A Variant on Moore’s Paradox?

Consider the following sincere assertion in English:
“I don’t know whether Bush is the worst President of the last hundred years, but the evidence shows that he is.”

I’m trying to avoid using the language of epistemic justification here for the second conjunct and put the claim in more ordinary terminology. My question is whether such a remark is paradoxical. It strikes me that way, but I wonder if it strikes others the same way.

One might try to explain why it’s only unusual, though not paradoxical. It’s unusual because one ordinarily can’t distinguish between what one knows and what one is justified in believing. But not always. The usual kind of case in which one can recognize one’s own lack of knowledge even while also recognizing one’s justification is a lottery case: one can recognize that one doesn’t know that one’s ticket will lose, while at the same time recognizing that one is justified in believing that one’s ticket will lose.

But in such a case, we wouldn’t report that the evidence shows that our ticket will lose; we’d say something a bit more hedging than this. One might be tempted to think that the problem here is that “what the evidence shows” is easy to read as “what the evidence guarantees”. That makes the above assertion even more paradoxical, though, rather than merely unusual, for if the evidence guarantees p, then even the skeptic will agree that you know p.

Given all the above, perhaps what we should say is this. The assertion is paradoxical because the language of what the evidence shows indicates quality of evidence sufficient for knowledge (in the presence of true, ungettiered belief). That means that in lottery cases, the quality of evidence for concluding that one’s ticket will lose is below that needed for knowledge. If we reserve the term “epistemic justification” for that kind sufficient for knowledge (in the presence of true and ungettiered belief), then we can say that the justification one has for thinking one’s ticket will lose is not epistemic justification.

I’ll try to assuage one worry here before seeing what others think. The worry is that quality of evidence needs to be measured in terms of increasing probability, and that means epistemic justification can never obtain for any claim the probability of which is less than one. That’s a mistake, I think. Quality of evidence can also be measured in other ways. One way is if the evidence itself shows that further inquiry would only undermine present opinion by revealing misleading pockets of evidence. In the lottery case, this further condition is not met, so the quality of evidence in that case can be lower than other cases, even if the probability in the lottery case is higher.

So here’s why the assertion is paradoxical. The second conjunct reports the kind of justification necessary for knowledge, and sufficient in the presence of ungettiered true belief. But if one has that sort of justification, one has justification for thinking that the belief is true and that any further inquiry would reveal only misleading evidence, i.e., one has justification for thinking that one’s belief is ungettiered. Since the assertion is sincere, we can assume that the person is aware of what he or she believes, so everything is in place to expect the person to claim to know as well.


A Variant on Moore’s Paradox? — 17 Comments

  1. Maybe that’s possible, Fritz, but it makes the second conjunct strange, doesn’t it. You wouldn’t say the evidence shows that he’s guilty, though it might be misleading evidence. You might say something weaker, like the evidence points to his guilt, but not that it shows that he’s guilty.

  2. I especially might put it the way I did in making a 3rd party comment on the evidence that I haven’t seen — so – I trust the jury to have evaluated the evidence as they saw it but not to have been able to distinguish misleading evidence from non-misleading evidence. But ok, yes, the “show” connoting success is a bit strong in the first conjunct… thinking…

  3. Chris, can you explain what you’re thinking here? I don’t see what you’re after.

    Jamie, I think it is in my idiolect too. Do you think that helps explain away the assertion?

  4. “It seems that p” can be, I think, justification sufficient for knowledge, but doesn’t sound paradoxical when paired with “but I don’t know if p.”

  5. [If ‘shows that’ is factive, does that explain what’s paradoxical about the assertion?]

    Well, the paradoxicality is the same as that in “I don’t know whether p, but p”.
    I thought yours was supposed to be different from that kind of paradoxicality.

  6. This is very helpful, Jamie and Chris. I agree with you, Chris, that seeming states can be sufficient for knowledge, but the assertion I began with is paradoxical in a way that your statement isn’t. So what’s the difference? Jamie has an explanation: it’s that “shows that” is factive, and so what’s paradoxical is nothing new here.

    The only way to find something new is to find a use of “shows that” that isn’t factive, then. There is such a use, but I’m not sure it can apply to the present context. Think of “the magician showed us that the hat was empty, and then pulled a rabbit out of it, so it wasn’t empty after all.” But I’m not sure such uses help here…

  7. Could one know that there exists evidence for a proposition without oneself having (in some important sense of “have”) that evidence? And if it’s the having that’s needed, one mightn’t then know; notwithstanding being in a position appropriately to assert truly (whatever’s required for *that*–not: knowing, I don’t think) that the evidence shows that. Of course if “shows that” is unambiguously factive, Jamie’s point remains. (Which question strikes me, prima facie, as equivalent to whether “see that” is always factive.)

