forum 3: week of 23 Jan - Lewis II

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Look at what Lewis says about how experience rules out possibilities on p 553. This looks at first like good old empiricism. But it isn't. How is it different? He suggests advantages of his approach, but there are also disadvantages. State them?
We will look at his list of rules. What are they rules of? They are not rules of good method - how to think in order to get knowledge. So what are they?
Why are the rules of actuality and belief there? (They can't say that if you believe it you know it, or that everything true is known. So what do they say?)
The rule of resemblance is supposed to take care of Gettier cases. I'm rather suspicious of it.
The rule of attention, on page 559 (read 560 with it in mind) is crucial to the aim of the paper. Do you buy it? (If you're inclined to agree, think of some problems with it. If you're inclined to disagree, think of some cases where it seems plausible.)

17:59, 20 January 2012

I'm just putting in a fake reply to bring this thread to the top of the list. It's confusing if it isn't there, even though I've numbered them. AM

22:56, 21 January 2012

I'm actually unclear on Lewis's method of ruling out possibility with experience; is he saying that even false experiences can rule out possibilities, so long as those possibilities conflict with the content of that experience? For example, say John bought a lottery ticket, and watched the program, where all the numbers matched the ones on his ticket. So John goes in to cash in his ticket, and it turns out that he watched a rerun of the show from last week, so his ticket is no longer the winning one. So the subject's experience at the moment of watching the rerun is that of winning the lottery; however, the possibility of him accidentally watching a rerun as opposed to the current show eliminates the fact of his victory. But subject's experience DOES eliminate the possibility of not winning the lottery before he realizes that the show was a rerun. Can it be said then that John won the lottery, because his experience at the time eliminates the possibility that the show he's watching is an old one?

08:50, 23 January 2012
 

I have a problem with the Rule of Actuality as it applies to Lewis' attempt to resolve the issue of relevant alternatives. Lewis clearly states that "actuality is always a relevant alternative" and in class we discussed the pseudo-history of a flat Earth. So, if at the time no-one brought up the possibility of a oblate-spheroid Earth, but it is in fact the actuality, no-one could know the Earth was flat. This is fine, for me, perfectly clear when looking back. But doesn't that mean, then, that when deciding if a possibility is relevant, we must consider everything because the actuality has yet to be determined? And to bend the rules of conversation to ignore some alternative that everyone feels is irrelevant is bad argumentation because they cannot all be certain that it is not, in fact, the actuality.

I may not be making myself clear but I feel that there is a circularity or a regression (and I haven't quite worked out which, either).

23:20, 23 January 2012

I second that problem. As finite beings we can never truly "know" whether a belief we hold is identical to the actual state of things, and similarly we can never "know", definitively speaking, whether relevant alternatives we disregard for rational reasons may actually obtain. It's easy to say that we can't ignore the actual state of things (and also makes sense to say so), but at the same time, unless we are allowed to make large leaps in judgement regarding actuality its difficult to find how practical the Rule of Actuality is.

In a certain capacity, I would argue that his list is somewhat concerned with good method. While Lewis doesn't put forward a strict criteria of knowledge, he still goes to great lengths to seperate relevant from non-relevant alternatives, in the form of general rules. This seems to me to be an attempt to provide guidelines for a first step of knowledge acquisition; what to, and what not to consider.

06:24, 24 January 2012

I agree with you that the rules put forth by Lewis are self-referential, and do not provide much substantive support for his theories. In the limited context of his contextualism, the rules do seem to work and provide some guidance on the proper methods of acquisition of knowledge. However, if one steps back from it all, and examine the rules together as though one had never heard of Lewis or contextualism in the first place, the rules do not make sense no matter how hard or long one looks at them. I think G. E. More was brought up in class recently (I can't remember as a reference to what exactly), and I think his criticisms of philosophical musings apply especially well to Lewis's theories. It's not unlike the ontological argument for God. If you're eased into it one step at a time, the individual steps seem reasonable (as do Lewis's rules and premises of argument). But by the end of it all, you realize this can't be right - these rules can't even be guidelines for gaining good knowledge, and God definitely can't exist by way of logic. There's something just not right in the argument themselves, without necessarily being able to pinpoint exactly what is wrong with it.

