Epistemic Noncogitivism and Minimalist Truth

My earlier post on the relationship between ethical internalism and the analogue in epistemology was intended partially to raise the issue of noncognitivism in epistemology. It is a bit surprising to find that view so popular in ethics, but quite rare in epistemology. There is at least one exception, of course: Hartry Field’s endorsement of Gibbard’s view (I guess that’s two…).

Probably the explanation for reticence here is because of our scientistic heritage. It is one thing to go noncognitivist about the right and the good, but how could we do this about our illustrious empirical method itself? (I won’t pursue this here, but put this way, the reticence is strikingly bizarre: we sit down and consider what we really have to preserve in our theorizing, what matters most in our conception of things, and we rank what’s right and wrong lower on the scale of importance than what’s scientifically confirmed and disconfirmed.)

Here minimalism about truth rides to the rescue, or as I prefer to characterize it, here comes the giant sucking sound of minimalism about truth. Such a view allows us to say cognitivist-sounding things in ethics while still embracing noncognitivism. Noncognitivists can say, it is claimed, that it is a fact that child abuse is wrong and that the truth of the matter is that totalitarianism is a bad thing. Perhaps our minimalist will go disquotational here: the truth of the matter and the facts of the case are just disquoted sentences. And then what remains after disquotation gets the usual nonfactive treatment of noncognitivism.

Neat package, and if acceptable, would block any scientistic aversion to going noncognitivist in epistemology.

It is obvious that such a maneuver depends on the adequacy of minimalism about truth. There are also analogies between this defense of noncognitivism and the “just more theory” defense of Putnam’s internal realism (which in turn is analogous to Quine’s argument for ontological relativity). So it appears that the giant sucking sound of minimalism at work traces ultimately to the Lowenheim-Skolem results, and the tendency to apply (or misapply) such results about formal systems to nonformal systems of thought and language. In any case, if minimalism about truth is inadequate, noncognitivists are back with Stevenson and Ayer, hoping for a naturalistic account of epistemic talk while rejecting such accounts for ethical language (even though their basis for distinguishing the two is woefully inadequate, amounting to little more than insisting on the difference–Nathan Nobis has a nice paper on this matter here).

The point of all this is to get to a confession that contains a question. I’ve not yet found a reason to be noncognitivist in one area that didn’t strike me as a good reason to be noncognitivist in the other. This entry is long enough already, so I won’t cite the arguments I find unpersuasive. I also think that unless the minimalism-to-the-rescue manuever works, the failure to separate the epistemic from the ethical is a good reductio of noncognitivism.


Epistemic Noncogitivism and Minimalist Truth — 34 Comments

  1. Whether the failure to separate the epistemic from the ethical is a good reductio of noncognitivism depends, of course, on what noncognitivism is and whether it would be crazy to be an epistemic noncognitivist. There seem to be two prominent conceptions of noncognitivism: first, that a range of indicative sentences are not, strictly speaking, truth-apt; second, that a range of indicative sentences express some non-belief (or noncognitive) mental state. These come to the same thing only if no sentences that express non-beliefs are truth-apt.

    Now, it does seem highly implausible to claim that epistemic discourse is not really truth-apt, and, as it turns out, for many of the same reasons that it is implausible to claim that ethical discourse is not really truth-apt. (Thus the popularity of the â??minimalism-to-the-rescue maneuverâ?? among noncognitivists.) So, any hope for a noncognitivist position in either area would seem to depend on the possibility that the two characterizations of noncognitivism pull apart. Personally, I think they do. That is, I think that some indicative sentences that express non-beliefs are truth-apt. So, now the original question becomes (i) is it equally plausible/implausible to claim that the indicative sentences of ethical and epistemic discourse express non-beliefs? and (ii) is it implausible to claim that the indicative sentences of epistemic discourse express non-beliefs?

    Iâ??m not sure of the best way to answer these questions, but one *might* argue that the answer to (i) is â??noâ?? by arguing that the sincere use of ethical sentences is necessary connected to having certain motivational (i.e. non-belief) states in a way that the use of epistemic sentence is not. Then, the idea would be that the ethical sentences express (at least in part) these non-belief states, while epistemic sentences express only beliefs. (Maybe this is one of the arguments Jonathan finds unpersuasive?)

