sosa on foley

Sosa criticizes Foley’s theory here, but I think the criticism misunderstands Foley’s theory. Sosa says:

About Foley’s stance, it does provide a unifying connection to truth if only via the requirement of a deep commitment to the T principles, which speak of truth and not only of justification. This sense of justification, Foley-rationality, is plausibly epistemic. It amounts to conforming to one’s own deep epistemic standards. But a believer might conceivably have standards that are epistemically quite deplorable no matter how deep, as would someone deeply committed to the dicta of astrology. But the point can also be made without recourse to what is only hypothetically so, in some remote possible world. Deepest standards for belief regulation in our actual world can have functions that bear less on truth than on solidarity and coordination, as with some primitive myths, which seem plausibly to require nothing short of belief if they are to satisfy their latent functions. Can it plausibly be supposed that it is nevertheless their sheer depth that gives the relevant standards epistemic efficacy? Surely there must be some further sense of justification that matters in epistemology.

There are two criticisms here, and one of them is fair, in the sense that it addresses what Foley actually claims. But the other doesn’t, I think. Sosa considers standards of belief regulation aimed at goals other than the truth: at solidarity and coordination, for example. Here I think the criticism is directed at a theory that is not Foley’s. As I recall, Foley’s theory adverts to one’s deepest standards for pursuing the goal of getting to the truth and avoiding error now, not just one’s deepest standards, irrespective of the goal. If my memory is correct, then this criticism is misplaced.

The other criticism remains however, but some clarification is needed to make it apply to Foley’s theory. For Foley, one’s standards have to do with the argument forms one accepts, and the dicta of astrology do not count as argument forms. There is the aspect of Foley’s view that makes it foundationalist, where some claims are acceptable without argument at all, and here the criticism might have a bit more bite, since it could be that a person’s deepest standards allowed for acceptance of the dicta of astrology without argument.

Notice, however, that Sosa doesn’t conclude that Foley’s account would be mistaken if it counted such dicta as justified (or rational). Instead, the only conclusion he endorses is that there must be some other sense of justification that matters in epistemology. I’m inclined to be Occamist about multiplying senses of terms in epistemology and elsewhere beyond necessity, so I’d like an explanation why something further is needed in epistemology. What role does the concept of justification play in epistemology that Foley’s latitudinarian theory can’t play? Here’s an idea: if you add true belief to Foley-rationality, together with a suitable response to the Gettier problem, you’ll have a theory of knowledge still subject to counterexample. Is there a good argument for this conclusion? I’d be surprised to see such an argument; in fact, I think there’s a good argument that this claim is false. So that leads me to wonder what other grounds one would cite to justify multiplying senses of justification.

Here’s an idea: Foley’s account doesn’t explain enough of our intuitions, and violates too many others, to be a complete account of justification (rationality). But if this is the reason, isn’t it a reason to conclude, not that there is another sense of justification, but rather that Foley’s theory is simply wrong? That’s the way it seems to me.


sosa on foley — 4 Comments

  1. Hi Jon. About your Occamism with respect to senses of justification…Iâ??m in the awkward place of having to pick a former teacher to defend, but I guess it seems to me on this issue that Sosaâ??s guarded conclusion is apt. Occamism about senses of justification, it seems to me, would be appropriate only if we had a clear way of picking out in a theory-neutral way what single property it is that epistemologists are arguing about when they argue about justification. But I’m not convinced we have this. One might try to understand doxastic justification in a theoretically neutral way by saying that it is doing well with respect to a truth goal, and one might add also that justification isnâ??t factive (so that mere true belief or knowledge wonâ??t count). But if one sets up the debate this way, thereâ??s no guarantee that there will be a single property that fits the bill. There may well be many different ways of doing well with respect to the truth goal, and we would do well to be on guard to this possibility. If we find that some theory, Foleyâ??s for instance, gets at a way of doing well with respect to the truth goal but doesnâ??t capture another important way of doing well, it seems appropriate to say that weâ??ve missed an important sense of justification.

    You indicate a different way of trying to get at what justification is in a theory-neutral wayâ??itâ??s the variable J in the equation â??J + true belief + Gettier Condition = Knowledgeâ??. Iâ??m not so sure that a correct analysis of knowledge will factor out this way, but even if so, itâ??s not clear to me at least that this is what guides _my_ intuitions about justification, and I suspect others may be in the same boat. Suppose that reliabilists tomorrow come up with an counterexample-free analysis of knowledge that includes a justification condition that entails reliability and another condition that rules out all Gettier counterexamples. Would your internalist intuitions about justification subside? I donâ??t think mine would, and I donâ??t think that I would be inclined to say that Iâ??m thinking about an epistemic property that is not properly called â??justificationâ??.

  2. Hi, Michael, good to see you here, and to find out that you’re at Notre Dame now. That’s very nice!

    I certainly agree about your latter point (though I can’t imagine what a reliabilist theory could look like that is counterexample-free! 🙂 ), but maybe we have a mild disagreement about the former. I think we find a term being used in a variety of contexts having to do with both actions and beliefs (as well as other mental states such as desires, hopes, fears, etc.), with no obviously contextual or syntactic indicators of ambiguity. Given this situation, the starting point would seem to be to find the property that is common to all such uses of the term in question, and try to construct a theory about it. In doing so, we will find that there is some ambiguity–for instance, the ambiguity between epistemic and pragmatic uses of the term–but we’ll need a reason to adopt the ambiguity theory. Especially, I think we shouldn’t posit ambiguity to resolve disputes between theories. In general, I suspect that the grounds I’m willing to countenance for positing ambiguity will be syntactic or contextual in character, and rarely if ever as a result of theoretical considerations (though the distinctions here are really hard to draw).

  3. Jon,

    My guess is that Sosa would not cling too tightly to the term ‘justification’, but rather advert to the more Chisholmian ‘positive epistemic status’. Foley-rationality is clearly a kind of positive epistemic status, and provides us with a clear way of evaluating (epistemically) people’s beliefs. But it can’t be the only sort of positive epistemic status relevant in epistemology (for basically the reasons already mentioned, especially the bit about obviously bad foundational standards).

    In any event, my understanding is that ‘justification’ is a term of art in epistemological theorizing, and that people ordinarily speak of beliefs being “rational” or “reasonable,” rather than “justified.” So I wouldn’t be surprised if intuitions about the ambiguity of ‘justification’ were driven primarily by theoretical considerations. Neither do I think that’s inappropriate, given that we’re dealing with a technical expression.

  4. John, very good point here, and Sosa’s argument, in the context of a more non-committal term like positive epistemic status, is much more persuasive. In fact, I don’t think Foley would disagree with the conclusion in that case.

    I think that it’s not quite correct, though, to think of ‘justification’ as a term of art in epistemology, somehow unrelated to ordinary language. Even if it’s only home were in philosophy, it won’t follow that it’s just a technical expression. Every discipline invents their own vocabulary, and these terms come to have an ordinary sense in roughly the same way language develops outside of philosophy, and we are not inclined to treat special vocabulary as always theory-driven outside of philosophy. Equally important, however, is that you can find the same use of the term ‘justified’ outside of philosophy, most notably in law cases. Quite regularly, you can find reference to verdicts and opinions being justified by the evidence, or not. It is true that such language is not as common as ordinary language about justified actions, but that point doesn’t have much in the way of probative value.

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