06:32, 31 January 2012
 

Passage 410 of the third edition of Dr. Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations reads “’I’ is not the name of a person, nor ‘here’ of a place, and ‘this’ is not a name. But they are connected with names. Names are explained by means of them. It is also true that it is characteristic of physics not to use these words.” Elizabeth Anscombe, a student of Wittgenstein, who translated Philosophical Investigations to English for publication in 1953, published her own paper titled The First Person [G.E.M. Anscombe (1975). Samuel Guttenplan, ed., Mind and Language (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975), pp. 45-65.] In her Post Scriptum to her paper she wrote: “My colleague Dr. J. Altham has pointed out to me a difficulty about the rule about ‘I’ on page 55. How is one to extract the predicate for purposes of this rule in ‘I think John loves me’? The rule needs supplementation: where ‘I’ or ‘me’ occurs within an oblique context, the predicate is to be specified by replacing ‘I’ or ‘me’ by the indirect reflexive pronoun.” Wikipedia, on Anscombe’s First Person paper has the inclusion: “Her paper ‘The First Person’ follows up remarks by Wittgenstein, coming to the now-notorious conclusion that the first-person pronoun, ‘I’, does not refer to anything (not, e.g., to the speaker). Few people accept the conclusion—though the position was later adopted in a more radical form by David Lewis…” On Dualism, WIKI references David Lewis: [Lewis, David (1988) "What Experience Teaches", in Papers in Metaphysics and Epistemology, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999, pp. 262-290.]; with the inclusion “If Mary really learns something new, it must be knowledge of something non-physical, since she already knew everything there is to know about the physical aspects of colour. David Lewis' response to this argument, now known as the ability argument, is that what Mary really came to know was simply the ability to recognize and identify color sensations to which she had previously not been exposed.” In David Lewis’s paper Elusive Knowledge [Australasian Journal of Philosophy Vol. 74, No. 4; December 1996] his closing comments include the paragraph: “In trying to thread a course between the rock of fallibilism and the whirlpool of scep- ticism, it may well seem as if I have fallen victim to both at once. For do I not say that there are all those uneliminated possibilities of error? Yet do I not claim that we know a lot? Yet do I not claim that knowledge is, by definition, infallible knowledge?”

To me David Lewis contradicts his own indefinite propositions, and those of Wittgenstein, and Anscombe with concrete propositions. Excerpt examples: So, next, we need to say what it means for a possibility to be eliminated or not. (If you want to include other alleged forms of basic evidence, such as the evidence of our extrasensory faculties, or an innate disposition to believe in God, be my guest. If they exist, they should be included. If not, no harm done if we have included them conditionally.) It is the Rule of Resemblance that explains why you do not know that you will lose the lottery, no matter what the odds are against you and no matter how sure you should therefore be that you will lose. For every ticket, there is the possibility that it will win. In similar fashion, we have two permissive Rules of Method: Again, the general rule consists of a standing disposition to presuppose reliability in whatever particular case may come before us. The Rule of Attention: Do some epistemology. Let your fantasies rip. Find uneliminated possibilities of error everywhere. Now that you are attending to them, just as I told you to, you are no longer ignoring them, properly or otherwise. So you have landed in a context with an enormously rich domain of potential counter-examples to ascriptions of knowledge. In such an extraordinary context, with such a rich domain, it never can happen (well, hardly ever) that an ascription of knowledge is true. Not an ascription of knowledge to yourself (either to your present self or to your earlier self, untainted by epistemology); and not an ascription of knowledge to others. That is how epistemology destroys knowledge.

07:27, 24 January 2012
 

In response to Ange's and Zack's objections, respectively. I don't see the rule of actuality making any normative 'ought-' claim because it is externalist.

As Lewis states, "the subject himself may not be able to tell what is properly ignored": the subject may ignore proposition p that obtains in the real world all he wants(provided his own normative epistemic conditions lead him to do that, and setting aside the other rules for the sake of brevity). But the fact that p is true means that it is not properly ignored. This rule captures the fact that in order to know that p, p has to be true in our world.

We are not deciding whether p is relevant, I don't think. To decide whether p is relevant is to make p a relevant alternative by including it into the conversation! That is what makes me think that this rule is for the most part descriptive.

Additionally, the rule is not saying that we can't(neither physically nor normatively) ignore the actual state of things. It is saying that if we ignore the actual state of things, we have gone wrong, because we cannot know what is untrue.

...If I've interpreted it correctly.

23:21, 25 January 2012
 

I thought of this in class today, but comically enough to me it almost seems like Lewis is half preaching a "ignorance is bliss," sort of attitude. The fewer alternatives you ascribe to the an agent the more likely it will be that that agent is correct. I have a strong feeling that that is not what Lewis is trying to argue but it seems to me that he is walking a very thin line of being misunderstood... Or maybe my philosophical grasp isn't as sophisticated as I presume.

07:57, 25 January 2012

If you don't think that Lewis is trying to preach a "ignorance is bliss" sort of attitude, then what do you precisely think that Lewis is trying to argue? In raising this question, I do not have an answer in mind - I have the most difficult time understanding what Lewis is trying to say, at least in the paper ("Elusive Knowledge") that we are discussing about.

00:06, 26 January 2012
 

I'm not sure Lewis is saying "ignorance is bliss." I take the rule more as "the less one considers alternative explanations for a phenomenon (i.e. the less epistemology one does) the more accurate one can be in ascribing knowledge to a subject."

07:43, 30 January 2012
 

I thought of this in class today, but comically enough to me it almost seems like Lewis is half preaching a "ignorance is bliss," sort of attitude. The fewer alternatives you ascribe to the an agent the more likely it will be that that agent is correct. I have a strong feeling that that is not what Lewis is trying to argue but it seems to me that he is walking a very thin line of being misunderstood... Or maybe my philosophical grasp isn't as sophisticated as I presume.

