Wednesday, March 25, 2015
Tuesday, February 24, 2015
The distinction between positism and foundationalism is lost on those who cannot hear the word “justified” as anything but a past participle, implying that some act or relation of justifying has occurred whereby a belief is justified by something else that serves as a reason for it. For foundationalists, “justified” simply connotes a favorable epistemic status, which a belief may have even though the subject has no reason for it. In this connection, another term, such as “evident” or “credible,” might be less misleading than “justified.” (pg. 178)
…the questions that we raise and our doubts depend upon the fact that some propositions are exempt from doubt, are as it were like hinges on which those turn.
That is to say, it belongs to the logic of our scientific investigations that certain things are in deed not doubted.
But it isn’t that the situation is like this: We just can’t investigate everything, and for that reason we are forced to rest content with assumption. If I want the door to turn, the hinges must stay put. (On Certainty, §§341-3)
Mylan Engel Jr.'s “Positism: The Unexplored Solution to the Epistemic Regress Problem” develops and defends the view that a justification-conferring chain of reasons may legitimately begin with an unjustified belief. Engel holds that, under certain circumstances, reasoning itself can be justification generating, and not just justification transmitting. He argues that a person S can be justified in coming to believe a proposition p on the basis of an unjustified posit R, provided S does not realize she is unjustified in believing R and she has no defeaters that defeat R's status as a reason for p. Engel maintains that when one believes a proposition p, one is rationally committed to what is knowingly entailed by p, unless one is prepared to abandon p in light of those entailments. Accordingly, the propositions one believes provides defeasible reasons for believing the propositions they knowingly entail. Engel characterizes his positist view as a form of nondoxastic coherentism that is compatible with other meta-epistemic views. In particular, Engel is keen to show that his view is compatible with the existence of basic beliefs grounded in sense experience and also compatible with a version of infinitism that holds that inference itself is justification enhancing. (Ibid., pg. 141)
Engel further intends to evaluate positism with respect to “personal justification,” meaning he is concerned with the circumstances under which a person is worthy of epistemic praise for believing that p (cf. Engel, “Personal and Doxastic Justification in Epistemology,” 1992). Engel says that this sort of epistemic justification occurs when one believes “that p only if she has an undefeated reason for believing that p” (pg. 147). In this context, her reasons must be “internally accessible;” that is, her reason “to believe that p is a consideration, from [her] egocentric point of view, that suggests that p is true” (pg. 147).
Engel then provides a sort of useful glossary of terms. Notably, a belief or experience is considered “basic” if a subject is “noninferential” and “immediately justified” in having it (pg. 148). Doxastic [foundations of coherence] theories assume “only beliefs can serve as reasons for other beliefs,” whereas nondoxastic theories reject this assumption (pg. 148). Most of what else Engel mentions may be here passed over, as their primary function just seems to be to show the number of contrasting theories of epistemic justification in terms of structure and nature. The specific theory that is worth mentioning is the one Engel defends. The following closes out this section:
...there is a third form of coherence theory that epistemologists have not recognized. Like foundations theories, modest nondoxastic coherence theories acknowledge that some reasoning is linear and admit that some beliefs are basic, for example, simple perceptual beliefs. Unlike foundations theories, however, modest linear noncircular nondoxastic coherence theories insist we can be justified in holding nonbasic beliefs that do not ultimately trace their justification back to basic beliefs. In section 3, I argue that a Positist version of this sort of Modest Coherentism (PMC) allows us to solve the regress problem for ex ante justification as it most frequently arises. (pg. 149)Clearly, Engel's views indeed live up to his self-titled description as an epistemic “ecumenical beast” (pg. 157). He thinks epistemic justification can be had in a number of ways, but while some of these variations are interesting, I will restrict myself to commenting on why and how he thinks positism suffices.
