1. OSE3; 2. Insensitivity is Back, Baby!; 3. The Amazing Prophetic Powers of the Young Bill Lycan

1. Oxford Studies in Epistemology, Vol. 3 (2010) is now out: OUP-USA, OUP-UK.  I’ve only read a couple of  the papers it contains, but those were very good, and it looks from the volume’s table of contents (follow either of the above OUP links) to be in general a very interesting issue—especially to those who work in social epistemology, since the last six papers in the volume comprise a “Special Theme” on that topic, guest edited by Alvin Goldman.

2. One of the papers in the volume that I’ve read is one I am very familiar with: “Skeptical Success,” by Troy Cross (a pre-publication draft of which is available here).  Much of this paper was developed in a seminar that Troy and I co-taught at Yale a few years back.  In it Troy wrestles with the many counterexamples that have been hurled against sensitivity accounts in epistemology—or “insensitivity accounts,” as they are perhaps better called, since they often involve appeals to the insensitivity of the beliefs in some philosophically important examples to explain why those beliefs can at least seem not to constitute knowledge.  As it turns out, I am currently working on my own paper on insensitivity accounts (still in production; no complete draft available just yet; but for a look at a previous effort of mine on the topic, see this [pdf link]), in which I describe some of what Troy is up to as follows:

Sensitivity theorists have responded in two ways to these attacks.  First, and most prominently, they (we) have proposed modifications to our accounts of what sensitivity is, by which refinements, it is hoped, the counterexamples can be evaded.  It used to be uncontroversial that these modifications had not yet succeeded in dealing with all the proposed counterexamples.  At least I took that to be uncontroversial: In a previous defense of insensitivity accounts (DeRose 2004b), after explaining how some proposed refinements to these accounts handle some of the troublesome examples, I admitted: “Still, no sensitivity theorist, to my knowledge, has even pretended that all the cases have been successfully dealt with” (p. 25).  However, the state of the debate has changed since then, and that could no longer be said.  Troy Cross (2010) has since presented and defended a refined account that he thinks “dodges every arrow slung against sensitivity” (p. 40).  Now, I should point out that Cross in the end moves to an account which, though it is fairly thought of as a descendant of sensitivity accounts, probably should not itself be classified as a sensitivity account, as it abandons appeal to subjunctive conditionals, instead using a formulation built entirely on the notion of explanation, and it is this descendant that he is directly writing about it in above quotation.  However, on his way to his favored account, Cross considers various alternatives which clearly should be classified as refined sensitivity accounts and which he argues do not face any clearly problematic counter-examples.  About one such account that he labels “Relative Sensitivity,” Cross writes: “Some readers may stop at this stage, content that the explanatory power of sensitivity has survived its subjection to the epistemologist’s extraordinary counterexampling engine” (p. 49).  Other readers, however, might not be happy with some of RS’s results, Cross fears, so though he thinks RS itself doesn’t face any clearly problematic counterexamples, he goes on to consider some improvements to RS that remain within the sensitivity camp, before moving beyond sensitivity to his own favored, explanation-based account.   In case you’re a little worried about what these refined accounts end up looking like (just how “refined” they are, once they’re put through the ringer of multiple rounds of the counterexample game), be assured that Cross is very sensitive to the danger of these accounts getting complicated in ways that make them collapse “under the weight of their own caveats and qualifiers”—which he thinks was the fate of some accounts of knowledge that emerged in the post-Gettier discussion (Cross 2010: 40, n. 2).  Cross’s goal is not just to arrive at an account that accommodates the proposed counter-examples, but to do so “while leaving some non-baroque remainder that retains at least as much intuitive appeal as sensitivity itself” (Cross 2010: 40), and the accounts he finds successful reflect that goal.

3. While Troy is an excellent philosopher, it appears that he is not a very effective proof-reader—at least of his own work.  (I think that’s true of a lot of us, including me—which is why it’s a good idea to get someone else to proof-read your papers.  If you can.  It’s a fairly unpleasant task, so you have find someone who owes you a fairly substantial favor—or whom you don’t mind owing a favor to.  How big a favor this is depends of course on the length of the paper, but in general I think it fits in somewhere in the fairly large gap between helping someone move and driving them to the airport.)  At any rate, I find one of the mistakes that survived into the published version of the paper to be pretty amusing.  In a footnote, Troy discusses Bill Lycan’s complaint about how convoluted some of the accounts of knowledge became that emerged in the post-Gettier literature.  But instead of correctly citing the paper as “Lycan 2002,” Troy cites it as “Lycan 1959.”  It’s as if Bill saw the whole thing coming—all the rounds of counterexampling and reformulating that followed Gettier’s famous initial counterexamples to JTB, even anticipating response of Marshall Swain, in particular—and warned us about it all, all before Gettier had even written his famous paper.  I guess prophets are often not heeded.


1. OSE3; 2. Insensitivity is Back, Baby!; 3. The Amazing Prophetic Powers of the Young Bill Lycan — 3 Comments

  1. Keith,

    You have a typo on your paper:

    “Troy Cross (2010) has since presented a defended a refined account that”

    I think you mean “presented and defended”

    Now if only I were moving or needed a ride to the airport…

  2. Fixed—here & on my paper draft. Thanks, Jim. But I think catching one mistake is worth a drive just a small part of the way to the airport… or maybe helping you carry one heavy dresser about half-way down the stairs.

  3. I wouldn’t put it past Bill… Then again, he would have been 14 yrs old in 1959. Still, some of us at Chapel Hill used to espouse the Bill-Lycan-theory-of-truth: p is true iff Bill believes p.

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