A forum for VE lucubration

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Value Theory and Epistemology

One thing I've learned from thinking about the value of knowledge is that a background in value theory would be more than just helpful, but probably indespensible to doing good work. Too many epistemologists, I think, pronounce their views on value with only a superficial familiarity of the value-theory terrain. I am certainly guilty as charged on this score. In fact, if I could have done it all over, I would have studied value theory 'first' (along with epistemology) and then worked on the Meno Problem, rather than doing epistemology and then jumping head first into the Meno Problem.

But oh well. At least I think I've caught this oversight at an early stage in my dissertation!

Anyway, toward the goal of correcting this oversight, I've been wanting to read the 'right stuff' in value theory to supplement my interest in epistemic value.

Two papers that have been especially helpful have been Rabinowicz and Ronni-Rasmussen's paper that makes precise the distinction between intrinsic and final value. (This is helpful for those interseted in knowledge-as-achievement views such as Greco's and Sosa's). Also VERY useful toward thinking about the Meno Problem and the Swamping Problem has been Campell Brown's recent paper "Two Kinds of Value Holism."

But that said, I want to also share what I think 'looks' like a nice little goldmine resource for epistemologists who want a better grounding in the foundations of value. I was browsing Rabinowicz's webpage looking for value wisdom and came across a value resource webpage that features some of the recent work taking place at Lund.


And so, my guess is that this would be a great reading list for those interested in epistemic value!

Also, PLEASE do share any other value theory articles here that you think would be helpful for those working in the area of epistemic value!!

Cheers, Adam

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Virtue, Credit and the Lackey Case

Firstly, sorry for the abeyance in posting.

One benefit of virtue-theoretic approaches to epistemology is that they have unique resources for explaining what makes knowledge more valuable than mere true belief, or any proper subset of (knowledge's) parts. The unique resource can be understood first by considering that successes through exhibition of virtues are creditable to the agent exhibiting the virtue. If we grant that achievements (successes through abilities) in general are valuable, and that knowledge is a type of cognitive achievement creditable to the agent, then we appear apt to answering the Meno Problem: we say that knowledge is more valuable than mere true belief or any proper subset of its parts by virtue of having the 'final value' that accrues to achievements. As Greco points out, if an agent forms a true belief in conjunction with displaying intellectual virtue, it would not necessarily follow that the agent knows. What is also importantly needed is that the success be 'because of' or 'through' the intellectual virtue. And so, on the 'final value' response to the Meno Problem, the 'because of' is especially important.

One of the toughtest parts of defending the 'final value' solution to the Meno Problem is the fact that the 'because of' relation is a particularly messy one to delineate. Greco rolls up his sleves to explain the 'because of'; he provides a carefully thought through account that makes recourse to the requirement that the exhibition of intellectual virtue be explanatorily salient in a causal explanation for why the agent came to form the true belief. Ernie Sosa, on the other hand, (at least, in a recent conversation) takes it that the 'because of' relation is one that, like Greco, should be understood as function of salience, but unlike Greco, Sosa takes it that what is salient should be intuitive, and so does not find it necessary to provide an account of the conditions under which the exhibition of virtue is salient in cases of knowledge.

Any defense of the final value solution worth its salt will have to get the 'because of' relation right. That much is clear.

But there is a separate problem for the final value solution. That problem is as follows: the Meno Problem demands that we locate the property of knowledge by virtue of which it is more valuable than mere true belief or any proper subset of its parts. As Kvanvig has recently pointed out, this assumption about the value of knowledge that we are trying to vindicate is a 'prima facie' claim. It is defeasible, and so consistent with cases in which pragmatic consequences will generate a non-epistemic value that accres to true belief of p that will make it more valuable than knowing p. (He gives for example a case in which the world will end if you know p but not if you merely truly believe p). Thus, these sort of cases should not lead us to abandon our assumption that led us to recognize the Meno Problem as legitimate.

However, a more serious concern would arise if we solve the Meno Problem in such a way that we explain knowledge to have some special value X but then come to find out that X is not present in a wide variety of cases of everyday knowledge. That would suggest that the "X" solution is a bad solution. Jennifer Lackey has recently given a much-talked-about example that characterizes the final value solution as doomed by this sort of problem.

The idea is that, in cases of testimonial knowledge, the knower who simply receives knowledge by listening to what someone else says, is not appropriately creditworthy. (The intution is supposed to be that the other agent who transferred the knowledge to you did the relevant epistemic work and is the one that deserves credit, not you). But, as the argument goes, we can come to have knowledge by testimony, and so because the final value solution requires that knowledge be creditable to the agent, the final value solution will be stuck either giving an account of why knowledge is valuable which can't explain this fact in cases of testimonial knowledge (a bad result) or must flat deny that testimonial knowledge is proper knowledge.

This looks like a real dilemma, and has led some (i.e. Pritchard) to deny that creditworthiness is necessary for knowledge, a denial that would cast serious doubts upon the prospect of the final value solution as a viable one.

I think, though, that Lackey's case doesn't quite do what it's supposed to do. In fact, there is a subtle point in the case that I think is overlooked. Uncovering this point might well lead us to doubt that this is a genuine 'credit counterexample.'

First, suppose we ask the question this way:

There is knowledge of (for example) p. Jared has gone out, gathered evidence and inquired in a way that has led to him coming to know p. Damon asks Jared "Is p true?" Jared says 'Yes." Damon comes to know. Who, between Damon and Jared, deserves credit for p? We would say that Jared does. And then conclude that Damon doesn't.

The dialectic in the previous example expresses the way that I think most persuaded by the Lackey case have gone about thinking about it.

Notice that this way of thining about the problem depends on the thought that there is an item of knowledge, p, and then we make a contrastivist comparison between two agents, a comparison that leads us to pick the 'more creditworthy' knower as deserving as such, and deny credit to the other.

There are a few mistakes though in this line of thinking.

Firstly, we shouldn't think of knowledge in this case as exhausted by one token, against which we then assess which of the two agents, the informer or receiver, best deserves credit relative to that one token.

Because we grant that the receiver can know through testimonial knowledge, there are two tokens:

(1) The informer's knowledge that p.
(2) The receiver's knowledge that p.

The informer is clearly creditworthy for his knowledge of p.

A separate question would be: is the receiver creditworthy for her knowledge of p?

Notice that the 'contrastivist' framework with which the question was set up in the previous example would make a legitimate qustion (i.e. is the receiver creditworthy for her knowledge of p) appear illegitimate, for the reason that we've already awarded the credit to the informer. But once we think of the knowledge as two tokens and abandon the contrastivist framing of the question, it makes perfect sense to ask whether the receiver is creditworthy for p.

Now for a further point, suppose that the content of p is that the capitol building is on Queen street. If the receiver had looked this up in a book, would we be so quick to say that she doesn't deserve credit for knowing? No. It seems that we can get credit for knowing facts we look up in books. And if we get credit for looking them up in books, we would get credit for reading them on signs. And if we get credit for visually reading them on signs, we get credit for auditorily hearing them in the mouths of the informers. Any other conclusion would bias one sense in favor of the other.

If I am right about this, then Lackey's problem shouldn't be so troubling. Learning through testimonial knowledge would gain S credit for p in a way know different than S would receive credit for p if she looked it up in a book. And this fact is not threatened by the fact that the informer would also get credit for her knowledge of p.