    In my dissertation, I argue that the answer to (ii) is â??noâ??–although (currently!) I think that epistemic and ethical sentences express *both* beliefs and non-beliefs, which is why I don’t call myself a â??noncognitivistâ??. The basic idea is that sincere utterance of both sorts of sentences express (among other things) a complex sort of intention. But this is not the place to develop that in more detail. Instead, I want to ask: when people find epistemic noncognitivism implausible, which of the two common conceptions of the view do they have in mind?

  2. Matthew, I take it that no one would be attracted to noncognitivism in epistemology if they weren’t attracted to it in ethics. So that would correspond to your question (i) above. If a noncognitivist adopts the minimalist proposal, then there is no reason to question the ability of indicative sentences about ethics or epistemology to be true or false. You’re right that if we are talking about epistemic sentences and asking whether they express (in part) non-belief states, there’s every reason to think that epistemic sentences do that too. Saying that believing p is justified is obviously commendatory, and calling something knowledge is clearly honorific. This point is not surprising, I think; it is rare to find any use of language that accomplishes just one thing (such as express beliefs). So, cognitivists shouldn’t be required to endorse anything that strong.

  3. Jon, my (i) was meant to progress the original question you posed–viz. whether the failure to separate the epistemic from the ethical is a good reductio of noncognitivism? I take it that it is only if all of the reasons for being an ethical noncognitivist apply mutatis mutandis to epistemic discourse. My idea was that one might think that it is more plausible to hold that ethical sentences express non-beliefs than epistemic sentences, in which case the fact that epistemic noncognitivism is unattractive would not necessarily be a reductio of ethical noncognitivism. But I think you are right that epistemic/ethical cognitivism cannot be the thesis that epistemic/ethical sentences express only beliefs. That’s too strong. How should one characterize noncognitivism? Do noncognitivists have to hold that sentences in the relevant range do not express beliefs? That also seems too strong and not a position that recent versions of noncognitivism (Gibbard, Blackburn) endorse. So, what position does the epistemic noncognitivist hold?

  4. Good question, Matthew. Here’s my procedural strategy: let the ethicists tell us what noncognitivism is, and their arguments for it. Then we’ll see if mirror-arguments can be constructed for epistemic noncognitivism (and then have to return to the problem of making sense of the idea of there being a good argument for the view, where “good argument” is interpreted noncognitivistically).

  5. Jon, I think Stevenson said virtually everything about what needs to be said about the basic motivations for ethical noncognitivism. First, it is a powerful explanation of the magnetism of the good and the right (and the repellant nature of the bad and the wrong). If there were some need to explain a comparable phenomena in epistemology (the magnetism of the true and the justified?) then that would be a motivation for going noncognitivist. Second, it also gives a satisfying explanation of seemingly intractable difference in opinion. We agree on all the facts, but still moral disagreement seems possible. Why? It’s a disagreement in attitude, not belief (but are there such intractable disagreements in justification? Do we need to see these as disagreements in attitude?) Third, it explains why questions about the good and the right are not settled entirely by empirical methods.

    These are at least motivations for going noncognitivist in ethics. They are powerful motivations, too. I must confess I don’t see many parallel in epistemology, although perhaps some feel the magnetism of justification or the possibility of intractable disagreement over it requires such a move.

    (One side note: It is not always clear that contemporary renditions of the original noncognitivist views of Stevenson and Ayer do as well as they did meeting these explanatory needs.)