...the epistemic regress problem was put forth as a skeptical challenge designed to undermine the very possibility of rational belief. In its contemporary guise, the regress problem has been formulated as an argument from elimination in favor of foundationalism - one designed to show that basic beliefs must exist if we are to be epistemically justified in believing anything at all. (pg. 149)One comment that should be made at this point also relates back to Engel's epistemic ecumenicism, and that is with regards to the weak standard Engel has set for the goal of epistemic justification to be met. I don't have a problem with much of Engel's terminology outlined in the previous section, but if all that it takes for one to be justified in coming to believe p is that he have an undefeated (but not undefeatable) reason for it, and if what suffices as a reason is that it merely suggests to his mind that p is true, then one could easily imagine scenarios in which two people could be justified in coming to believe contradictory propositions. Does Engel think this qualifies as rational belief? According to the original context of the skeptical challenge to which Engel alludes, I don't see how he could. But then I fail to see how the skeptical challenge can be addressed by Engel in the first place. It would be one thing if Engel wished to propose positism in a different context, but in the beginning of this section he has made it clear he knows the original point of the regress argument and believes PMC provides a solution. But unless he were willing to argue against the much more stringent (indeed, infallibilistic) skeptical standard of epistemic justification - which he does not do here, in any case - that would require he deal with the skeptical challenge on its own terms, not his. The force of this point will, I hope, become clearer in the following discussion.
Next, Engel lays out premises of the regress argument for ex ante justification:
A1. S is justified in coming to believe that p iff either (1) S is immediately justified in coming to believe that p or (2) S is mediately justified in coming to believe that p.
A2. S is mediately justified in coming to believe that p iff (1) S has a doxastic reason q for p (where q might be a conjunction), and (2) S is ex post justified (either mediately or immediately) in believing q. (pgs. 149-150)He then reasons how a foundationalist would use these premises to argue that foundationalism must be true. Clearly, he doesn't believe this succeeds. He makes three points, none of which I believe are persuasive.
Firstly: “Even if sound, all RA shows is that there must be basic beliefs, if we are to have any justified beliefs at all, and it remains a theoretical possibility that justification skepticism is correct” (pg. 151). One may claim “no one is justified in believing anything,” but those words only have intelligible, definite meaning in the context of the claimant being epistemically justified in assigning said meaning. Otherwise, it could mean anything, including “everyone is justified in believing anything,” In other words, justification skepticism cannot be consistently maintained, and any argument to the contrary presupposes this is true, Engel's own argument to this effect included.
Secondly: “...even if there are basic beliefs, as RA allegedly shows, in order for foundationalism to be correct, there must be enough basic beliefs to support the structure of our justified nonbasic beliefs, and RA does nothing to show the latter” (pg. 151). He goes on to say he does believe perceptual beliefs are properly basic (I'm not sure if Engel distinguishes between basic beliefs and properly basic beliefs) if they are grounded in perceptual experiences, but he argues many nonbasic beliefs we think we are justified in believing, like moral and philosophical beliefs, cannot be traced back to basic beliefs. This is backwards, and Engel repeats this mistake a few times. A foundationalist reasons from foundations, not to them; he only is in a position to know what is a justified nonbasic belief because he was first in a position to know what is a justified basic belief. Assuming certain nonbasic beliefs are justified and then using that to rule out the possibility of there being a sufficient number of justified basic beliefs to account for these is to put the cart before the horse. If this is the external critique it appears to be, a foundationalist will find it unpersuasive simply because he does not operate from the same bases as Engel, so to speak.
Thirdly: “Take the current debate between foundationalism, coherentism, infinitism, and positism. No matter which of these positions you believe is correct, you won't be able to trace this philosophical belief back to properly basic beliefs” (pg. 151). Engel cites Plantinga in his footnote to this comment, further adding that this would make foundationalism self-refuting. But why Engel thinks, for instance, that the belief “divine revelation is self-authenticating” cannot be basic, I don't know. I think that belief could put one in a position to make the regress argument for foundationalism. If Engel's flat denial is due to people disagreeing about things regarding God, I don't see how that is relevant. People can disagree about everything. Does that imply there can be no incorrigible beliefs? No. Here again the importance of discussing infallibilism is demonstrated.
