Reflections on Pacific Events

I’ve gotten so used to pessimism about the quality of APA presentations that I’m perhaps too selective about what I’ll make the effort to go hear, and I was pleasantly surprised to be reminded of this point by some excellent sessions this past week.  Three sessions in particular stood out in my mind as particularly worth attending and thinking about after the session was over.  Remarks below the fold about sessions by Coffman, Salerno, and Leite.

One very fun session was EJ Coffman’s talk, with Wayne Riggs as commentator, concerning the relationship between luck and control, and the connection between these and freedom.  I had read earlier versions of EJ’s paper, but the session and the discussion were first-rate.  One of EJ’s endearing traits is solicitious receptiveness to audience perspectives, which sometimes encourages questioners to lose contact with reality concerning when an objection has been decisively answered, but most of the discussion was in terms of really good questions and attempted counterexamples.

Second, Joe Salerno’s new paradox of happiness was really interesting.  As occurs usually in the knowability paradox, he endorsed a principle about happiness distributing across conjunction (in knowability, the claim is that if you know a conjunction, you know each of its conjuncts; with happiness, it is that if you are happy that a conjunction is true, you are happy that each conjunct is true).  That distributivity claim for happiness is false, I think:  it is in conflict with the logic of defeat.  If you are happy that you were comforted by your dissertation director while you were anxious about your upcoming defense, it doesn’t follow that you were happy that you were anxious.  But the principle is dispensable for purposes of the paradox.  If happiness is factive (if you are happy that p, then p), and any truth is part of a conjunction regarding which someone can be happy, there will be problems if there are some truths about which no one is (conjunctively) happy (this point mirrors the Williamson result that the knowability paradox can be generated without distribution, in terms of what is conjunctively known).

Finally, Adam Leite’s session was superb, and the discussion with the audience first-rate.  The question that remained for me after the discussion was the following principle that Adam endorsed: if p is false, then it isn’t evidence for anyone.  I wondered whether he meant to derive this result by endorsing Williamson’s idea that your evidence is just what you know, but he said “no”.  I’m inclined to think that things can be evidence for one even if false if evidentialism is true, since one can reason explicitly to a conclusion from premises derived directly from experience.  For example, if my experience is that of seeing a colleague at an APA meeting, I might reason to conclusion that I’ll be able to find them at the book display at a certain time using past experience plus the belief just formed.  Presumably, this book display belief can be justified in this way, and will be justified independently of whether the belief that my colleague is at the APA is true.  To the extent that we want to explain rationality or justification of belief in terms of evidence, I think we need to reject the claim that false things can’t be evidence, but I can see the beginnings of an argument against evidentialism here as well.


Comments

Reflections on Pacific Events — 6 Comments

  1. “The question that remained for me after the discussion was the following principle that Adam endorsed: if p is false, then it isn’t evidence for anyone.”

    (Shockingly) I think this is right. I think there are some linguistic considerations that suggest that evidence must consist of true propositions if evidence is understood propositionally. (I’ve argued this in a couple of places.)

    Quick question about your example. You wrote, “For example, if my experience is that of seeing a colleague at an APA meeting, I might reason to conclusion that I’ll be able to find them at the book display at a certain time using past experience plus the belief just formed. Presumably, this book display belief can be justified in this way, and will be justified independently of whether the belief that my colleague is at the APA is true.” Why can’t we just say that your belief is justified (in part) by the true proposition that it seemed perceptually to you that you saw your colleague? It’s true, you know it, and it seems that given this truth plus other truths you could be rational in believing what you come to believe.

    Do you dislike this response because you think that propositions beyond this one about what it seems you see do justificatory work (i.e., among the propositions included in your evidence is the proposition that the friend was there to be seen) or because you don’t like the implication that two subjects in precisely the same non-factive mental states can have different evidence? (Or both?)

  2. Hi Clayton, I set up the example so that (i) the experience in question justifies the belief that one’s colleague is at the meeting, and (ii) one reasons explicitly from the content of this belief to the reasonable conclusion about where one might find one’s colleague. When one reasons explicitly from one claim to another, the (doxastic) justification of the conclusion depends on the justification of the premises. And so, on evidentialist assumptions, the premise needs to be part of one’s evidence.

  3. Hey Jon,

    That helps, thanks. One of the things I’ve found frustrating about reading some evidentialist authors is that they are often too cagey in saying what’s included in someone’s evidence. (Saying that two subjects in the same non-factive mental states have the same evidence allows you to be pretty noncommittal and say evidence is non-propositional, or consists of true propositions about those states, or consists of propositions that needn’t be about those states or be true, or (?) idealism.)

    I think that a view that isn’t sufficiently explored in the literature (yet) is one that says that evidence must consists of truths but tries to do justice to the fact subjects in the good and bad case are equally rational in spite of the (alleged) fact that subjects in the bad case who have less evidence than we have by stealing some pages from Broome and saying that rationality does not necessarily consist of correctly responding to reasons. We go externalist about the reasons themselves (all truths and any truth known to us non-inferentially) while trying to remain internalist about rationality (responding to what you took the reasons to be in such a way that had the reasons been what you thought, you wouldn’t had been wrong). Of course, such a view has to say what that thing is that figures in reasoning that isn’t evidence and say something about the role that evidence plays but I’m interested to get a look at Leite’s paper to see how he’s developed his view.

  4. Clayton,

    Mark Schroeder has some really good papers developing something very much like the view you express sympathy towards here (except his view is unlike Broome’s insofar as it’s narrow-scope). See his ‘Having Reasons’ and ‘What Does it Take to ‘Have’ a Reason?’

    (fwiw, I explore the possibility that you’re both wrong in several papers).

  5. “The question that remained for me after the discussion was the following principle that Adam endorsed: if p is false, then it isn’t evidence for anyone.”

    The principle seems false. I might form the perceptually based belief that you’re standing within two feet of Smith. It’s actually 2.5 feet, but the belief is nonetheless evidence that you’re within a mile of Smith.

  6. Hi Mike,

    Is your intuition that *that you’re standing within two feet of Smith* is evidence that you’re within a mile of Smith?

Leave a Reply

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