Misfit Knowledge? NDPR Review of Evidentialism and Its Discontents

Joseph Shieber’s quite favorable Notre Dame review of my edited volume Evidentialism and Its Discontents (just out in Kindle edition) was just released, and there’s only one thing I want to quibble with (I appreciate his review very much. I have done two NDPR reviews and am completing a third. I think book reviews are a valuable service to the profession and Shieber has done a good review).

He criticizes the following argument from my introduction which I call the “Knowledge and Normativity Reductio” (KN)

Suppose for reductio that knowledge does not entail evidential justification.
If 1, then possibly, S knows p though her evidence all points to not-p, even after perfectly virtuous inquiry.
If all S’s evidence points to not-p after perfectly virtuous inquiry, then S should believe not-p.
So if 1 — modulo the seemingly undeniable 3 — possibly, S knows p though S should believe not-p.

Shieber makes two remarks. Here is the first
—–>
Let us leave aside worries about premise 3 stemming from the fact that even if all of one’s evidence after perfectly virtuous inquiry points to not-p, it still might be open to one to withhold belief in not-p, simply because one’s total body of evidence still isn’t sufficient to compel belief that not-p.

The central problem with the KN argument is that premise 2 is false. Suppose that knowledge does not entail evidential justification. What follows from this is not that it’s possible for S to know that p despite the fact that all of her evidence points to not-p, but rather that it’s possible that S knows that p despite not having evidential justification for p. This latter possibility, however, involves no more than that S’s evidential justification is not sufficient to support the belief that p — and NOT that S’s justification is sufficient to support the belief that not-p. In other words, the strongest conclusion that the KN could in fact support is that it is possible for a subject S to know that p despite the fact that her evidential justification doesn’t support believing p. And while this possibility might in fact seem problematic, it is not as obviously problematic as the conclusion to which Dougherty’s KN argument points.
←—

Shieber seems to be thinking of evidential justification as something like this.

S has EJ for p =df S has “enough” evidence for p.

But that’s not at all the notion Conee and Feldman work with. That might be translatable into a common case of EJ, but it’s not the definition of the property. EJ consists in having a doxastic attitude that *fits* the evidence. Earl sometimes explains this notion of justification by reference to the way fully justified text fits right in the margins of the page. You don’t get ragged right edges.

And there are all kinds of ways a doxastic attitude can fail to fit the evidence. So if we’ve severed the tie between knowledge and fit-with-evidence, then we can have knowledge with not-fits-with-evidence: “misfit knowledge.” One case of misfit knowledge is, as Shieber points out, to believe p more strongly that the evidence supports. But, as Locke pointed out, this is no better in principle than the more extreme case of misfit belief: believing p when the evidence supports not-p.

So I don’t think Shieber has raised any concerns for KN, and I still think KN pints to a real concern about misfit knowledge for those who divorce knowledge from evidence. But that’s a pretty extreme position. Plantinga accepts that K entails J and Goldman does to, at least implicitly by including a defeater clause. In the end, you have to be a real true believer to deny K → J.

It is natural for an author to want to defend herself, so that’s what I’ve done. But as I say I think the review was fair and well-written, and I appreciate him going to the effort. I wish I also had time to defend Conee and Feldman’s replies in each of the cases Shieber discusses. But that just points to what a rich research project evidentialism is, and that’s why I put the book together. Have at it, people.


Comments

Misfit Knowledge? NDPR Review of Evidentialism and Its Discontents — 3 Comments

  1. Hi Trent,

    There’s a reductio in the neighborhood of yours that’s worth considering:

    1. Suppose for reductio that knowledge does not entail evidential justification.
    2. If 1, then possibly, S knows p though her evidence does not provide adequate support for believing p.
    3. If all S’s does not provide adequate support for believing p after perfectly virtuous inquiry, then S should not believe p.
    C. So if 1 — modulo the seemingly undeniable 3 — possibly, S knows p though S should not believe p.

    By weakening in this way, it seems you can also avoid the worries discussed above. As an added bonus, you can avoid the worry that a sufficient body of evidence doesn’t have to mandate belief in order to be sufficient to justify belief. This is all consistent with your reductio succeeding, but the move from should believe not-p to should not believe p makes it all a bit less contentious. I do think it’s odd that there’s something S knows that S should not believe on purely epistemic grounds, so this still retains much of the force of the original.

    (Of course, I think that (2) is trivial since E=K and (3) looks pretty good because you shouldn’t believe what you don’t know.)

  2. If we can conceive of knowledge as requiring negative dependence on (counter) evidence, maybe something along Shieber’s point can be made more easily. So despite the fact that some accounts of K don’t require evidential justification, I’m not sure there is any account of K that allow for the possibility of S knowing that p while having defeaters (in Pollock’s sense) for the belief that p. Now if ‘her evidence all points to not-p’ at premise 2 mean that S has defeaters for the belief that p, it wouldn’t follow that S cannot know p while lacking positive evidence for p.

  3. “Plantinga accepts that K entails J and Goldman does to, at least implicitly by including a defeater clause. ”

    Hi, Trent,

    I think you’ll want to reconsider the above claim. If I’m not much mistaken, a defeasibility condition on knowledge does not imply justificationism (K–>J) in any shape or form, nor does Plantinga or Goldman believe it does. Like Luis, I’m yet to see an epistemology that does not welcome a defeasibility condition.

    Otherwise, I’m with you in thinking that, “in the end, you have to be a real true believer to deny K → J”. And, btw, congrats on the brilliant volume.

Leave a Reply

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