On the plausible assumptions that (i) we ought to be able to reason the way we should reason and (ii) ought implies can, the correct epistemic norms, whatever they are, must be such that we are actually capable of following them and guiding our beliefs in conformity with them. Accordingly, an adequacy constraint on any regulative epistemic norm is that it be followable. A person cannot be criticized for failing to follow a norm that is impossible to follow, for no one can be expected to follow an unfollowable norm. (pg. 153)
Reasoning in this way is extremely efficient. If we had to stop and reevaluate our beliefs each time before we reasoned from them, we would draw very few conclusions. The point is not merely that we do regularly engage in default reasoning but that, given both the efficiency and the self-correcting nature of such reasoning, it is entirely rational for us to do so. Objection: But won't engaging in default reasoning make us prone to countless irremediable errors? Response: No, for when we employ default reasoning, we're constantly engaged in what John Pollock (1986, 56-57) describes as “primed research” - the subconscious monitoring of our reasoning, constantly being on the lookout for reasoning errors and potential defeaters for our reasons. In this way faulty reasoning and faulty beliefs are constantly getting corrected, as new information become available. (pg. 156)
(PJ) S is justified in coming to believe that q on the basis of her belief p, which she's ex post unjustified in believing, IF:
(i) S believes that p,
(ii) S believes that p entails q (or that p makes q sufficiently probable),
(iii) S appreciate the fact that (p & p entails q) is a reason to believe q,
(iv) S does not realize that she is unjustified in believing p,
(v) S has no reason to believe ~q, i.e., S is not aware of any rebutting defeaters for p as a reason for q,
(vi) S has no reason to deny that p would not be true unless q were true, i.e., S is not aware of any undercutting defeaters for p as a reason for q, and
(vii) S has no reason to believe ~p, i.e. S it not aware of any negating defeaters for p.
As for the arbitrariness thesis, PMC's combination of default reasoning and primed search for errors mitigates against the charge of arbitrariness. Although S might have acquired some belief B inappropriately/arbitrarily, the fact B has persisted, that is, B hasn't been purged due to countervailing considerations, despite S's having been on the lookout for such considerations, makes B more than just an arbitrary belief. The longer B survives this primed-search-self-monitoring process, the less arbitrary B becomes, True, even if B persists indefinitely, S won't be justified in believing B, unless she acquires an undefeated reason for B, but S needn't be justified in believing B in order for B to cease to be arbitrary. (pg. 158)I would have been interested to see Engel address this more fully. For instance, at what point can B entirely cease to be arbitrary? What does it mean for B to be arbitrary or non-arbitrary, given that it can in both cases be unjustified? I didn't even realize this was a concern until the last paragraph of the paper.
To summarize my findings, I do not believe positism is a solution to the regress problem, nor do I think it can be synthesized with any other theory to nevertheless epistemically justify individuals in certain cases. It may have some function in the context of permitted beliefs.
Thursday, February 12, 2015
Saturday, January 31, 2015
Having been reconciliatory to this extent, I still want to insist that there is a clear way in which an internalist approach, in addition to being intellectually legitimate on its own, has a fundamental kind of priority for epistemology as a whole, so that externalist views, whatever their other merits, do not constitute satisfactory responses to the general issue with which this essay is concerned: that of whether we have any good reasons to think that any of our beliefs about the world are true (and what form these reasons might take).
This is so because externalist justification simply does not speak to this global and essentially first-person issue. One way to see this is to note that if an epistemologist claims that a certain belief or set of beliefs, whether his own or someone else’s, has been arrived at in a reliable way, but says this on the basis of cognitive processes of his own whose reliability is for him merely an external fact to which he has no first-person, internalist access, then the proper conclusion is merely that the belief or beliefs originally in question are reliably arrived at (and perhaps thereby are justified or constitute knowledge in externalist senses) if the epistemologist’s own cognitive processes are reliable in the way that he believes them to be. Of course there might be a whole series of hypothetical results of this sort: cognitive process A is reliable if cognitive process B is reliable, cognitive process B is reliable if cognitive process C is reliable, and so forth. But the only apparent way to arrive at a result that is not ultimately hypothetical in this way is for the reliability of at least some processes to be establishable on the basis of what the epistemologist can know directly or immediately from his first-person, internalist epistemic perspective…
The basic question (which each person must in the end ask for himself or herself) is whether I have good reasons for thinking that my beliefs are true (and, if so, what form those reasons take). And the reason that this leads to an internalist view is that the reasons in question are supposed to be reasons that I have, not in the impossible sense of having them explicitly in mind at every moment, but in the sense of their being more or less immediately available or accessible. (Epistemic Justification, pgs. 39, 174)
[One might instead ask why we need to regard skepticism as a main concern in epistemology. An extended reply would take me to far afield of the present post, but in short, the question suggests its own ironic answer: "why do I need an answer to this question in order for this to be true or known to be true?"]
