Wednesday, May 28, 2008


Arche Assertion Workshop

I just got back from a pretty spectacular weekend in St Andrews, during which I saw lots of people, and attended eleven - count 'em - eleven presentations. On Friday morning my good friend Marcus Rossberg, who kindly put me up for the bulk of the time I was there, discussed the options one has for reconciling inferentialism about the logic constants with the non-conservatism of third- over second-order logic.

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...

Labels: , ,

Hey Aidan,

This isn't a terribly sophisticated defense of sufficiency, but I've floated this in a paper.

(1) p, he knows that, but he's in no position to claim p!

This strikes me as no less abominable than the abominable conjunctions taken to motivate single premise closure principles. I see no way to explain why this is abominable without (a) saying that (1) express a falsehood and (b) that (a) is explained by the claim that nothing beyond knowledge is needed to assert properly. (We might say nothing but knowledge and the absence of salient doubts, but that might be fine.)

[Incidentally, I've used sufficiency and necessity to argue that there cannot be false, justified beliefs. _That_ might be the reason we're looking for for rejecting sufficiency, but since I think we have independent reasons for rejecting necessity, I prefer keeping sufficiency and junking that.]

I'll have to look again at Lackey's Nous piece to see about the juror case.
I guess I don't find that abominable conjunction very abominable. Say it's common knowledge that F is lazy, but it's also common knowledge that I'm even lazier than F. I might too know that F is lazy, but be in no position to assert so since doing so would be so blatantly hypocritical. In this case, 'Aidan may know that F is lazy, but he's in no position to assert it!' sounds fine to my ear. We can multiply examples of this sort. The general moral is that being in no position to claim something isn't a distinctively epistemic kind of inadequacy, and it would be a big surprise to find out that such non-epistemic inadequacies are incompatible with knowledge of the content of one's assertion.

We can build in the epistemic stuff to the conjunction to try to get around this. So try:

'He knows that p, but he's not epistemically well positioned enough to assert p',

or perhaps better,

'He knows that p, but he wouldn't be warranted in asserting p'.

I can't speak for others, but these certainly don't strike me as remotely on a par with the crashingly horrible 'I know I have hands, but I don't know I'm not a handless BIV'.
I meant to have the epistemic stuff built in, but while they might not strike us as bad as the abominable conjunctions they still strike _me_ as pretty darn bad.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?