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Think Tonk

Updated: 2017-09-06T07:28:20.317+04:30


New Home


I'm probably done blogging at this address, but I have a new website if interested (and will post there from time to time):

Clayton Littlejohn(image)

Happy Holidays. I'm taking a break.



Introducing (and solving?) a puzzle about rationality


On a natural way of drawing the line between the internal and the external, knowledge is an externalist notion.  Knowledge requires a proper fit between appearance and reality, so the stuff knowledge is made of isn't just in the head.  It might seem clear to you that p, you might have strong evidence for p, and you might reason as carefully as anyone can in concluding that p, but p still might be false.  If, however, it seems clear to you that p, you have incredibly strong evidence for p, and you reason carefully in concluding that p, isn't there something good about believing what you do?  If all the available evidence supports p, it might seem unreasonable for you not to believe p.  If that's right, maybe it's just the stuff in the head that matters to rationality.             The gap between appearance and reality is a potential threat to knowledge, but it doesn't seem to be a direct threat to rationality. Consider the new evil demon case.[1]  Your non-factive mental duplicate is deceived by a Cartesian demon. Everything you see and remember, they seem to see and remember. Everything that strikes you as plausible strikes them that way, too. You reason in just the same ways. You draw all and only the same conclusions. In spite of this, there are vast differences in what you know. In spite of this, there doesn't seem to be any difference in how rational your beliefs are.  This suggests that neither the presence of the appearance-reality gap nor the things on the far side of it have any direct bearing on what's rational to believe. Perhaps this is because the absence or presence of such things doesn't have any direct bearing on what's intelligible from your point of view.              A natural explanation as to why rationality supervenes upon the mental is an evidentialist explanation. The reason that facts about your mental states wholly determine whether it's rational for you to believe a proposition is that facts about your mental states determine what evidence you have and evidential support relations determine what's rational for you to believe.  If your evidence provides sufficiently strong support for your beliefs, they're rational. If they're rational, it's because they're supported to a sufficient degree by the evidence.              This evidentialist explanation is not uncontroversial, but it's not unpopular either.  There's been a debate about whether your evidence supervenes upon your non-factive mental states, but I'd like to bracket this issue we haven't paid enough attention to the second part of the evidentialist explanation.  Should we say that rational beliefs are rational because the evidence provides sufficiently strong support for them? Even if we grant that rationality supervenes upon the evidence, this is a stronger claim, a grounding thesis. It's not clear whether we should think that it's true.            I don't think it is true. We shouldn't think of epistemic rationality as merely a matter of strong evidential support.  My target is an evidentialist view with three core commitments: 1.           Dependence: If you rationally believe p, you have evidence for p that provides sufficiently strong support for p.2.          Priority: The possession of evidence for p is independent from and prior to the rational status of your belief concerning p.3.          Structural Sufficiency: If you have evidence for pthat provides sufficiently strong support for p, it's rational to believe p.[2]Structural sufficiency says that there's a reason why the evidence plays the rational role that it does.  By providing a level of suppo[...]