  6. Robert, these were the arguments I was thinking of when I said I find them unpersuasive. Calling a belief justified, or saying that a particular claim is known to be true creates a kind of magnetism for the claims in question as well (assuming we accept the truth of the report). One of my favorite examples is, “A person of understanding thinks about this matter in the following way, but I’m not moved by that at all.” Not inconsistent, but begging for explanation…

    The second and third points strike me as two sides of the same coin. On the issue of disagreement, it is clear that there is no empirical means to settle disputes about which beliefs are justified or known to be true (and hence it’s not a matter of not knowing enough). Moreover, even if there were mechanisms governing human behavior that secured agreement about matters epistemic but not moral, it’s hard to see why such agreement would impress us philosophically. Given our scientistic heritage, we’d be likely to be impressed if the agreement were secured by empirical methods, but that wouldn’t be the case. Combine fallibilism with a little sprinking of Quine/Duhem insights, and agreement should puzzle us more in such areas and disagreement less, (except, of course, where we can run the explanation using nonrational factors).

  7. This topic gets even more interesting when one moves slightly beyond epistemology proper to judgments about reasoning. Jon writes, “Iâ??ve not yet found a reason to be noncognitivist in one area that didnâ??t strike me as a good reason to be noncognitivist in the other.” This is, I suspect, motivated by these logical / consistency-based judgments along the lines of “if you accept this argument, then you *should* accept this analagous argument” and “if you think that a judgment having these features … then you *should* understand it in some non-realist manner, then you *should* understand these other judgments in an analagous way.” But what’s the deal with these *shoulds* here, and the over truth value (or lack of) of these sentences? Again, it seems like much said against moral shoulds applies to these logical shoulds. So what should we think about all this? It seems that (and I hope that) there’s a (literally) true answer here and that its implications are ones we (literally, truthfully) should accept. If not, things are really, really wacky.

  8. Nathan, this is exactly what I was thinking. The question is what to do with the epistemic appraisals here, and if no such appraisals turn out to be true, then no argument gives us a reason to believe its conclusion, including the arguments for noncognitivism. There is, of course, the minimalist/deflationist rescue attempt here, and so far no one seems to be balking at that. I wonder why…

  9. I have lots of things to say about this, but I’ll try to keep myself under control.

    1. Minimalism does seem to me to help a whole lot with some problems expressivists (nee non-cognitivists) face. It doesn’t help quite as much as some minimalists seem to think, but it still helps a lot. So, a would-be expressivist about epistemic normativity needn’t be worried that he’s going to be forced to say that no knowledge attributions are true, or anything like that.

    2. Surely some normative epistemic concepts involve a ‘magnetism’ in a way at least analogous to the way ethical concepts do. I have much less confident intuitions in epistemology, but it seems pretty plausible to me to think that “R is a reason to believe that p” displays that magnetism.

    3. I think it is now very difficult to say exactly what expressivism amounts to. That doesn’t mean it amounts to nothing, just that it’s harder to say. One problem is that it is tempting to go ‘minimalist’ about ‘belief’ as well as about ‘true’, as Mark Timmons, Kit Fine, John Hawthorne, and several others have pointed out, so we no longer get much mileage out of the distinction between the types of state expressed by the sentences in the domain in question.

    It is surprising, as Jon says, that there aren’t more epistemic expressivists. There are a few. Field, Gibbard, maybe Blackburn. And Matthew Chrisman. But where are all the meta-epistemologists?

    p.s. I think the ‘smart quotes’ used by Nathan and Matthew are not appearing correctly on my browser. Is that a browser problem of mine, or do they look funny to everyone?

  10. Jamie, I agree that all the same issues and moves seem available to the meta-epistemologists as are available to the meta-ethicists. And it is hard to see what separates the camps, given minimalisms of the various sorts. Minimalism makes it thus hard for expressivism to claim any explanatory high ground, too. Still, I wonder whether all of the explanatory questions break in the same directions. For instance, suppose justificatory claims are magnetic. Is that better explained by a general desire to be justified in our beliefs, or by our justificatory beliefs not being beliefs at all? I don’t see why we shouldn’t say the former, which preserves a cognitivist view (pre-minimalist deflation of belief talk, that is). To me, although it would be strange to find someone unimpressed by justificatory claims in epistemology, it doesn’t have the same bite of near impossiblity that it does in ethics. (But perhaps Jon disagrees).

