12.18.2007

12.17.2007

Christmas Pictures

The semester is finally over (minus some grading), and my final comprehensive exam has been passed, so I can get back to putting some things on here. Here are some recent pics:

















12.05.2007

11.10.2007

10.24.2007

5K AIDS Run/Walk

Despite a somewhat rainy morning, the run/walk was a great success. We had over 225 registered participants and raised over $15,000!

I finished in just under 27 minutes which wasn't too bad after not having run for the last several months. Lesley ended up raising the most funds and won a 'Bread for a Year' certificate from Panera Bread.

Thanks to everyone who helped contribute. You can see pictures of the race and continue to donate at www.aid2aids.org.

9.26.2007

Back Home

I'm off back home to present my paper, "Maximally Fragile Events and the Causal Relation" at the University of Calgary Graduate Student Philosophy Conference. I wish that I was talking about epistemology, but hopefully I will survive the metaphysicians.

9.15.2007

Primary Comps Completed

This last Thursday I passed my primary comprehensive exam in epistemology. It was three hours of writing fun which I followed up with three hours of teaching Logic. All in all, not a very nice day. The primary exam is one of the few non-course-related requirements of getting to the dissertation phase. Next up is my secondary comprehensive exam at the end of this semester. That exam will an oral exam on the epistemic requirement for moral responsibility (see how I snuck epistemology into even my secondary exam).

9.03.2007

LaboUr Day Weekend


We utilized some of our last summer hours by heading to 'The Grand Canyon of the East' -- Letchworth State Park. It's a great place with tonnes of nice trails, and the scenes can be jaw-dropping (see Karis).










8.31.2007

5K Run/Walk to Fight AIDS in Africa


Our website is now up: http://www.aid2aids.org/.

There you can register for the race and/or donate to the cause.

Please partner with us in this very worthwhile cause.

8.29.2007

The Karis Kiss Miss


Piper on Retirement

Here is a rather biting little bit from John Piper's Don't Waste Your Life:

"I will tell you what a real tragedy is. I will show you how to waste your life. Consider this story from the February 1998 Reader's Digest: A couple 'took early retirement from their jobs int he Northeast five years ago when he was 59 and she was 51. Now they live in Punta Gorda, Florida, wher they cruise on their 30-foot trawler, play softball and collect shells'. Picture them before Christ at the great day of judgment: 'Look, Lord. See my shells.' That is a tragedy."

8.27.2007

The End of Summer: A Lament

I wish summer wasn't over.

O South Carolina!

This clip is not meant to imply anything about Gamecockers, and I am writing this of my own free will (click, click)

8.25.2007

Which Democrat or Republican Shares your views?

This is a cite that I was directed to. It surveys your views on key issues, including how important they are to you, and gives points to candidates that agree with you. The outcome ranks candidates by their compatibility with your survey. The survey is quick and easy, and the results can be surprising.

The survey is based on http://www.2decide.com/table.htm which is also worth some time.

8.22.2007

Bills Camp




Yesterday I got to take in the glory of the Buffalo Bills training camp at St. John Fischer College. All of the 'stars' where there: Rian Lindell, Brian Moorman, J.P. Lossman, Marshawn Lynch, and Paul Posluzny (all pictured below). Notice how Moorman is seemingly kicking a teamate right in the head. Price of admission ended up being $1 for the shuttle (the same price as the Bully Hill wine tasting -- call this the summer of value).




















8.20.2007

Weekend Fun

We just got back from our Second Annual Taylor Reunion Camping Trip. This year featured Keuka Lake State Park and a trip to Bully Hill Vineyards for a wine tasting.




Other than some rain the first evening it was perfect weather. Karis and Thomas did well, though they were exhausted by the end of the weekend (Karis slept 13 hours last night and then had a 3 hour nap today).


8.13.2007

2 New Things

Two new things:

1. Thomas has started to smile

2. Our new jogging stroller to run the kids around.




Back From SC


We have returned from South Carolina after enduring a week where the heat index was constantly above 115 and there were 2 shark attacks within 2 blocks of the beach house. As you can see, the plane trip was not nearly as bad as we thought, and Karis enjoyed the ocean view . . . though not the ocean itself.










8.01.2007

5K Run/Walk to Fight AIDS in Africa

I am part of a group that has been trying to figure out how our church can get involved in the AIDS crisis, particularly regarding Africa.

Here are some startling statistics regarding Africa:
* Africa has 10% of the world’s population but bears 64% of the burden of AIDS
* 9 out of 10 children infected with AIDS live in Africa
* Over 24.5 million people are infected in sub-Saharan Africa
* Over 2 million people have already died from AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa

We have been reading The AIDS Crisis: What we Can Do by Deborah Dortzbach and Meredith Long. This book is well worth the read and tackles a number of the hard questions regarding this issue. Particularly biting was a quote from an African pastor who was asked if he thought that Africa had such serious problems regarding AIDS due to the lax attitude toward sexual sin. He replied, "Every culture has sins it is more accepting of. Fortunately for America, materialism doesn't give you AIDS."

Our groups first event will be a 5K Run/Walk to raise money for the Bongolo Evangelical Hospital's construction of an AIDS clinic in Gabon, Africa. This is a quick video.

Our website will soon be up: aid2aids.org

Please consider donating to this cause and/or sponsoring me in the race (both can be done via the website).

Jon and the J-Dubs

So I was visited last week by the Jehovah's Witnesses and turned the questions around on them for a change. In particular I was defending the claim that Jesus is God. After a lengthy discussion of the first chapter of John, 'proof' that Jesus was created was brought to my attention.

Collosians 1:15 states of Jesus, "He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation."

So, forget the first part of that verse that seems to help out my side. The claim was Jesus is the firstborn of creation, so he is created.

Hmmm. Interestingly Paul clarifies in the next verse what he means by "the firstborn over all creation".

Collosians 1:16, "For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him."

I stated that the phrase 'firstborn over creation' may be confusing, but luckily Paul tells us exactly what he means, and what he means is *not* that Jesus is created. This led to a long debate over how the word 'for' was being used and I then was accused of twisting the words of the text (I was actually using the JW translation).

After the encounter I checked out Grudem's Systematic Theology to see all the references to the deity of Jesus that I had forgotten. One passage that I thought would be particularly useful in future conversations is John 20:28-30.

In this passage Thomas confronts the wounds of Jesus and reacts, "My Lord and my God." This is a clear claim that Jesus is God. So, if you accept that the Bible is a source of truth and that Jesus was sinless (both claims accepted by JWs) then this is strong evidence that Jesus is God. For Jesus to be sinless he would have to correct such an attribution when made to him if it were false; but far from this Jesus responds, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." So, on the shared assumptions that the Bible is true and Jesus is sinless there is in this passage direct evidence that he is God.

7.27.2007

2 Good Newses

1. I got one of my papers (on the relata of the causal relation) accepted to present at the University of Calgary Philosophy Graduate Conference in the fall.

2. I ran 5 miles, in a row, without passing out, and without anyone chasing me. 44:14 for the record.

A Priori Knowledge

Central to views regarding a priori knowledge is how such beliefs gain their epistemic justification independent of experience. Central to Alvin Plantinga’s account of what it takes for one to have a priori justification is for one to see the truth of the proposition in question. According to Plantinga, to see that a proposition is true is to believe that it is true, and necessarily true, to form this belief immediately (not on the basis of other beliefs, memory, or testimony), to form this belief with a particular, hard to describe, phenomenology, and to do so while not malfunctioning. One can also gain a priori justification for a proposition by seeing that it follows from a proposition that one sees to be true. When one sees that a proposition is true or that it follows from a proposition that one sees to be true, and the proposition is true, then one has a priori knowledge of it.

