Tuesday, January 27, 2009

An Epistemic Standard

I'm looking for feedback on the plausibility of a MINIMAL epistemic standard:

MES: My belief that b counts as knowledge/epistemically justified only if its being the case that b factors into some possible explanation of my belief.

I don't think it matters whether we talk about knowledge or epistemic justification, though I'm open to disagreement on this point. Also, I think the relevant kind of possibility is nomological, but I have to think about it more.

11 comments:

  1. Hhhm, obviously, it all depends on what kind of explanation is meant... Does that I am here right now factor into the explanation of my belief that I am here right now? I surely know that I am here right now... Another question: Must the explanation be counterfactually robust? Then I don't see how MES differs from
    (*) If it wasn't the case that b, I wouldn't believe that b.

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  2. Tim,

    I'm trying to leave the kind of explanation as open as possible. Presumably, there is some sense in which the fact that you are here now plays a role in explaining why you believe it, perhaps even that counterfactual role. However, I don't think I want it to be as strong as that counterfactual claim you propose, because I want to leave open the possibility that explanations involve overdetermination.

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  3. Hi Dave,

    Sorry I'm late to this bit, but I'm confused. How is b's justification supposed to be in any way related to one's believing that b? Currently there are beliefs I now deny, but which I may come to see as justified in the future. Would these beliefs be not justified now, but justified then on your view? Have I misunderstood what you're after? I confess I'm a little confused about what you're after as a "possible explanation" as well. Can you spell this out a little?

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  4. Ben,

    I'm afraid I don't understand your question. First of all, I don't understand what it means to say that there are beliefs that you deny. I take it that if you deny them, then you don't believe them. Do you mean there are claims—things it is possible to believe—that you deny? If so, then I don't see the problem. I was only talking about actual beliefs, but we can extend to say that one would be epistemically justified in forming belief b only if its being the case that b would factor into some possible explanation of one's forming that belief.

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  5. I think I was getting hung up on the locution. Frequently we say, "S believes that P," where P is the proposition believed. You have it that S believes that B, which I guess means that S believes that he believes something. Is this what you intend?

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  6. No, sorry, that was just non-standard locution. b was just meant to be a proposition (which could, of course, include a proposition about one's beliefs).

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  7. Okay, so is the thing that "factors into" the explanation of the belief the content of the belief, or the fact that you believe it?

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  8. It's the truth-makers for the content of the belief (which may be the content of the belief). The idea is that if you know some fact, what makes it a fact (i.e., what makes it true) must help explain your belief. The standard example of this is empirical knowledge: We take it that we know facts about the physical world because the ontological entities that make those facts true help explain (causally) why we believe in them.

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  9. So on this view, I cannot know that P without also knowing what it is that makes P true. So respond to this counter-example.

    Plato sees that the Sun is shining, and he takes himself to know that this is so. However, he knows nothing about the nuclear chemistry that presumably makes it true that the Sun is shining. Does Plato mistakenly believe that he knows that the Sun is shining?

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  10. "So on this view, I cannot know that P without also knowing what it is that makes P true."

    No. This is an external standard. I never said that you have to know whether the truth-makers of P cause your belief (since, as in your example, you may not know what the truth-makers are); I just said that they do, in fact, have to do so.

    One point of clarification, however: I should not have said this at all, because it is not the original view. I started by saying that you couldn't know P without its being the case that it is possible that what makes P true explains your belief. Now we are talking about the view that you can't know P without its being the case that what makes P true explains your belief. I shouldn't have said above "what makes it a fact (i.e., what makes it true) must help explain your belief"; I should have said ". . . must be able to help explain your belief." I won't say that the stronger view is incorrect, but I don't need it.

    This doesn't affect my response to your comment, however, as you don't need to know whether it is possible that the truth-makers cause your belief on this view any more than you need to know that they in fact do so on the stronger view.

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  11. Why bother when we have google?

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