Thursday, May 29, 2008
A new Indespensibility Argument
NDPR Reviews - Stanley and Hossack
Of most interest to readers of this blog will probably be Gary Ostertag's excellent review of Jason Stanley's collected papers, Language in Context. Ostertag does a much better job of setting out the motivations for Jason's project than I did in my earlier post on the matter, and the review offers a mini-summary of some of the criticisms that have been made since the papers were first published, along with some insights of its own. Overall, the review ends on a very complimentary note:
'The forgoing indicates certain challenges facing the Indexicalist. But there is no question that Language in Context is an outstanding achievement. Not since Stephen Neale's Descriptions has a book brought the apparatus of formal semantics and linguistic theory to bear on issues in the philosophy of language in such a constructive and illuminating way.'
Stephen Hetherington has a review of Keith Hossack's dense and ambitious The Metaphysics of Knowledge. I wasn't able to work my way through the whole book last semester, but some of Hetherington's criticisms seem right on the money. Hetherington's right, for instance, that Keith seems frustratingly unwilling to consider the range of options available to us in the debates he enters into, and this sometimes led to the feeling that he hasn't really motivated his particular positions in those debates. That made it a little hard to appreciate the detailed and careful developments Keith offers of these positions. And like Hetherington, I also found the knowledge-one approach a little unsatisfying and underdeveloped (though I'm sure Hetherington has overstated the extent to which Keith's approach was inspired by Williamson. That said, the book seemed very well written, very thoughtful, and to contain characteristically interesting and imaginative contributions to a wide range of central philosophical debates. Some of these merits also come out a little in the review. So despite my gripes with what I've read so far, I'm definitely looking forward to coming back to the book and taking some time to finish it off.
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Arche Assertion Workshop
Jonathan Schaffer kicked off the Arche Assertion Workshop that evening with a talk arguing that if you put together the Stalnakarian thought that what an assertion does is aim to reduce the contrast set with the Williamsonian thought that knowledge is the norm of assertion, the outcome is a contrastivist notion of knowledge; in slogan form, knowledge in the image of assertion is contrastive knowledge.
The next morning, Ofra Magidor presented joint work she's done with John Hawthorne which aims to show that the non-transparency of certain notions appealed to in Stalnaker's framework prevents him from being able to retain the following principle, we they label Uniformity: In cases of rational communication, the same proposition is asserted at each world in the context set. (Very roughly indeed: A notion N is transparent just in case Np implies NNp and ~Np implies N~Np.) Jessica Brown's talk noted that the thesis the knowledge is sufficient for warranted assertion is frequently appealed to, but never defended. She explored some arguments analogous to Williamson's arguments for the necessity claim, and suggested that none of them were good enough. In the questions, I tried to argue that her point is even more significant than she'd suggested, since it's actually the sufficiency thesis that Williamson appeals to when defending the necessity condition in the face of cases where a subject asserts something false but on the basis of impeccable evidence. These seem to be cases in which we just as asserter to have asserted well in some sense, yet he clearly did not know that which he asserted. Williamson writes (257, emphasis added):
'The case is quite consistent with the knowledge account. Indeed, if I am entitled to assume that knowledge warrants assertion, then, since it is reasonable for me to believe that I know that there is snow outside, it is reasonable for me to believe I have warrant to assert that there is snow outside. If it is reasonable for me to believe that I have warrant to assert that there is snow outside, then, other things being equal, it is reasonable for me to assert that there is snow outside. Thus the knowledge account can explain the reasonableness of the assertion.'
The same line will get run in response to Gettier cases. So, I suggested, it seems like it may be difficult to defend necessity without appealing to sufficiency - but, as Jessica pointed out, sufficiency has never been remotely adequately defended.
In the afternoon, John MacFarlane explored four different styles of accounts of the nature or purpose of assertion; the Stalnakarian account, the more or less Gricean account, Williamson-style accounts which hold that assertion has a constitutive norm, and commitment accounts. He explored how each of these accounts could make sense of the phenomenon of retraction, and whether they are genuinely competing, ending with a tentative suggestion that the kind of commitment account he has defended in print can make the best sense of retraction, and may enable one to recapture what each of the other accounts seems to have right. Lastly, Jason Stanley argued that defenders of the knowledge norm, his earlier self included, aren't free to appeal to Moore-paradoxical sentences of the form 'p, but I don't know so' to support their view. The reason is that sentences of the form 'p, but I'm not certain that is so/it's not certain that is so' are, as Unger pointed out, just as weird, yet seem to require even more demanding norms of assertion.