With the skeptical concern in mind, I turn to this excellent passage by Michael Williams, to which I have nothing further to add at this time:
The essential feature of Agrippan skepticism is that it is universal. The Agrippan Argument applies to any arbitrary belief or claim. This is why it is available for indefinite reiteration. The skeptic’s challenge is to explain how it is possible for us to know (or be justified in believing) anything whatsoever (Stroud, 1989).
The skeptic’s question is peculiar. If I tell a child about dinosaurs, she may ask me how it is possible to know anything whatsoever about them. After all, they went extinct thousands of years ago, so no one has ever seen a dinosaur. I will reply by telling her about the fossil record and how it gives us clues to what different kinds of dinosaur there were, their different structures in turn giving clues to how they lived. But of course, in giving an explanation like this, I am only explaining how it is possible to know some things on the basis of others. What the skeptic wants – and what the traditional epistemologist means to provide – is an explanation of the possibility of knowledge in general. An explanation of the possibility of knowledge that takes certain facts for granted – treats them as if they were known – will lack the requisite generality. The skeptic imposes – and the traditional epistemologist accepts – a Totality Condition on a properly philosophical understanding of knowledge and justification (Williams, 1992).
The Totality Condition creates pressure to accept a further constraint: internalism, or full epistemic self-awareness. Internalism is the view that, to be justiﬁed in holding a belief, we must have “cognitive access” to its “justiﬁcation-makers.” So-called “externalist” theories of knowledge and justiﬁcation, by contrast, allow epistemically appropriate believing to result from factors of which we are not aware. For example, an externalist may say that a belief of mine is epistemically appropriate if it is formed by a method that is in fact highly reliable, whether or not I know about the reliability of the method I used. For externalists, such reliability-knowledge is relevant to the quite different question of whether I know, or am justiﬁed in believing, that my original belief is justiﬁed. One can have beliefs that are epistemically appropriate without understanding why. Presumably, the “knowledge” we attribute to animals is like this. According to externalists, human knowledge is not essentially different (Kornblith, 2002).
Prima facie, internalism is not particularly plausible, at least if it is taken as a fully general view of ordinary justiﬁcation (Goldman, 2001). Everyday justiﬁcation often seems to work as externalists say it does, as, for example, when it ﬂows from the unselfconscious exercise of dependable recognitional abilities (Fogelin, 1994, chapter 3). We do not always require people to have reﬂected systematically on their abilities at large, or even on their performance in the situation at hand. However, in the peculiar context of the skeptical challenge, it is easy to persuade oneself that externalism is not an option.
An explanation of how knowledge or justiﬁcation is possible has to do more than show that knowledge or justiﬁcation is logically possible: that there is a way of thinking about knowledge that does not involve a contradiction. Externalists can surely manage this. They can sketch a consistent picture of the world in which we credit ourselves with reliable faculties and so, by externalist lights, with epistemically appropriate beliefs. But are we justiﬁed in believing that our faculties are reliable? Is that belief epistemically appropriate? If not, then for all we know, we have no justiﬁed beliefs. This is a signiﬁcant concession to skepticism. We want a reply not just to the claim that we know nothing, but also to the meta-skeptical claim that for all we know we know nothing. We want to know that we know. This too pushes us towards internalism.
Admittedly, committed externalists can resist this line of thought. They can say that our epistemic beliefs (meta-beliefs about the reliability of our faculties) may indeed be epistemically appropriate – by externalist standards! But how do they know that? Well, they believe it: appropriately, too, if this meta-epistemic belief is formed in some suitably reliable way. And so on. But that is the problem. More traditionally minded theorists will surely feel that externalists who go down this route are either accepting inﬁnitism or simply turning their backs on the sceptical problem. The traditionalist thought is that the epistemic self-understanding we seek can be attained only if the epistemic appropriateness of our beliefs at large can be made in some way evident. This is an internalist demand.
