Epistemic Value

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Vahid on Epistemic Goals

The November edition of Philosophical Studies there appears this article of likely interest to our readers by Hamid Vahid.

"Aiming at Truth: Doxastic vs. Epistemic Goals"

Abstract Belief is generally thought to be the primary cognitive state representing the world as being a certain way, regulating our behavior and guiding us around the world. It is thus regarded as being constitutively linked with the truth of its content. This feature of belief has been famously captured in the thesis that believing is a purposive state aiming at truth. It has however proved to be notoriously difficult to explain what the thesis really involves. In this paper, I begin by critically examining a number of recent attempts to unpack the metaphor. I shall then proceed to highlight an error that seems to cripple most of these attempts. This involves the confusion between, what I call, doxastic and epistemic goals. Finally, having offered my own positive account of the aim-of-belief thesis, I shall underline its deflationary nature by distinguishing between aiming at truth and hitting that target (truth). I end by comparing the account with certain prominent inflationary theories of the nature of belief.

Alston, W. (1988): ‘The Deontological Conception of Epistemic Justification’, reprinted in Epistemic Justification , Cornell University Press, 1989.
BonJour, L. (1985): The Structure of Empirical Knowledge, Harvard University Press.
Bratman, M. (1999): ‘Practical Reasoning and Acceptance in a Context’, in Faces of Intention, Cambridge University Press.
Chisholm, R. (1987): Theory of Knowledge, 2nd edn., Prentice-Hall.
Cohen, J. (1992): An Essay on Belief and Acceptance, Oxford.
David, M. (2001): ‘Truth as the Epistemic Goal’ in M. Steup (ed.), Knowledge, Truth and Duty, Oxford University Press.
Davidson, D. (1984): ‘Radical Interpretation.’, in Truth and Interpretation, Oxford.
Davidson, D. (1986): ‘A Coherence Theory of Truth and Knowledge’, in E. LePore, (ed.), Truth and Interpretation, Basil Blackwell.
Foley, R. (1987): The Theory of Epistemic Rationality, Harvard University Press. Humberstone, L. (1992) "‘Direction of Fit’" Mind 101: 59-83
Kelly, T. (2003) "‘Epistemic Rationality as Instrumental Rationality: A Critique’" Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. LXVI 3: 612-640
Owens, D. (2003) "‘Does Belief Have an Aim?’" Philosophical Studies 115: 283-305
Velleman, D. (2000a): ‘On the Aim of Belief’, in The Possibility of Practical Reason, Oxford University Press.
Velleman, D. (2000b): ‘The Possibility of Practical Reason’, in The Possibility of Practical Reason, Oxford University Press.
Unwin, N. (2003) "‘What Does it Mean to Aim at Truth’" American Philosophical Quaterly 40: 91-104
Wedgwood, R. (2002) "‘The Aim of Belief’" Philosophical Perspectives 16: 267-297
Williams, B. (1973): ‘Deciding to Believe’ in Problems of the Self, Cambridge University Press.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Swamping Arguments

This weekend at the 4th Biennial Rochester Graduate Epistemology Conference, I commented on a paper "An Argument Against Swamping" by Kristoffer Ahlstrom from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

He said there are very few epistemologists in Sweden, so I'm glad that a significant percentage of them (him!) are working on value-driven epistemology.

Having said that, there seems to be a misconception that advocates of the swamping argument against reliabilist theories of knowledge can't hold that reliable belief forming processes are valuable. I've run into this a surprising number of times, even among people able to formulate a reasonable version of the swamping argument.

I want my belief to have the property of having been formed by reliable belief-forming processes. So I value such processes. What's more, I value them precisely in virtue of my desire to have true beliefs, for it might reasonably be thought that forming beliefs according to such methods is likely to result in my having some more true beliefs (it might even be true by definition).

Still, for any *given* belief, if I know that it's true, what do I care how it was formed? Well, I might care, but not *merely* from the standpoint of my desire to have true beliefs. This seems to me to be the point of Jon's Two Lists Argument (VK, 45-48).

Having said *that* there is an interesting idea suggested by Ahlstrom which few will like, but to which I'm actually somewhat receptive to in other contexts. Ahlstom seemed to want to argue that there was some independent value in the property having been formed by a reliable belief forming process which accrues to a belief B having that property in virtue of that property's having the following property: being such that most instantiations of it are true. Let's call this 2nd-order property P*.

On the face of it, it doesn't seem like the value of that property can "seep down into" the object-level instantiation. The target belief just is true and an instantiation of P* which has has nothing clear to do with other instantiations of P* which may or may not be true. But consider this example of a common phenomenon: I take especial pleasure in the fact that I'm going to the same grad school as Marshal Swain, Peter van Inwagen, et al (and where Richard Taylor and Keith Lehrer taught). This will no doubt strike most as just pure irrationality, but it's not *abundantly* clear to me that there isn't something to such thinking.

One might think that schools which have good M&E faculty/students will continue to do so (it's certainly been true in this case!). But w.r.t token faculty/students this can at best underwrite the expectation that they are likely to be good at M&E (no comments!). And one might think that processes or agents that have been reliable in the past are likely to continue to be reliable in the future. Still, this can at best underwrite the expectation that the next belief token will be true. So it seems to me at this point that the phenomenon sociologists call "basking in the reflective glory" are, at best, grounds for expectation of some target property will be realized in the reference class which the Swamping Argument shows don't help solve the Meno Problem.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Value of Knowledge Project in Australia (incl. CFP)

It looks as if Stirling is not the only place to have a dedicated research project on the value of knowledge, since there's a new project on this topic that's just been announced which is based in Australia. Here's the link. Notice as well that there's an international conference being organized in Sydney as part of the project, with a call for papers. Here's the link for that too.

The more the merrier I say!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Knowledge and Value Paper

You can download a draft of my new paper entitled 'Knowledge and Value' here. (It's also available on the Research Resources webpage). It's still very much at the draft stage, but I'll be speaking to this material as part of my Royal Institute of Philosophy Epistemology lecture next week and also at the Arche Basic Knowledge conference in St. Andrews in November, so it should improve rapidly over the coming weeks (here's hoping anyway!).

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Grimm on Zagzebski and Kvanvig on Understanding and Knowledge

The September issue of the British Journal for the Philosophy of Science contains the following interesting article.

"Is Understanding A Species Of Knowledge?"
Stephen R. Grimm

Among philosophers of science there seems to be a general consensus that understanding represents a species of knowledge, but virtually every major epistemologist who has thought seriously about understanding has come to deny this claim. Against this prevailing tide in epistemology, I argue that understanding is, in fact, a species of knowledge: just like knowledge, for example, understanding is not transparent and can be Gettiered. I then consider how the psychological act of ‘‘grasping’’ that seems to be characteristic of understanding differs from the sort of psychological act that often characterizes knowledge.


1 Zagzebski’s account
2 Kvanvig’s account
3 Two problems
4 Comanche cases
5 Unreliable sources of information
6 The upper-right quadrant
7 So is understanding a species of knowledge?
8 A false choice

Brit. J. Phil. Sci. 57 (2006), 515–535

There's a lot of interesting stuff on "thick" and "then" psychological states invovled in cognition--consider the "grasping" which occurs when we understand something--with some explanatory considerations pertaining to epistemic value.

"There is one further reason to think of the psychological component of understanding in terms of the richer notion of grasping, rather than the thinner notion of assent: namely, such a shift would help to shed light on why the epistemic gain we experience when we understand is so universally valued" (533).