Philosophy: we're only in it for the money


The APA tries to correct the common misconception about philosophy majors and employment:Dear Editor:Clair Caine Miller’s recent article, "A College Major Matters Even More in a Recession" (June 20, 2014), on Altonji, Kahn, and Speer’s "Cashier or Consultant? Entry Labor Market Conditions, Field of Study and Career Success” reports that during a recession "those who major in subjects that lead to lower-paying jobs, like philosophy and music, are even more disadvantaged than in normal economic times.” This is quite misleading about philosophy majors’ earning prospects. According to a Wall Street Journal list, "Degrees that Pay You Back," philosophy majors have the highest increase in yearly earnings from starting median salary to mid-career salary at 103.5 percent while religion majors’ median salary increase is 52.5 percent, for a difference at midcareer of $81,200 versus $52,000. Philosophy is the top earning humanities major, ranking above chemistry, accounting, and business management for midcareer earning potential. of the difficulty is that Altonji et al. treat philosophy and religious studies as a combined category. Perhaps they do so because part of their study relies on SAT scores by major, and the College Board itself fails to distinguish between the SAT scores of students intending to major and philosophy from those intending to major in religious studies. There is separate data available for philosophy majors’ GRE scores, which shows that they are doing exceptionally well. A summary from the American Physical Society of ETS results by intended graduate major on the 2013 GRE shows that philosophy students "dominate” on the verbal and analytical portions of the GRE and are equivalent to biological sciences students on the quantitative portion. temptation to combine data for philosophy and religious studies may be due to the fact that these disciplines were once often combined in single departments, and there are still institutions where those combined departments exist. In the very distant past, when religious studies meant theology, it made some sense of do so. Religious studies today is a highly interdisciplinary field, drawing on history, sociology, literary studies, anthropology, and philosophy. The content of that discipline bears little resemblance to philosophy, has a very different undergraduate curriculum and draws a different cohort of students.The philosophy major trains students’ general cognitive skills, improving their ability to reason, to make principled decisions, to fairly represent competing points of view, to write clear and logically well-organized prose, and to isolate the main point or problem in complex texts. These sorts of analytic skills make philosophy majors highly flexible in the job market. Why does all this matter? US students entering college, unlike European students, have little idea what philosophy is, and bring to their selection of a major all sorts of misconceptions about philosophy, including that it is not practical because it will not lead to profitable employment. Many students who would enjoy and benefit from philosophical training do not, as a result, find their way into philosophy majors, and may also be discouraged from studying philosophy whatever their major. For many students these are important lost opportunities. And we need to ensure that our institutions of higher education make these important opportunities available.Michael BratmanChair of the Board of Officers, American Philosophical Association (2011-2014)Cheshire CalhounChair of the Board of Officers, American Philosophical Association (2014-2017)Amy E. FerrerExecutive Director, American Philosophical AssociationAnd the APA fails to correct the common misconception about philosophy majors and employment because the New Y[...]

Festival: How The Light Gets In


How The Light Gets In is a festival being held in Hay on Wye from the 22nd of May through the 1st of June.  The idea is to bring together philosophers (and other writers) as well as music for ten days of thinking, debating, dancing, etc.  Seriously envious of anybody who gets to go. (Maybe someone will send me a ticket?)  I'd give anything to see James Ladyman on stage with Rupert Sheldrake and that is actually a thing that is going to happen.  (There's also going to be a session with John Heil, Dan Stoljar, and Rupert!  Seriously, can someone send me a ticket?)

Also worth noting that Anita Avramides, Simon Blackburn, Emma Borg, Nancy Cartwright, Hubert Dreyfus, Jennifer Hornsby, and Thomas Pogge will all be giving talks.  

Very pleased to say that my colleague, Eleanor Knox, will be presenting on force and then again on spacetime (or space-time).

Check out the link above, if curious. (image)

Another round on the lottery paradox


I've had a few rounds with Thomas Kroedel over the lottery paradox. His latest response to my latest response is coming soon to Logos & Episteme.  

As he sees it, the lottery paradox (a version of it, at least) arises because these are plausible but inconsistent: 

(1-J) For each ticket, I’m justified in believing that it will lose. 
(2-J) If, for each ticket, I’m justified in believing that it will lose, then I’m justified in believing that all the tickets will lose. 
(3-J) I’m not justified in believing that all the tickets will lose. 

His solution is to reject (2-J), denying that epistemic permissions agglomerate. 

My objections are these: 

O1: Agglomeration isn't an issue if there aren't permissions to begin with. I'd reject (1-J).
O2: There's a good reason to think that we should reject (1-J), which is that we know that we cannot know the relevant propositions.  
O3: Once we get started, so to speak, adding beliefs to the belief set, there's nothing available to him that could explain why we should 'draw the breaks'.  Once we're clear on ex post and ex ante rationality, I don't think that you can both say that it is ex ante rational to believe each of the lottery propositions and then say that it is not ex post rational to believe all of the lottery propositions.  

Anyway, in my last round, I challenged Kroedel to explain why epistemic permissions do not agglomerate. I probably wasn't as clear with my challenge as I should have been, so I'll just note a worry about his latest response.  He offers as examples that show that permissions do not agglomerate cases in which we're permitted to believe conjuncts but not conjunctions.  Here's a general worry about the principle he assumes.

