The New Evil Demon and the Frankfurt-Style Counterfactual Intervener

When I consider the NEDP for reliabilism, the intuitions involved seem to support the view that external properties (e.g. reliable belief production) are not directly relevant to justification.  Furthermore, I take the motivating principle that is behind the intuition in NEDP cases to be the following:

MP1: Only conscious, internal properties are directly relevant to justification.

(I mean ‘directly relevant’ in such a way that all MP1 is really expressing is that justificational properties supervene on conscious internal properties.)

I think this is a better lesson to draw than the more common

MP2: Only mental properties are directly relevant to justification.

This is because epistemologists like Jack Lyons have given good reasons to think that NEDP cases are good evidence that mental properties that are completely unaccessible to the believer are not directly relevant to justification.  But what about the following?

MP3: Only internal properties that are conscious or that the believer can make conscious are directly relevant to justification.

This is a nice middle position between MP1 and MP2.  However, there are NEDP cases that show that unconscious, accessible mental states are justificationally irrelevant.

Suppose Sally has justified belief B, and unconscious mental state M is (putatively) directly relevant to its justification.  From t1 to t2, Sally’s belief is justified, and Sally could have made M conscious.

Let Sally* be exactly like Sally except that, between t1 and t2, a demon simply watches for any sign that Sally* might try to make M conscious.  If she did, the demon would distract Sally* so that she could not make M conscious.  Fortunately, in the actual scenario, Sally* never tries to access M; her conscious state remains like Sally’s.  Intuitively, Sally*’s belief continues to be justified.

What to conclude?  It seems that whether Sally could or couldn’t make conscious an unconscious mental state is irrelevant to her belief’s justification. How could the intentions of a demon, perhaps a million miles away, be relevant to a belief’s justification?  And it is especially unlikely that any internalist would think the demon is relevant.  So, my Frankfurt-style case counts against what I call “accessibilist internalism”, the view that internalism is true, and some unconscious, but accessible internal states are directly relevant to justification.  This is a reason to accept MP1 as superior to MP3 as the motivating principle behind NEDP cases.

(I use this argument in the last section of an invited discussion piece that I am writing for Acta Analytica in reply to a paper by Kevin McCain.  A link to his paper and my paper are available here.  Comments are welcome.  I hope to submit it in a week or so.)


Comments

The New Evil Demon and the Frankfurt-Style Counterfactual Intervener — 14 Comments

  1. Hi Andrew,

    Why suppose that the accessibilist internalist must accept a fairly simple (and controversial) counterfactual analysis of accessibility? On an alternative analysis, the mere existence of your counterfactual intervener does not make Sally* such that she cannot make M conscious.

    • Thanks Matt. This was what you mentioned in your comments to me, and maybe you can help me understand you. I don’t know what analysis you’re presuming I’m making.

      Or how about this. There’s a straightforward grasp of the concept expressed by ‘can’ that I have when I consider MP2. And with that grasp, it seems to me that Sally* cannot make M conscious. What am I missing?

      • Andrew, thanks for the reply. What I have in mind is this. You seem to be supposing that (1): if S can do A, then: if S tried to do A, S would do A. Your demon would block Sally* from accessing M were she to try to access it, so you conclude that she cannot in fact access M.

        But (1) is suspicious. Jones, a good basketball player, can make a free throw. Given (1), if Jones tries to make a free throw, he would make a free throw. But if Jones in fact misses a free throw upon trying, from (1) plus a common view of counterfactuals it follows that he cannot make a free throw. That’s reason to worry about (1).

        • Ah, that helps. It’s valuable for me to think through this.

          Well, I don’t think I’m supposing/assuming that analysis. I’m just saying that, in her situation, Sally* can’t make her belief conscious. It also happens to be true that if she were to try to make her belief conscious, then she would fail. But I’m not analyzing “can” in that way.

          • I just thought of another way to put it. I don’t think I am assuming a counterfactual analysis of anymore than Frankfurt was assuming a counterfactual analysis of when he aimed his cases at PAP. The point was that Jones4, in Frankfurt’s case, could not do otherwise because of Black.

  2. Matt,
    I wonder if this will help bring us together. I think that the following is immune to my counterfactual intervener:

    MP4: Only internal properties that are conscious or that the believer has the ability to make conscious are directly relevant to justification.

    As I think of ability, it’s the sort of thing I have even when I’m not in a position to exercise. Maybe this is the better way to go for the internalist. Yeah?

      • crap, yeah, MP4 is a lot better.

        It is also undergirded by recent f.w. literature. Chris Franklin has recently distinguished between ability and opportunity; on his view, Sally* would have the ability to access her unconscious belief but not have the opportunity to exercise it because of the demon. One’s abilities nomically supervene on one’s intrinsic properties; opportunities do not. (See section 4 of his paper here or here.)

  3. Matt,
    Okay, I think I see a problem with

    MP4: Only internal properties that are conscious or that the believer has the ability to make conscious are directly relevant to justification.

    being the motivating principle. Suppose I formulated a NEDP case where a demon destroyed Sally*’s ability to make unconscious mental state M conscious for a 3-second interval. Intuitively, I say, Sally*’s belief is still justified.

    I predict you (and maybe Kevin) would say, “No, it does seem intuitive that the belief is unjustified during that interval.”