There are a couple of problems with Plantinga’s account. First, it seems that Plantinga has not accurately captured what it is for one to see that a proposition is true. Plantinga claims that believing a proposition is a necessary condition for seeing that it is true, but this does not seem right. Propositions can be seen to be true to me even though I do not believe them (such as that the top line in the Muller-Lyer illusion is longer, or Frege’s Axiom V). Similarly, one can believe a proposition without it seeing that it is true, such as when one has seen a mathematical derivation for a theorem that is too complicated to seem true. Beliefs are typically formed on the basis of seeing that a proposition is true, but the seeing and the believing are distinct relationships one has to the proposition. As such, Plantinga gets the nature of seeing the truth.

A second problem with Plantinga’s analysis concerns the modal requirements for gaining a priori justification. Plantinga claims that to see that a proposition is true one must not just believe it, but believe that it is necessarily true. It seems that one can come to know a proposition in an a priori fashion while at the same time being ignorant of modal concepts like necessity or having mistaken views regarding necessity according to which the proposition in question is not necessary (I am assuming here, with Plantinga, that all propositions that are known a priori are necessary). For instance, I could justifiably believe that mathematical propositions, like 2+2=4, do not have their truth values necessarily. Even though I am mistaken in this regard, it still seems that I can see the truth of 2+2=4 and/or that I can know that 2+2=4 a priori. In addition, Plantinga’s appeal to believing that the proposition in question is a necessary truth threatens an infinite regress. Presumably, the belief that the proposition in question is necessarily true is one that must have a priori justification (if not, then it is hard to see how it could contribute to the a priori justification of the proposition in question). If so, however, then this belief too must be seen to be true but in order to see that it is true one must also believe that it is necessarily true. The ‘necessarily’ modifiers will quickly compound leading to an infinite regress and to propositions that are plausibly too complicated to be believed by human minds. This reveals another flaw in Plantinga’s account.

George Bealer relies on intuitions, or intellectual seemings, to provide the a priori justification required for a priori knowledge. For S to have an intuition that P is for it to seem to S that P. Thus, intuitions are conscious episodes. Bealer distinguishes intuitions from beliefs for the reasons mentioned above so he avoids one problem that encountered Plantinga. However, Bealer believes that it is rational intuitions that do the work for a priori justification, and according to Bealer, a rational intuition presents a proposition as necessary – it must seem to S that P must be true. Worries arise here, like above, since it seems as though one can have a priori justification without the modal concepts Bealer appeals to or if one had a mistaken view of the relevant modal concepts (as described above).

Another contemporary proposal claims that the requirements of concept possession can provide the needed a priori justification. Paul Boghossian claims that in order to possess certain concepts one must be disposed to reason in certain ways. For instance, in order to possess the concept ‘conditional’ one must be disposed to reason according to modus ponens. The claim is that such inferences are thus justified in virtue of their being requisite for the possession of certain concepts. Propositions can then be known in an a priori fashion when they are the conclusions of such justified inferences.

Several problems are apparent with this account. First, it seems doubtful that one must be disposed to reason in certain ways in order to possess certain concepts. There does not appear to be anything incoherent with the idea of a wholly passive mind that possessed concepts but was unable to do any mental acts such as infer. So, it is doubtful that having such dispositions to reason is indeed requisite for the possession of concepts.

Second, even if such dispositions were requisite, this fact does not epistemically justify their use. Doing the work in order to possess certain concepts may be rational in a means/ends sense, but it does nothing to epistemically justify or entitle one to make such inferences. We could imagine a case where S is offered some epistemically valuable end if S performs the inference from P or Q to P and Q. Performing such an inference would be beneficial for S, but this fact in no way epistemically justifies S in performing the inference.

Finally, even if the inferences were justified a significant problem remains for Boghossian’s account. If the conclusions of such justified inferences are supposed to be justified a priori, then we need to have premises that are justified a priori. All that Boghossian’s account even attempts to do is to justify the inferences, but this is inadequate to the task at hand – the task of accounting for a priori knowledge.

7.26.2007

DEREK BOOGAARD COMPILATION

Fight Club: Regina Chapter

As you can see from the picture a couple of posts ago, Thomas is only a few years away from attending his first hockey fight camp. (thanks to Trent for the story)

After all, this guy seems to be the guy to learn from. It's only fitting that a prarie boy would throw so many haymakers! (see post above)

7.25.2007

I've Been SImpsonized!

You can see it here. I can't figure out how to download the picture though, so if you can help me there, let me know.

UPDATE: ok, I just went to the link and that is totally not the picture it showed me before! This site has totally frustrated me after offerring me so much.

7.22.2007

Kapow!

Thomas, 'Tank', teaches Adeline a little lesson in respect! And that's just his left hand. Notice his 'matter-of-fact' buisiness face and his seeming lack of remorse.

7.20.2007

Duck-Rabbit

I've spent the last few minutes in a Homer Simpsonesque ('lights go on, lights go off') way going, "it's a duck, it's a rabbit, it's a duck, . . .".


Virtue Epistemology

Virtue epistemology utilizes virtues in addressing the prominent problems in epistemology. A distinction is made between moral virtues and epistemic or cognitive virtues. Within the virtue epistemology camp, there is a divide between reliabilist and responsibilist understandings of epistemic virtues. I will focus here on a reliabilist account. Roughly put, an epistemic virtue is stable disposition to achieve certain results (true beliefs) in certain circumstances. More precisely, a mechanism M for generating or maintaining beliefs is an epistemic virtue if and only if M is an ability to believe true propositions and avoid believing false ones within a field of propositions F when one is in a set of circumstances C.

The virtue epistemologist’s claim, then, is that a proposition p is epistemically justified for S if and only if S’s believing p is the result of an epistemic virtue of S. Understood as such, virtue epistemology is a type of process reliabilism. By specifying which type of processes can produce an epistemically justified belief, virtue epistemologists attempt to provide an account of epistemic justification (and often knowledge) that avoids the problems of ‘simple’ reliabilism.

The New Evil Demon Problem was a problem for reliabilism since in a world where one is massively deceived it seems as though one can nonetheless have justified beliefs despite the unreliability of the processes that produce them. This appears to be a problem for the virtue epistemologist as well, since one can believe propositions on the basis of what seems to us to be epistemic virtues (and seem to be epistemically justified in those beliefs), but believing in such a way does not lead to true beliefs in the evil demon world.

Ernest Sosa’s response as a virtue epistemologist is to relativize epistemic justification to an environment. In other words, the individual in the demon world is epistemically justified in her belief since she utilized cognitive faculties that are epistemic virtues in our environment. Since coming to beliefs in such a way would be reliable in our environment, and would be the result of an epistemic virtue, we consider the demon worlder to be justified. Epistemic justification is thus relativized to the actual world.

The above response is unsatisfactory, however. Sosa’s response does not account for all of our intuitions here. To see this we can imagine that we are being deceived by an evil demon as well. In such a scenario, coming to beliefs by way of seeming epistemic virtues is not a reliable way to come to beliefs. According to Sosa, our beliefs are not justified in such a scenario, but we still think that they are. Our intuitions are that such beliefs are epistemically justified regardless of whether one is in a demon world, even if the actual world is a demon world. This problem remains for virtue epistemologists.

A second problem for reliabilism concerns reliable belief forming processes at work in an individual that has reason to doubt that his processes are reliable. In such a scenario reliabilism has it that he is justified in the beliefs produced by the reliable process, but is seems as though the evidence that he has regarding the unreliability of these processes renders the resultant beliefs unjustified. This problem too seems to remain for the virtue epistemology response. A belief could be the product of an epistemic virtue, yet one have evidence against it being the product of such a virtue. Can virtue epistemology get the right result that the resultant belief is unjustified?