I only attended three out of the four talks on the Sunday, the final day of the workshop. Sandy Goldberg kicked things off, arguing that accepting that assertion has an evidential norm can help us explain certain phenomena in the epistemology of testimony. Jennifer Lackey also argued against the sufficiency of knowledge for warranted assertion, though in the question session most of the audience seemed convinced that her counterexamples should really be regarded as cases in which one has violated Gricean maxims. Bob Stalnaker finished things up with a talk on how to accommodate self-locating beliefs within his general framework.
All in all, this was about the best conference I've ever attended. The talks I went to were all very interested, and I learned a lot from them, and the whole thing was superbly organized. Thanks to Jessica Brown, Herman Cappelen, and last but not least, Sharon Coull for putting together such a great event.
Yesterday we had two further talks in the Basic Knowledge seminar from Baron Reed and Jennifer Lackey. Baron tried to defend a new argument for scepticism which would be immune to the charge, commonly leveled against standard sceptical arguments, of having presupposed an internalist picture of knowledge and justification. Jennifer defended and elaborated her 'justificationist' view of what to do in the face of peer-disagreement.
All in all, a fantastic weekend. As well as attending the talks, I got to see a lot of old friends, and meet a bunch of new people. Now I just have to recover in time for Duncan Pritchard's workshop on Basic Knowledge and Scepticism this coming weekend...
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Lackey and Moore Again
'it may be that Lackey conceives of the challenge to the reasonable belief account as follows; the account rules as permissible assertions which strike us as paradoxical and/or odd'
I now think this is spot on. Likewise, Lackey takes herself to be playing defense against the following objection; we hear assertions of lottery propositions as conversational fouls, but it's reasonable to believe them, and so Lackey's norm doesn't rule them as infelicitous. The heading that the section in which she discusses these issues is called 'counterexamples to the RTBNA', (i.e. the reasonable to believe norm of assertion), the conclusion of which is:
'neither lottery propositions nor Moorean paradoxes--the two central objections to norms requiring anything less than [the knowledge norm]--pose a problem for the RTBNA.'
But now my worry can be stated. If all the evidence Williamson adduced in favor of the knowledge norm can be explained away with appeal to a principle to the effect that we shouldn't assert what we know will mislead our audience, what reason do we have for thinking there's a norm of assertion at all? The argument for the existence of a norm is an inference to the best explanation, but what's left for Lackey's RTBNA to explain?
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Lackey on Moore's Paradox
Here I want to raise a worry about her explanation of Moore-paradoxical sentences in the chapter on norms of assertion. Williamson, taking his cue from Unger, has noted that the knowledge account of assertion offers a particularly elegant account of why there's something wrong with asserting sentences of the form 'p, but I don't know that p'. But an issue immediately arises about what it is that needs explained. Here are three answers that one might endorse:
1. The usual answer is that what needs an explanation is why we hear assertions of such sentences as contradictory or paradoxical, despite the sentences themselves being perfectly consistent.
2. Following DeRose's influential '92 paper on epistemic possibility, some participants in the debate have suggested that all that we need to explain is why such sentences sound odd. (See Douven's 2006 Phil Review article, for instance.)
3. Lastly, we might think that all that really needs accounting for is that such sentences ought not be asserted.
It seems that the tasks involved get less demanding as one moves from (1), through (2), to (3). And, relatedly, it seems like to have successfully carried out one of these tasks is also to have carried out the tasks below it, but not above.
