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08/06/2015

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So you'll get rid of knowledge as stable belief? Those models suggest belief that changes with new facts is not knowledge, but in your example beliefs are changing without any input - "no cognitive possession that can be rendered doubtful seems fit to be called ‘knowledge’".

People do differentiate between strength of a belief and strength of an epistemic position, which might fit in with the scientific ideal: "I am quite attached to X and will defend it vigorously, but would change to Y if presented with Z". I don't see that as alienating, but as reasonable.

Right -- I don't think knowledge is just stable belief (for one thing, I think the belief has to be true). But I don't think anything I've said so far has direct implications for our understanding of knowledge. I do think it's sometimes rationally permissible to change one's beliefs without a change in evidence (and so, for example, I don't accept the Bayesian Conditionalization principle in an unqualified form). Claiming that a belief is rationally permissible doesn't amount to saying that it counts as knowledge, though.

Hi again. This stuff is fascinating! Okay, what I'm about to say is half-baked but I hope not incoherent. I wonder whether the mere fact that a first-person perspective is genuinely diachronic suffices to avoid the problem of self-manipulation, epistemic irrationality, and alienation. A person is a genuinely diachronic thing, yet I can fail to identify with my past persons (so to speak). I am the same person now as I was when I was 11 years old, but I’m not now that boy in some other way—some other way that is more really me. Analogously, a first-person perspective may be a genuinely diachronic thing, yet I can fail to identify with my past perspectives in the very same way that I don’t identify with my past persons: my past perspectives and my present one are the same perspective—mine—despite changes, yet I might not identify with all or all parts of them. It seems like when the evidence strikes me differently than it once did (in times of epistemic temptation), I become distanced from the relevant past perspective. Why, on your view, do I continue to identify with that past perspective? I can, of course, admit that the relevant past perspective and my present perspective are the same perspective—mine—but why do I continue to identify with this perspective despite the difference in the way the evidence strikes me now? I realize that this is an unfair question, since I haven’t characterized what this deeper kind of identification is, but it can’t merely be the first-person perspective itself, on your view, since the same first-person perspective can undergo changes of ‘appearances of the truth', some of which I will no longer identify with. I guess I’m really just asking you to say more about what a genuinely diachronic first-person perspective consists in.

Never mind. I can see now how the choice to go with how things once struck me and continue to believe can identify me with that previous perspective. But how can it be the best way of satisfying the norm of believing P only if it is true to go with my past perspective, since I can't tell which perspective is in a better position to determine the truth?

@Devlin, yeah, these are really good questions. I ultimately do want to say more about what the first-personal perspective is, but it's a difficult task. But I think you're right that it's not enough to explain temporal identification just to point out that it's possible to adopt a diachronic first-person perspective. It's a necessary condition, but not sufficient.

What I want to say about the choice to identify with one perspective over another is that you don't need a reason. I don't think it can be done for a pragmatic reason, but I also don't think any further epistemic reason is needed. You have to see it as consistent with the norm of believing P only if true, but you don't need further evidence to tell you that your past perspective is the correct one. Since by hypothesis, that evidence isn't accessible to the thinker in the cases at issue, the only alternative would be that she is required to withhold belief. But this seems to me too severe; it would often require that the thinker abandon a belief that was in fact correct. It would be an expression of valuing the avoidance of error above the pursuit of significant truths, and I don't think this is required.

Just to be clear, it's not that I think you end up believing that P for no reason. Your reasons just are the first-order reasons you took to be sufficient at the earlier time. It's just that I think you need no further reason to guide your choice to either retain your belief or give it up in these situations. It's a kind of radical choice, I guess. What do you think?

I think the answer to 'what is a diachronic first-person perspective (on the world)?' will help to explain and justify an answer to 'what is the believer required to do when she is faced with epistemic temptation?'. For instance, if what unifies a perspective over time is something like a pursuit of significant truths, then we could see why the believer would side with her previous perspective (as you would like). Does that make sense? I'm just spit-balling now. Ultimately, I'm just very intrigued by this idea of a diachronic believer or knowledge-pursuer.

Right, that makes sense to me. It might even depend on a particular thinker's epistemic goals, such that someone who prioritizes the avoidance of error above all else really should just withhold belief in our cases, whereas someone with different epistemic goals is permitted to continue believing. I like the idea that these goals might play a role in structuring and unifying a believer's perspective over time.

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