Sosa attempts to get this result by making a distinction between animal knowledge and reflective knowledge. This is itself a cost, since it seems that we have only one concept of knowledge. Positing two such concepts seems to be a last resort. According to Sosa, to have animal knowledge, one must believe out of epistemic virtue which makes the resultant belief apt, but to have reflective knowledge one must believe out of epistemic virtue and be aware of so doing which makes the belief justified (ie. one must also believe out of epistemic virtue that her [first-order] belief was produced in an epistemic virtue). To be justified, one must recognize regarding her belief that p that it was produced by an epistemic virtue (ie. she must recognize (i) that p falls into the relevant range of propositions, and (ii) that she is in one of the relevant circumstances for her belief producing mechanism to be reliable).

Applied to the case where one has misleading evidence regarding the reliability of the belief producing process, on this account one has animal knowledge (the belief is apt), but lacks reflective knowledge (the belief is not justified). Although this account gets the right result regarding the case of misleading evidence, it has problematic consequences. The problem is that very few people have any beliefs about their beliefs such as that there belief was formed from epistemic virtue. Whereas people may recognize that there belief was formed on the basis of perception, they do not believe that the relevant proposition falls within a certain range of propositions or that they are in a circumstance among a set of acceptable circumstances such that perception is reliable for such propositions in such circumstances. Such propositions are not typically believed, even dispositionally. As a result, Sosa’s account implies that all such individuals (most individuals) are not epistemically justified in their beliefs. There beliefs may be apt, but they are not justified. However, it seems that most individuals are epistemically justified in at least a good number of beliefs, or minimally, that their epistemic standing to such propositions is better than the aptness required for animal knowledge. Such meta-beliefs simply do not appear to be required for epistemic justification.

7.19.2007

Ouch!

Check out this video if you want confirmation that working out can be hazardous to your health.

Seeing and Still Not Believing


Apparently I live nearby to the Jell-O museum (yes, Bill Cosby has visited). Anyone want to visit me now?

Try to get this:

March 17, 1993, technicians at St. Jerome hospital in Batavia test a bowl of lime Jell-O with an EEG machine and confirm the earlier testing by Dr. Adrian Upton that a bowl of wiggly Jell-O has brain waves identical to those of adult men and women.

7.17.2007

Monkey Man

The Monkey Man slept through the night last night! And he gave me a big smile in the morning!
Good day.


7.16.2007

Gambling v. Investing

So, I have heard a fair number of people make a distinction between gambling and investing (ie. gambling is wrong, investing is at least permissible). I find it hard to find a clear distinction between the two. Here are a couple distinctions you might try to make, and what I think is wrong with them.

1. Gambling is an attempt to 'get rich quick'.

Well, this might be so for most gamblers, but there is nothing about gambling that makes it about getting rich quick. After all, one could make long term bets (ie. betting on what will happen in 2020) or bets that will not be payed out for a while. There does not appear to be anything essential to gambling about getting rich quick. It is hard to imagine that those who oppose gambling oppose only the get rich quick kinds of gambling, and would have no problem with a bet that gets paid off far into the future. The distinction must lie elsewhere.

2. Gambling is associated with a shady lifestyle.

Whether this is so, it is irrelevant to the distinction at hand unless it can be shown that the shady lifestyle is shady in virtue of gambling. In other words, the association may point to a problem, but it is not itself the problem. In addition, the lifestyle associated with investing is not much better. Both worlds are full of greed and ego and have stories of people who lost it all (think Great Depression). It is difficult to see how the two can be distinguished in this way.

3. Gambling relies on chance.

This is perhaps the best shot at a clear distinction, but it too has problems. First of all, investing also relies on chance. Chance events can greatly affect the value of a company's stocks (ie. a plane crash hurts that airline). So, chance has a great deal to do with one's investments. One might reply that events like airplane crashes, earthquakes and such are not chance events, but then it is hard to see how the roll of a dice is a chance event either. Even if it is granted that gambling relies on chance in a way that investing does not, it remains to be seen how such a reliance makes gambling a worse activity. Many other activities rely on chance that we do not have a problem with.

All of this is not to encourage or discourage gambling or investing, but simply an ongoing failure to find a suitable distinction between the two.

Next up: searching for a distinction between saving money and hoarding money. They sound so different, but are they?

NFL Predictions

AFC EAST . . . . . . NFC EAST
1. Patriots 13-3 . . . . 1. Cowboys 10-6
2. Jets 9-7 . . . . . . 2. Eagles 8-8
3. Dolphins 8-8 . . . . 3. Giants 7-9
4. Bills 5-13 . . . . . 4. Redskins 5-11

AFC WEST . . . . . . NFC WEST
1. Chargers 12-4 . . . 1. Rams 11-5
2. Broncos 9-7 . . . . 2. Cardinals 9-7
3. Chiefs 6-10 . . . . 3. Seahawks 8-8
4. Raiders 4-12 . . . . 4. 49ers 7-9

AFC NORTH . . . . . NFC NORTH
1. Ravens 13-3 . . . . 1. Bears 10-6
2. Bengals 11-5 . . . . 2. Lions 10-6
3. Steelers 7-9 . . . . 3. Packers 7-9
4. Browns 4-12 . . . . 4. Vikings 5-11

AFC SOUTH . . . . . NFC SOUTH
1. Colts 12-4 . . . . . 1. Saints 11-5
2. Jaguars 10-6 . . . . 2. Panthers 10-6
3. Texans 5-11 . . . . 3. Buccaneers 5-11
4. Titans 2-14 . . . . 4. Falcons 3-13

What is Evidence?

Timothy Williamson claims that something is evidence for a hypothesis when it speaks in favor of it (raises the probability of it) and it has some credible standing. The credible standing that Williamson finds necessary for evidence is knowledge. The claim is that one’s total possible evidence is comprised of what one knows and only what one knows constitutes one’s evidence at a time. In other words, S’s evidence is S’s knowledge.
S’s total evidence with regard to a hypothesis then is that knowledge S has which raises the probability of that hypothesis (the hypothesis’s probability is higher when it is conditionalized on S’s knowledge).

Williamson’s account is overly restrictive in what it requires for credible standing. Suppose that Joe has a perceptual experience of a blue book being in front of him and has good reasons to trust his perceptual faculties in this case. Presumably, and intuitively, Joe has evidence that there is a blue book in front of him. However, on Williamson’s account, this is only the case if Joe knows some propositions that support this claim. Though Joe may know a number of propositions that support his perceptual faculties being reliable, he can fail to know that he seems to see a blue book in front of him by failing to form that belief (though it is justified and true). This kind of doxastic failure seems possible, yet if it is possible, then Joe does not know that he seems to see a blue book in front of him, so his perceptual experience does not produce any evidence for him on this score. As such, Joe’s evidence would not support the proposition that there is a blue book in front of him according to Williamson’s account. This is the intuitively wrong result and shows that Williamson’s account is overly restrictive in this way.

Richard Feldman defines a person’s total possible evidence as all and only that information that is stored in that person’s mind at that time. Of this set, a person’s total evidence is that part of their total possible evidence that is available (meets some psychological accessibility constraint) and acceptable (meets some epistemic acceptability constraint). Feldman sees the evidence that passes the accessibility constraint as the evidence that S is currently thinking of (the conscious and perhaps unconscious beliefs, as well as the non-doxastic mental states that one is aware that they are in). Evidence that passes the epistemic accessibility constraint are those available items that are, or could be, justifiably believed.