07:58, 25 January 2012
 

I still dislike the rule of attention for the reason I gave in the last discussion, that depending on context you are forced to entertain obsurd possibilities. That being said it may have some value depending on just why something has garnered attention. It may be fair to say that in general if someone is considering possibilities they will unconciously limit the range of things they consider to those that they think are plausable. In so far as that is the case the rule of attention seems acceptable because the truly absurd possibilities are never (using Lewis' meaning) actually considered. Contrarily there are some perverse individuals who take certain delight in considering ridiculous possibilities that cannot be eliminated by evidence available, this rule poses a problem for having conversations with them.

04:05, 26 January 2012

Isn't Lewis really cautioning against overthinking,at least in the context and course of everyday life? He talks about compartmentalizing,not confusing the world of epistemology with the world of the "bushwalk" as a way to avoid the multiplier effect of ever proliferating alternative possibilities which create a field so rich in what-ifs that a state of paralysis,the"destruction of knowledge" as he calls it, is achieved. As he points out, in the bushwalk reference,we actually know quite a lot. His enjoinder to "do some epistemology" it seems, is really a call to second guess error "temporarily,"and in its proper compartment, meaning a sort of presuppositional vaccination against the threat of annihilation implied by skepticism.

06:53, 26 January 2012

I love that last sentence. I am not sure how much work I think compartmentalizing can do in the cases I am thinking of. In the bushwalk example I feel as though the epistemologists are being tounge-in-cheek, I think that in some way they don't actually believe that they know nothing. The cases I was thinking of involve people who completely hold a belief and have no reservations about it.

So I was picturing people who, for example, truly believe with all their being that starwars is an accurate depiction of events that actualy occurd in THIS world. Now, if I am having a conversation wih these people (maybe three who all share the belief) I can attend the possibility and compartmentalize that conversation from the rest of the things I think I know or think are possible. However, what if I didn't have any preexisting beliefs about the fictional nature of starwars? I would then not have any reason to compartmentalize off the possibility that starwars is real. This may be more a complaint about how context, lack of experience AND the rule of actuality lead to entertaining ridiculous beliefs.... But I still find the rule off-putting.

02:04, 27 January 2012
 
 

Perhaps I missed something, but I do not see how the rule of resemblance solves the Gettier cases. On page 557 he is stating how one CANNOT ignore certain possibilities in the case of the Ford truck. Does "solving" the Gettier cases just mean that he shows how we cannot have knowledge in the Ford case? In that case, the problem with the Gettier cases is that we think we do know. Therefore, you do not solve the problem just by saying "actually you don't know because you haven't considered possibility x". The point of the Gettier cases is the possibility x is so unlikely that you haven't thought of it, and according to the rule of attention; if you haven't thought of it then you can ignore it. Thus, the Gettier cases should become false knowledge anyway.

19:20, 26 January 2012
 

One of the problems I find with the rule of attention is it's relationship with Lewis' other rules, particularly the rule of conservatism. If two people are in conversation and one of them says something that seems to be against common knowledge, such as saying that the world is flat, which of these rules would outweigh the other? Does the rule of conservatism only hold if both people in the conversation share the same idea of common knowledge, even if one person seems to be obviously wrong? I would assume in this case that the rule of attention would outweigh the rule of conservatisim. In this situation, the person claiming the earth to be flat would have to argue their case, and the other person would have to seriously consider their argument. The interaction between Lewis' many rules seems kind of vague to me, this may not be the best example, but in some cases it doesn't seem clear which rule takes priority over the other.

01:13, 27 January 2012
 

When someone brings up an outlandish claim it seem right that we must address it, no matter how outlandish. Like robbybobby said in class one time, some of the greatest advancement in knowledge came from someone going out on a limb with an otherworldly idea. But the difference between those brave few who we remember and the unhelpful many that we forget is that the brave few went on to explain reasons for thinking in a new way. We can always just ask, "why do you think that?", and unless we hear some good persuasive reasons, I don't see why we must still entertain a foolish claim. So yeah, the alien filled sci-fi-con conspirator gets his moment of attention, but the problem he raises, if it is to be ignored, will likely dissolve under its own foolishness. Then the conversation will continue until some other rare and crazy person says something crazy, which they then explain and support with a convincing case, and then their success will turn crazy into genius.

09:27, 28 January 2012
 
  • We will look at his list of rules. What are they rules of? They are not rules of good method - how to think in order to get knowledge. So what are they?

I think Lewis Rule of Resemblance "one possibility saliently resembles another. Then if one of them may not be properly ignored, neither may the other" (556). is the one that makes the most sense to me. When he talks about the possibility of winning the lottery he says that my chances of winning or someone else' are similar and my chances of losing is similar to everyone else' chances that being why the possibility of me winning or losing is just as likely and also in comparison to any other individual participating in the lottery. In regards to the Rule of Actuality. I don't understand whose actuality counts because at first he says that the subject and ascriber's actuality are the same so there is only one actual world(top of page 555) then later he says that there is a difference and it is the subjects and not the ascriber's actuality that matters (bottom of page 555)???

22:22, 1 February 2012