He wants a case with this structure: Jp, Jq, ~J(p&q).  Here's a worry about this. Suppose you were to argue for the conjunction, p&q, from two premises, p and q.  

* Since you believe (a) the premises and (b) believe the premises entail the conclusion, you should (in some sense) believe the argument is sound. (At the very least, you know the conclusion follows and are thought to be permitted to believe the premises, so I'd think you can permissibly believe that the argument is sound.)

* Since the argument is a counterexample (allegedly) to agglomeration of permission, you should not believe the conclusion is true.
* If you do what you should, does that mean you should be like this: I believe the argument is sound, but I don't believe the argument's conclusion?

To my mind, that's a crazy way to be.  I'm pretty sure that this is similar (if not identical) to Adler's remarks concerning the lottery and the conjunction rule from Belief's Own Ethics.  

Another problem that simply doesn't arise if we simply reject (1-J).  Since I don't think there's yet been an adequate response to O3, I still don't think that the worries I've raised can be put to rest.  

Of course, there's this persisting problem.  If I ask you whether the ticket won or lost, you might say, 'I don't know'. Kroedel and I agree that you'd speak the truth. If you then added 'Of course, it will lose', I think you're being irrational.  This is a point on which we disagree, but I haven't yet seen any plausible story about how that could be a rational state of mind to be in.


E=K and Infallibilism


Jessica Brown (forthcoming) identifies a potential problem for Williamson’s (2000) approach to evidence and knowledge. Williamson identifies your evidence with the propositions that you know: E=K: S’s evidence includes p iff S knows p.He also accepts this account of evidential probability: EP: The evidential probability of a proposition p for you is the conditional probability of p on your total evidence.   Taken together, these two claims commit Williamson to a form of infallibilism: Infallibilism: If S knows p, the evidential probability of p on S’s evidence is 1.Why is Williamson forced to choose between inductive skepticism and the possibility of p being evidence for p? Consider a standard approach to evidential support, one that Williamson accepts:EV: e is part of S’s evidence for h iff S’s evidence includes e and P(h/e) > P(h).In the case of inductive inference, prior to believing p the evidential probability of p is less than 1. After adding p to your evidence, it's probability raises to 1. So, in the case of inductive inference that results in knowledge, p is evidence for p because (i) p is part of your evidence (by E=K and the anti-skeptical assumption) and (ii) P(p/p) > P(p).How serious a problem is this for Williamson? Brown thinks it's quite serious. I disagree, but that's for another post.  I have written more about this in a paper that will probably never see the light of day (unless someone can think of a good journal for it):[...]

Fetch for one


There's a video of a dog playing fetch with himself on Gawker (here). That's old hat. Agnes invented that game ages ago: width="560" height="315" src="//" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen>(image)

Converting to knowledge-first epistemology


I've been critical of the knowledge-first approach to issues in epistemology, but around the beginning of this year I started to reconsider. There were three reasons for this. The first is that the intuitions that I thought caused the most trouble for this approach had to do with a specific kind of Gettier case. Now my intuitions about cases of environmental luck have started to shift. I'll post some about this soon when I get a decent draft of a paper on robust virtue epistemology. The second is related to this and that's that I've started to think that the link between knowledge and ability is a bit tighter than I had initially thought. Third, I think that the truth-first approach I favored really cannot explained why epistemic assessment has the inward looking focus that it does. That's the topic of this paper, which should be out in The Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society in the not so distant future. In the meantime: The Russellian Retreat(image)

Justification, Access, and Moore's Paradox


Good news! Received word last night that Episteme has accepted my paper, "A Note Concerning Justification and Access". In this paper, I evaluate Declan Smithies' Moorean arguments for access internalism and argue that we shouldn't appeal to the access principles he defends to explain why various combinations of attitudes are not rationally co-tenable. You can find a draft of the paper here. If interested, you can find a new page with links to papers here.(image)

The wait


(image) (image)

Reasons vs. Causes (again)


Thinking about this last night before bed, it seems to me that there's a simple response to those who would argue for statism and against factualism on the grounds that reasons are causes.   

