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Monday, October 16, 2006

Swamp Exemption Status

I’ve been thinking about swamping. Specifically, I’m wondering what is swampable. And even more specifically, under what conditions a theory of knowledge is doomed to the swamping problem. A theory of knowledge is doomed to the swamping problem if and only if___________?

My suspicion is that answering this question would require that it first be made clear which value problem for knowledge we are talking about. I’m distinguishing value problems in the way Duncan Pritchard has in a recent paper:

The primary value problem is the problem of explaining how knowledge is more valuable than true belief.
The secondary value problem is the problem of explaining how knowledge is more valuable than any proper subset of its parts.
The tertiary value problem is the problem of explaining how knowledge is of distinctive value than any/all of its subparts: i.e. a value of a different kind.

Although a successful account of the nature of knowledge would (probably) be required to answer all three of the value problems, as I take it, the swamping problem is one that arises when trying to answer the primary value problem only. Specifically, it arises when a theory of knowledge defines knowledge as true belief plus some other quality such that the value of the other quality is parasitic on the value of truth. If a theory of knowledge falls to the swamping problem, then it can’t answer successfully the primary value problem.

I think it’s pretty clear how the generic version of reliabilism is subject to the swamping problem. This is because a belief produced by a reliable process would be most obviously valuable because such a belief is likely to be true. But adding “likely to be true” to a true belief doesn’t get you anything more valuable than a true belief. Kvanvig makes this point clear in his book “The Value of Knowledge and the Pursuit of Understanding.”

What becomes confusing, though, is what “kinds” of values are swampable. Are any swamp-exempt? Instrumental, extrinsic and intrinsic value all appear to me at least, in principle, capable of being swamped by the value of truth in a theory of knowledge. More clearly, a theory of knowledge trying to resolve the primary value problem might try to explain the value of knowledge over truth by invoking a justificatory component that is valuable for any of these reasons (extrinsic, instrumental and intrinsic) and still be such that the justificatory component’s value is in some important way parasitic on the value of truth.What about final value, though? Something has final value if it is valuable for its own sake. This need not entail that it is valuable because of its intrinsic properties, although (as I understand) some things can be both intrinsically and finally valuable.

What’s not clear to me is whether final value is the sort of value that can be parasitc on truth to the extent that (for example) a justificatory component in a theory of knowledge that is finally valuable could nonetheless be swamped. Thoughts on swamping?


Blogger Trent_Dougherty said...

You may want to dice value more finely. You seem to lump all instrumental value together, but we might have multiple goals for our beliefs and different properties of beliefs will be means to some and not other of those goals.

For example, one of the goals I have for my beliefs is that they be true or verisimilitudenous. Being reliably formed is a nice property for my beliefs to have in this regard.

Here's another goal I have for my beliefs: that they be reasonable. I want my beliefs to have this property in part because I hold some hope that reasonable beliefs are more likely to be true.

But you know what, if they're not, I still want my beliefs to have that property for their own sake. So if I found out I had been in a demon world when I die I would look back with some regret but I'd be glad that at least my beliefs were reasonable.

In some ways I want to have reasonable beliefs *more* than I want to have true beliefs in a way similar to when we tell our students that what's most important about their term papers is that they be well-reasoned, not that they get it right.

There are certain ideals I have for coherence in my beliefs that I value apart from their truth-conduciveness. I esteem good inferential structures apart from their truth-conduciveness. I have a rich conception of the cognitive idea, so I have various goals for my beliefs.

This seems to have two consequences for swamping: 1. the value of some competent of knowledge could be truth-swamped, but not rationality-swamped; 2. suppose there's some kind of organ conception of all-things-considered epistemic value (of which I'm skeptical), then this holistic value of knowledge would be of a different kind than the value of its parts or of its value with respect to component goals.

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