  8. David, our comments got inverted in time of posting vs. time of writing! Anyway, I think you’re right about the factivity issue, and I take it you’re giving an account of why the assertion can be non-paradoxical. It’s still unusual, because it would be rare to know that evidence exists but not have it.

    Still, I wonder if this is possible. In cases of testimony, something like this occurs, but then the evidence you have (the testimony) is itself enough for knowledge (in the presence of ungettiered true belief). Do you have cases in mind of the sort you describe that wouldn’t be testimonial?

  9. What David’s raising is what I was getting at earlier — I reflect on the jury and the evidence I take it to have without having that evidence…

  10. I see, Fritz, and I’m not sure what to think about that yet. My first inclination was, as I said, to doubt that one would report it by saying that the evidence shows that p, but I now think I may have responded that way by reading “show that” as factive. And without the factive reading, I’m no longer sure that the assertion is troubling…

  11. One recognized variant of Moore’ Paradox is “p but my belief that p is unjusfied.” I think Claudio de Almeida mentions it in his paper on the Paradox from a few years back. Now, John Williams a long time ago distinguished two versions of the original paradox, the ommissive (p and I don’t believe that p) and the commissive (p and I believe that not-p). Likewise, we could distinguish the epistemically ommissive “p and my belief that p is unjustified” from the epistemically commissive “p and my belief that not-p is justified.” Your case, Jon, is something like “p and the belief that not-p would be justified” (or “well evidenced”), no? This sounds a bit like “p, but if I were to consider matters more judiciously, I’d probably believe that not-p.” People have different standards for paradoxicality, but the one I worked with in my paper on the Paradox is that a proposition is paradoxical, in the relevant sense, if it can be true but cannot be truly asserted or believed. But perhaps it’s better to think of this as just a sufficient condition. By this light, “p and the belief that not-p would be justified” is not paradoxical. But suppose you think that a sufficient condition for paradoxicality of a proposition is that it can be true but cannot be rationally asserted or believed. That’s pretty paradoxical too. And by that light, “p and the belief that not-p would be justified” seems to be paradoxical. There are no conditions under which is rational to assert, nor believe, that proposition. Sorry for rambling – it’s late.

  12. Uriah, I like your thoughts here on what’s paradoxical about Moorean sentences. I think my case, if we invert the order of the conjunction, borders on “p but I don’t know p,” from the worry that “shows that” is factive here and responsible for the air of paradox. The knowledge account of assertion would explain this paradoxicality, and though I think that account is mistaken, the account I favor would explain the (defeasible) paradoxicality as well.

    One interesting issue in your post is whether paradoxicality rests on indefeasible factors, such as not being able to truly assert or believe, or not being able to be rationally asserted or believed. You use strong modal language, so it may be that you want the indefeasible version (as Williamson does for his knowledge account). Such a view handles the commissive versions better than the ommissive ones, since the ommissive ones seem to have non-paradoxical instances, e.g., pyrrhonians saying “p but I don’t know whether p,” the Churchlands saying “p but we don’t believe it,” James or Pascal saying “God exists but that claim is not well-evidenced.”

  13. Jon, just a quick remark which I hope won´t be entirely useless.

    As I read it, your example is of the form ‘It is rational for me to believe that p, but I don´t know whether p'(or something very close to it, if you don´t want to use ‘rational’; in any case, some necessary condition of knowledge). Now, you seem to suggest that what makes this Moore-paradoxical is the fact that the assertibility conditions for ‘It is rational for me to believe that p’ generally coincide with those for ‘I know that p’.

    One problem with thinking that your case is Moore-paradoxical is that an essential feature of Moore´s paradox is that a Moore-paradoxical proposition is _contingent_ and yet belief in it is irrational. Your case would be a problem of conceptual impossibility, a necessary falsehood. But then there seems to be a problem for the view that it´s a conceptual impossibility: If you think that psychological certainty is a necessary condition of knowledge (I do; Klein used to and I think he still does; Unger does too, if memory serves), it may not be a conceptual impossibility after all. Would it be weird to hold that what you´re psychollogicaly certain of (if anything) is a proper subclass of what you accept as rational for you to believe (disregarding the case of psychologically certain but irrational belief)?

  14. Claudio, I’m not sure why you impute conceptual impossibility or necessary falsehood to the assertion. It appears to me to be obviously contingent: the proposition expressed might be true.

    I think I’m also missing the point of your second paragraph as well. I don’t see how the issue of psychological certainty has implications for the modal status of the claim in question. This might just be a result of not seeing how the assertion could express a conceptual impossibility in the first place.

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