A Puzzle about Memorial Evidence

This is pretty inchoate, but I was just recently struck by the possibility of an interesting puzzle here.

One the one hand, we clearly need to include as evidence for clearly justified occurrent beliefs propositions stored in memory.

On the other, we clearly sometimes are justified in believing p on the basis of occurrent evidence r *right up until* we remember that, say, we know s and that s entails ~p (or maybe we just remember ~p).

The latter requires, it seems, that not just any proposition stored in memory is included in the evidence for just any instance of occurent belief. I’ve hardly thought about a solution, but it does seem like a potentially interesting puzzle.


A Puzzle about Memorial Evidence — 7 Comments

  1. We can solve the puzzle by saying that, for us to posses E, it must be occurent. I also think that some will be open to the idea that you are irrational in believing P when you have background evidence for ~P, even if that background evidence isn’t occurent. I suspect that externalists in particular will be open to the latter suggestion.

    But the best thing to do, for a phenomenal conservative at least, is to deny that there is any such thing as dispositional beliefs. Phenomenal conservatives don’t need those things, so we should get rid of them. Or at least, that’s one of the crazy claims I plan to defend over the next few years.

  2. That’s a nifty puzzle. What do you think about appealing to the basing relation for solving it? Of course, for those who think that beliefs can be justified without being properly based this suggestion will be useless, but for those who require proper basing, perhaps the relevant memory beliefs that count toward the justification of an occurrent belief will be those that are the reasons for which the occurrent belief is held (or the reasons for the reasons for which the occurrent belief is held, and so on).

  3. Chris,

    How would denying that there are dispositional beliefs solve Trent’s puzzle? Is it that you would be lopping off the one hand – “we clearly need to include as evidence for clearly justified occurrent beliefs propositions stored in memory”?

  4. Chris,

    1. Feldman does defend this view in his “Having evidence” essay in C&F 2004, and I’m attracted to it, but it’s a tough row to hoe. And it’s not just that it’s hard to have the right beliefs come out justified, it’s also that it’s hard to get them to come out to the right degree.

    2. Externalists don’t have enough problems…that’s a problem. I typically have in mind internalism when I am talking epistemology.

    3. a. I’ve never liked the term “dispositional belief” very much, and that’s one reason why I used the fairly clinical term “propositions stored in memory.” Now I take it that some are stored in a file marked “Probably true” or something relevantly similar rather than “hoped for” etc. Given the affirmative mode in which this data is stored, the term “dispositional belief” seems sensible, though I prefer “non-occurent belief.”

    b. Since it seems we clearly do have information stored in memory and in some kind of affirmative mode, we might as well put it to work. *However*, a thesis I’ve recently defended would make *all* beliefs irrelevant to justification, so I’m with you on the radical-research-projects-for-phenomenal-conservatives boat. I find, though, that in practice, I still have to allow a category of doxastic evidence to defend evidentialist PC in public.

  5. Matt,

    I’m claiming that, IF you are a phenomenal conservatism, you don’t need dispositional beliefs to play a role in justifying occurent beliefs. This goes against common wisdom. It is common to hold that dispositional beliefs are needed to ensure that you’ve got sufficient evidence for your occurent beliefs to make them justified. Here is an illustration. The mechanic sees green fluid under the car and then believes that the car has a leaky radiator. It’s plausible that the fluid under the car is not, by itself, good evidence that the car has a leaky radiator (if you disagree, then you won’t like my particular example–but that shouldn’t affect the overarching point). One also must have a justified belief that the green fluid is a reliable indicator of leaky radiators. Hence, we might be led to postulate that the mechanic has a justified dispositional belief that the fluid indicates radiator troubles.

    If you endorse PC (if it seems to you that P, then you have prima facie J for P), then you don’t need dispositional beliefs for this purpose. It will seem utterly obvious to the mechanic that the car has a leaky radiator. So we don’t need to appeal to some dispositional (or non-occurent) belief to ensure that the mechanic’s belief comes out justified.

  6. Chris,

    I’m totally into the idea that phenomenal conservatives don’t need as much by way of evidence as others. As you know, I’ve lately been trying to convince Rogers and Matheson that sense experience is not evidence, but, rather, things that cause us to have evidence. I think we may want to keep non-occurent belief for the same reason: to explain why it is that things seem to me to be the way they do. I think this will be useful when we PCists want to connect our theory of justification to a theory of knowledge.

    PS – I don’t like talk of prima facie justification, my PC says “if it seems to you that p, then you have a pro tanto reason to believe p.”

  7. Trent, “pro tanto” is more etymologically correct for what I have in mind by “prima facie”. I’ve been using that term out of respect for the tradition. But i may get around to changing my usage.

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