P1. Causes have to have to be fully determinate, fully specific entities. 
P2. Reasons cannot be fully determinate, fully specific entities.
C. Reasons cannot be causes.

The motivation for P1 might initially seem a bit obscure since some authors (e.g., Mellor) have argued that facts can be causes.  Remember, however, that we're looking at an argument that's an argument against those who have already decided that facts cannot be causes, presumably on the grounds that they are not concrete.  

As for the motivation for P2, the idea is that the rational role of reasons requires an entity that's graspable.  Facts, propositions, and states by virtue of the fact that their natures seem to be determined entirely and exhaustively by the way they are canonically picked out linguistically.  Whereas causes have to satisfy Steward's 'secret life requirement', reasons cannot have secret lives upon pain of failing to be a graspable.

This is all back of the envelope stuff, but I think it's a start.  

Knowledge, Reasons, and Causalism (Draft)


I've finished another draft of a paper on knowledge, reasons, and causes. (I've changed the title because I've discovered that Harman has a paper with the title I thought I'd use.)

Knowledge, Reasons, and Causalism

In this paper, I explain why I don't think the considerations that support the causalist view of rationalizing explanations lends any support to a statist view of epistemic reasons. Almost all of the extant views of the basing relation treat the basis for one's beliefs as states of mind. I don't argue that the view is without any motivation, but I do argue that the only motivation I know of for the view is no motivation at all.  I then point to some surprising consequences of the factualist view of reasons I prefer. (I was surprised by some of these consequences!  Not all the surprises were happy surprises.)(image)

Swinburne on designators and dualism


Another stab at Swinburne's argument for dualism. I don't think the introduction of the notion of an informative rigid designator is at all helpful. Here's why.IntroductionSwinburne has a new argument for property dualism.  If successful, the argument would seem to show that many familiar forms of physicalism are false.  I don’t think the argument is successful.The Anti-Physicalist ArgumentTo understand his argument, we need to understand some of Swinburne’s machinery. Swinburne introduces the notion of an informative rigid designator (IRD) to help introduce identity criteria for properties.  On his view of property identity, properties are individuated by the IRDs that pick them out (2013: 24). Whereas a rigid designator will designate the same thing in every possible world (where it designates anything at all), an IRD is such that one who grasps its meaning will know what something has to be to be designated by that designator:For a rigid designator … to be an informative rigid designator it must be the case that anyone who knows what the word means … knows a certain set of conditions necessary and sufficient (in any possible world) for a thing to be that thing (whether or not he can state those conditions in words) (2013: 12).To use a well worn example, think about ‘lightning’ and ‘electrical discharge’.  If it is true that lightning is just electrical discharge, we might expect that it is necessarily the case that lightning is electrical discharge. The expressions seem to rigidly designate the same thing and so there is no possible world in which it’s false that lightning is electrical discharge.  While someone might grasp fully the meaning of lightning without being in a position to say anything at all about electrical discharge (e.g., speakers who were ignorant of the relevant scientific discoveries and had no concept of electricity), one might think that someone who knows what ‘electrical discharge’ means knows what it would take for something to be an electrical discharge and see that lightning fits the bill. Let me note two interesting (apparent) consequences of this approach.  The first is that an identity sentence involving a pair of IRDs is not simply necessarily true if true but logically necessary if true.  The denial of the sentence would entail a contradiction (2013: 19). The second is that any identity sentence involving a pair of IRDs will be knowable apriori if true (2013: 24).  Thus, if it is not apriori that a pair of IRDs designate the same thing, it is supposed to be necessarily false that they designate the same thing. The sentence that asserts that they designate the same thing would entail a contradiction. With this much in place, there is a quick argument against the identification of any mental property with any physical property.  To show that mental properties are distinct from any and all physical properties, Swinburne argues that it is not apriori that the IRDs that designate the physical properties or the mental properties designate the mental properties or the physical properties:Since the informative designators of any physical properties are not logically equivalent to those of any mental properties (since there are different criteria for applying the designators), no mental property is identical to a physical property. The criteria for being in pain are not the same as the criteria for having some brain property … The criteria for being in pain are how the subject feels, and the criteria for brain and behavioural events are what anyone could perceive (2013: 70).  The argument is quick, but is it effective?  I fear that there are two notions of IRD at play in [...]

