Synopsis: I wonder why, in light of some solid cases of lottery knowledge, people still doubt lottery knowledge. I also suggest an X-phi research project that thought would boom after 2004 but didn’t.
General motivational prolegomena: So I made it until 4:02 Central Daylight Time before obtaining testimony that Obama was re-elected. FBF’s Jason Rogers and Jeremy Fantl deftly crushed my blissful ignorance. Not caring about politics much more than knowledge, I had isolated myself from any and all reports about the election from the time polls opened until late this afternoon. I made a public display of my ignorance on Facebook about this matter (as is my wont, true) and I assumed that many people were saying to themselves “He knows darn good and well Obama has been re-elected, he’s just being provocative!” I thought this because I thought that there was so much hatred of Romney that he didn’t have a serious chance. It turns out that was an artifact of my having such a high proportion of friends in Academia (it looks like he got 51-ish% of the popular vote.)
But assume that things were as I took them to be.
Assume that polls had consistently indicated for months that Obama had a 30% lead in the polls. It would be very natural for a Romney supporter to say, “Man, we are not going to win this time around, damn.” And it would be natural for a fellow-supporter to respond “I know, it really bums me out.” The nondefectiveness of the first utterance gives friends of the knowledge norm of assertion a reason to think there is knowledge there. And foes of it–like me!–will take the nondefectiveness of the reply as evidence that they knew that Obama would win. Frequently through the day I heard voices (you know what I mean) saying “Oh come off it, you know who won, sheesh.” It never occurred to me to reply to the voices that this was not a case of knowledge. I carefully avoided saying that I didn’t know who won for this very reason. I did take myself to know, just not to have been told and so acquired *testimonial* knowledge.
Similar kind of case in the neighborhood. Suppose a precinct in a very, very wealthy area occupied almost exclusively by movie stars come back as expected: 88% Obama. However, Romney frivolously sues for a recount and wins. The head re-counter will naturally say to his staff: “Look, we all know how this is going to end, but the law requires us to do it.”
Objection: Ever heard of “Dewey Beats Truman”?
Reply: That error wasn’t based straightforwardly on polls. If Wikipedia can be trusted here, then “The paper relied on its veteran Washington correspondent and political analyst Arthur Sears Henning, who had predicted the winner in four out of five presidential contests.” And there may have been some wishful thinking involved, too, for Wiki also says the paper was “famously pro-Republican.”
Objection: It is just immediately obvious that that margin is not enough for knowledge.
Reply: The polling evidence isn’t supposed to be one poll, it is supposed to be a series of polls returning the same results. It is essentially structurally similar to Vogel’s Heartbreaker case.
This leads me to a clarification about my point here. My reflective response to lottery propositions is the same as my first reaction: Of course we know losers are losers! To think otherwise is to be either bad at math or in the grip of a theory. When it is pointed out so carefully–a la Hawthorne 2004–that ordinary knowledge has a lottery structure we should not for a moment (okay, not for more than a moment) become skeptical of ordinary knowledge, we should use that structural similarity to be skeptical of our skepticism about knowledge in explicit lotteries (especially since people are constantly bamboozled by numbers (#Kahnman&Tversky)).
But for some, their lottery skepticism runs pretty deep and they need other reasons to support lottery knowledge besides the fact that we take ourselves to know so many things that turn out to be, essentially, lottery propositions. I think the election case is that kind of case, as is the Heartbreaker case, the retirement fund case, the matchbox case, and the mispronunciation case.
I just don’t understand why these cases aren’t considered decisive in favor of lottery knowledge. One of the most interesting (if quite speculative) aspects of Hawthorne 2004 is the investigation of the vacillation of our intuitions regarding lottery knowledge. People should look into this more. It would be a great combo of epistemology and X-phi. #ResearchProject (Some of Jennifer Nagel’s stuff is relevant here, but has a bit different focus than what I have in mind here. I have in mind specific application of the cog sci lit’s demonstration of how jacked up we are about thinking with numbers to an explanation of why some people’s (not mine, ever, at all) intuitions go all skeptic-y when they think of life as a lottery.
Perhaps I can make an explicit argument. Let’s see.
a. A significant number of people (not me!) are such that their intuitions about particular cases vacillate based on how they are described in the following kind of way. When they are described in explicit lottery terms–“L-descriptions”–(say, as a first pass, low-value equiprobability cases) the subjects have skeptical intuitions and when they are given ordinary descriptions–“O -descriptions”–(intuitive, no def, essentially non-lottery descriptions), they attribute knowledge (and ascribe “knowledge,” that’s how you can tell.
b. A single case C can have two versions Cl and Co when it is given a L-description and an O-description.
c.The skeptical intuitions generated by cases c1-cn given L-descriptions form class K. Ordinary common sense (knowledge-affirming (and, ordinarily, “knowledge” ascribing)) intuitions generated by cases c1-cn given O-descriptions form class O.
Premise 1/Methodological Assumption: When intuitions vacillate about a case or a set of structurally similar cases, we should favor the intuitions which are more solid, if one class is more solid.
Premise 2: Class-O intuitions are more solid than Class-K intuitions.
Evidence for Premise 2: L-descriptions, unlike O-descriptions, involve known bamboozlers (numbers, large numbers, games of chance, risk, and math).
Lemma 1: We ought to favor (give more credence to) Class-O intuitions than to Class-K intuitions. From 1, 2 and some obvious stuff.
Premise 3: If Lemma 1, then, ceteris paribus, we ought to extend ordinary confidence to lottery cases rather than extending lottery skepticism to ordinary cases.
Premise 4: Ceteris is paribus
Conclusion: We ought to extend ordinary confidence to lottery cases rather than extending lottery skepticism to ordinary cases.
We have several of the right kind of cases in the literature already, and they are not hard to generate, so I’m pretty convinced of the conclusion.