Doris and Russell on Stanley

John and Gillian have written a piece on Jason Stanley’s Knowledge and Practical Interests. The paper can be found here. It looks really interesting, so check it out!


Doris and Russell on Stanley — 19 Comments

  1. John and Gillian, this isn’t really about your paper, but I was a bit surprised at condition 4 of IRI on page 3. There’s been considerable discussion in the literature and here on CD of how one can know by reasoning through falsehoods, so it counts, by now, as reasonably well-known that condition 4 is false.

  2. some trivial points and some questions:
    p. 3, bottom line, should be ‘affect’ rather than ‘effect’

    p. 5, last paragraph. I had a hard time with this paragraph, so let me see if I can get it right. The first part of the paragraph looks as if it is suggesting that there might be two possible processes, one involving indifference and the other not, where the first is more reliable because of the indifference. You rightly point out how bizarre a claim that would be. Then you point out that the significance of knowledge is threatened by Jason’s view, because there will be quite a number of cases where indifference makes all the difference between knowledge and non-knowledge.

    If that’s right, then two points come to mind. Here Jason has probably Nozicked you by embracing the consequence, though he doesn’t do it in true Nozickian fashion, since he doesn’t do so unabashedly! But second, I don’t really see the point of appealing to reliabilism here. It seems like an idle wheel in the mechanism of explanation. The point looks to me to be simply the point that mere indifference to consequences shouldn’t have epistemic value.

    p. 6: I doubt the theory of rational action used in the first full paragraph can withstand scrutiny. Surely (which I say when I don’t have an argument!) rationality of action is not simply a function of which desires one has or lacks. Of course, you go on to consider other such possibilities with the next examples.

    p. 8: For one staunchly resisting pragmatic encroachment theories like Jason’s, I love the jackpot case!

    p. 9, on the stability condition. I don’t see the attraction of the condition. This would be an empirical, psychological claim, right? I don’t see any armchair reason to think it is true. In fact, thinking about the psychology of belief fixation would make me think that non-epistemic forces (such as fundamentalism!) are much better predictors of stability than any epistemic factor. But I’m making things up from the armchair here…

    p. 13, on possibility one. this is a very good point, the point that there is an additional change. It is what resistors of pragmatic encroachment notice, and if you combine this fact with an account of defeat on which salience and subjectivity play a central role, you have a basis for explaining away the different responses about the two cases without resorting to any sort of pragmatic encroachment.

    pp. 13-4, on the notion of serious epistemic possibility (SEP). In your scientist case, you don’t actually use the notion of SEP, but instead focus on the notion of treating something as an SEP. I think Jason’s notion is an objective one, not the subjective one that the scientist case attacks, but I may be misremembering Jason’s view here.

  3. I enjoyed this paper a lot too. But it made me wonder about whether there is something of a double standard in evaluating new theories of knowledge vs. old theories of knowledge. Suppose turtle never gets out to the suburbs, where there are many fake barns. Turtle doesn’t have a car, and only ever hangs out in town, where there are only real barns. So, when turtle sees a barn facade, he knows it’s a barn. But then turtle enters a jackpot and wins a car! Suddenly, just in virtue of winning a car in a jackpot, he no longer knows, when he’s looking at a barn facade, that it’s a barn. IRI is certainly not the only epistemological theory that is in tension with the desideratum listed at the end of the paper…

  4. Indeed, if one wanted to write a similar paper teasing the reliablist, it would be simple. Turtle is slow; she never gets out to fake-barn land. Rabbit is fast; she often gets out to fake-barn land. So turtle, when he’s looking at a barn, knows that it’s a barn, but rabbit does not. So reliablism makes knowledge depend upon speed; it’s easier to know things if you’re slow.

  5. Jason, I don’t get the analogy. I think it’s because I balk when you say the turtle, prior to winning the car, has knowledge when looking at a barn facade. That couldn’t be unless knowledge doesn’t imply truth.

  6. Hi Jon, Doris mentioned that he’d emailed the paper to you and I just wanted to say thank you for posting it here and giving us some comments. (And thank you, too, to Jason, for graciously responding.)

    I don’t think I’m convinced by the turtle example just yet. If Turtle looses knowledge when he buys a car (and I’m not really sure whether he does or not), can’t we say that buying the car led to him exposing himself to different evidence? Similarly the difference between Rabbit and Turtle is not just that one of them can travel faster than the other; they’re also in different evidential situations. These cases seem more like the case of the scientist who gets rich and buys himself a better lab than that of Hannah winning the jackpot on the way to the bank, which changes her practical interests without changing her evidence.