So what does Lackey take to require explanation? It seems that she initially takes it to be (1). Here's how she introduces the topic:
'Moore famously noted that assertions of these general forms--that is, of either the form "p, but I don't believe that p" or of the form "p, but I don't know that p"--seem quite paradoxical.' (130)
It is this paradoxicalness that Lackey takes Williamson and other proponents of the knowledge account (KNA) to trying to explain:
'Advocates of the KNA are in an excellent position to account for the paradoxical nature of asserting Moorean sentences.' (130)
Lackey wants to defend a rival to the KNA, the reasonable belief account. Moorean sentences seem to be a problem for this account, since Lackey herself has described cases in which it is reasonable for a subject to believe p, and that they don't know p. These are cases of selfless assertion, in which a subject asserts p on the basis of great evidence - evidence which makes it reasonable for her to believe p - and yet isn't willing or able to bring her beliefs into line with the evidence, and so either fails to form any belief on the matter, or continues to believe ~p.
In response, Lackey argues for a second norm, the NMNA, which rules an assertion as improper if it is reasonable for the asserter to believe that it will be misleading in the context of utterance. (She suggests this second norm might get subsumed by Gricean maxims; I think it would strengthen her position if she were so.) It's the NMNA that allows her to deal with Moorean assertions:
'the NMNA rules out the permissibility of asserting such paradoxes in most circumstances, even when they involve selfless assertions,' (134)
How? Well, consider one of Lackey's examples of selfless assertion. Sebastian is a well-respected doctor who has seen excellent evidence showing that there's no link between vaccinations and autism. However, his own child was recently diagnosed with autism not long after receiving vaccinations. As a result, he cannot bring himself to believe that there's no connection, despite recognizing that the evidence all points in that direction (he recognizes that the case of his own child isn't evidence to the contrary, and that his reluctance to belief that there's no connection stems from his emotion state). When asked by a patient whether there's a connection between vaccination and autism, he sets his own feelings to the side, and asserts on the basis of the excellent evidence that there is not. Of this case, Lackey writes:
'such an assertion is most likely to lead Sebastian's hearers either forming no relevant beliefs at all, because they are confused by its oddity, or to forming false beliefs, because they are trying to plausibly explain its oddity away.' (134)
Notice the shift. Not only are we now engaged in task 3 rather than task 1, Lackey's account, far from providing an explanation of the oddity of assertions of Moorean sentences (task 2), actually helps itself to the fact they sound odd in order to explain why they should be ruled impermissible by the NMNA.
Now, it may be that Lackey conceives of the challenge to the reasonable belief account as follows; the account rules as permissible assertions which strike us as paradoxical and/or odd. But if so, we should wonder why this lack of ambition wasn't flagged more clearly, and we should wonder whether we can rest content with an account of assertion that can only help us with such an unambitious (type 3) explanation of the Moore cases, when there are rival accounts which enable us to offer type 1 and type 2 explanations.
Monday, May 19, 2008
Knowledge How and Understanding Revisited
"Toy account or not, I think the guiding account provides the basis of a challenge to the claim that the case is a counterexample to any account that lacks the understanding condition."
But it's not really the account that I want to draw attention to. It's the availability of an alternative diagnosis of why Irina fails to know how in the case described in the post. The reason Marc and John take the case to counter-exemplify any account that lacks their understanding condition is presumably that they take it as obvious that the right diagnosis of the case is that she fails to know how because she fails to understand how to perform a Salchow. What I really wanted to draw attention to in the post was a rival diagnosis. According to the rival, Irina fails to know how because, roughly, it's lucky that her true belief about how to X leads her to successfully X, just as in Gettier cases it's lucky that one's justified belief turns out to be true. Really I'm suggesting that the Irina case is an example of what once seemed like an elusive beast; it's a Gettier case for knowledge how. Gettier cases for knowledge how are ones in which the connection between one's true belief or knowledge about how to X and one successful X-ing is too lucky. The role of the guiding account should really just be to illustrate one way we might give content to the notion of luck being appealed to, one that makes the analogy to standard propositional knowledge particularly clear.
