recently suggested that the role of intuitions in the epistemology of armchair philosophy has been exaggerated. This suggestion is rehearsed and endorsed. Many of these philosophers take this observation to undermine the experimentalist critiques of armchair philosophical methodology that have arisen in recent years. The dialectical situation here, I suggest, is more complex than it appears. I will argue that the so-called ‘experimentalist critique’ really comprises two very different kinds of challenges to armchair methodology. One, which I call the ‘defeater critique’, does not depend on any particular view about the philosophical significance of intuitions, even though its proponents often emphasize the language of intuition. The other, however, which I call the ‘arbitrariness critique’—prominent in earlier experimentalist work, especially that of Stephen Stich—does depend on a central role for intuitions. I survey some attempts to motivate this critique without reliance on assumptions about the centrality of intuitions, and find them unconvincing. So rejecting the centrality of intuitions is a sufficient response to the arbitrariness critique, even though it is orthogonal to the defeater critique.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

'Knows' contextualism derivative from 'believes' contextualism?

Here's Brian Weatherson:
[B]elief ascriptions and knowledge ascriptions raise at least some similar issues. Consider a kind of contextualism about belief ascriptions, which holds that (L) can be truly uttered in some contexts, but not in others, depending on just what aspects of Lois Lane’s psychology are relevant in the conversation:
(L) Lois Lane believes that Clark Kent is vulnerable to kryptonite.
We could imagine a theorist who says that whether (L) can be uttered truly depends on whether it matters to the conversation that Lois Lane might not recognise Clark Kent when he’s wearing his Superman uniform. And, this theorist might continue, this isn’t because ‘Clark Kent’ is a context-sensitive expression; it is rather because ‘believes’ is context-sensitive. Such a theorist will also, presumably, say that whether (K) can be uttered truly is context-sensitive.
(K) Lois Lane knows that Clark Kent is vulnerable to kryptonite.
And so, our theorist is a kind of contextualist about knowledge ascriptions. But they might agree with approximately none of the motivations for contextualism about knowledge ascriptions put forward by Cohen (1988), DeRose (1995) or Lewis (1996). Rather, they are a contextualist about knowledge ascriptions solely because they are contextualist about belief ascriptions like (L). Call the position I’ve just described doxastic contextualism about knowledge ascriptions. It’s a kind of contextualism all right; it says that (K) is context sensitive, and not merely because of the context-sensitivity of any term in the ‘that’-clause. But it explains the contextualism solely in terms of the contextualism of belief ascriptions.
I think that the kind of view Brian describes is very interesting and worthy of more attention than it's gotten. But I'm puzzled by his characterization of it. How is it that the knows-contextualism is explained by the belief-contextualism here? Belief-contextualism is a view about the word 'believes', which does not typically occur in knowledge attributions, the subject of knows-contextualism. So how could belief-contextualism explain knows-contextualism? In what sense is the theorist in question "a contextualist about knowledge ascriptions solely because they are contextualist about belief ascriptions"?

One might motivate knows-contextualism in a way reliant on belief-contextualism. It might look something like this: belief-contextualism is true. Therefore, for some situation, there are two contexts C1 and C2 such that in C1, 'S believes p' expresses a truth for that situation, and in C2, 'S believes p' expresses a falsehold for that situation. In some such C1, 'S knows p' also expresses a truth for that situation. In all contexts, 'S knows p' expresses a truth only if 'S believes p' expresses a truth. Therefore, in C2, 'S knows p' does not express a truth. Therefore knows-contextualism is true.

That argument gets the job done, but it doesn't seem at all like it must be motivating the combination of views Brian discusses. Why should one run through a metalinguistic principle about the relation between 'knows' and 'believes'? It seems to me to be at least as plausible that the corresponding views about 'believes' and 'knows' are motivated in parallel by considerations about propositional attitude ascriptions in general. I agree with Brian that someone who thinks (L)'s content depends on context for these kinds of reasons is also likely to accept the same for (K). But I don't think there's any reason to think the resulting knows-contextualism is in any sense derivative from the belief-contextualism. It's just that the same kinds of data motivate both views.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Fricker on concepts and states

Elizabeth Fricker writes:
Williamson maintains that 'knows' has no analysis 'of the standard kind'—this being one that factors knowing into a conjunction of mental and non-mental components, notably the mental state of (rational) belief plus truth and some other factors. Call this thesis NASK. If NASK were false, 'know' having an a priori necessary and sufficient condition in terms of belief plus some other (non-factive) mental and non-mental components, this would establish the falsity of KMS ['knowledge is a mental state']: knowing would be revealed a priori to be a conjunctive 'metaphysically hybrid' state.
I find the suggestion that there is any deep connection between NASK (a claim about the concept 'knows') and KMS (a claim about the nature of knowledge) somewhat confusing. She characterizes the denial of this connection as an 'error theory':
Here I follow Williamson in ruling out the possibility of an error theory—that our concept 'knows' could be complex, while it in fact denotes a simple state. It is doubtful whether this is even coherent, and it can surely be discounted.
I don't see why this would be an error theory, and I don't see why it should be thought incoherent (unless one is worried about the coherence of the very notion of a complex concept, as Fricker clearly is not). It's not true in general that there's any problem with the concept of 'X' having some property, while X itself has a contrary property. (The concept 'sky' has no colour, but the sky is blue.)

So what's going on?