A forum for VE lucubration

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Knowability and 'Valuability'

One reason the knowability paradox seems so paradoxical is that the principle of knowability (taken on the paradox to entail the omniscience principle) seems so darn plausible. That principle states that all truths are knowable. Suppose this modal principle were extended to evaluations. We might say then that if X has value, then it is valuable--that is, it is possible that someone, somewhere, at some time, value X. Jointly, the principle of knowability and the principle of valuability imply that if some X has value, then it's possible that one know that she values x. Problematically, though, if knowing p is more epistemically valuable than merely truly believing p, then by the principle of valuability, it is possible that one value knowledge of p to her own mere true belief that p; and by the principle of knowability, it is possible that one know that she values knowledge that p above her mere true belief that p. But given the fact that we can't know of any mere true belief we have 'that' it is a mere true belief, (i.e. given that (p & ~Kp) is not a knowable proposition), it seems as though we must reject that anyone could know THAT she values knowing p over her mere true belief that p. But given the principle of valuability, this would imply that knowledge that p isn't more valuable than mere true belief that p. But it is! It seems, then, that we've got a paradox of valuablility that runs parallel to the paradox of knowability.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Intellectual Virtue and Causation

Intellectual virtue and causation is one of my favourite topics, mostly because I think it's really important. Here's why: for starters, I think that virtue-based epistemology is the right way to go. (I won't defend this here, but just trust me :) If you're on board so far, which you should be, then it should be clear that an important task will be to clarify the relationship between, on the one hand, an agent's exhibiting intellectual virtue, and on the other, her coming to form a true belief. Literature on VE and epistemic luck shows us that within a VE account, there must not be a disconnect here.

How to block worries about a disconnect? Greco, Sosa and Zagzebski all invoke (in slightly different ways) the notion of 'causation.' The story goes something like this: S knows that p just in case S's true belief that p is because of S's exhibition of intellectual virtue. That's a general template.

Now, all of the 'big three' seem to understand the conditions under which the relevant causal claims would be true or false as something that is either (i) intuitive, or (ii) a function of what is salient in a causal explanation. This is so because they quite frequently illustrate cases in which exhibition of intellectual virtue does or does not 'cause' the agent's having a true belief by appealing to example cases, and the example cases are ones in which it is 'intuitive' that what is salient in a causal explanation for the agent's true belief is or is not intellectually virtuous agency (in accord with their examples). For example, Sosa's ballerina example, Zagzebski's example of the judge, and Greco's example of the gambler all are intended to make these sort of 'causal' points. I don't dispute that their examples constitute helpful ways of thinking about how intellectual virtue should be connected with an agent's true belief in cases of knowing. What is problematic, though, is that none of these authors gives us much more to go on over and above the intuitive appeal to example. (Greco is an exception here)

A general worry should be this: if, for any theory, the conditions under which one thing causes another are meant to function importantly within the theory, then the theory should be supplemented with a corresponding theory of causation. In particular, the theory should say just what the conditions are that must hold if one thing causes another.

It is here where our leading VE'rs are somewhat bankrupt.

I'm not sure what Zagzebski's current view is, but Sosa and Greco both rely importantly on the notion of "explanatory salience."
Their idea is, but crudely, that an agent's exhibiting IV causes her true belief in a way that is sufficient for her to know just in case her IV is 'salient' in a causal explanation for her coming to have a true belief.

Greco has a nuanced view about salience--one that cashes out salience as a function of the relevant interests and purposes that frame the context in which the explanation is given. Sosa's view is less nuanced.

Both, however, are taking--by relying on salience--a line that reduces causal relations to causal explanations. Helen Beebee, Donald Davidson and others take objection to this reduction. In particular, they reject that causal explanations entail causal relations. But this point aside, there is I think a more interesting worry: whether it be causal relations or causal explanations that are at issue in deciding whether a knower's IV is appropriately hooked up with her coming to have a true belief, we will be letting some strange causal ducks in the door once we let 'salience' be the adjudicator.

My thought here is this:

Salience clearly attaches to events, but also and perhaps just as frequently, to absences of events. For example, John's giving $5 to a beggar might be salient in explaining why the beggar was able to buy lunch, and similarly, Flora's failure to water her flowers might be salient in explaining why her flower's died (to cite an example from Beebee).

It stands to reason then that both the exhibition of intellectual virtue and the absence of the exhibition of intellectual vice might each be candidates for the role of 'salient' explainers.

Now, a venerable tradition led by Lewis and others holds that events are the sort of things that can stand in causal relations. Suppose that's right. If it is, we get a weird aporia:

1. Whether one knows depends on whether her exhibition of IV caused her to have a true belief. (Sosa and Greco)
2. Whether her exhibition of IV caused her to have a true belief is a matter of whether her IV is salient (Sosa and Greco)
3. Both events and absences of events can be salient in explaining her true belief.
4. Events, but not absences of events, can be causes (Event Theory of Causation).

One way to try to escape the aporia is to deny (4) and say that absences of events can be causes. But Beebee's "Causation and Nothingness" makes a very compelling case against taking this route.

