Trouble for E=K?

Here’s a view that I think some people are attracted to, a tripartite view of how positive epistemic standing is attained:

Tripartite View: For a belief to constitute knowledge, three elements have to be in place:
(a) There’s the belief about such and such;
(b) Independent representational state of mind that represents some such and such;
(c) The matter that the belief mentioned in (a) concerns that’s made rational by some state of mind mentioned in (b).

When it comes to rationality or justification, only the first two terms are supposed to matter. This seems harmless enough, but it looks like this view might be in tension with a view I know you all love:

E=K: Your evidence includes all and only what you know.

1. To know p, you have to have a reason to believe p where this reason is your reason for believing p, a reason that’s provided by a representational state of mind that’s independent from the belief that p.
2. This representational state either has p as its content or something distinct from p.
3. If the former, the state would (under suitable conditions) enable the subject to believe things for the reason that p.
4. The subject’s reason for believing p cannot be p.
5. Thus, if there is a representational state that provides you with a reason that enables you to know p perceptually, it must have a content that’s distinct from p.
6. Suppose that the representational state’s content is some distinct content, p’ and that (under suitable conditions), this representational state would enable the subject to believe things for the reason that p’.
7. To know p perceptually as a result of believing p for the reason that p’, you have to know p’.
8. To know p’, you have to have a reason to believe p’ where this reason is your reason for believing p’, a reason that’s provided by a representational state of mind that’s independent from the belief that p’.

Now, once you get to (8), it looks like we have the start of a vicious regress. The argument makes knowing p conditional on knowing p’ on the basis of p” and I think it’s clear that p” has to be distinct from both p and p’. If you think of your reasons for believing something as what convinced you that something was so, it’s hard to see how p could convince you that p’ and p convince you that p’.

What’s the best solution? (I have a favorite, but I’m not going to share it for a while.)


Trouble for E=K? — 5 Comments

  1. I would reject premise 3. A mental state with content p needn’t justify in virtue of its content. In fact, I don’t think propositions or mental content ever provide reasons for belief in and of themselves. I think reasons are entirely a product of how content is presented to the mind. If a representational state presents content to the mind as something that ought to be believed in order to fulfill our epistemic aims (that is, it seems to be true), then that state as a whole provides a reason for belief. The content isn’t the relevant justification-providing feature, though, the mode of presentation is. As a result, the qualifier at the end of 3 would be incorrect.

    • Hi Matt,

      Thanks for taking a look at this. One question about your proposal concerning (3). As I intended it, p would be a reason only because further conditions are met (e.g., that it was the content of the right kind of attitude + ???), so it’s not yet clear what our disagreement is about if I accept (3).

      Is your suggestion that a subject’s reason for believing something is never that something is so but always some state of mind? I could say that the state of mind provides the reason without it being the reason and that’s in the spirit of much of what you’ve said. Why shouldn’t we say that? Why identify a subject’s reasons with states of mind (if that’s your suggestion)?

  2. I was passing by, noticed this problem, and thought I should take a shot at it. My answer will assume an empirical understanding of knowledge, but could be adapted for a rationalist view.

    If I understood the problem correctly, the difficult could be summarized as the possibility of an infinite regress of justifications for a given belief.

    If that is the case, there are three classic possibilities (as in any ‘infinite regress’ scenario): either it would indeed be an infinite chain of justifications; or it would be circular; or there would be a first cause that, for some reason, would require no justification itself (Descartes’ ‘self-evident truths’ for example).

    While I do not recognize ‘self-evident truths’, I think there is a case to be made that the solution would be some axiomatic first cause of which would make no semantic sense asking for a justification.

    Concretely: I know I have hands because I have a large array of consistent memories of myself having hands (For simplicity, I’ll ignore the fact that I am presently using my hands typing this answer).

    I know I have those memories because I am subjectively experiencing some of them right now.

    I propose that the following question ‘how do I know I am experiencing those memories?’ is meaningless (language fails in that point), since ‘knowing’ is a correlation between a subjective state of mind and a objective state of being. I should not apply the word ‘know’ to my experiencing a subjective state of mind.

    I do not think my answer undermines E=K, but only redefine both to exclude a subjective experience that is taking placing in the moment of communication (I do not know ‘I am remembering’ something, nor do I have evidence for it, rather I experience remembering, and my memories are evidence of some p I know).

  3. Hi Clayton,

    I like the argument as it picks up on one of the many things that I’ve always found worrisome about the E=K thesis. However, I really just wanted to ask the following question: how do you conceive of the relation between a reason to believe that P and evidence for P? Do you conceive of (epistemic) reasons to believe to just *be* evidence that P? If one were to distinguish these two, a distinction that I don’t find plausible and seems ad hoc to me, then this might give some wiggle room for the defender of E=K to respond to the argument. One might admit that P is only known because it is based on a reason P* for believing P, but then one could deny 7 and say that this reason P* needn’t be known (but rather must simply be presented to the mind in the right kind of way as Matt suggested) in order for it be a reason that a subject has to believe P. And if reasons are not the same as evidence then there is no problem for E=K with denying that P* has to be known. However, as I said, I just wanted clarification on how you understood the relationship between reasons to believe and evidence.

  4. Pingback: Philosophers’ Carnival #171 | Nick Byrd

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