This pressure to adopt internalism gets further reinforcement from the thought that the context of philosophical inquiry is inherently reﬂective. In doing philosophy, we step back from all particular practical engagements in order to make explicit presuppositions that we normally take for granted without formulating in a precise way. But once such presuppositions are made explicit, the question of their epistemic appropriateness cannot be avoided. In philosophy, we want to get clear about what, at the deepest level, we are committed to and whether we are entitled to those commitments.
To understand philosophical reﬂection this way is to link such reﬂection with a particular ideal of self-understanding. It is because it adopts this ideal that traditional epistemological reﬂection is conducted from a ﬁrst-person standpoint. By contrast, externalist approaches to knowledge and justiﬁcation are elaborated from a third-person point of view. Accordingly, to the traditionalist, externalist epistemologies embody an attitude that we might take to someone else: we see that he is a reliable informant about this or that, and so we take his beliefs in that area to be epistemically appropriate, not worrying about what, if anything, he knows about his own reliability. But it is not clear what would even be meant by proposing to take such an attitude towards oneself. Again, the very character of traditional epistemology, as a quest for total epistemic self-understanding, pushes us to adopt internalism.
Externalist epistemologies seem plausible, the skeptic will suggest, because they accord with what we already believe. Our common-sense–scientiﬁc picture of the world suggests that, within limits, our basic cognitive faculties – perception, memory, and so on – are fairly reliable, so that beliefs formed with the aid of those faculties tend to be epistemically appropriate. But in taking the common-sense picture of the world for granted, we are not explaining how it is possible to know anything whatsoever. (Contemporary Debates in Epistemology, pgs. 207-208)
Saturday, December 13, 2014
…if I do not wish to believe those examples cited by them, how would they convince me? Is it not in the Holy Scriptures, where they are read with such clarity that whoever receives this literature in faith cannot but confess those things to be most true? (Chapter 13)
Thursday, December 4, 2014
The idea existence is an idea without content. Stars exist-but this tells us nothing about the stars; mathematics exists-but this teaches us no mathematics; hallucinations also exist. The point is that a predicate, such as existence, that can be attached to everything indiscriminately tells us nothing about anything. A word, to mean something, must also not mean something. For example, if I say that some cats are black, the sentence has meaning only because some cats are white. If the adjective were attached to every possible subject-so all cats were black, all stars were black, and all politicians were black, as well as all the numbers in arithmetic, and God too-then the word black would have no meaning. It would not distinguish anything from something else. Since everything exists, exists is devoid of information. That is why the Catechism asks, What is God? Not, Does God exist?
The verb to be must always be a copula, and never the unintelligible verb exist… Ousia means being (a participial noun), reality, or definition... Ousia doubtless means “reality.” But not only are trees and rocks “real,” dreams are “real” too. They are real dreams. The number three is real. Everything is real, and thus the term has no meaning. (The Trinity, 2010, pgs. 70, 79, 86-87)
If a predicate can be attached to everything without exception, it has no distinct meaning, and this is to say that it has no meaning at all…Here then in the conclusion: The predicate existence can be attached to everything real or imaginary without exception. Dreams exist, mirages exist, the square root of minus one exists. These statements, however, are meaningless; they tell us nothing about dreams and the square root of minus one…Anything exists, so far as the term has any faint meaning at all. But it makes a great difference whether God is a dream, a mirage, or the square root of minus one. (Christian Philosophy, 2004, pg. 41)There could be other instances where Clark says something along these lines. I think these suffice for the following comments.
If "existence" were an idea without content - or if "[x] exists" is a statement in which the intended verb is without content - then the use of these words (or their equivalent parts of speech) wouldn't signify anything. They would be conceptually bankrupt, and any statement in which they are found would be unintelligible. It would be no idea at all.