    Preserving the possibility of disagreement is trickier, too, with an expressivist view together with a contextualist view. The latter seems obviously to beg for a cognitivist account (though again add minimalism and this dissolves on contact!)

  11. Jamie, you’re exactly right! Where are the metaepistemologists? (And it’s not just your browser for the smart quotes–I’ve gotten the problem fixed for main entries, but if people cut and paste from a processor into comments, the quotes won’t be adjusted properly).

    It strikes me that the urge to go minimalist about ‘belief’ as well as ‘true’ is a disguised way of finding Humean moral psychology mistaken. Does that sound right?

  12. Jamie, I see your point. That would explain, by the way, why much of what one reads under the banner of discussions about contextualism looks as if people are talking past one another. Contextualism seems to be a theory in meta-epistemology, not epistemology. It’s a theory about how to understand sentences attributing knowledge, much as metaethic was initially mainly a set of issues concerned with how to construe moral language. Some reactions I’ve seen to contextualist theories (of which I’ve read very little, by the way) look to be reacting to it as a first-order theory of knowledge. But maybe it isn’t (ok, you can’t entirely separate first and second order questions).

  13. Jamie, yes, that’s the issue behind my question. Such accounts of belief attribution don’t in fact settle the issue, but I suspect that some minimalists here would want it to. To the extent that this is what they want, they must hold that once the theory of belief attribution is complete, that’s all we need for a theory of belief, and since beliefs are beliefs(!), what’s left to explain? Too much philosophy resting on a linguistic theory, methinks…

  14. Nathan, you may well be right that the notion of forcing is normative here. However, I have checked the House Rules of Certain Doubts and I could find no restrictions against normative language. Why, then, should there be anything behind or up with the normative language?

  15. This is undoubtedly flogging a dying horse, but I have a couple of new thoughts on this topic…

    The first is regarding your comment, Jon, that “calling a belief justified, or saying that a particular claim is known to be true creates a kind of magnetism for the claims in question”. I’m wondering what creates the magnetism here. Moral claims are typically thought to be magnetic because they are moral, not because they are knowledge claims or claims about truth. But if we think there is something magnetic with claiming something to be knowledge, then we either we have a ‘doubled-up’ magnetism in moral claims, or else it is the claim to knowledge or truth in moral claims that is doing the magnetic work. The latter seems wrong; it is the subject matter that creates the magnetism in moral talk. The former should imply some distinguishable implications regarding the magnetism of the moral vs. the magnetism of the true. Perhaps the former has practical implications while the latter has implications for prospective paths of reasoning, etc. But it would seem odd for anyone to have thought that there was something special needing explanation about moral thought and talk were there magnetism across the board.

    The second comment is that if saying a claim is true creates magnetism, then one can’t be a complete minimalist about truth. Perhaps what it adds is something non-cognitive, but it does add something. (This of course is limited to thinking of the claim under the heading of the true. Whether claims that are in fact true are magnetic just in virtue of their truth alone seems dubious to me, though I have no argument)

  16. Robert, I’m not thinking of epistemological magnetism as involving the concept of truth, but rather those of justification and knowledge. I think you’re right about the doubling-up issue with regard to truth for moral claims, but I also think that if I believe that a moral claim is known to be true, a double magnetism is present: I have a motive to act in accord with the claim and I have a motive to believe the claim to be true. Ceteris paribus, of course, and if the magnetism of the moral turns out to be indefensible, the same would go, I expect, for the magnetism of the known. My point is simply that they stand or fall together.

  17. If the claim that p is known is magnetic, this seems evidence of value, does it not? How does this comport with your views on the lack of value of knowledge? Or does the magnetism really only rely on the claim of justification? That is, does it add magnetism to say that p is not only justified but known to be true by S?

