Help! I have a question, and a follow-up, regarding propositional warrant – a.k.a. “ex ante warrant.” (I here follow Burge’s generic use of ‘warrant’. Beware of messing it up with Plantinga-warrant or Wright-warrant). I hope I can get some help. Here is the question:
Question: Can a subject, S, be propositionally warranted (at time t) in a proposition, p, that she is in principle incapable of thinking (at time t).
The question concerns the extent to which S’s limited conceptual resources limit the propositions that she may be propositionally warranted in. Here is the follow-up:
Follow-up: If so, what does it take for S to be propositionally warranted in p (at t)?
I am strongly inclined to answer ‘yes’ to the first question. It seems that we sometimes presuppose, at some stage our cognitive life, propositions that we cannot, at that stage, think or conceive of. And it seems that we may be rational in doing so. It is, however, not trivial that the question should be answered in the affirmative. For not only do we lack something such as a belief-generating process that may serve as the basis for an epistemic evaluation – we moreover lacks a *potential* belief-generating process. So, I am interested in hearing from people who think that our conceptual capacities set some limits on the propositions we can be propositionally warranted in.
However, my interest is mainly in the follow-up question. I am ready to assume that some psychological connection has to hold between S and p for S to be propositionally warranted in p – even when S cannot think that p. For example, we cannot automatically ascribe propositional warrant to S if someone smarter than S would believe that p had they been in her place.
To see this, consider a modestly talented mathematician, Sam, who believes that a set of axioms, A, is true. Assume moreover that a complicated theorem, T, follows from the axioms. Assume finally that the theorem T is too complex for Sam to think and, much less, prove. In such a case, it seems implausible to regard him as propositionally warranted in theorem T – even if a more talented mathematician could prove T from A (and would had she been in Sam’s shoes).
I have a couple of candidate examples of psychological connection (certain exercised competencies) that may underwrite the ascription of propositional warrant to S in a proposition, p, that she is incapable of believing. But I lack any sort of general characterization of such psychological links.
So, I would like to hear the opinions of folks with opinions about propositional warrant and the conditions under which it may be ascribed.
PS: The issue is important, I think, in its own right. But it is also important for assessing a particular kind of move that is often made in defending knowledge-accounts of assertion and action against obvious counter-examples. What I have in mind is the appeal to “excuses” or “secondary propriety” by Williamson, DeRose, Hawthorne & Stanley etc. But that is for another discussion.