But is "existence" meaningless? I don't think so, and it appears "late Clark" didn't either, as he used the word "existing" and "exists" to describe his own positions:
The possible views are these: There are three independent gods; there is only one God who appears and operates in three ways; there is but one Person who is God and Christ was his first creation; and finally there is one Godhead existing in three Persons. (The Trinity, 2010, pg. 20)
We reply that God’s act of will is eternal. Thus the begetting of the Son occurs, and the Son as a Person exists, by a necessity of the divine nature – the nature of the divine will. Later this theme may become complicated, or simplified, by the identification of the Father’s will, the Son’s will, and the Spirit’s will as one will.
John Gill, otherwise so excellent, falls into this temporal trap at one place. “God exists necessarily,” he says, and this is true… (The Trinity, 2010, pgs. 135-136)
When now the theist speaks of theism as a practical postulate, he is not indulging in any “as-if” philosophy. He means that God exists and that one should conduct his daily life by that belief. It is called a postulate because it is an indemonstrable first principle and not a theorem derived from more ultimate premises. (A Christian Philosophy of Education, 1988, pgs. 42-43)
Certainly, the burden of proof lies on those who deny the propositional construction of truth. Their burden is twofold. Not only must they give evidence for the existence of such truth, but first of all they must make clear what they mean by their words. It may be that the phrase non-propositional truth is a phrase without meaning. (God's Hammer, 1995, pg. 35)And this is only for Clark's uses of the variants of "existence." As "late Clark" equated "existence" with "reality" and "reality" with "being" and "definition," one could easily cite hundreds of cases in which Clark had previously (or even concurrently) argued for his own views using these words, suggesting he must have thought they had meaning. If Clark did indeed change his mind from one position to another later in his life, it was strange that he did not mention how such affected his own prior or concurrent use of said words.
Rather than view Clark as being inconsistent, I think it makes more sense to suppose that in the first trio of quotes in this post, he was just imprecise. The point Clark intends to drive at is that merely stating some subject "exists" gives us no idea as to the individuality of that subject. But this doesn't imply that "existence," "exists," etc. are meaningless terms, for what it does do is qualify the subject as capable of functioning as a subject. Such a capability or potential is necessary for there to be any discussion of what something actually is.
In a past post (link), following a quote by Clark in which he differentiated between denotative and connotative definitions, I argued:
Denotatively, the upper limit of classification can be said to be existence, reality, or being. These words are simply meant to encompass what “is,” viz. everything. Clark’s dislike of using these words as predicates stems from the fact that they can, in some sense, be applied to every subject. Because they cannot distinguish any one subject from another, they don’t really serve a useful connotative function: can anything fail “to be [real or existent]”? No. Everything qualifies ipso facto. This is why Clark considered himself to be a Realist. On the other hand, an exhaustive denotative list of everything is useful because knowledge requires distinctions and distinctions imply multiple subjects or material from which a hierarchy of classifications can be demonstrated, the total sum of which is just existence, reality, or being that an omniscience would know.
This would be very similar to how "early Clark" himself seemed to implicitly define "existence" at one point:
…demonstration is knowledge, and there can be no known of the non-existent. The premises, therefore, must be statements of what exists or what is so, i.e., they must be true. (Thales to Dewey, 2000, pg. 102)In sum: reality, existence, and being - these nouns refer, in the broadest sense, to everything and anything (more words Clark had no problem using). To define or explain what these are, we would have to list out every possible subject, taking note of the fact these subjects have certain meanings (propositional) and refer to certain things (propositional or non-propositional). To call something real, to say it exists, for it to be - these verbs refer, in the broadest sense, to the principle according to which we could even formulate a list of everything and anything.
So the next time someone says "existence" is meaningless because it is applicable to anything and everything, just ask what anything and everything mean or refer to.
[Or come up with your own definitions of these terms.]
Thursday, November 27, 2014
...there is a clear way in which an internalist approach, in addition to being intellectually legitimate on its own, has a fundamental kind of priority for epistemology as a whole, so that externalist views, whatever their other merits, do not constitute satisfactory responses to... whether we have any good reasons to think that any of our beliefs about the world are true (and what form these reasons might take). (Epistemic Justification, 2003, pg. 39)