New Blog: Philosophers King's


Charles Cote-Bouchard and Antonio Delussu have started a new blog for KCL philosophy graduate students: Philosopher's Kings.

They have just two posts up, but I think it should be good once they get going.  (Get going!)(image)

Some thoughts on epistemological disjunctivism


Having read Duncan's work on epistemological disjunctivism a few times, I've written something up that explains why I don't think his approach can overcome the basis problem.  I'm in the midst of writing something up on a similar problem that confronts McDowell's epistemological argument for metaphysical disjunctivism. In the meantime, a paper on epistemological disjunctivism and the basis problem. (image)

A beast with two backs


I've had this problem lately finding a place to sit.  In the old flat, I had more seats than I needed but no desk. Now I have a wonderful desk and can't seem to find a place to sit.  I've fixed this. In so doing, I've conclusively refuted Peter van Inwagen.

One chair with a broken back. One chair in need of a seat.


Where there had been two objects, we now have a chair with a back and a seat.

This is the most comfortable chair I've ever had.  I'm pleased with myself because I've just done what Peter van Inwagen takes to be impossible--make a comfortable chair out of chairs!

I think Martino Gamper would be proud.(image)

New Blog! Fsopho


Hi all,

There's a new blog that I wanted to draw your attention to:

Fsopho has lots of good posts on issues near and dear to me.


The K took my baby away


On Monday I gave a talk at the Aristotelian society that had to do with the norms of belief (listen here). My view has long been that knowledge isn't the norm of belief (or assertion, practical reason, etc.), but I've started to think that it might be.  The view I defended in Justification and the Truth-Connection was a kind of truth-first view. Starting from the idea that the fundamental epistemic norm is a truth norm, we could say what needed to be said about epistemic normativity by identifying various derivative norms that derive their authority from the truth norm. At the end, we'd say what needs to be said about epistemic normativity without ever having to say anything at all about knowledge.I've started to change my mind about this. I think there were two reasons for this and I don't think they're unrelated.  First, I had thought that having something as part of your evidence didn't require knowing that the thing was true.  I'm no longer convinced that this is so.  I'm not entirely certain that your evidence can't include p unless you know p, but I'm just not totally persuaded by my old Gettier-based arguments against E=K.  Since I still think that there are norms that govern belief that have to do with whether your beliefs can provide reasons, I've started to shift towards the idea that there is indeed a knowledge norm that governs belief.  The second reason for the change is the subject of the Aristotelian society talk.  As I was thinking about what to talk about, I was struck by something I suppose I hadn't really thought about before.  Practical assessment seems to be largely outward looking. What I mean is that it seems that the deontic standing of your actions turns largely (if not exclusively) upon whether those actions were fitting in the circumstances.  (There are tricky cases that Steve Sverdlik describes in his excellent book Motive and Rightness, but we can set these aside for now because the point that I want to make doesn't turn on whether his arguments are successful or not.)  Thus, I think Judith Thomson is right when she says that it's an odd idea that we need to look into the agent's head to determine whether some prospective course of action would be permissible. (I'm not convinced that she's drawn the right lesson from this, but that's for another time.)  At any rate, it's striking that everyone seems to think that epistemic assessment is largely inward looking.  We care about whether the agent's reasons are good reasons and how the agent reasoned. The deontic standing of a belief seems to turn on this, not (just) whether it fits the facts.So, there's an interesting asymmetry between practical and theoretical assessment that I've struggled to understand. Why does one seem to be so excessively concerned with the relationship between guiding and explanatory reasons when the other doesn't seem to be terribly concerned with this at all? It's because of this asymmetry that I started to think that the truth-first approach couldn't ultimately explain why the deontic status of one's beliefs turns on the reasons for which one believes and their relation to good reasons to believe.  It seems that any such explanation would have to start from the idea that the content of the fundamental epistemic norm has to do with truth and then try to derive additional norms by appeal to some ideas about what guiding reasons require or about how we're supposed to follow norms. Those claims look pretty good until you realize that these are supposed to be claims ab[...]