  18. Ah, Robert, very nice! So two things. First, I normally carry on epistemological conversations not assuming my own views about knowledge, and some of that is going on here. But second, I don’t hold that knowledge lacks value, just that it doesn’t have as much value as we think it has. That is, it doesn’t have value that exceeds the value of its subparts. It may be that viewing something as known, beyond being justified, adds magnetism, but I’m not sure about the details here. Maybe the added magnetism is due to mistakenly overvaluing knowledge; maybe it’s due to confusing knowledge with understanding. I’ll have to think about this issue some more…

  19. Does viewing something as known have a magnetism? That’s strange.
    When I view something as known, I already believe it, so I can’t be ‘drawn to believe it’. What does the magnetism do?
    Maybe the concept that has magnetism is known if true. I think I’ve heard epistemologists use that concept, and it seems like it might be right for this purpose. But I’m a little over my head now.

  20. Jamie, if it’s you that knows it, then of course you also believe it. But you can come to believe that something is known by someone else as well, and then it’s being known displays the magnetism in question. Suppose I say to you, “Ernie’s a very impressive philosopher, he knows stuff hardly anybody else knows; for example he knows the centrality of Chisholm’s short piece “the problem of empiricism” to the history of 20th century epistemology.” If you believe what I say, you’ll be strongly motivated to come to believe many other things, including something about the centrality of this piece of Chisholm’s to 20th century epistemology. To view something as known (by someone else) makes it nearly irresistable that you believe it as well.

    There are strange cases, however, where one might resist. If you are impressed by the social nature of knowledge arguments, you might view another person as being in a different social arena so that some social facts affect you that don’t affect the other person. If you’ve also acquired an overriding disposition not to believe things that you don’t know to be true, then you might resist believing the claim even while allowing the knowledge claim to stand. (Or maybe you’re like me, and you think if such cases are possible, then there is something wrong with the social point…)

    Those that allow pragmatic encroachment into the concept of knowledge will have to hold something similar. On their view, someone else might know something that you don’t just because the significance of it is so much higher for you than for that person. So suppose you’ve adjusted your inclinations to believe to such an invariantist position, and you’re now of a character so you won’t believe what you can’t know to be true. Then I tell you that someone else knows a certain claim to be true, and if you know that the claim is highly significant for you but not for them, you might view the matter as follows: maybe they do have knowledge, but I can’t have knowledge (because my pragmatic situation raises the standards for knowledge), so I can’t bring myself to believe that claim. (Or, again, maybe you’re like me and you think that pragmatists need to find a better explanation of such cases.)

  21. Jamie, perhaps viewing p as known, as opposed to justifiably believed, could have magnetism in the sense that if p is known, then one’s confidence in p is increased, and so one will use p in reasoning more widely or in riskier inferences.

    I had a thought re: Matthew’s question about what view the epistemic noncognitivist holds. As I understand it, noncognitivism is at its best when viewed as a sort of functionalist explanation of a given area of thought and talk. So the idea behind ethical noncognitivism is that we identify the role ethical thought and talk plays, then give an account of that thought and talk that best fits that role. If the role of ethical discourse is to influence conduct and coordinate behavior, for instance, then we’ll want an account that connects up with desires in the right way and so on. The epistemic noncognitivist would then have to follow suit: ‘justification’ talk has a similar role (in fact, there will be little if any discourse that IS cognitive, should this be so) that requires connecting it up with desires, etc. Saying p is justified, perhaps, gets people to believe and reason in this way rather than that, converge in belief perhaps. The things that get influenced directly are mostly beliefs and patterns of reasoning, rather than actions.

    Looking at it this way, ethical noncognitivism is quite attractive (or it is to me, anyway; many don’t buy the functionalism, I take it, but set that aside for the moment.) Epistemic noncognitivism is much less so. Perhaps saying p is justified or well supported does influence belief in p, but this is not as plausible as a role for justification talk. Why, for instance, would we expect justification to be connected to truth and knowledge, were influence the role?

  22. I wish I’d read Jon’s comment before posting my own! If you think the role of knowledge and truth talk is connected to influencing belief, then why not justification? I find this very peculiar, but then I’m only a caveman epistemologist.

  23. Robert, FINALLY someone got to the issue I’m interested in–the role that functional explanations play in motivating and defining noncognitivism!

