Epistemic Value

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.

4 Comments:

  • At 8:07 PM, Blogger Clayton said…

    Trent wrote, "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)."

    But how does that show that the property of having been produced by a reliable process is (a) valuable or (b) valuable in such a way that our theories of justification should capture.

    I value beliefs that are odd. I want my beliefs to be odd. Oddness is not an epistemically interesting property.

    Now, there's an asymmetry between my love of odd beliefs and your love of reliably produced true beliefs, to be sure. Your love is grounded in the love of truth. Given that, isn't it fair to ask how such a grounded desire means there's an additional value over and above the value of truth?

     
  • At 9:25 PM, Blogger Clayton said…

    Sorry, had to run to class...

    This is a continuation on the last paragraph of my previous comment.

    We contrast the perspective of someone who goes to Rochester not knowing whether they'll be good at M&E and two persons looking back who discovered whether they were good at M&E (One is, one isn't).

    I can see why someone ignorant of whether they'll be good at M&E might prefer Rochester to alternative programs on the ground that in the past, students who've graduated from there are good at M&E. What I don't see is why this perspective is the right one to look at. If we look at things from the perspective of those who know whether they were good, we should ask the one who is good whether there is an additional value and the one who isn't good whether they think there's any value of having gone to a place that could have made them good and from this perspective, it seems that they won't think there is such an additional value of having come from these programs.

    I think from the perspective of retrospective evaluation, knowing whether your beliefs are true or whether you are good at M&E, you'll not be disposed to think that there is an additional value over and above these values. I think that this is the perspective we must occupy in judging these things rather than the person who was ignorant of the facts needed to determine whether the basic value was realized (truth, being good at M&E).

    I can't quite tell, but are you denying this at the end Trent or not?

     
  • At 6:13 PM, Blogger Trent_Dougherty said…

    Clayton! You've cleaned up! (at least you've shaved ;-)~

    I'm not so confident I follow your question, but I think that when I look back I don't care so much whether my true beliefs were formed by reliable belief-forming processes.

    However, I *do* think there is additional epistemic value to true beliefs which have the right kind of internalist virtue.

     
  • At 9:40 PM, Blogger Clayton said…

    Trent,

    The picture is deceiving, I'm in pretty shabby shape today.

    I was curious about the idea (couldn't tell if it was yours) that because we desire reliability (in some sense) there's a sense in which reliability is valuable. It seems that some desirable characteristics about belief (e.g., being odd or surprising or about odd or surprising states of affairs), the desire doesn't register or confer an epistemic value on the belief. How does desiring that one's beliefs be produced by reliable processes help the reliabilist capture the idea that reliability confers its own value.

    The second worry, which I guess you share, is just that while it might be prudent to rely on the reliable methods, retrospective evaluation doesn't help us see any epistemic value over and above success. I'm somewhat sympathetic to the suggestion that the internal properties can confer some sort of epistemic value on belief, however.

     

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