  7. I gather from talking to people who were at the Pacific this year that Jason’s even more keen than he suggested towards the end of the book to embrace the view that a whole family of epistemic notions, including evidence, are sensitive. So he complained at the APA about statements of his view that characterise it as allowing the possibility of two subjects in the same evidential state to differ in terms of whether they possess knowledge (because of a difference in their non-epistemic situation).

    If that’s not how to understand the view, then I’m not sure on what grounds to hold that the tortoise case is so different. Sure, so rabbit and tortoise are in different evidential situations, but I don’t see why Jason’s committed to holding that, say, Deadbeat and High-stakes are in the same evidential situation, since what counts as evidence is sensitive too. And if we don’t burden Jason with that committment, what’s the germane difference between the tortoise case and the cases that are posing trouble for IRI?

  8. Jason, if you adopt Aidan’s description and go sensitive on the whole family of epistemic notions, it looks like there is a mystery lurking. Why the fortuitous alignment of the sensitivity stars so that evidence and knowledge always line up? Just going sensitive on all this stuff won’t help with that question. To answer that, I think you’ll need to become an evidentialist about knowledge and then defend pragmatic encroachment about justification or whatever epistemic notion one prefers to use that depends on the totality of one’s evidence. That last part isn’t meant to be a criticism, by the way. It’s just meant to show that the action for your theory will be in the theory of justification ultimately, if that’s the response you want to give to Gillian’s comment.

  9. Jon,

    I think you’re assuming that it’s possible clearly to distinguish knowledge from evidence. I’m not an adherent of E=K. But I was convinced by Williamson that knowledge is primitive, and I suspect many evidency notions will themselves be grounded on knowledge (e.g. epistemic probability seems to be to be a notion the explication of which involves knowledge). So I suspect that the interest-relativity of knowledge will leak into the interest-relativity of evidence (well, as I argue in Chapter 4, leaking claims can fail, so one has to be a bit careful here). That’s the line I take in my book, anyhow. Or rather more explicitly, the book is officially neutral on IRI about justification, so it leaves it open for people who think the action concerns justification rather than knowledge to ditch knowledge because IRI is true of it. But, given the epistemological views I in fact hold (that knowledge is a primitive mental state, and hard to extricate from evidency type notions), I myself think that it must be that all epistemic notions are interest-relative. In any case, the ‘stars aligned’ problem is unsurprising on my view, because I think that justification, evidence, and epistemic probability are notions that are not independent of knowledge; they might be analyzed in part in terms of knowledge, which is interest-relative.

  10. Is the evidence for a hypothesis presented in scientific papers stronger or weaker depending on whether the investigator has tenure? More at stake for the junior person, no? I’ve always supposed that it’s easier for senior people to get published, but I’d be a lttle surprised to learn that the evidence they report is stronger, merely by virtue of being published under their employed-for-life names.


  11. John,

    I don’t understand your point. Suppose I am a tenured person reading a paper by an untenured person. Nothing in my career hangs on whether the paper was accepted. So the paper provides the same evidence for the hypothesis that it would have had I written the paper myself.

  12. John,

    There is an obvious trickiness when talking about the relation some evidence bears to a scientific hypothesis. One needs to be clear whose evidence one is conditionalizing on. Different people have different evidential bases. I’m saying that it’s not just their priors that matter, but also practical factors. Nevertheless, often, when we speak of ‘how much evidence a proposition provides for a hypothesis’, we have in mind some kind of ideally rational being, who might not have any relevant practical interests at all. My claim rather involves the question of how much evidence a proposition provides a human in a particular practical situation for her belief.

  13. Hi Jason.

    I expect I’m confused.

    Aidan says,”what counts as evidence is sensitive too.” I took you to endorse this claim.

    There seems to be a pretty tame claim in the neighborhood: what it is reasonable to believe or assert, on the basis of the same evidence, is sensitive to variations in practical interests.

    But I thought something stronger was being entertained here: whether something counts as evidence, or how strong that evidence is, is sensitive to variations in practical interests.

    Now return to the tenure case. I should have used a single agent. Take the same scientist (a) 6 mo. before tenure and (b) 6 mo. after getting tenure. Do you have grounds for resisting, or do you want to resist, the implication that the evidence she presents *in the same papers* becomes stronger in (b)?

    That said, I agree that it may be difficult for your opponents to formulate anything like our evidence principle (a sort of supervenience claim?), without begging the question against you.


  14. Fantl and McGrath certainly formulate something close to the evidence principle as a supervenience claim (68). (That’s not quite right – the principle they argue against is the supervenience of one’s justification on one’s evidential state. But I take it footnote 1 of the paper allows us to ignore these details for present purposes.)

    I’ve just noticed that Jason has a version of his contribution to an interesting-looking PPR symposium up on his site, and he discusses some of these issues explicitly in his response to Ram Neta (around p10).

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