Blackwell Epistemology Anthology
Some of the highlights of the new selection include: a section on epistemic closure; a second paper by Conee and Feldman added to the section on justification; a vastly improved section on virtue- and value-driven epistemology, featuring papers by Greco, Pritchard, Kvanvig, Sosa, and others; a hugely expanded section on knowledge and context, which supplements the three pro-contextualist papers from the first edition (DeRose's masterly 'Solving the Sceptical Problem', Lewis' 'Elusive Knowledge', and Cohen's 'Contextualism Solutions to Epistemological Problems') with a number of pieces representative of the recent backlash, including excerpts from Hawthorne and Stanley's books, Fantl and McGrath's own Phil Review piece, and MacFarlane's paper on assessment sensitivity; a new section on epistemic sources, including Burge's classic paper on testimony and Lackey's rightly influential attack on the transmission model of testimony. And this is just scratching the surface.
There are some noticeable omissions in the topics covered, though. While the original volume included a cluster of papers on the generality problem, including core papers by Goldman, Alston, and Conee and Feldman, the new volume doesn't really have anything on that. It's a shame, since there's been a recent wave of responses to Conee and Feldman, and reliablism remains a very influential, important view. Also not represented, much to my surprise, is the recent debate between Pryor, Wright and others over the conditions under which one can acquire (prima facie) justification for one's perceptual beliefs. And there's no trace of the recent debate over the nature of knowledge how; recently there's been a tangible sense that epistemologists have been too narrowly focused on uncontroversially propositional knowledge, and so it's a little odd to find the volume more or less exclusively preoccupied with that. Stanley and Williamson's piece would at least served to give the flavor of the present debate.
These were just a few of the topics I was surprised not to see covered. But I want to stress again that I think the editors have done a fantastic job, and the volume is beautiful. I just need to work out how to get it back to the States in June...
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Knowledge How and Understanding
They claim (fn31) that the following case is a counterexample to any account of knowledge how that fails to make understanding necessary (as they sometime put the condition, knowing how to X requires a minimal understanding of X-ing):
'Irina knows a way of doing a salchow, namely, by taking off from the back inside edge of her skate, jumping in the air, spinning, and landing on the back outside edge of her skate. Moreover, she knows that this is a way of doing a salchow (her coach told her). Suppose, however, that Irina is deeply confused about the concepts back outside edge and back inside edge. In particular, suppose that she takes her back outside edge to be her front inside edge and her back inside edge to be her front outside edge. (As per Burge, we take it that this degree of misunderstanding is consistent with attributing to Irina possession of the concepts back outside edge and back inside edge and associated propositional attitudes.) However, as in the case described above, Irina has a severe neurological abnormality that makes her act in ways that differ dramatically from how she actually takes herself to be acting. Whenever she actually attempts to do a salchow (in accordance with her misconception of a correct way of doing one) this abnormality causes her to reliably perform the correct sequence of moves. Despite the fact that what she is doing and what she takes herself to be doing come apart, she fails to notice the mismatch. (48, fn suppressed)
It's supposedly a counterexample since any account that fails to include the understanding condition (including Stanley and Williamson's better known version of intellectualism) will rule this as a case in which Irina knows how.
But I'm sceptical. Here's a skeletal account of knowledge how, inspired by Nozick's tracking account of knowledge that (we may call it the guiding account):
S knows how to X iff:
1. S is able to X (there's a lot of complexity being suppressed here, of course. See the preceding post for discussion)
2. S has a true belief about how to X
3. ~2 -> ~1
4. 2 -> 1
If the tracking account gives some content to the idea that if one knows that p, one has the belief that p in virtue of p's being true, then the guiding account gives some (though admittedly not much) content to the idea that one successfully X's (or would successfully X under the right kind of conditions) in virtue of one's having a true belief about how to X.
These 4 conditions obviously raise as many questions and issues as they speak to, but let's not get into that here. The point for now is just that any account that endorses 4 seems to be in a position to deliver the result that Irina does not know how in John and Marc's case. For although in that case Irina is able to perform the jump, and she has a true belief about how to X (as a result of the testimony she's received from her trainer), there is a relevant class of worlds in which she has the belief and yet she isn't able to successfully perform the jumps; the class of worlds in which she lacks the 'severe neurological abnormality' which so fortunately cancels out her misunderstanding.
