forum 4: week of 30 Jan: DeRose on skepticism
Remember that we are only meeting onThursday, so we have to cover DeRose in once class. We will focus on how his contextualism is different from Lewis's, and whether it has advantages. Note that like Lewis, and unlike Dretske, DeRose resists the idea that you can fail to know consequences that you see following from things you know. In fact he hates this idea. (I don't.)
A basic question: how is his diagnosis of the appeal of skepticism different from Lewis's?
A subtler one: how can "she knows it" vary from one conversation to another on DeR's approach and is it different from the variations L allows? (I don't know the answer to this one. But it's an important question if we want to understand what useful work "knows" does, besides giving employment to philosophers.)
Are there useful comparisons with other context-dependent words? Flat, big, here, left, starboard, bank: which is know most similar to?
In the paper titled Solving the Skeptical Problem, Dr. Keith DeRose begins with a skeptical hypothesis, "I am a bodiless brain in a vat who has been electrochemically stimulated to have precisely those sensory experiences I've had, henceforth a 'BIV'". The concept of a brain in a vat as an example for philosophical discussion, is one that I have difficulty to relate to. If the subject could be one such as the living Dr. Stephen Hawking, I think I could relate better to Dr. DeRose's philosophical discussion on skepticism. I admire the quality of philosophical discussion Dr. Ludwig Wittgenstein achieves in section 243 if the Philosophical Investions "A human being can encourage himself, give himself orders, obey, blame and punish himself; he can ask himself a question and answer it. We could even imagine human beings who spoke only in monologue; who accompanied their activities by talking to themselves.—An explorer who watched them and listened to their talk might succeed in translating their language into ours. (This would enable him to predict these people's actions correctly, for he also hears them making resolutions and decisions.) But could we also imagine a language in which a person could write down or give vocal expression to his inner experiences—his feelings, moods, and the rest—for his private use?——Well, can't we do so in our ordinary language?—But that is not what I mean. The individual words of this language are to refer to what can only be known to the person speaking; to his immediate private sensations. So another person cannot understand the language." (PI §243)
As it is 1AM, I won't be too ambitious, and try to take on the basic question. As I've understood it, Lewis' opinion on skepticism was that such a view would often leave the ascribers and the subject in question with either infallible knowledge or none at all. This is his segue into alternatives to skepticism: fallibilism and contextualism. DeRose doesn't seem to think that skeptics demand infallible knowledge. Rather, he thinks that by the means of AI, a skeptic raises the conversational standards by which the proposition is judged as knowledge. DeRose then specifies the level to which these standards need to rise by introducing the Rule of Sensitivity, and developing the rest of his argument. I think the most interesting point of this paper is the fact that DeRose bases his contextualist argument only on the 2nd premise and the (not-) conclusion; he says that "(2) is true regardless of its epistemic standard". (2) states, "If I don't know that not-H, then I don't know O" He does specify that, in his view, whatever warranted assertability is ascribed to not-H is also ascribed to O. Even if it is explicitly said that warranted assertability cannot be mistaken for knowledge, wouldn't that be an example of how you can fail to know consequences that you see following from things you know, if not-H is somehow chosen to be a consequence of O?
I appreciate DeRosen's technique in so far as he's applying only the two rules/actions to reach his explanation, as compared to Lewis's list of rules to determine relevancy, but I wish he'd written -out- his thoughts instead of shorthand references...I'm still not sure I've got the argument straight, since I had to go back to check to which hypothesis he continually referred!
I don't really see any differences between DeRose and Lewis. They still have the same problems in that they seem to be more explaining HOW we use the term "knowledge" in day to day life versus how we use it in philosophy. What I would be interested in knowing would be at what point does one draw the line between plausible to the point that it could be considered and plausible to the point that something is ridiculous and should not even be taken into account when we are asking whether or not we know something.
I think that the difference between DeRose and Lewis almost trivial. It is true that they started out with different premises, and work onwards from there. But since their overarching theory is so similar (dare I say identical?), it's natural that they end their epistemological investigations in largely the same spot. DeRose is more acutely aware of the problem posed by skepticism (or at least he appears to be), but he still doesn't offer much more beyond what Lewis said. There seems to be no good and non-circular way of discerning relevant arguments and objections from the silly and facetious. If they can't legitimately exclude these examples, they certainly can't rule over skepticism. The result would be a systemic collapse in their theories (if such problems go unaddressed).
"The AI skeptic's mentioning of the BIV hypothesis in presenting the first premise of AI makes that hypothesis relevant."Isn't that a little too mind-over-matter? If it is pointing to something which is arguably actually, materially true then surely it would be true whether it was mentioned ( Rule of Relevance opposed to Rule of Accommodation ) or not mentioned.( i.e. would be relevant in either case, we just didn't realize it until it was brought up ) In other words, isn't all this only relevant in cases which can't be proven either way, which is to say, imponderables, cases where we can't advance our understanding without some unforeseen relevant disclosure. If something is, indeed, decided to be unmentionable ( the emperor's new clothes ) or "far-fetched" as the author would have it, but subsequently is nevertheless found to be true, is it still, or was it ever, really correct to call it far-fetched? What if the example is not so much far-fetched as it is inconvenient, which is to say, beyond discourse comfort levels? Is there a philosophy of manners?