The better routes would be to either reject (1) or (2). Because Greco and Sosa rely importantly on salience in explaining the role of intellectual virtue in cases of knowing, I think they should reject both (1) and (2). They should first deny (2) (for the reasons Beebee gives) and deny that whether an exhibition of IV causes one to have a true belief is a matter of whether her IV is salient. And next, they should reject (1); they should say that whether one knows depends on whether her exhibition of IV is salient in explaining her true belief, rather than on her exhibition of IV 'causing' her to have a true belief.

Rejecting (1) and (2) is needed if salience is to have an important role in explaining the role intellectual virtue has in cases of knowing, and a result of rejecting (1) and (2) is that the notion of 'causation' is made unnecessary.

This would seem to be a bad thing if explanations just are causal explanations. But they're not. There are both causal explanations and non-causal explanations. I'm increasingly inclined to think that the leading VE theorists--insofar as they are wedded to salience--have non-causal explanations in mind.

What is the difference?

Suppose you ask, "Why did the 8 ball drop into the corner pocket?" My striking the cue ball into the 8 ball explains why the 8 ball dropped into the corner pocket. This is a causal explanation.

Suppose you ask, after finding out that I am richer than my neighbor, "Why are you richer than your neighbor?" That I have a million dollars in the bank (I wish) would explain why I am richer than my neighbor, but it didn't cause me to be richer than my neighbor. My having a million dollars would be salient in explaining why I'm richer than my neighbor, but it is not a causal explanation.

Another example of a non-causal explanation: Suppose the Cardinals beat the Cubs by the score of 5-0 against the Cubs' best picther. Without knowing the score, but knowing they beat the Cubs, you ask "how did the Cardinals not get shut out?" I could explain to you why the Cardinals didn't get shut out by pointing out that Albert Pujols hit 5 home runs. But Pujols' hitting five home runs didn't 'cause' the Cardinals to not get shut out, even though it implies that they did. After all, whatever caused the Cardinals to not get shut out caused this to happen before Pujols hit his fifth home run.

What should be gathered, then, is this: insofar as the notion of 'salience' is meant to function importantly within a VE account for the purposes of articulating the conditions under which an agent's exhibiting IV and her coming to have a true belief are to be appropriately (in cases of knowing) connected, talk of causal relations, and perhaps even causal explanations should be dropped in favour of the notion of non-causal explanations.

A discalimer: Perhaps salience itself should be dropped from the picture. I'm open to that possibility. But if it's given an important place, then a consequence should be that the 'causal' language that is so common in these accounts should be excised. If, on the other hand salience is excised instead, then these accounts could continue to use the causal language that they do, so long as the supplemental account of causation bolstering the theory of knowledge isn't either a "reduce causation to salience" theory or a "derive your theory of causation from the intuitiveness of these examples" theory.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Folks on board with the Value Turn in epistemology hold, as general premise, that the central aims of epistemology have been, at least up until recently, construed too narrowly. After all, the latter half of 20th Century analytic epistemology would permit us to think that the nature and scope of knowledge and justification constitute the core subject matter around which the central aims of epistemology are to be circumscribed. Value Turners reject this picture because, for one reason, it makes it far from clear why discussions of the nature and sources of epistemic value deserve a place within epistemology, properly speaking, and even less clear why they should deserve the central place within which Value Turners take such discussions to be deserving.

In his essay "The Value Turn in Epistemology," Wayne Riggs suggests "that one think of epistemology as a normative domain of inquiry--one that is bounded largely by the values that are fundamental to it." Riggs thinks that when epistemology is thought of in this way, that "Determining these (epistemic) values is itself one of the tasks proper to value-driven epistemology."

I think that Riggs is completely right about this. And in thinking so, I am committed to rejecting a competing picture--a picture which implies that the Riggs' suggestsions are mistaken insofar as they locate the axiology of epistemology within the central subject matter of epistemology, properly speaking.

Who's right? Riggs, me and others sympathetic with the "Value Turn," or those who aren't?

But how does one go about making a cogent argument in favour of a more ecumenical approach to what the subject matter should be around which the central aims of epistemology are circumscribed? One poor way to do this would be to start out with a premise that the 'bad guys' reject--the premise that the nature and sources of epistemic value (among other value-related issues) *really are* just as important as the nature and scope of knowledge and justification. This would be to start out by assuming the falsity of their conclusion.

I think that Value Turners should be able to persuade the old guard by starting with premises the old guard endorse, and that there is a rather compelling way to do it.

Take, as a starting point, the thought that epistemology should be concerned with whatever is epistemically important. Put another way, the subject matter around which the central aims of epistemology should be framed should be whatever is important, from an epistemic point of view.

Next, point out that the practice of inquiry, in addition to particular epistemic standings that inquirers hold, is, from an epistemic point of view, something important. It's epistemically important to determine what sorts of practices constitute good and bad inquiry.