The guiding account is obviously just a toy account, but the verdict it offers in the case at hand doesn't seem at all ill-motivated. Just as Gettier-man's belief that either Jones owns a Ford or is in Barcelona fails to count as knowledge because it was merely luck that he formed a true belief, Irina fails to know how to perform the jump because her success at performing it is too lucky; there are close worlds in which Gettier man forms the belief by the same method and yet gets things wrong, and their are close worlds in which Irina tries to X, and has a true belief about how to X, but fails to because the factor that cancels out her misunderstanding is absent. On this analysis of why Irina fails to know how in such a case, it's not significant that Irina misunderstands X-ing. The relevant features of the case are just this; there's some factor which prevents her from knowing how and, crucially, it's a matter of luck, in a pertinent sense, that there's a countervailing factor which stops this from interfering with successful performance. Toy account or not, I think the guiding account provides the basis of a challenge to the claim that the case is a counterexample to any account that lacks the understanding condition.
Knowledge How and Abilites
There are now a number of stock cases designed to show that knowing how to X does not entail being able to X. These have tended to fall into broadly three classes. The first are cases in which, as Snowdon puts it, we 'describe cases in which the subject can show, teach, or tell (or otherwise convey to) us how to do something, and hence must be credited with knowing how to do it, but is for some reason or other unable to do it' (Knowing How and Knowing That: 9). Jeff King's example of the ski instructor who is personally unable to perform the stunts is a case belonging to this first class. The second class of cases are one's in which the subject uncontroversially previously both knew how and was able to X, but is now unable to X. The tragic concert pianist who has recently lost his arms in a car accident is a case of this kind. The third class consists of cases where performing X is intuitively 'more of the same' of what it takes to perform Y, where the subject in question uncontroversially both knows how to Y and is able to Y. John and Marc offer the example of Irina, the figure skater who knows how to perform a quadruple Salchow, and is able to. They suggest that intuitively she also knows how to perform a quintuple Salchow, even though she just can't seem to land one. Further cases of this sort have been offered by Jonathan Ellis in unpublished work.
I incline towards thinking that these cases don't yet show that ability is unnecessary for knowledge how, and towards thinking that Noë and Hawley offer responses to these cases that are more or less on the right track. According to Noë, if one knows how to X, and certain 'enabling conditions' are satisfied, one will be able to X. So, of the tragic concert pianist, he writes:
'We judge she knows how to play even though she is now unable to play, because we think of the loss of her arms as comparable (in the relevant sense) to the loss of her piano; as we tell the story, it is reasonable to think that the accident brings about the failure of a necessary enabling condition to be satisfied.' (Anti-Intellectualism: 283)
Hawley suggests that satisfying a counterfactual success condition is necessary for knowing how; if one's knows how to X, then: if one tried to X, under normal circumstances, one would successfully X (Success and Knowledge-How: 22). The ski instructor and the concert pianist meet this condition, since were they to attempt the stunts or playing the piano under conditions which are normal for those activities, they would succeed (23). Their lack of actual success does not impugn their knowing how.I rather suspect these proposals are best treated as variations of the same idea; one should replace the notion of 'normal' conditions for X-ing with the notion of all of the relevant enabling conditions for X-ing having been satisfied. This kind of response puts tremendous pressure on the notion of an enabling condition, and it's far from clear it can bear the strain. There's a real danger of trivialization here (as John has stressed to me in conversation - there's some relevant discussion in Hawley's paper), since we can't allow that having learned to play the piano is an enabling condition for playing the piano; we don't want to count as knowing how to play the piano someone who would be able to play were it not for her failure to have learned to play. Similarly, having practiced sufficiently cannot count as an enabling condition for playing the piano, nor can having lived in Moscow for 5 years be an enabling condition for speaking Russian; one does not know how to speak Russian even if one would be able to speak Russian if one lived in Russia for 5 years (this latter example is Hawley's). We clearly need a much better grip of the notion of an enabling condition than we currently possess.
One option that Hawley mentions in passing (22) but doesn't pursue is that cases in which one knows how to X but is cannot actually successfully X are cases in which 'physical limitations' prevent one from X-ing. This would mean that satisfaction of enabling conditions would amount to the absence of such physical limitations. Of course, this notion of a physical limitation is itself very slippery, but that doesn't show that no progress has been made. We can make what seem to be intuitively correct classifications: lack of limbs is a physical limitation, being unfit or inflexible are physical limitations, whereas not having learned to play the piano and not having lived in Russia for 5 years are not.