Feldman’s account is not overly restrictive in requiring knowledge as Williamson’s account is. Applied to the case of Joe above, even if Joe does not form the belief that he seems to see a blue book in front of him he is nonetheless justified in so believing. As such, this is part of his evidence on Feldman’s account. Therefore, Joe’s evidence does support there being a blue book in front of him – the right result. In addition, Feldman’s account is not too lax by allowing mere beliefs to count as evidence. If mere beliefs counted as evidence (as in some coherentist theories), then propositions that one had no business believing would affect what that individual epistemically ought to believe – and this cannot be. Having the epistemic acceptability constraint set to justification avoids being too lax and too strict. Feldman’s account of evidence squares with our intuitions about what evidence a person has at a time.

An objection to this account claims that according to it one’s evidence can support a proposition even if that individual has important counter-evidence stored in his mind but is simply not thinking about it – particularly if it would be easy for him to recall these things. In such a case there is something wrong with the individual believing the proposition, but he is believing in accord with his evidence according to Feldman’s analysis.

The problem with so believing, however, is not that the individual is really failing to believe according to his evidence, but that he failed to act responsibly in forming his belief – he failed to think carefully about the matter and call to mind the relevant information stored in his mind. One can believe according to the evidence and still be blameworthy for the way that they conducted their investigation. This is such a case. Nothing here counts against Feldman’s account of evidence possession.

Another objection to this account of evidence is that according to it, there are many propositions for which we currently do not have any evidence (there is nothing we are currently entertaining that pertains to them) yet intuitively we know some of these propositions to be true. Take for example the proposition that Bush is president. Before it was mentioned, you probably had no thoughts about the matter, yet intuitively you still knew that Bush was president. Such a case seems to go against Feldman’s account of evidence, but the apparent problem can be explained away.

We can distinguish occurrent and dispositional senses of knowledge. Whereas what one occurrently knows is determined by the evidence one possesses, what one dispositionally knows is determined by what evidence that individual would possess were he to think about it. Thus, you dispositionally know that Bush is president since were you to think of it you would possess evidence that supports that proposition – you would recall having heard on the news that Bush is president, having watched his inauguration, experience a feeling of confidence that the proposition is true, etc.. Thus, distinguishing these two kinds of knowledge can account for why we think that you know that Bush is president even though your evidence does not support this proposition – you only dispositionally know it.

7.06.2007


7.05.2007

Internalism/Externalism Debate

The internalism/externalism debate in epistemology regarding justification centers on the question of what states, properties, and events can contribute the kind of justification necessary for knowledge. Internalism has been understood in a variety of ways, but roughly it is the claim that all the factors that justify beliefs are internal to the cognizer. Internalism is best construed as mentalism, the claim that the justificatory status of a person’s beliefs strongly supervenes on that person’s mental states, events, and conditions. Thus, if two people are alike mentally, then they are alike justificationally as well. Internalism has often been understood to include the claim that justifiers must be accessible to the cognizer. However, it is more straightforward and noncommittal to understand internalism as described above, with theories that include an accessibility requirement being seen as species of internalism, or one (somewhat popular) way to fill out the theory. Internalism understood as mentalism lets in all the theories that can plausibly be considered ‘internalist’. Thus, we will understand internalism as the claim that only mental factors determine justification. Foundationalism and coherentism are examples of internalist theories of justification.

Externalism is the denial of internalism. Thus, the claim is that factors that are not internal to the cognizer (factors that are not the cognizer’s mental states, properties, or conditions) make an epistemic difference in terms of justification. Extramental factors play a justificatory role. Reliabilism and proper-function theory are examples of externalist theories of justification.

Arguments in favor of internalism focus on how well internalism can handle cases of justified and unjustified belief. Imagine that Jim and George both see on the news that it is raining today. In addition to watching the weather, Jim looks outside and sees the rain falling. Internalism can explain why Jim is more justified in his belief than George is because of a mental difference – Jim has perceived the rain falling.

Imagine that Jim and George each hear a bit of testimony from Tracy. Tracy is a very reliable person, Jim knows about Tracy’s good track record, but George does not. As such, Jim is more justified in believing what Tracy says. The mental difference of memories regarding Tracy’s honesty, that Jim has and George lacks, account for the justificatory difference here.

So, internalism seems to get the cases right. Arguments for externalism largely consist in attempts to show that limiting justifiers to the mental fails to give the right result in certain cases.

Several externalists have claimed that internalists face a problem of forgotten evidence. Roughly, the idea is that one can still be justified in believing a proposition even when one has forgotten the evidence that supported that proposition; and, if so, then there must be something extramental doing some justificatory work. Goldman gives the case of Sally who reads in the NYT that broccoli is healthy. She forms that belief, but then forgets her evidential source and never comes across any further sources. Nonetheless, her belief is justified and if true is a case of knowledge.

Internalists can respond by noting that if Sally really is justified in her belief then there will be some mental factors doing the work. For instance, it is likely that Sally has a confidence or a clarity regarding the healthiness of broccoli. These phenomenal qualities are mental factors that can play a justificatory role for an internalist (contrast the support of a hazy memory). Further, Sally is likely aware of the general reliability of her memory, and that she usually does not simply believe things without having a good reason. These mental states can also provide justificatory support for her belief. If Sally lacks all such support, then it is doubtful that she truly is justified in her belief regarding the benefits of broccoli.

Externalists have responded by altering Sally’s case such that her source on the benefits of broccoli is actually an unreliable source such as the National Inquirer. Sally has forgotten the source, however, so if the internalist response above is correct, then Sally will still be justified in her belief that broccoli is healthy (provided the other mental factors mentioned above are true of her). The externalist claims that though her belief is true, it cannot be a case of knowledge, so Sally must not be justified in her broccoli belief.

This inference, however, is mistaken. It can be that Sally is justified in her true belief and yet fail to have knowledge – Gettier has shown us this. The reconstructed Sally case is indeed a Gettier case. The reasons that Sally has for thinking that broccoli is healthy provide justification, but they also contain an essential falsehood: that Sally’s reasons come from a reliable source. Thus, Sally’s case follows the recipe for Gettier cases – it is an instance of a true, justified belief that fails to be knowledge.

Some may find it strange that Sally’s belief became justified through her forgetting the source of her reasons (by forgetting it was an unreliable source). A couple things favor the internalist here, however. First, if Sally did remember the unreliable source, her belief would surely be more unreasonable. So, forgetting the unreliability of the source does seem to increase the justification. Second, if it is denied that Sally is justified in this revised case, then some distinction must be drawn to have it that she is justified in the first case, yet not in the second even though the two cases are on a par from Sally’s perspective. An account that distinguishes these cases in such a way must go contrary to stronger intuitions. There is no problem for internalism here.

7.02.2007

Luke and Philosophy

I am currently reading through Luke, and found these verses to be of interest to several philosophical issues I am interested in.

v. 13, 14: "Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and aches. But it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you."

A couple of things this passage seems to be evidence for:

1. God has middle knowledge. It seems that God has knowledge of what human beings would have freely done in counterfactual circumstances (in situations other than the actual situation). Jesus claims to know what those in Tyre and Sidon would have done were they to witness the miracles performed in Bethsaida.

2. We are responsible for actions that we do not actually perform if we would have performed them in different circumstances. Jesus says that it will be much more bearable for Tyre and Sidon at judgment in virtue of the relevant counterfactual (had they seen they would have repented). This repentence is not something that those in Tyre and Sidon had actually done, yet they are being judged accordingly. Thus, it seems that we are held responsible for what we would have done in other circumstances. This can be understood as simply saying that we are responsible for our character, and our character is comprised of what we would do in certain circumstances (you are honest, if you would tell the truth in circumstances . . . ).

This is something that I had claimed a few years ago as a response to the problem of moral luck. These thoughts apply particularly to circumstantial luck. The problem here is that it seems a little weird that if you would have done everything that a Nazi sympathizer did if you lived during that era in Germany that you are not culpable whereas the sympathizer is simply due to having the bad luck of living then and there. My idea was that we actually are responsible for what we would have done if we lived back then and there -- this is a way of neutralizing the effect of luck on our moral appraisals. This passage makes me feel that my view is not so crazy.

