Psychologists sometimes distinguish between two ways of getting evidence about a particular object. One way is to actually be in some kind of contact with the object itself, either by perceiving it directly or by observing something that has been caused by it (inside view). A second way is to learn certain facts about a more general category of which this object is a member (outside view).
Clearly, these two ways of getting evidence could turn out to be similar with regard to their reliability and with regard to the extent to which they allow a person to rule out alternative possibilities. Still, it seems that people have the intuition that these two kinds of evidence are deeply different from an epistemic point of view. That is, people feel that actually perceiving or examining an object is deeply different somehow from just making inferences about the object from more general information about a category.
Psychologist Ori Friedman and philosopher John Turri have a new paper in which they apply this distinction to questions about people’s epistemic intuitions and arrive at some very intriguing results.
For example, in one study, participants were randomly assigned to receive one of the following two vignettes:
[Outside view] Luigi purchased a plot of land in Springville. He has an electronic device that lists the likelihood that soil is terragenic. The device says there is only a 1-in-10-million chance that soil in Springfield is terragenic. So Luigi concludes that his soil is non-terragenic. And he is right: it is non-terragenic.
[Inside view] Luigi purchased a plot of land in Springville. He has an electronic device that tests the likelihood that soil is terragenic. The device says there is only a 1-in-10-million chance that Luigi’s soil is terragenic. So Luigi concludes that his soil is non-terragenic. And he is right: it is non-terragenic.
Though the probability of error is exactly the same in the two cases, the difference between outside and inside views led to different judgments as to whether the epistemic subject had knowledge. Specifically, a substantially greater percentage of participants said that Luigi knew the soil was non-terragenic in the inside view (48%) than in the outside view (27%).
This finding seems like it has a great deal of potential to illuminate questions about the lottery paradox and perhaps about a number of other important issues in epistemology. I would definitely encourage you to read the complete paper, but please feel free to write in with any thoughts even if you haven’t read it. I would love to hear any suggestions people might have about how to make sense of these results.