What surprised me reading John and Marc's paper again is that they seem to put quite considerable weight on a distinction between being unable to X right now and being unable to X generally. They hold that putative counterexamples to the necessity of ability for knowledge how fail if they are merely cases in which the subject is unable to X right now (Know-How and Concept Possession: fn5). In contrast, they argue that the ski instructor and ice-skater cases succeed in showing that ability isn't necessary for knowledge how.
They also invoke this distinction in response to an objection later in the paper. They argue that a gap between knowing how and being able does not open up with regards to certain activities, such as carrying out simple mathematical and logical operations. But they consider the objection that a small gap can open up even here:
'For instance, Irina might know how to add, but be unable to do so because she presently lacks pen and paper, the use of her fingers, an abacus, etc. (which , owing to a poor short-term memory, she needs to perform even the simplest mathematical calculations). On the face of it , this seems to be a case of knowing how to add absent the corresponding ability. But in fact it is not. For in such a case, Irina is able to add; she is just unable to do so right now.' (36, emphasis in original)
However, this is misleading. It's not just that Irina is unable to add right now; as the case is described she's unable to add generally in the absence of pen and paper (or an abacus, etc.), and it just so happens that she presently lacks these things, which explains her present inability to add. If we want to maintain that Irina knows how to add quite generally, what can we say to prevent her general inability to add under certain conditions from calling into question the necessity of ability for knowledge how even in John and Marc's restricted class of cases?
I want to suggest that John and Marc have implicitly acknowledged the need for more or less the kind of distinction that the anti-intellectualist seeks to lean on in offering a response to the ski-instructor/ice-skater/tragic pianist cases, but they've mishandled it. In taking it to be a distinction between not being able to X right now, and not be able to X generally, they've thought that it's a distinction which is of no help to the anti-intellectualist. They seem to have seen things as follows. Cases in which a subject is unable to X right now do not show that an ability to X is unnecessary, whether X here is performing a quintuple Salchow or subtracting 2 from 4. However, there are cases in which a subject intuitively knows how to perform a quintuple Salchow but is generally unable to land one, while there are no cases in which a subject intuitively knows how to subtract 2 from 4, but is generally unable to. But the case in which Irina is unable to add without paper and pen is just that; it's a case in which she's only able to add under certain conditions. The anti-intellectualist line I attributed to Hawley and Noë above suggests that just as Irina, idiosyncratically, is only able to add under certain circumstances, people more generally successfully X, for any X, only under certain circumstances; perhaps those are best thought of as circumstances in which the relevant physical limitations are absent - and perhaps not.
This suggests the story about the link between knowledge how and abilites/successful action will be enormously complicated, since we must factor in not only physical limitations or the like, but also idiosyncratic limitations like that displayed by Irina in the simple arithmetic case. But I don't find the conclusion that our story must be complicated a disappointing or objectionable one; it strikes me as one thing we should have all learned already from the ongoing debate between intellectualists and anti-intellectualists.
(Thanks to John Bengson for discussion of these issues over the past year or so).
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Methodology Workshop Update - King, Korman, Driver
Monday, May 12, 2008
Wednesday, May 07, 2008
Hello, we're talking about language...
Thursday, May 01, 2008
My rubbish HP laptop decided it was too good for this world the week before my prospectus had to be turned in.
UT Grad students did very well on the job market. Congratulations to Jack, Neil, Derek, Ben, Tracy and Connor!
UT hired Anna-Sara Malmgren, who is just finishing up her thesis at NYU (and who adds to UT's already considerable strengths in epistemologists with their own IMDb pages). I'm really pleased Anna-Sara has chosen to join the department here, as we all are.
We had another very successful graduate conference here, with David Chalmers, Tamar Gendler, and a host of interesting talks from graduate students. Errol Lord recently posted his reflections on the conference over on The Excluded Middle.
In the midst of all this, I somehow managed to get a prospectus written and defended. So now I need to think about actually writing a dissertation, which is scary. In any case, I should have a bit more time to post some philosophy up here, so keep watching the skis.....I mean skies....