    First, though, about your other points. I think calling a belief justified motivates belief as well. Change the story about Ernie that I used in the last comment to Jamie, so that it talks of justification rather than knowledge. If I report that Ernie is very impressive and has discovered evidence sufficient to justify placing high importance on Chisholm’s piece, that will motivate you to believe something about the significance of the Chisholm piece (as long as you take my word on what I say). So I think that both knowledge and justification display magnetism (so does the concept of understanding, by the way).

    Your other point connects to my interest in functional explanations. First, remember that I’m assuming we are allowed to go minimalist on notions such as ‘true’, ‘fact’, etc.; otherwise noncognitivism has a hopeless counterintuitivity to it both in ethics and epistemology. So let truth drop out of the picture. You ask about the relationship between knowledge and justification: if both are given noncognitive treatments, how could one be a necessary condition for the other? We’ll have a similar problem in ethics, too, though, won’t we? Take your favorite deontic logic: it makes permissibility necessary for obligatoriness and supererogation, I expect. Does that make you doubt noncognitivism?

    Maybe it should: it’s maybe best thought of as a version of or variant on the embedding problem?

  24. Jon, the ‘new’ noncognitivism (Blackburn, Gibbard) has been from the beginning quite explicit in pushing this aspect of the approach, although many lose sight of it (for instance, Ch. 5 of Simon’s STW begins with a flat out functionalist argument: Look at the inputs and outputs, and so on.)

    I agree there seems to be something like magnetism in epistemic talk. But we need more, don’t we, to say that this is its role. It might well be an accidental additional aspect of epistemic talk, rather than intrinsic to it, that it moves us.

    I think that you are right about the similar problem in ethics; it is just a variant of the Geach problem. The difference, however, is striking to me: The magnetism in ethical talk is not accidental. It looks to go right to the heart of what ethical discourse is for, its very point and purpose. That’s what makes me like ethical noncognitism. That does not make the Geach problem go away. It does motivate the project of trying to understand these features of ethical talk in some other way than we do when talking of knowledge and the like. While magnetism seems less central to the role of epistemic concepts, embeddability looks less central to ethical concepts.

  25. Robert, we’re sure up early today, aren’t we? You’d think we’d have relaxing, recreational things to do on a weekend… Oh, I forgot: we get paid for doing relaxing, recreational, fun things like this!

    Two points here. First, I’m at a loss how to separate accidental from intrinsic features when it comes to functional questions. Not that I can’t separate them anywhere, but here I don’t know how to think about it. But if we are thinking functionalistically, it is easy to adopt the view that the point of belief is to guide action, and the point of knowledge and justification is have to responsible guides to action. So we should expect talk of justification and knowledge to function in a way to motivate responsible guides to action. And nothing here strikes me as obviously accidental to the items under discussion.

    I think all of this is (fairly nearly) correct, but I don’t view it as a good argument for going noncognitivist in epistemology. I don’t have any argument that I find even close to compelling, but here’s a quick ramble: in general, functionalist accounts of things are interesting and important, but surely not exhaustive. Think of a functional account of the heart, or the liver, or the kidneys, and imagine drawing the conclusion that after the functional account is complete, we have a complete account of the heart, liver, or kidney (the inference is worse if we think of the functional account as an “archeology” of origins of such talk as we find in some functional accounts in epistemology, but I don’t think Blackburn and Gibbard are doing that). Of course, these are physical things, and hence much different than the subject matters of ethics and epistemology. Whether that’s relevant, I don’t know, but to avoid that issue, think of discussions of functionalist accounts of mental states in the philosophy of mind. Suppose we could give I/O accounts of all types of mental states; what would follow from that about the nature of mental states? If we’re physicalists, we’ll be quite happy, since mental states no longer threaten our view. But from the account itself, nothing in fact follows, as far as I can tell. What the account does is to allow room for certain deflationary views, but it doesn’t imply or confirm by itself those views.