What are we supposed to learn from deviant causal chains?


I don't have the patience to work through most papers on causal deviance. This isn't an attempt to solve any of the problems having to do with deviant causal chains, only an attempt to say something about the significance of deviant causal chains.

The problem that deviant causal chains pose for a Davidsonian approach to action is one of the motivations for Steward's agency incompatibilism.  As she sees it, actions just aren't the sorts of things that have causal antecedents. It's a mistake to think of actions as events that have been brought about in the right way by the agent's states of mind or mental events.

Here's a worry.  It seems that you'll run into problems having to do with deviant causal chains in trying to give a causal account of believing for a reason, but it doesn't seem like beliefs are the sorts of things that shouldn't have causal antecedents. Agency incompatibilism has its merits, but I don't think that determinism is a threat to belief.

On Marcus' account, it looks like acting for a reason and believing for a reason are given the same treatment--to believe for a reason or act for a reason is to represent the belief or action as to be believed or done in light of something else. On one way of reading this, deviant chains cannot arise because that requires a causal chain between two distinct existences. A virtue of Marcus' approach is that it does away with the distinct existences. Believing for a reason doesn't involve a causal relation between a reason or some reasons and a belief. It involves representing the fact/proposition believed as to be believed in light of something else and that representation isn't a relation between two distinct existences.

Here are two worries. First, Marcus' account cannot be applied to the case of non-inferential belief.  Thus, the account seems insufficiently general. Whatever story we tell about believing for a reason in the non-inferential case, we'll need to rule out deviancy in this case without using his trick.  You might think that whatever we do to understand the relationship between the reason for which you believe and your belief in, say, the case of perceptual knowledge, we'll be able to tell a similar story in the case of inferential knowledge.  Second, there are deviant causal chains that don't have to do with belief, action, or reasons at all.  There are cases of that show that the connection between, say, the fragile glass' shattering and the striking of the glass isn't right for the glass to have shattered because of its fragility.  (I think I owe this point to Hyman). (image)

Swinburne's designators


I'm reading Swinburne's Mind, Brain, and Free Will (OUP 2013) and trying to get a grip on his latest arguments against physicalism.  In the discussion, the notion of an informative rigid designator seems to play an important role. He says that rigid designators are supposed to designate the same thing in every possible world. (Let's bracket worries about what rigid designators designate in worlds where there's nothing that exists that could be designated by the expression.) Some of these (e.g., 'Richard Swinburne', 'This', 'Here') can be used by speakers who know the meaning of these expressions without knowing a set of necessary and sufficient conditions that the thing designated must meet to be the thing designated by the designator.  With informative rigid designators, however, 'it must be the case that anyone who knows what the word means ... knows a certain set of conditions necessary in sufficient (in any possible world) for a thing to be that thing' (12).  The notion of an informative rigid designator does a lot of work in Swinburne's book. He says that properties are individuated by the informative designators that pick them out. As a consequence of this, it is a purely apriori matter whether one property is the same as another.  (As you might expect, the fact that there are no true apriori claims about the relationship between mental and physical properties is taken to be a reason to reject type identity claims. (And since events are defined in terms of properties and their instantiations, we get a quick argument against certain familiar forms of token identity theories. Editorial note: the quickness of that argument is a reason to worry about his approach to these issues, not a reason to worry about the status of token physicalism. The fact that you can't take seriously the idea that token physicalism might be true even if type physicalism is false just means that you aren't trying very hard to get the notion of an event right.)) So, what are these bloody informative rigid designators?  I fear that Swinburne's guidance isn't quite as helpful as it should be.  Here are two ways of thinking about IRDs that won't suit Swinburne's purposes but does seem to satisfy his initial gloss on the notion: IRD1: If I know the meaning of 'this' when I say 'This is F', I know that for any x, x = the semantic value of 'this' iff 'this is x' is true.  Since I'd know a condition that's necessary and sufficient for determining whether any x meets this (trivially because I know that they'd have to be identical to the semantic value of 'this'), all RDs are IRDs.IRD2: If I introduce a descriptive name such as 'Julius' by means of a description, such as 'The person who actually invented the zip', I'd know a condition that's necessary and sufficient for any x to be Julius. For any x to be Julius, x has to be identical to the actual inventor of the zip.  This allows us to maintain some distinction between RDs and IRDs if we say that some such descriptive knowledge is necessary.  It's obvious that the first proposal isn't at all in the spirit of Swinburne's suggestion and pretty clear that neither way of introducing IRDs would suit his purposes.  That's because it's supposed to be apriori whether two IRDs pick out the same thing and the case of descriptive names shows that it's quite possible to introduce a kind of RD where it's true that one thing is picked out in two ways without it being apriori that this is so.It seems what Swin[...]