7.01.2007

6.30.2007

Externalism and Privileged Access

Externalism about mental content is the thesis that what one’s mental content (at least where atomic natural kind concepts are invoked) is individuated in part on the nature of that individual’s physical and social environment (what is out there and how words are used) – things external to the cognizer. In other words, we could fix everything internal to the cognizer, yet by changing things in her physical and social environment the content of at least some of her thoughts could be altered. Twin-Earth thought experiments are used to motivate externalism about mental content.

This line of thought seems to be problematic for the traditional doctrine of privileged self-knowledge. The idea here is that without the aid of empirical investigation, if one is thinking about p, then one can know that one is thinking about p. The claim is that I can know a priori that I am having a thought (when I am) and that my thought has the particular content that it does, for instance: that water is wet.

Here is an argument that externalism and privileged access are incompatible:

1. It is a priori knowable that that if one is thinking that water is wet, then one has the concept of water.
2. It is a priori knowable that the concept of water is an atomic natural kind concept.
3. It is a priori knowable that if a concept is an atomic natural kind concept then it is metaphysically impossible to possess it without having interacted with instances of that concept.
4. Therefore, it is a priori knowable that if one is thinking that water is wet, then one has causally interacted with instances of water.
5. It is not a priori knowable that one has causally interacted with instances of water.
6. Therefore, it is not a priori knowable by one that one is thinking that water is wet.

Premise (1) seems true since one must possess the concepts ingredient to the propositions that one thinks. I would fail to have the thought that water is wet if I failed to possess one or more of the concepts ingredient to the proposition water is wet.

Premise (3) follows from externalism about mental content. Which atomic natural kind concept one possesses is determined at least in part by external (physical and/or social) environmental factors.

Premise (4) is a sub-conclusion that follows from premises (1) – (3).

Premise (5) is clearly true. One cannot know a priori that water exists or that one has causally interacted with it. Empirical investigation is needed to know either of these claims.

The conclusion, line (6), is incompatible with the privileged access thesis. It states that what one is thinking is not a priori knowable to them in this case.

The compatibility of externalism and privileged access thus rests on premise (2). The claim is that it is a conceptual truth that water is an atomic natural kind concept. An atomic concept is one that lacks conceptual constituents. While it can often be known a priori that a concept is not atomic, it is by no means clear that one can know a priori when a concept is atomic. As such, this gives us some reason to doubt the second premise. In addition, it is much more difficult to see how one is supposed to know a priori that the concept water is a natural kind concept. While water is a natural kind, it does not follow that this fact is knowable a priori, and it seems quite likely that such proposition is not knowable a priori. After all, it is epistemically possible that water not be a natural kind, but rather not be a kind, like air or jade; or even fail to have an extension at all, like phlogiston. In other words, one must know that water is ‘Twin-Earth eligible’, and this is something that cannot be known a priori.

The incompatibilist can respond, as Boghossian does, by claiming that so long as a term aims to be denote a natural kind, something that is knowable a priori, then it must have a non-empty extension. However, it is not clear why externalists are committed to the claim that concepts that aim to denote a natural kind are only possessed by individuals who have causally interacted with the extension of that concept. In other words, why take the externalist’s thesis about natural kind concepts to also apply to concepts that aim to denote natural kinds? Since concepts that aim to name a natural kind can fail to name a natural kind, it is hard to see how this response helps the incompatibilist since it broadens the externalist’s commitments.

Since the externalist’s claims are particular to atomic natural kind concepts, then in order for the argument to go through from the fact that I have a thought involving a concept to the existence of an extension of that concept, one must know (a priori) that the relevant concept is of the relevant kind (an atomic natural kind concept). We have see reason to doubt that this can be known a priori, and if this cannot be known a priori, then the argument for the incompatibility of externalism and privileged access as typically construed fails.

6.21.2007

Reliabilism

Process reliabilism (hereafter reliabilism) is a theory of epistemic justification that claims that a belief’s justificatory status is determined by the reliability of the process that formed the belief. Here, a process is a functional operation that maps inputs to outputs (ie. input: experiential state; output: belief), and the processes we are concerned with are cognitive processes. A process is reliable if and only if it would yield a high proportion of truths over a wide variety of situations of the type we typically encounter (Alston). Beliefs that are the product of reliable belief-forming processes are justified, and justified to the extent that the process is reliable, while those beliefs that are not are unjustified.

Goldman gives the following reliabilist account of justification:

1. If S’s belief that p at t results (immediately) from a belief-independent process that is (unconditionally) reliable, then S’s belief that p at t is justified.

2. If S’s belief that p at t results (immediately) from a belief-dependent process that I (at least) conditionally reliable, and if the beliefs (if any) on which this process operates in producing S’s belief that p at t are themselves justified, then S’s belief in p at t is justified.

A belief-independent process is a process that does not have a belief state as an input. A belief-dependent process has at least one belief state as an input. A process is conditionally reliable when a sufficient percentage of output beliefs are true given that the input beliefs are true.

Goldman complicates this account somewhat in trying to account for defeaters. He claims that the justificatory status of a belief is also a function of the processes that could or should have been employed. Thus, for a belief to be justified it must also be that there was no reliable or conditionally reliable process available to the agent which had it been used in addition to the process actually used would have had the result that S did not believe that p at t.

At first glance, reliabilism is promising. For many justified beliefs one is able to identify a reliable process type that brought it about, and for most unjustified beliefs one is able to identify an unreliable process type that brought it about. Although this account of epistemic justification has some initial intuitive appeal, it faces substantial criticisms. Perhaps the biggest problem facing reliabilism is the Generality Problem. Any particular belief-forming process is a token of an indefinite number of types, and these types often differ radically in their reliability. The problem is that in order to evaluate the claim of reliabilism we need an account of which process type(s) is the relevant type – the type which determines the justificatory status of the belief.

For example, my belief that there is a computer in front of me is the result of a process of all of the following types: visual processes, done on Wednesday processes, processes that lead to true beliefs, processes done at 4:30pm, processes done by a Canadian. Understood as the result of some of these processes, my belief is unjustified; yet understood with other process types as being relevant, my belief is justified. The challenge for the reliabilist is to give a principled account that tells us what the relevant process types are. This task is difficult since if the relevant process types are construed too narrowly, there will only be one token of the relevant type. As such, all true beliefs would be justified and all false beliefs would be unjustified (since reliability would be determined on the basis of only one case). But this is clearly not the case. There are justified false beliefs and unjustified true beliefs. On the other hand, if the relevant process type is construed too broadly, then too many beliefs will inherit the same justificatory status, though the resulting beliefs seem to be of differing statuses. For instance, if perception were a relevant process type, then all beliefs that resulted from perception would be equally justified, but clearly this is not the case. Perception leads to better justified beliefs when the cognizer is in good lighting and looking at medium sized objects (in contrast to tiny objects in the dark).

Alston responds to this problem by defending the claim that for each belief forming process there is only one process type that is ‘psychologically real’, and it is this process type that is relevant for assessing justification. The process that is psychologically real is the one which corresponds to the actual inputs and outputs of the belief forming process. If we are concerned with my belief that there is a computer in front of me, this is the actual output, and the input was aspects of my particular perceptual experience. Alston’s claim is that there is only one function that maps this input to this output – that function is the relevant belief forming process type.

