Williamson on the Norm of Belief

Matt W. notes the perplexity over at TAR caused by the following remark of Williamson’s:

Knowledge is the norm of belief: a flat-out belief is fully justified if and only if it constitutes knowledge.

The perplexity is caused by reading his use of the language of justification in terms of that notion typically employed in the attempt to analyze knowledge. I don’t think this is what Williamson is saying, and the following passage from Knowledge and Its Limits (pp. 255-6) makes clear how to understand the remark above:

On this analogy between assertion and belief, the knowledge rule for assertion does not correspond to an identification of reasonable belief with knowledge. . . . The rule makes knowledge the condition for permissible assertion, not for reasonable assertion. One may reasonably do something impermissible because one reasonable but falsely believes it to be permissible. In particular, one may reasonabley assert p, even though one does not know p, because it is very probable on one’s evidence that one knows p. In the same circumstances, one may reasonably but impermissibly believe p without knowing p.

Given the distinction between reasonability and permissibility, I think it is clear that the ordinary notion of justification employed in the typical analysis of knowledge is what Williamson refers to as reasonability, and Williamson’s use of “fully justified” in the former quote corresponds to his language of permissibility in the latter quote.


Williamson on the Norm of Belief — 8 Comments

  1. As I said at TAR, I think that there is still a puzzle about Williamson’s reception of Gettier cases. If one buys the existence of Gettier cases, then E=K is untenable–in Gettier cases, both what is justified and what justifies fall short of knowledge. At the very least, some fancy footwork is needed.

  2. As I said earlier, we should only buy the existence of Gettier cases for non-factive notions of justification. Williamson recognizes both a factive notion of justification (“fully justified”) and a non-factive notion (“justified to some less-than-maximal extent”). In his view, it is only the latter that allows for Gettier cases. (Perhaps this is what Juan means by “fancy footwork” but it doesn’t seem so fancy to me!)

    Of course, given Williamson’s principle E = K, even in the cases of less-than-maximal justification, although what is justified falls short of knowledge, the other term of the justification relation — what does the justifying — does not fall short of knowledge. I agree with both of you in rejecting E = K, but I really don’t see how you can refute it just by pointing to the existence of Gettier cases.

  3. I thought that Rich Feldman’s ‘An alledged defect in Gettier counter-examples’ (1974-ish) was designed to show that Gettier-style counter-examples do not depend upon the justification conferring belief being false. I haven’t the paper in my files here, but I seem to recall that it worked by appealing to belief in an existentially quantified sentence that remains true even though it fails to confer justification to the target belief. Do I have this wrong?

  4. That’s right, Gregory, but (if Feldman’s cases do work) that only shows that patches to the JTB account on the lines of the “no false lemmas” idea will fail. It doesn’t show that the original Gettier cases are not Gettier cases, and that’s all that is needed to show that what justifies need not be knowledge.

  5. Juan — in the Gettier cases that you have in mind, there is a false lemma. But Williamson would say that in each of these cases, what justifies the true belief that doesn’t count as knowlege is not this false lemma, but whatever justifies this lemma — e.g., everything that you know that leads you to the false lemma that Smith owns a Ford (from which you then infer the true conclusion that either Smith owns a Ford or Brown is in Barcelona).

  6. Ralph–right, that is the fancy footwork I referred to. Why on Earth would one say that–unless you want to defend E=K? And suppose I don’t infer my belief that Smith owns a Ford from any other belief?

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