Narrow contents and justification: security vs. sufficiency


I've been thinking a bit about the varieties of mentalist views about propositional justification. There's a view that's attractive to those of us who have internalist instincts (not me!) according to which the only states of mind that contribute to justification are those that are phenomenally individuated.  This includes some intentional states, but not states with wide content.  (I'm following Smithies' discussion of the view here.)Here's a rough worry about the view.  It doesn't deny that the belief that, say, this glass contains water can be justified on the basis of your experiences. It insists that its justification is provided by phenomenally individuated states which are supposed to be common to subjects on Earth and Twin Earth. Here's the objection to this proposal:P1. To have sufficient justification to believe propositions about the external world, these propositions have to be more likely than their negations on the evidence one has for these propositions.P2. If these propositions are the contents of beliefs with wide contents, phenomenal mentalism implies that these propositions will not be more likely than their negations on the evidence one has for these propositions.C. Phenomenal mentalism implies that one cannot have sufficient justification to hold beliefs with wide contents.The first premise says that you cannot justifiably believe p if you need evidence to believe p and the evidential probability of p is not greater than the evidential probability of ¬p.  I take this premise to be eminently plausible. To deny it, it would have to be possible to have beliefs about the external world that were not more likely to be true than not on one’s evidence.  It’s not at all plausible to deny that.Let 'w' be the proposition that the glass contains water and 't' be the proposition that it contains t-water. Now, we might suppose that our subject only grasps the concepts to entertain w but the grounds she has for believing w are the same grounds as the grounds her counterpart has for believing t. The second premise says that the evidence you have to believe this glass contains water (‘w’) is the same evidence you have to believe that this glass contains twater (‘t’). The evidential probability of w cannot be greater than .5 because it is equal to the evidential probability of t and w and t are incompatible. (Indeed, since the evidential probability of the disjunction of t and w isn't 1, it will be less than .5.) Even if these exhausted the possibilities (which they don’t), w wouldn’t be more likely than not given your evidence.Might the phenomenal mentalist try to avoid this worry by arguing that probabilities are only defined relative to propositions that you grasp? I suppose that's a possibility, but it seems like an odd one. Without going this route, it looks like the security of the grounds for our beliefs about the external world undermines the thought that these grounds are sufficient. [...]

Another one for the knowledge norms


P: You stole from my kin!

U: Who was fixin' to betray us.

P: You didn't know that at the time.

U: So I borrowed it till I did know.

P: That don't make no sense!

P: It's a fool who seeks logic in the chambers of the heart.

I like this exchange. (From O' Brother Where Art Thou) As I see it, Pete wins. Evidence for the knowledge norm of practical reason?