That's a good point. I can't help thinking that both DeRose and Lewis are resigned to allow that while highly skeptical ascribers of knowledge raise the bar for the subject significantly, if the ascribers were a pair of idiots, to put it bluntly, alot of things could be counted as knowledge that DeRose and Lewis would be unhappy with. Consider someone who thinks cellphones cause cancer because of some alien chip that is implanted within (the government is of course, also culpable). Two ascribers with similarly outlandish beliefs about alien activity might hold that that individuals belief does in fact count as knowledge, where as the average person, while perhaps agreeing that evidence does suggest a link between cellphones and cancer, would think that the alien-believer's justification falls well short of the mark.
Also, I'm kind of concerned about the consequences for the concept of truth inherent in a cotextual approach to knowledge ascription, but I might just save that for my paper.
I'm inclined to agree that DeRose and Lewis seem to present a very similar version of contextualism. The focus of their arguments is the main difference. While Lewis is primarily motivated with explaining his rule-set regarding the criteria for relevant alternatives and proper knowledge ascription, DeRose is more concerned with his contextualism as a direct reply to sceptical arguments (he continually explains and refers to the appeal of AI). The main difference between the two is that Lewis uses rules to classify appropriate relevant alternatives in a conversational context while DeRose adds to his solution the idea of sensitivity.
The most interesting thing for me about DeRose is that if I was a BIV and thought I had hands in the right context I can still know that I have two hands. To me this gives weight to empirical evidence, in the vein that what I experience is so rich with sensation that I can't argue against it. This makes me think of what robert was saying about true replicas, there is this separation between my sensory experiences and actuality but for to experience them is so real.
I find DeRose's approach quite different from Lewis's; Lewis presents all these rules, whereas DeRose focuses on the idea of sensitivity. DeRose also points out the need to identify the mechanism by which the skeptic at least threatens to raise the standards for knowledge, which is something I did not see in Lewis's approach to contextualism. In spite of these differences, what both approaches have in common is that their use of "knowledge" is ambiguous or arbitrary (to me).
His uses of the BIV illustrates the source of his contextualism, which is also pretty much the source of everything. We are disconnected from reality in one way or another, so that is the context we think from. Our thoughts are relational, and more relational the farther out you follow along with them. No one has all encompassing knowledge, so there is always an additional context for a thought to relate to. But if we never held something as a piece of knowledge, because of these attributes that arise from the mind-reality disconnect, we would never get anywhere. We make a working (and totally revisable) figure of information with which we proceed into the vastness of context.
I disagree that BIV is pretty much the source of everything! Also, I think the mind-reality disconnect is important to consider. What justification do you have for the idea that "no one has all encompassing knowledge, so there is always an additional context for a thought to relate to"?
Your first line seems to answer itself, perhaps unknowingly, because by everything I meant discourse. I didn't mean that BIVs make reality, I meant that because there is a disconnect from reality, illustrated by the BIV example, there is grounds for disagreement about the qualitative properties of reality are. I assume there is something out there, but the indirectness of that assumption sets the stage for discourse. By everything, I meant the history of distinction. My justification for what you quoted would be this test: ask that all purpose question "do you know everything?" the only answer that I think anyone should give is no, which means there is further unexplored context which the knowledge they currently hold can be related to.
"She knows it" can vary with DeRose, in my understanding that the the standards must remain low, in ordinary conversational contexts. DeRose appears to base his argument purely in mirroring the skeptic strategy, which does make a satisfying point, however seems to be constrained based on how it is tailor-made for the skeptical argument. It is constrained in the sense that higher positive epistemic standard are not addressed, or fully elaborated, as he emphasizes low standards in reaction to the skeptical arguments. A person in a low epistemic condition would be accepted in saying he knows B, whereas the same person in a high epistemic standard position would be incorrect in saying he knows B.
To DeRose, it is matter of the sensitivity of the argument, which still appears ambiguous (although seems to rely heavily on spatio-temporal contexts, beyond this it still seems elusive). His truth-conditions of knowledge ascriptions appeal to the implicit sensitivity to the context. Lewis, like DeRose emphasizes language , however Lewis' Rule of Accommodation cannot explain a rise in epistemic standards when an expert claims to know, or in distinguishing the AI skeptic from the simple skeptic. As this rule operates on suggestion, does the suggestion itself in raising epistemic standards defeat Lewis's argument against the skeptics? (I am trying to read into what DeRose was saying about Lewis.)
Q: How can "she knows it" vary from one conversation to another on DeR's approach Are there useful comparisons with other context-dependent words? Flat, big, here, left, starboard, bank: which is know most similar to? According to DeR to know something depends completely on the context within which you say know. What sort of conversation you are having perhaps. If it is a casual one or a debate with an important figure. All this can effect what you think you know and what you are justified in thinking you know something. For example he talks about the zebra and mule example: He says an ordinary person might not be able to say that they KNOW that it is in fact a zebra and not a painted mule but a zoologist who knows these animals and their attributes very well can perhaps answer the question: is this a zebra? and be justified in saying that they do KNOW this. So the person is also part of the context differing people with differing knowledge of the topic can either have the justification to say they know or don't know something. He talks about the word flat on page 8 and says that although the desktop may not be perfectly flat in some circumstances depending on the definition of flat we are giving in the conversation we may or may not call the desktop flat. All these words including knowledge are context dependent and i think this was a good exaple to use to explain how knowledge can vary within contexts.