Sosa raises the problem of the speckled hen for Fumerton’s account of justification, an account that depends on direct acquaintance with experiential states and the with the relationship of correspondence between these states and certain facts. The example involves the experience of a hen with 48 speckles, but where any belief formed on the basis of such an experience is unjustified (after all, if you’re a normal human being, forming such a specific belief upon seeing such a hen would be ridiculous).
I’m looking at a draft of a response to this problem by Rich, which includes a response of the sort I indicate below. But first, there is one kind of response to this problem that seems not to work. Rich agrees that it doesn’t work, though I think his reasons are a bit different from mine. The account asks us to distinguish between properties of the experience that one notices and properties that one doesn’t. So, on this account, one notices the property of being a hen and having speckles, but not the property of having 48 speckles, and that’s why we’re not justified in believing that the hen has 48 speckles.
Such claims may be plausible about ordinary human beings. At least it is true that we don’t notice the latter property. The only means I have for drawing the conclusion that my experience has such an unnoticed property, however, is to notice that we don’t form the related belief, but do form the related beliefs for the other properties. So when someone says, “well, just imagine someone who does notice the latter property, with no other changes from what normal human beings are like: if they form the belief that the hen has 48 speckles, their belief would still be unjustified,” it’s hard to see how to respond.
What can one say to this objection? Well, one might bow one’s neck and insist that the belief would be justified. But recall the point that the only way you can tell whether you’re noticing a property or not is with reference to whether you form the belief in circumstances where you lack reason for thinking perceptual conditions are abnormal in a way that makes them untrustworthy. The problem is not that this point refutes the theory; it’s that if this point is granted, then the theory is too good. It appeals to noticing a characteristic that has the occult property of explaining the justificatory status of perceptual beliefs. When the objector says to add noticing, and the related belief is still unjustified, we want an account that makes intelligible why noticing doesn’t allow the related belief to be present and unjustified, and the mere claim that it doesn’t fails to provide such intelligibility.
So, what about the following alternative? We have an experience prompted by a 48-speckled hen. Conditions are normal, and one is an ordinary human with ordinary perceptive abilities. Assume that there is no vagueness associated with the hen having 48 speckles. Will one be appeared to 48-speckled-henly? Why not just many-speckled-henly?
Suppose we put this question as follows: is experience fully determinate in terms of the properties it possesses? If the way one is appeared to is fully determinate, then one could notice this feature of it. But if the appearance is not fully determinate, one couldn’t. It’s simply not there to be noticed.
Notice as well that this question of the nature of experience can be investigated independently. If we had a good scientific theory of the brain, we might be able to correlate brain states with experiential states, and find out that after a certain number of speckles, the brain state remains the same.
Moreover, armchair speculation would seem to suggest that we shouldn’t expect experience to be fully determinate. Exactly what level of determinateness is characteristic of experience, I don’t know; but wouldn’t it be plausible to formulate the direct acquaintance theory in terms of an account of experience of this sort? Then, when faced with Sosa’s hen, the answer is: to add to the description of the case noticing the 48 speckles, you’ve got to imagine the person with enhanced perceptual capacities, and if you do that, you no longer have any reason to assume that the belief would be unjustified. Just as in baseball where hitters with fantastic eyesight can see a different spin on a curveball versus a fastball, some imaginary perceivers might have an experience involving the property of having 48 speckles. You and I don’t, but if we did, we could justifiably believe that the hen has 48 speckles on the basis of that experience (even though given our present experience we can’t). That’s just like the gifted hitter being justified in believing that the pitch is a curveball when those with weaker vision would be unjustified in so believing.