    So, what motivates a similar deflationary attitude toward the subject matter of ethics but not epistemology? If this weren’t a request for contrastive explanation, we’d appeal to the Humean heritage in ethics, routed through scientism, positivism, and logical empiricism. We might try to disparage the contrast with the same heritage, in terms of the needing to preserve the objectivity of science, etc., but the minimalist move that is important in defending noncognitivism in ethics blocks this move here. So the contrastive treasure I seek still eludes me…

  26. Jon, you’ve already given some sense to the idea that some feature could be more central (if not more ‘intrinsic’…I’m just grabbing words here) to a role than another: Does the explanation of that role give you the means for an exhaustive explanation of all of the behavior of the concepts in question?’ (A slogan: ‘whatever it takes to explain magnetism and behavior coordination and influence is all that is needed to explain all of ethics.’) If ethics talk gets tied up in hypotheticals, negation, etc., let’s try to explain it through whatever explains the influence of behavior.

    Here’s a plausible distinction in human needs: We need to move around in the world and get what we need from it, but we also need to get an accurate picture of the world. Although belief and knowledge talk *does* influence behavior, isn’t it a poor explanation that this is what it is purpose is, that, in fact, this is primarily what we need to know about knowledge talk? It seems to me (and now I go back to my caveman epistemology position) that the point of knowledge talk is to get an accurate total picture of the world, as it really is. If it influences behavior too, that must be explained through this primary role. It must do it more or less as Hume thought it did it, by providing a channel through which desires can flow to action.

    That’s my sketch of an overview of a plan for a contrastive story. It’s really a research program rather than an answer to the question: Work to explain ethics in this way, work to explain knowledge talk in another way. I don’t deny it is tied to a Humean picture, but it’s not a bad picture.

  27. I think some cavemen were really smart… they just didn’t have the leisure to do epistemology!

    Here’s what I think: a functional account is never adequate grounds in itself for a deflationary stance; there has to be something else making that stance attractive, and then the functional account does the groundclearing to make the stance acceptable. That’s a problem, I think, in your non-deflationary stance about knowledge. I don’t see why we need an accurate picture of the world at all, except in service of pragmatic interests. In fact, my favorite functional story about knowledge talk is a pragmatic story in terms of scoring inquiry: investigate a question and use ‘knows’ talk to record when you get to bank an answer and move on. And banking an answer is significant because the right way to navigate through the world is on the basis of appropriately banked answers to questions.

    All that to say that I don’t think they’ll be a distinction between pragmatic significance for ethics talk and nonpragmatic significance for epistemology talk, or a distinction between the directness of the connection between ethics talk and action and epistemology talk and action. If we go Humean here (though I prefer accounts with more complexity), the first routes through desire and the second through belief. (Do you like anthimeria as much as I?)

  28. Jon, the fall term is starting and I’ll be preaching about knowledge for knowledge’s sake very soon. Don’t make me choke back those words!

    I’m not saying knowledge talk isn’t useful; I take issue with the claim that the *primary* point–it’s reason for being–of knowledge talk is pragmatic. But I’ll just admit that I have no argument, just this intuition pump I keep trying to work (maybe the pump won’t work because the vandals stole the handle?) Its point doesn’t seem to me to be as you say, to build up the way of working through the world (though this is an empirical question, I admit). If there is a folk ontology, for instance, one fitted to us by nature, it’s very likely to be false but very useful.

    Also, why do you say a functional account is *never* adequate in itself? It seems in the ethical case, it may well be. This is another feature of the new noncognitivims that seems attractive, viz., that once the functional story is on the table, it looks hard to see what more needs to be said about our talk of ethical ‘beliefs’, ‘truths’ and so on, but just that it is more moralizing. I don’t have the same need to say that it’s point is to ‘get it right’ about the moral world.

