forum 3: week of 23 Jan - Lewis II
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.