Now, an old guarder might agree here that inquiry is epistemically important, but deny that evaluations of 'good' and 'bad' inquiry should be smuggled within epistemology's central tasks. "Let the value theorists sort out what inquiry is good just as they'll also sort out what people are good, what art is good, and what goodness is. Just because inquiry admits of 'goodness' and 'badness' doesn't mean that that's the sort of thing epistemologists should be studying. Inquiry is important to epistemology insofar as inquiry is the sort of practice whereby agents come to have cognitive contact with their world, and it is those states of cognitive contact that are important to epistemology."

We may rebut the old guarder here by pointing out an idea shared by Christopher Hookway, Michael Lynch, and quite a few others: inquiry is a goal-directed practice. As such, a theory of inquiry is also a theory about whatever valuable goal governs the practice, and further, whatever goal governs the evaluations that are made within the practice. Thus, to evaluate certain standing epistemically--i.e. S knows p, S believes p--we are at the same time acknowledging some goal relative to which epistemic evaluations are to be made, and that will be whatever goal it is that inquiry aims at.

After all, to identify one standing as knowledge and another as justified belief is to at the same time identify the former standing as having certain properties that, from an epistemic point of view, make that standing better. And one standing would be epistemically better than another only if there is some goal or value that governs epistemic practice.

Value Turners argue about what that goal is, and therein lies the lively debate between Epistemic Value Monists and Pluralists.

The old guard can try to block this lively debate outside of 'epistemology' only by denying that the subject matter around which the aims of epistemology are framed should be picked out by what's epistemically important, or by deying that inquiry is epistemically important. But these premises should be much less controversial than the conclusion reached by the Value Turners might appear to those who restrict what they take to be the central aims of epistemology.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

What is a Truism?

For some object O and proposition p, Suppose it is true that:

(1) P is a truism about O.

There are several ways to interpret (1). Here's a really weak way:

[WEAK]: P is true about O.

But this is surely too weak. Lots of propositions might be true about O and aren't such that we would say they are "truisms" about O.

How about something stronger:

[STRONG]: P is true about O, and is true about O in most nearby worlds in which O holds.

Hmm... maybe? This seems plausible, but it's not obvious.

What about something even stronger:

[SUPERSTRONG]: P is constitutive of the concept of O.

For example, that a bachelor is unmarried is constiutive of the concept of a bachelor, and is also surely a 'truism' about bachelors (if anything is a truism about anything.) Does "A bachelor is unmarried" just happen to be both a truism about bachelors and constitutive of the concept of bachelor? This is tricky. It seems as though it 's more than coincidence. However, we should probably be careful before endorsing 'superstrong' as something that follows from the claim that p is a truism about O. Consider that other plausible candidates for 'truisms' don't admit of such strong conceptual inferences. Consider:

(2) "What goes up must come down" is a truism about what goes up. If you think there is such a thing as a truism, you'd be hard pressed to claim that (2) isn't a truism; at least, you'd certainly fly in the face of the folk-approved norms that govern the use of truism.

But if (2) is a truism, then Superstrong is false. That something must come down is not constitutive of the concept of "goes up" or "ascends".

So what the heck is a truism???

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Episteme Conference at Northwestern

Northwestern University is hosting the 2009 Episteme Conference on the Significance of Disagreement. Here's a link which includes the call for papers:


Friday, May 02, 2008

Openmindedness and doxastic control

Alston and Michael Lynch put it nicely when they point out that, in the face of our lacking direct control over our beliefs, we nonetheless have in some important sense "indirect control." Lynch says that you can control how you go about pursuing the truth." This also seems right. For example, Sherlock Holmes will choose to go about pursuing the truth of a murder case in a certain way, and when (perhaps) he is at home and can't find a certain pair of socks, he might choose to pursue the truth of the matter (of where the socks are) with less tenacity than he chooses to exhibit on the murder trail.

Intellectual tenacity seems like a trait we can choose to exhibit in pursuit of the truth. But what about the intellectual virtue of openmindedness. Can we choose to be openminded in our pursuit of the truth? I think we should be careful before saying "yes."

Indeed, we talk as though we can choose to be openminded. For example, a juror can promise the judge that, if selected to the jury, she will be sure to go about the testimony openmindedly. Whether she can choose to do this though is another matter.

Here's a reason to think we might not be able to choose to be openminded in pursuing the truth.

Consider first the platitude that doxastic voluntarism is false. We can't choose what we believe. Indeed, this is the same claim Alston and Lynch make when pointing out that we don't have direct control over our beliefs. Why don't we have direct control over our beliefs? Plausibly, this is because our beliefs are "passive" responses to the world and the evidence it gives us. Relatedly, it is argued that beliefs are formed involuntarily. These platitudes seem to be at a tension with the thought that we could choose to be openminded. Presumably, if we could choose to be openminded, then we could choose to respond differently than we otherwise would to the world and the evidence it gives us. But this is precisely what doxastic involuntarism implies that we can't do.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Epistemology Through Thick and Thin (call for papers)

Philosophical Papers is running a special edition on thick and thin concepts in epistemology. For those interested in VE, this will be an especially hot topic. The call for papers ends in late June; here's some more info.