Did Davidson slip? A quick one on reasons and causes


Finally tracked down my copy of _Essays on Actions & Events_.  There are places where Helen Steward describes a certain view about the relationship between singular and sentential causal claims as 'Davidsonian', but I wasn't entirely clear where Davidson defends the view.  Found it. In 'Causal Relations', he discusses the view that causes correspond to sentences rather than singular terms for events.  On such a view, the logical form of (1) is given by (2):(1) The short circuit caused the fire.(2) Because there was a short circuit, there was a fire.He argues persuasively that these differ in logical form and it seems that one of the take away lessons of that we should think of causal relations as holding between events and causal explanatory relations as holding between something else entirely. (He says sentences, but I'd prefer propositions or facts. Let's just call everything in this lot 'dicta'.)  This leaves us with a question, which is how singular causal claims are related to sentential causal claims like (2).  Davidson suggests on pp. 155 that (1) entails (2), but (2) doesn't entail (1). I'm sort of surprised to see Davidson say this.  If swallowing the Burgundy just is swallowing the poison, then wouldn't Davidson have to agree that both of these are true if one of them is?(3) The swallowing of the Burgundy caused the death.(4) The swallowing of the poison caused the death.He wouldn't hold, however, that these are both true:(5) Because there was a swallowing of Burgundy, there was a death.(6) Because there was a swallowing of poison, there was a death.I don't see how (5) and (6) can be entailed by (3) and (4) if both (3) and (4) is true but (5) is false.  The truth of the singular causal claims doesn't turn on how the event is picked out. Sentential claims like (5) and (6) seem to provide us with information about causally relevant features that isn't provided by the singular causal claims that Davidson suggests entails them.  So, he must be wrong, right?I've been working through Davidson because I've been struggling to understand why he might have thought that reasons were causes.  He says that they are in 'Actions, Reasons, and Causes', but I don't see anywhere in there any reason to think that reasons are causes as opposed to dicta.  If he thought that sentences like (1) entailed (2) because (2) was really just some sort of generalization of (1) [a view that seems just completely unmotivated, so far as I can tell], then maybe he thought it didn't matter much whether we thought of reasons as causes or dicta. If there's no logical relationship between (1) and (2), however, maybe the question is a bit more pressing.Here's a pitch for identifying reasons with dicta rather than causes.  First, let's assume that Davidson is right and nothing can be both a cause and something that corresponds with or is the explanans.  Second, let's note that we can identify the cause of an event and be utterly in the dark as to why something came to pass.  It seems that questions about relevance often arise after we've identified a cause.  It seems that these questions have all been put to rest, however, once an explanation is in place.  We should identify reasons with dicta rather than causes for just this reason.  When you have the reasons before you and they figure in a correct explanation, questions of relevance have all been set[...]

Sincerity, Assertion, and a Case for Common Standards


Another quick post, this time on assertion.  I've been trying to finish off an introductory piece on the norms of assertion and I'm not quite sure what to think about a certain argument.  Some of us think that there are common epistemic standards that govern assertion and belief. If (Commonality: If one must not assert p because one lacks sufficient warrant to do so, one must not believe pCommonality implies that if knowledge is the norm of assertion, it must be the norm of belief. Question. Why should we accept Commonality?Kvanvig mentions an argument for Commonality in his paper on assertion and lotteries, but I don't think that he endorses the argument. If I recall, he mentions it, sets it aside, and offers an argument that strikes me as being entirely plausible. Forget _that_ argument, though, and consider the one that he sets aside. The argument appeals to a kind of sincerity norm: Sincerity: One must not assert p unless one believes p.The argument can be stated as follows:P1. One must not assert p unless one believes p.  P2. One must not believe p if C obtains.C. One must not assert p if C obtains.I think I have two worries about the argument.  The first is that I'm not sure the 'must' is the right kind of 'must'.  Commonality, I take it, is about a distinctively epistemic requirement. It's not clear to my mind whether Sincerity is about a distinctively epistemic requirement.  Actually, I wouldn't think that insincerity in assertion is an epistemic failing at all.  So, there's the worry about equivocation here.  Even if that's a worry that we can put to rest, isn't the argument invalid?  Compare it to this one, which I think must be invalid:P1. One must not apologize for breaking the neighbor’s window unless one breaks the neighbor’s window.P2. One must not break the neighbor’s window if the neighbor has not given one permission to break it.C. One must not apologize for breaking the neighbor’s window if the neighbor has not given one permission to break it.Am I right that these arguments are parallel? Am I right that the second argument is invalid? (It seems the premises are true and the conclusion is false. That's pretty good evidence of invalidity, isn't it?)[...]