Although this response limits the possibilities for which process type is relevant, Alston has failed in reducing the list to one candidate. There are multiple operative psychological types since the operational function can broadened by broadening the input and outputs (without changing what the inputs and outputs are). The output that I believe there is a computer in front of me is also the output of a function that takes the same input and whose output is either this belief or my belief that there is a typewriter in front of me. Both the input and the output of a function can be broadened via disjunction (among other ways) and this allows for more and more functions (process types) to be active in a case of belief formation. We still need a way of determining which of these ‘active’ functions or processes is the relevant one – the one by which we assess the resultant beliefs justificatory status. Until we have such an account, reliabilism cannot get off the ground because we cannot see what it says about various cases.

6.18.2007

Strong Foundationalism

Foundationalism is a theory of epistemic knowledge and justification that provides an answer to the infinite regress problem of justification. According to foundationalism, all beliefs that are epistemically justified are either basic, or trace back in a suitable way to a basic belief. Basic beliefs are beliefs that are epistemically justified independent of any justificatory relations to other beliefs. These basic beliefs serve as the stopping point on the chain of epistemic support so as to avoid an infinite regress regarding justification.

An account of basic beliefs must state which beliefs count as basic, and in virtue of what are these beliefs epistemically justified. Among foundationalists there are disagreements regarding both of these issues (as well as the issue of which relations are suitable for conferring justification to non-basic beliefs). Timothy McGrew defends a strong foundationalist account of basic beliefs. McGrew identifies three classes of basic beliefs: (i) second-order beliefs about beliefs (the belief: ‘this is a belief of mine’), first-order beliefs about immediate sensations (the belief: ‘I am experiencing this’), and beliefs regarding the content of one’s memory (the belief: ‘this is how it seems to me (that it was)’).

The claim is that these beliefs are justified independent of any justificatory relations to other beliefs since they are incorrigible or infallible or certain – one cannot be mistaken about their truth (or, necessarily, if believed, then they are true). The truth of these propositions is guaranteed in believing them through the way that their content is accessed by the believer – by being referentially formed (this prevents all beliefs in necessary truths from being basic). If there were nothing for ‘this’ to refer to in the belief ‘I am experiencing this’, such a belief could not be formed (a proposition would not be there); and when ‘this’ does refer, the belief must be true in virtue of reference (what one is experiencing will be picked out by ‘this’, and one is experiencing what one is experiencing).

Several problems emerge for this strong foundationalist account of basic beliefs. First, it seems that beliefs about one’s inner states (current experiences, beliefs, memories) are rare. We typically form beliefs like ‘there is a computer in front of me’ and beliefs of the form ‘I am experiencing this’, yet these latter beliefs are to be the foundation of our justified empirical beliefs on the strong foundationalist account. If these beliefs are rare, then there is not much of a foundation to ground the justification of non-basic beliefs. As such, the strong foundationalist account of basic beliefs would have the result that not many of our beliefs about the external world are justified.

The strong foundationalist can respond by claiming that such basic beliefs are typically present, but that they simply are not often consciously entertained. As such, these beliefs would be tacit or dispositional or simply subconscious. This response brings in complicating details regarding the nature of belief, but an argument is still needed regarding why one should think that there are such tacit or dispositional or subconscious beliefs. McGrew’s claim is that having an experience is equivalent to or entails having a tacit referential belief about that experience.

This claim is hard to accept. Having an experience or a belief is a distinct mental state from having a belief about that experience or a belief about that belief. As such, it seems to be at least logically possible for the two distinct states to come apart: that one could have the experience without the belief, or that one could have the belief without the experience. Either possibility seems to lead to trouble for the strong foundationalist.

If one can have the belief about the experience without the experience itself (or alternatively, the belief about the belief without the belief itself), then these beliefs are not incorrigible. These beliefs about experiences can go wrong since they can be had without the relevant experiences. However, although one may be able to believe the same proposition as the referentially formed belief without having the relevant experience, one is not able to have that belief in the appropriate indexical fashion. As mentioned above, is there is no experience for the ‘this’ to pick out, there is not a proposition there to be believed. As such, the defender of strong foundationalism can still claim that the reflectively formed beliefs are incorrigible despite the fact that the same proposition, if believed under a different guise would not be incorrigible (propositional incorrigibility is to be distinguished from doxastic incorrigibility).

A deeper problem lies in the possibility that one may have the relevant experience without forming the referential belief. Since the belief and the experience seem to be distinct states, this too seems to be a logical possibility. It could be that two individuals have the same experience of a book and each form the belief that there is a book in the room, yet only one of them forms the relevant tacit and reflectively formed belief about that experience. In such a situation, strong foundationalism has it that only the individual that forms such a belief can be justified in the belief that there is a book in the room. This seems to make an individual’s epistemic justification an accident of an individual’s psychology. In this case, each individual seems to have as good of evidence for the belief that there is a book in room as the other, and it is hard to see how a tacit belief could make such a justificatory difference. Given such a possibility, the strong foundationalist account of basic beliefs seems to get it wrong.

6.16.2007

Want to Feel Challenged?

Here are two challenging words I've come across recently:

1. From John Piper: Ever wonder why 1 Peter 3:15 (Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have) has lost its applicability? When is the last time someone asked you the reason for your hope within? The reason no one is asking is that it looks like we are hoping in the same things that they are hoping in (jobs, savings accounts, family, friends, etc.). We need to live lives and utilize our money/time/family/etc. in such a way as it makes people ask because it is clear that our hope is not in what their hope is in.

2. This, from Anthony Bradley: He wonders how there can be 115,000 orphans in the US while there are 224 million Christians.

6.12.2007

Yeah, Sarcasm is Really Terrible

I notice a lot of people saying that they do not want their kids to be sarcastic, and they give advice as to what to do to prevent your kids from becoming sarcastic. What's the big deal about being sarcastic? And no, that was not sarcastic.

Sarcasm is a linguistic device and it is hard to see what separates it from others that accounts for why it is to be avoided. Let's compare as we dare sarcasm with onomatopoeia. The latter is the formation of a word via the imitation of a sound ('boom', 'plop', 'zing', etc.). I take it that there are not people out there trying to get their kids to avoid onomatopoeia.

There are contexts in which sarcasm is inappropriate, yet the same is true of onomatopoeia. In fact, there is a great overlap as to which contexts these are. So, this cannot be the reason that sarcasm is to be avoided.

Sarcasm, you might think, has an annoying sound to it when said with that sarcastic tone. First, it is not clear that sarcasm requires such a tone. Second, many instances of onomatopoeia are instances of annoying sounds. After all, who likes to hear 'plop' or 'squish'? So, this cannot be the reason that sarcasm is to be avoided.

It may be true that sarcasm is often employed in a negative way -- used to disrespect someone. It can't be the mere fact that sarcasm can be used in such a way that it is to be avoided since many linguistic devices that are presumably not to be avoided *can* be used in this way. Onomatopoeia can be used in this way. Further, sarcasm needn't be negative in this way. I could utter to a fellow employee, "yeah, your not going to get the promotion" sarcastically, yet what I say is far from negative, in fact it is a complement to my associate. So, sarcasm needn't be negative in any relevant way. We are left with the claim that sarcasm is often used in a negative way, but why should this affect whether or not it should be used at all? If most people used pencils to poke themselves in the eye, it would be a bad thing, but nothing would follow regarding my using a pencil.

As a result, I can see no reason why sarcasm ought to be avoided. It should be responsibly used, but this is a different issue -- one that takes a lot more thought.

6.07.2007

Is Knowledge Closed Under Known Logical Implication?

Closure is the epistemic principle that for any propositions p and q, if someone knows that p, and that p entails q, then that individual is in an epistemic position to know q – that individual has sufficient evidence to know q. In other words, were that individual to believe q on the basis of her knowledge that p and that p entails q, she would thereby know q. The basic idea is that we can add to what we know by deducing things from what we already know. Such a principle seems obviously true and denying it appears to be an extravagant cost to any epistemological theory. Nonetheless, closure has been under attack in recent literature in epistemology. Closure has principally been denied as a way of avoiding skepticism. The skeptic cannot get to the conclusion that I do not know that I have hands, even if I do not know that I am not radically deceived by an evil demon, if closure is false (if it is false that we have knowledge of known entailments of what we know).

Fred Dretske gives a case like the following as a purported counterexample to closure. Joe goes to a cage marked ‘zebras’ at the zoo. Joe looks at the striped animals in the cage and believes they are zebras. In fact, it seems that Joe knows that they are zebras. For an animal to be a zebra, it cannot be a cleverly disguised mule. In knowing what a zebra is, Joe knows this fact as well. Does Joe know that the animals before him are not cleverly disguised mules? Dretske says no, and he claims that this is the intuitive answer. In supporting this claim, Dretske states that all of Joe’s evidence in favor of the animals being zebras has been neutralized and does not count in favor of the animals not being cleverly disguised mules, since Joe would have the same perceptual evidence in that case as well. In this case, (a) Joe knows there are zebras before him, and (b) Joe does not know that these are not cleverly disguised mules, even though (c) Joe knows that if an animal is a zebra then it is not a cleverly disguised mule. If (a) through (c) hold, then this is a counterexample to the closure principle. [for the contemporary relevance of this example see this].

However, (a) through (c) do not hold in the above example, this is not a counterexample to closure. Several objections can be brought to Dretske’s account. First, Joe’s evidence that there is a zebra before him is also evidence that there is not a cleverly disguised mule in front of him. Dretske seems to assume that Joe’s evidence for the former claim is solely his perceptual experience, but this is a mistake. Joe will not be justified in believing that there is a zebra before him without further background evidence regarding the nature of zoos, zookeepers, and the difficulty in so disguising a mule (that zoos are not in the buisness of trickery, that zoos often have actual zebras, etc.). Without such background evidence that is assumed in the case, it is false that Joe is justified in believing that there is a zebra in front of him. This can be seen by imaging a case where Joe has the same perceptual experience as of a zebra, but is in a context completely unfamiliar to him. In such a case it is far from clear that Joe knows that there is a zebra before him.

However, when coupled with the relevant background evidence, Joe’s perceptual evidence is also evidence that there is not a cleverly painted mule before him. Considerations concerning the nature of zoos, zookeepers, and the difficulty in disguising a mule, make the belief that there is a zebra before him the belief that Joe epistemically ought to have. What more is needed for knowledge? Joe’s belief is justified, true, and not subject to any Gettier considerations. Therefore, if this evidence is good enough for Joe to know that there is a mule before him, it is also good enough to know that there is not a cleverly disguised mule before him. Thus, closure is preserved.

Dretske might reply that a child lacks this background evidence, yet still knows that the animal before her is a zebra. If one lacked this background evidence, then one would not be justified in believing (and thus would not know) that the animals were not cleverly disguised mules, but in such a case the individual would also not know that there were zebras before her. It is by no means clear that a child in such an epistemic situation actually knows that there is a zebra before her. Even if the child can distinguish between ‘is a zebra’ and ‘merely looks like a zebra’ without the relevant background evidence, she has insufficient reason to affirm that the animal is a zebra. In addition, even if it is granted that the child knows that the animal is a zebra, it is doubtful that she can draw the inference regarding cleverly disguised mules, and if she cannot do so, then the case does not bear on the closure principle.

Second, the intuitions that Dretske appeals to do not support a denial of closure. Though people typically do claim to have seen zebras in the zoo, and though when confronted with the possibility that what they saw was actually cleverly disguised mules these people may deny that they know that what they saw was not cleverly disguised mules; when this denial is made, the former self-attribution of knowledge is often withdrawn, at least temporarily. This response is the response dictated by the closure principle. It seems that at no one time do individuals claim knowledge of a proposition and simultaneously deny knowledge of one of that propositions known entailments. As such, intuitions are on the side of closure, not against it. We have not been presented a counterexample to the closure principle.

6.04.2007

Epistemic Contextualism

The skeptic claims that we know much less than we think that we do. Take the following argument for skepticism:

(1) I do not know that I am radically deceived by an evil demon.
(2) If I do not know that I am radically deceived by an evil demon, then I do not know that I have hands.
(3) Therefore, I do not know that I have hands.

This type of argument can be run for nearly every contingent proposition, thus threatening our belief that we know a great deal of propositions. The premises seem true, yet the conclusion seems false – the puzzle of skepticism is the result.

Epistemic contextualism is an attempt to offer a satisfying response to this puzzle in having the result that most of our everyday knowledge ascriptions are correct and by giving an explanation as to why the puzzle arises.

This solution claims that the word ‘know’ is context sensitive – that ‘know’ means different things in different contexts or that it has a different semantic value in different contexts (its contribution to the proposition expressed varies according to context). In this way ‘know’ is like the comparative adjectives ‘tall’, ‘rich’, and ‘flat’. The standard that these terms invoke is dependent upon the context of the attribution – it is the ascriber’s standards that matter. In an everyday context when someone utters the sentence ‘a 6’ person is tall’ he expresses a truth, whereas when someone in a basketball context utters that same sentence he expresses a falsehood. The standard picked out by ‘tall’ differs in these contexts.

The idea is that in cases where S has a true belief that p, the truth-value of the sentence ‘S knows that p’ can vary according to the epistemic standard invoked by the context of attribution. Contexts will differ as to the relation one must be in to a proposition (how justified one must be or how reliable one must be, etc.) in order to count as knowing a proposition. In everyday contexts, the standard for knowledge is relaxed so that most of our knowledge attributions are true. The sentences, “S knows he has hands”, “S knows he ate cereal for breakfast”, etc. all come out true. In epistemological contexts where skeptical worries are present, the standards for knowledge are much more stringent so that those same knowledge attributions are false, those same sentences now express falsehoods.

Contextualists differ as to what features of contexts are responsible for the disparate standards which they invoke. Some appeal to which alternatives are relevant, others to whether the belief in question tracks the truth, but these details need not bother us here.

Applied to our argument above, the contextualist can affirm (1) – (3) in some contexts (high-standards contexts) while denying the conclusion, (3), in ordinary contexts. (1) is true in high-standards contexts, since in such contexts the very possibility of error is enough to destroy knowledge and it is possible that we are radically deceived by an evil demon, but it is false in everyday contexts. Since the mere contemplation or assertion of (1) is often seen as sufficient to raise the standards of the context by contextualists, this explains why (1) seems true to most people – where (1) is asserted the context shifts so as to make it express a truth. (2) is true in all contexts, according to the contextualist, and this also accords with common intuitions. There is a slight nuance, however, since (2) is true relative to a context, since in any context where one does not know the antecedent, one also does not know the consequent. (3) is true in high-standards contexts since the standards of knowledge are high and there is a possibility that I do not have hands. However, in ordinary, low-standards contexts, (3) will be false since one is sufficiently justified in such contexts to know that one has hands. This accords with our intuitions that we typically do know a lot of things. Whereas other responses to skepticism are forced to deny at least one of the propositions (1) – (3), contextualists can affirm (1) – (3), with some context sensitivity additions, while at the same time denying the skeptical conclusion (3), as it concerns our everyday knowledge ascriptions.

Thus, according to contextualism, the skeptic’s denial that we know various things is actually compatible with our ordinary claims to know those very things. The claim is that an appreciation of the context shifts makes the very puzzle disappear – everybody wins. In addition, contextualism credits most of our knowledge attributions with truth. In ordinary contexts, assertions that we know a great variety of things are true, and in skeptical contexts the assertion that we do not know these very things is also true. As such, this answer takes seriously the use in speech and thought of the word ‘know’, and claims its correctness in part on this basis.

While contextualism does have its appeal, it is not a satisfactory response to the skeptical puzzle. First, there are worries concerning the plausibility of this response to our puzzle. Contextualism has the result that many English speakers are not competent in their understanding and use of the word ‘know’. This can be seen in their reactions to sentences they once affirmed yet now deny. If I affirm the sentence, “a 6’ person is tall” in an ordinary context and then deny that sentence in a basketball context, there is no fear that I have contradicted myself and it is clear that I meant different things when I uttered this sentence in different contexts (similarly for other indexicals). Further, it is quite easy to clarify what I meant in uttering the sentence in each context (He is tall for a human, he is not tall for a basketball player). However, if I affirm the sentence, “I know I have hands” in a ordinary context and then deny that sentence in a high-standards context, I do feel as though I have contradicted myself. Further, there is no obvious way of clarifying my earlier claim so as to demonstrate that it was correct and distinguishing it from my later claim. The modifiers, “by low-standards”, “pretty-much knows”, “knows for certain”, all seem inadequate to the task. As such, contextualism seems forced to posit semantic blindness regarding the working of ‘know’ in the English language. This is a significant cost.

Aside from worries about the plausibility of contextualism, there are worries concerning its treatment of skepticism. In the first place, contextualism concedes to the skeptic that in some contexts we don’t know very much at all. This is a significant concession, and it is far from clear that it is one that should be made. Further, contextualism fails to address the heart of skepticism. The interesting skeptical challenge is not that we do not know very much in extremely high-standards contexts, but that we do not know very much according to ordinary standards for knowledge. Here, the contextualist merely asserts that we do typically meet such standards and that our everyday knowledge ascriptions are correct. However, no account is given as to why it is that we meet these standards. A successful response to skepticism would show how it is that we typically meet the ordinary standards for knowledge, yet such an account is not given by contextualists. As such, contextualism fails to address skepticism in an important way.

What is Epistemology?

Epistemology is the sub-field of philosophy which is my primary area of concentration. Epistemology is the study of knowledge and justified belief. It looks into the fundamental questions regarding these issues. In what follows I will be posting weekly summaries on some contemporary issues in epistemology in part to prepare for my comprehensive exam.

On-line

I am now on Facebook, and Rate-My-Professor.

5.23.2007

Sibling Pride


We were a little worried as to how Karis would react to this new human constantly in her life, but we have been pleasantly surprised. I think she likes him more than either Lesley or me. She is definitely proud to show him off to visitors.

5.17.2007

Little Brother / Big Sister

Karis blowing Thomas a kiss.

Karis giving her new brother a big SQUEEZE.




What's in a name

Naming is not easy. It's a hard thing to name another human being. Lesley and I put in a lot of consideration into both Thomas' and Karis' names.

For those who don't know, 'Karis' is Greek for grace and her middle name, 'Sophia', is Greek for wisdom. Two virtues that we wish upon her.

'Thomas Zane' was decided upon after much deliberation. In fact, Lesley and I employ 'bracketology' to help come up with a name. We had a March Madness tournament of 64 male names.

'Thomas' means twin, so it was not chosen for its meaning, but rather for other great Thomases that have come before (particularly philosopher/theologians):
Thomas Aquinas, Thomas a Kempis, Thomas Reid, etc.

'Zane' was chosen in part for its meaning. It means God's gracious gift. It was also chosen since we like names that start with letters not typically used.

In addition to the merits of each name on its own, we also like the combination both in full names and in the abbreviated 'T.Z.'.

Mother's Day Surprise

So here is the quick run down. On Saturday night Lesley started to get contractions after a day of bike riding and gardening. Everything continued through Church on Sunday so we went to the hospital after Church. Things slowly progressed until 11:31 at night when Thomas Zane was finally born. There were no problems with the delivery. He weighed 5 pounds 9 oz. and was 17.25 inches long. Thomas then went to the NICU since there was still some fluid in his lungs. That cleared up yesterday, and his good start to eating meant he could come home today.

Karis is already a big fan of Thomas giving him plenty of hugs and helping him out with his soother when he cries.

Lesley already feels so much better than after her c-section.

Now for the great tube-free pictures:




5.08.2007

The Good Life v. The Goods Life

This was the title of a talk I heard recently by psychologist Tim Kasser. Kasser has been studying happiness and materialism. He has a book: The High Price of Materialism.

In his talk, Kasser revealed his findings that those who have higher materialistic values are less happy. They score lower in vitality, general satisfaction, and pleasant emotions while scoring higher in anxiety, depression, headaches, and drug and alcohol use. Socially, they tend to help others less -- treating others as a means rather then as ends in themselves. They also have less concern for the environment -- having higher ecological footprints (the # of acres of land it takes to sustain them).

On this note it was brought to my attention that if the arable land of the Earth was evenly divided among human inhabitants, each individual would have 5 acres of land to support themselves. The average American has an ecological footprint of 30 acres. This means that if everyone lived as a typical American does, we would need 6 Earths to support ourselves.

Scary thought.

5.05.2007

Reasonable Atheism

Over here, there is a discussion as to how it can be that atheists can be punnished by God if their atheistic belief is the belief that is epistemically justified for them. It does seem that there are atheists who are epistemically justified in their belief of atheism. That is, it seems like for at least some individual's the evidence that they have best supports atheism. This entails that believing theism would be unjustified for those individuals.

Nonetheless, if salvation is based upon belief (I don't think this is quite right, but belief does seem to at least be essential), then individuals who are justified in their atheism are punnished for 'following their evidence'. Something might seem strange about this.

One could, like Kierkegaard seems to place the importance on faith and divorce faith from reason, but I have never found such a move appealing.

I think that the answer here lies in terms of justification. Here, I distinguished between epistemic justification (that one's belief fits with one's evidence) and meaty justification (that one is epistemically justified and also responsible in having gathered evidence). There is room to criticize the atheist since even if her belief in atheism is justified it can be that she has not been responsible in gathering evidence regarding the issue. Not only is this defense possible, I think it gets the situation right. The evidence is out there -- we are without excuse -- though this does not entail that every individual will be epistemically justified.

Pacal's Wager has import here. Though the pragmatic considerations that Pascal brings to bear on the rationality of belief in God do not affect the justification of that proposition, they do bring out the importance of that issue. The importance of the truth of theism makes it critical that one responsibly seek out evidence. Such a pursuit should consume us.

I would claim that the atheist is only justified in her atheism since she has not been responsible enough in pursuing the relevant evidence. If so, then it makes sense that she is punnished for believing what she should on her evidence. After all, it's much easier to see how we can be responsible for our actions (evidence gathering) than it is for our beliefs (since they are no directly voluntary).

5.01.2007

NFL Draft

End of the semester has led to very sporatic blogging, but summer is quickly approaching.

I just need to vent on a couple of things regarding the NFL draft that I have been hearing over and over.

1. A team's draft cannot be assessed until 1-3 years after the draft.

Why think that? Drafting decisions, like any other decisions ought to be evaluated at the time of the decision, based on the information that the agent had at the time of choice. How things turn out is of some importance, but these considerations do not factor in at the time of choice, and thus it's hard to see how the drafter can be graded by this criteria.

2. Teams get graded according to how good of prospects they drafted.

This seems reasonable at first, but it really isn't. Why not? Because teams do not have equal opportunity to draft players of the same caliber. For instance, the Raiders pick first in every round and the Bears pick second last in every round (ignoring trades for now). As such, it would be a ridiculous feat if the Bears drafted higher caliber players than the Raiders.

Instead, the grades teams receive should be scaled according to that teams draft position. In other words, it should be expected that the Raider's acquired better players than the Bears, but the grades should reflect how well a team did given their drafting position. This fact seems to be ignored in grading drafts.