Epistemic Value

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

New Paper on Scepticism and Epistemic Value

I've just finished a first draft of my paper, 'Scepticism, Epistemic Luck and Epistemic Value', a version of which I'll be presenting at next year's Joint Session of the Mind and Aristotelian Society (Martijn Blaauw will be be my commentator). If you're interested in looking at this, then it's available here. As always, comments welcome!


  • At 12:47 PM, Blogger Duncan Pritchard said…

    Posted on behalf of Nenad Miscevic:


    In your work you offer a nice bipartite picture of epistemic luck, with veritic luck VL at the bottom, and reflective luck RL as a more sophisticated kind of luck. And a bipartite evaluation: VL is absolutely prohibited, but fortunately not needed, whereas RL is a kind of necessary small evil. Unfortunately, there are reasons to think that


    You offer a definition of VL tailored only to fully contingent beliefs. There is a problem with it:

    1. In our practice of evaluating doxastic performances there is no specific notion of luck in forming fully contingent beliefs, neither an explicit nor an implicit one.

    1a. There is no specific notion of VL-for-contingent-beliefs, capturable fully in terms of variation in possible worlds, while leaving the states of the cognizer fixed. And there is no theoretical need to introduce one.

    Example 1

    Geography teacher: Michael did so well on the test about capitals of foreign countries, and you know, he didn’t work at all, and has terrible grades on the oral exam. I suppose he was just guessing, and had this huge luck.

    Math teacher: Funny you are saying this, exactly the same thing happened with him in my class, with the math test. He must have had huge luck indeed.

    Ordinary judgments of luck in cognitive matters don’t seem to distinguish even between the modal extremes of fully contingent and fully, logically necessary beliefs.

    Example 2. From my student, Marina Bakalova:
    George, who has no hint of where Barcelona is guesses on May the first that it is sunny in Barcelona (it is sunny in George’s town and he has good heart and just doesn’t feel like imagining things being sadly different elswhere). In fact, the metereology of the region is such that it is almost impossible to rain there in late April and early May. In almost all close worlds, it is sunny in Barcelona. But it is not a matter of one strict law. Still, George’s belief is true by luck.
    Intuition: George’s belief is true by luck not because of the modal situation of worlds, but because given his method and his ignorance of geography and climatology, he could have easily made a guess in the opposite direction, and believed that it is rainy there. The element of luck has to do with his method and with what he knows (or ignores).

    Example 3 SuperLass
    The horse SuperLass is actually so much better, genetically superior, than others, that in most close possible worlds she always wins. John the ignorant makes a guess that SuperLass will win. And she wins. But the guess was lucky.

    You might at this juncture argue that all the truths in question are hidden nomic truths.
    But, this will leave you with quite meager bag of FULLY contingent truths. Further, in ordinary beliefs there is no clear line between hard nomic truths, soft nomic truths and very probable propositions. And there is no reason to thing that any notion of epistemic luck would be tracing such subtle metaphysical distinctions.

    I assume that you do agree that we need a more unitary and more general notion of luck, he might say VL . And here comes the problem:

    2. Any more general notion of luck, faithful to our normal practice of judging doxastic performances has to include the cognizer, her states, methods and background beliefs-“knowledge”.

    3. Any consideration of background beliefs or “knowledge” involves assessing how things might be for all the agent knows.

    Examples 1-3 are all crucially concerned with background beliefs of the agent, i.e. of how things might be as regards capitals of countries, mathematical formulas, weather in Barcelona, and speed of horses in Great Britain, for all the respective agents know. If we abstract from this consideration, we will not be able to arrive at any decision about Michael, George, and the rest of the crew.

    4. Considerations of how things might be “ for all the agent knows” raises issues of what Pritchard calls “reflective luck”.

    5. The issues of this so-called “reflective luck” are not special to some one kind of consideration of epistemic luck, but part and parcel of our basic judging of doxastic performances, and in particular of judging that a given belief is true (or has some related positive status) by luck.

    6. The issues of the so-called “reflective luck” cannot be separated from the issues allegedly pertaining to VL, and are not separated in normal practice of judging doxastic performances.

    7. (RL) is not a special kind of luck opposed to veritic luck (VL).

    hope to hear your opinion

  • At 12:39 PM, Blogger Duncan Pritchard said…

    Hi Nenad,

    This is very interesting, thanks. In order to get a handle on what you have in mind here, can you tell me what you say about the cases I offer where the two notions of luck come apart? For example, in the chicken-sexer case, as I describe it, the agent has no refelctively accessible grounds in support of his beleif, and hence his beleif is refelctively lucky. Nevertheless, the way he is forming his beleif is via a genuine ability, and so is not veritically lucky. If I read you right, I think you'd want to say that such a case is impossible because the method in this case must necessarily advert to the relevant reflectively accessible grounds, and hence that the agent doesn't know after all. But that's to sign up to a form of internalism that I don't accept. What's your line on this Nenad?

    Thanks again for the comments!


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