Over at the Garden of Forking Paths, they are having a discussion about the evidence for libertarianism regarding free will. Glossing details, the concern is that without strong reason to believe in free will, our punishment practices are not warranted. The next step of the argument is to question the quality of reasons for believing in free will, and to conclude that our punishment practices are too harsh (and that free-willers are hard-hearted).
The issue itself is interesting, and the epistemology is interesting as well. I’m inclined to think that we don’t know our positive views in philosophy, so if belief in free will counts as a philosophical view, we don’t know that it’s true. (We do know negative things in philosophy, of course, such as that the JTB analysis of knowledge is subject to counterexample, and if you push me on the difference between a positive and a negative thing in philosophy, I will raise my hands and surrender.)
Even so, one might think, that says nothing about whether we are justified in believing that we have free will. There are at least two interesting epistemological issues here.
First, if the argument is telling, one might have thought it should be put in the language of knowledge, at least if one is inclined toward the Hawthorne/McGrath-Fantl view that it is knowledge that licenses practice and not just justification. I’ll let that one pass, though, since I’m not yet convinced of that point. The second point is whether, if one holds that we don’t know that we have free will, can we nonetheless be justified in believing that we do?
In one sense, of course we can. But the interesting sense is one that assesses the quality of present reasons. I’m not so much interested in assessing the free will claim itself, as the general status of positive views in philosophy. Do we really think that we are justified in believing the positions we defend, or is our honest opinion something less than that? And should we view the quality of our reasons as sufficient for knowledge in the presence of ungettiered true belief? If so, it looks as if my view would be mistaken, the view that we don’t know our positive views in philosophy. For, I suspect, some of them are true, and whatever one thinks about gettiering, it surely is not ubiquitous.
So it looks like this to me. To retain my skepticism about positive philosophy, I can’t hold that philosophical views are epistemically justified either. I can hold, of course, that they are justified in the weaker way in which lottery propositions are justified (a kind of justification insufficient for knowledge even in the presence of true, ungettiered belief). Or else I should just be less skeptical here…?