    Reply: whether Sally* has an ability seems to be an external property, the sort of thing that internalists do not think is justificationally relevant. It seems as external to me as, say, whether Sally* has a properly functioning faculty. But this property is very plausibly an external property, as is having an ability.

    Here’s another way to put it. The ability to make an unconscious property conscious is not an internal property but is supposed to be directly relevant to justification, so MP4 is internally inconsistent.

    • Interesting discussion so far!
      Andrew,

      I don’t quite see how your reply shows that there is a problem for MP4. According to MP4, only internal properties that are conscious or that one has the ability to make conscious are directly relevant to justification. (I’m going to replace talk of these “internal properties” with “mental states” because I think it will make what I say a bit clearer). You seem to be objecting on the grounds that whether one has the ability to make a particular mental state conscious is an external fact. Which you claim is external in the same sense as that the proper functioning of a cognitive faculty is external. These seem to me to be importantly different though. Whether a particular cognitive faculty functions properly or not seems to be at least in part a property of the faculty itself (or importantly grounded in the features of that faculty). However, whether one has the ability to make a particular mental state conscious is not a property of that mental state.

      Additionally, even if the property of having the ability to make a mental state conscious is external in the sense that you claim, I don’t see how this makes MP4 internally inconsistent. The property of having this ability or not seems only indirectly relevant to justification–it is relevant only insofar as the mental states that can be made conscious are directly relevant. MP4 only claims that internal states of a particular kind are “directly” relevant.

      One final point, if your claim about the second disjunct of MP4 works, it seems that something similiar could be said about the first disjunct. Whether a mental state is conscious or not is an external property. So, claiming that only mental states that are conscious are directly relevant is internally inconsistent because whether a mental state is conscious is an external fact. But, this seems to be clearly mistaken. So, I think that the objection you raise for the second conjunct fails too. It strikes me that the move you make might be similar to a mistake that people sometimes make in claiming that everyone is an externalist because internalists grant that facts about epistemic support are external facts. At any rate, it’s not clear to me that MP4 has a problem.

      • “MP4: Only internal properties that are conscious or that the believer has the ability to make conscious are directly relevant to justification.

        As I think of ability, it’s the sort of thing I have even when I’m not in a position to exercise. Maybe this is the better way to go for the internalist. Yeah?”

        I’m a little bit tired, so please take with a grain of salt. I think there’s a problem here. Suppose Wally has some good evidence that he’s not in state M. Suppose Wally is in state M. The upshot is that this evidence is misleading. Also, suppose Wally has the ability to make M conscious, but the ability cannot be exercised because of the demon.

        Should Wally believe he’s in M?

        I’d think that the internalist should think the answer is that Wally should believe he’s not in M. That’s what the available evidence indicates and Wally cannot exercise his ability to make M conscious. MP4, however, seems to deliver a different verdict. If M has the same ‘direct relevance’ as the properties that are conscious, I’d think that Wally either ought to suspend judgment or (better) see that the evidence is misleading and see that he’s in M.

  4. Clayton,

    I think you’re right about there being a problem for MP4 when coupled with the view of ability that Matt mentions. I also think that internalists will want to say what you mention about the case. This inclines me to think that maybe internalists should simply accept that the demon in Andrew’s Frankfurt case can make a difference to one’s justification and accept a different formulation of the relevant principle.

    Andrew,
    After considering Clayton’s point and looking back over your original post, I’m unclear about a couple things. 1) Why shouldn’t internalists accept that the MP2 really is the motivation behind the NEDP? You mention work by Jack that gives reasons for thinking that some mental states aren’t directly relevant to justification, but that isn’t a problem for MP2. MP2 as stated only gives a necessary condition for being directly relevant to justification, so the fact that some mental states aren’t directly relevant doesn’t seem to pose any problem for MP2. 2) Why shouldn’t the internalist simply accept that the demon’s intentions in your Frankfurt case do make a difference to justification? After all, the demon affects what mental states Sally* can access. As I think about it this doesn’t seem like much of a bullet to bite. Can you make the worry with that move more pressing?

    • Hi Clayton, maybe you could tell me more about the Wally case, since I’m not seeing the worry for MP4. MP4 implies that certain things aren’t directly relevant to justification, but it has no implications about exactly what is directly relevant in any particular case, or about how to weigh what’s relevant. Since MP4 is disjunctive, it can be true even if the second disjunct is false, or even if in a particular case no non-conscious state is directly relevant to justification.

      Or was MP4 meant to state something stronger? Even so, the Wally case doesn’t seem to support the following generalization that would threaten the stronger thesis: for no S is there a non-conscious state of S’s that S is able to make conscious and that is directly relevant to S’s justification. Sorry if I’m missing the obvious here!

  5. I’ve been thinking about some of these comments and getting clearer on what “direct relevance” means. I had it worked out in my earlier paper (direct relevance talk should be translatable into supervenient talk), but I’m having to remember my notes that never got into the final paper.

    I will note to Kevin that it’s crazy to think that the justificational status of Sally*’s belief changes because of the intentions of a demon millions of miles away. That seems to me to go against the spirit of internalist, and if I were to accept that those factors could be justificationally relevant, then I’d might as well just stay externalist!

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