  29. Robert, I’m not saying that knowledge or other epistemic concepts have no value apart from their pragmatic significance. My claim is only that if you look for a functional account of knowledge talk, it will have to be given in terms of pragmatic significance. The difference between you and me on this, I think, is that when I look at ethics, I see the intrinsic significance of doing the right thing and you only see the functional value of coordinating activity; when you look at epistemology, you see the intrinsic significance of an accurate and persuasive account of the world. I do too, by the way. I believe, however, that I can give a functional account of knowledge talk that mirrors a functional account of moral talk; that’s what’s behind my claim that a functional account is never adequate in itself for a deflationary stance. I think the same point is especially obvious in the philosophy of mind: a functionalist account makes way for physicalism, perhaps, but it is compatible with dualism. What’s needed in all these cases is some grounds for taking the functionalist account to give a complete account, and the account itself won’t do that. At bottom, I think those who go noncognitivist in ethics but not in epistemology have a motivation for taking the functionalist account to say everything needed in the one case but not in the other. That’s what I’m trying to uncover…

  30. Jon,

    Jamie, if it�s you that knows it, then of course you also believe it. But you can come to believe that something is known by someone else as well, and then it�s being known displays the magnetism in question.

    I don’t think so. If you come to believe that p is known by somebody, then you a fortiori come to believe that p is true. If you’re anything like me, you then believe that p. No magnetism necessary.

    I’ll stick with my suggestion that maybe the concept known if true is what you guys are talking about.

  31. Jamie, so you don’t buy the social and pragmatic routes to denying that viewing something as known forces belief on your part? I’m not too surprised, since as you could tell from my comments, I view those accounts of the matter as quite strained. I’m inclined to think that they are consequences of the views in question, however, so that’s a bit of a problem for them.

    Notice, however, that you can come to believe p by learning that p is known to be true, so you are basing the former on the latter. I’m not sure that’s relevant to the magnetism issues, however, so maybe we should be talking about the concept you suggest or the concept of justification. Or maybe you’d buy the idea if we introduced an “inverted commas” sense of knowledge…!

  32. Jon,

    That knowledge has a social and pragmatic component seems very plausible to me. I just don’t see how it even touches the argument I gave. Since I’m more impressed by the pragmatic component, let me just quickly comment on that example.

    So suppose you�ve adjusted your inclinations to believe to such an invariantist position, and you�re now of a character so you won�t believe what you can�t know to be true. Then I tell you that someone else knows a certain claim to be true, and if you know that the claim is highly significant for you but not for them, you might view the matter as follows: maybe they do have knowledge, but I can�t have knowledge (because my pragmatic situation raises the standards for knowledge), so I can�t bring myself to believe that claim.

    I can certainly think, “maybe they do have knowledge…” but I can’t think “Oh, they do have knowledge,” because if I thought they did have knowledge that p then I would be forced to conclude that p. And then I would believe p.
    Maybe I would still not know that p, because the pragmatists are correct, but having concluded that p, I would believe that p. Can’t help it!

    I’m just pretending to be an epistemologist, though (I’m not even a caveman).

  33. Jamie,
    Yes, what you say is exactly what I was fudging on in the description. There may still be a way around it, however: suppose you are so epistemically virtuous that you simply wouldn’t believe anything that you don’t know to be true. Then, if you also think there are pragmatic dimensions to knowledge, you could reflect on the difference between your situation and another’s, recognize that their pragmatic situation is such that in it, they have knowledge even though your situation is one that doesn’t allow it.

    I’m not sure this works, because of the obvious entailment from the claim that it is known to the claim that it is true. But we should be suspicious about encoding logical closure principles in our accounts of human psychology. People fail to believe very obvious implications of other things they believe quite regularly, so we can’t use the obvious character of the entailment to insist on belief in this example.

    One other idea: maybe the person has a faulty theory of knowledge, one that allows for false claims to be known. It’s hard to imagine what psychological effect that would have, however, but it might allow the inconsistency in attitude to obtain.

    In any case, however, there is still the meta-point that using knowledge talk motivates you to come to hold a belief that you didn’t previously hold. So there is still that aspect of magnetism for the concept of knowledge, even if the above is not convincing…

  34. Isn’t magnetism supposed to work the following way in the case of moral belief:

    The parallel with belief would then be:

    And I, speaking for myself, do feel the pull. This has nothing to do with knowledge entailing truth, its really justification entailing correctness, and correctness pointing to an ought, and an ought internally (=magnetically) motivating us.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *