Saturday, November 11, 2006


Hokey KOKI?

I think people around the department really got a lot out of Keith Hossack's talks this week, and they've sparked a number of interesting discussions. It's been a very fun visit for all concerned, as far as I can tell.

Yesterday Keith talked criticised the Inference model of testimony, associated with Grice and others. I won't go into the details at all, but at the heart of one of his criticisms was the following principle:

Knowledge-out, Knowledge-in (KOKI): an inference cannot produce knowledge unless its premises are known to be true

Now, in the discussion session, I tried to persuade Keith that this principle could do with some defense. I had a couple of reasons for thinking this, but the one that people seemed to want to quiz me about afterwards was the reverse lottery inference. Like I did at the time, I want to stress I'm not defending the view I'm about to lay out; I just think it's not sufficiently obviously wrong to allow a premise like the KOKI principle to be assumed without argument. Most people seemed to disagree, and I'd be interested to know what other people thought (if for no other reason than to find out how perverse my philosophical radar has become of late).

Here's the inference. The two premises are:

1. I won't win the million-ticketed major lottery I hold a ticket for

2. I won't receive enough other funds from any other source to enable me to afford to buy Bill Gates out of his house this year

And the conclusion is:

3. I won't be able to afford to buy Bill Gates out of his house this year

The view I had in mind is the following. The second premise could easily be the kind of thing that we'd credit me with knowing; say I don't hold any other lottery tickets, and I know I won't participate in any other games of chance, so I might know 2 in virtue of knowing that I don't have any wealthy relatives, etc. So let's assume that the circumstances are such that if we're not sceptics about ordinary knowledge, we'll credit me with knowledge of 2.

Let us suppose that 1 is true. The view I'm sketching here holds that I still can't know 1 (because a belief in 1 would not be sensitive, as DeRose suggests, or because of Hawthorne style parity reasoning about lottery propositions).

Lastly, the suggestion was I might come to know 3 via an inference from 1 and 2. The basic idea, cast in Vogel's terminology, is that we're to infer an ordinary proposition from a lottery proposition. Lottery propositions don't seem like they can be items of knowledge, despite the overwhelming likelihood that such a proposition is true. The conclusion of the inference inherits whatever good epistemic properties the lottery proposition has, plus being an ordinary proposition the impediment to knowledge of lottery propositions isn't present (the conclusion is sensitive, doesn't support parity reasoning, etc). So we'd have a counterexample to KOKI.

This is obvious more than just a tad on the quick side, and there are some big issues looming. But in any case, that was the thought.

To reiterate, I'm not putting this forward as my view (partly because that seems to be something of a kiss of death these days). But I have to admit, nothing here jumps out at me as preposterous, unless we simply assume the KOKI principle.

(If any Americans are confused about the title of this post, I gather that it's more common on this side of the Pond to call the hokey-cokey the hokey-pokey.)


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