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Tuesday, May 19, 2020


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I think I would be inclined to accept the following kind of Consciliationist position:

Intellectually respectable disagreement should make me re-examine my position and if after reconsidering it, I can't find any faults with it, I should retain my original position, but lower my level confidence in it (understood as subjective valuation of justification I have for a certain thesis). Abandonment should follow only if prior level of confidence is low enough to be outbalanced by this disagreement. (Of course all assignment of values are rather kind of intuitive feel about certain beliefs - „I would rather abandon x than y" kind of stuff.)

For example my level of confidence of belief in veracity of cogito is high enough that disagreement of good-willing competent philosphers is not enough to outweigh my conviction. Example in the other direction is little bit more problematic, because if I knew them, I would abandon them. But historically in my case, it would be belief that causation is only between things (i.e. trees, chairs, people, atoms,etc., "substances") and I was shocked when I learnt that the dominant position is that relata of causation are events. I abandonded that position, because I realized that I'm not really confident (intuitively speaking) about it. Psychologically speaking this realization in my case, almost always happens post factum (It is almost kind of psychonalysis of knowledge that some french philosophers of science whose names I don't remember proposed.)

Maybe it's a bit sketchy and muddleheaded, but it is good approximation of what I suppose is right in this matter.


You might think of causation like this. The sun is a substance (Aristotelian primary substance). A stone is a substance. The stone undergoes a change from being cold to being hot. That change is an event. The event has a cause. It too is an event/process, the sun's shining on the stone. So the relata of the causal relation are events. But both cause and effect are changes/states of substances.

I'm not sure whether you understood me, because only know I spotted that in my earlier comment there is an amphibology (syntactic ambiguity), so too be sure, let me say that what I rejected regarding the causation is the thesis that causation occurs only between substances, so of course I now accept proposition that causation does not occur only between substances. In this context what I wrote should be little more understandable.

(I now maintain kind of pluralist position - there is event causation and at least agent-causation. One reason for it is that it is at least intuitively strange to say that state/change of me caused a mess at my desk. Well, I did and I'm the one who have to take responsibility for it. I would like to accept full-fledged pluralist position according to which not only agents (subjects), but other substances can be also relata of causal relations, but I worry that it can be too uneconomical and I'm not sure whether I thought it through enough. But this is post about epistemology/metaphilosophy, so I am already quiet.)

Nevertheless thank you for you explanation of it. It is always pleasurable and iluminating to read something from such an Apostle of Lady Philosophy as yourself :) .

A lovely new paradox! A meta-paradox! Or at least a lovely new example of performative inconsistency...

Perhaps being a steadfaster, which implies a certain obstinacy and perhaps dogmatism, is itself a sign that someone doesn't have all the (many, rather specific) qualities of a competent practitioner.

My friend Eric Sampson has a paper pressing the self-defeat argument against the equal weight view. That is the view that you should give equal weight to the opinion of an epistemic peer. It looks like you're defining conciliationism more broadly here, so that it's more plausible.

I'm inclined to reject the equal weight view, though not primarily because of the self-defeat worry. My thought is: I can imagine an interlocutor rejecting what I am saying, and yet be unmoved by that thought. So it's strange that actually meeting this fellow in the flesh should change my mind when I had already considered what he's saying. As a psychological matter, though, it is true that this is what I find happening. I think of an objection to my position and I think I've got good reason to dismiss it, but when I actually hear someone pressing the point, sometimes it seems more forceful, though I'd considered it before.

I think Linda Zagzebski's book Epistemic Authority is worth checking out if you're interested in this debate, by the way. She urges the position, first argued by Reid, that some trust in the reliability of one's faculties is a prerequisite for knowledge or any kind of investigation. Then she argues that since you must trust your own faculties, you should trust the faculties of other people who are relevantly similar to you. Hence she supports some version of conciliationism.

"since you must trust your own faculties, you should trust the faculties of other people who are relevantly similar to you"

Of course, you are very familiar with your own faculties and not at all familiar with the faculties of others. You can't really know if someone else is being rational and objective. Maybe he is looking to get a certain fellowship and he knows that certain views are more likely to get him the fellowship. Maybe he has issues from childhood that make him unwilling to countenance, for example, the idea of God.

There is an extra step of reasoning in the conciliation approach that is not present in evaluating ones own judgement, and that step of reasoning is fraught with difficulties and uncertainties. Trusting someone else's judgement above your own is a little like the mistake that materialists make in trusting their ontological theory that consciousness does not exist over their own experience of consciousness.

There have to be at least some cases in which I can trust others' faculties above my own, at least in specific domains. Others might be biased, but so might I be. It's not clear that I'm better placed to evaluate my own biases than I am to evaluate the biases of others, generally, though some might be so flagrant in their biases that I'd be justified in no longer trusting their judgment. But as long as I have other peers who disagree with me and are not biased in that way, I should probably downgrade my confidence at least a little bit.

I'm not sure I follow that last point about materialism and consciousness.


You are right that I can't rule out that there are situations where I might judge someone else's opinion as more worthy of belief than my own. In fact, if the other person is an expert in the topic and I am not, then I will tend to believe the other person over my own judgment.

As to your doubts whether you are capable of judging your own biases and rationality, I don't think that helps you in the general case because that doubt is foundational to all decisions you make--even the decision to trust someone else's judgment over your own.

My comments about materialism and consciousness are a reference to a problem faced by the materialist who denies the existence of mental experiences on the basis of science. They argue that the world is governed by a system of laws of nature, that these laws are capable of explaining all that we experience, and that these laws have no place for consciousness. What is odd about this argument is that it relies on assumptions and speculative claims to refute the most direct and unproblematic observations.

Scientific observations are normalized to make observations consistent. For example, a house that looks small when we are far away and large when we are close is assumed to have one size no matter where we are. Railroad tracks that appear to converge are assumed to be actually parallel. Then we go through a process of idealization, typically treating any deviations from theory as failures of measurement rather than allowing that the theory may only be approximate (certain aspects of quantum mechanics notwithstanding). Then we go through a process of filtering, throwing out observations and measurements that cannot be reconciled to our theories. Then we go through a process of extrapolation, assuming that our results apply far outside of any situation that we can test. Then we speculate that our theories have some sort of universal law-like force, that they are not just descriptions of nature but prescriptions; that they are, in some sense, the underlying cause of nature.

Then we go through a process of generalization, assuming that although only a tiny subset of phenomena can be predicted in this way (many of them in artificial circumstances) yet the entire universe runs on these sorts of prescriptions. Then, since we can't imagine any way that consciousness could fit into such a world, we speculate that it can't, and conclude that is does not exist.

This process of normalization, idealization, filtering, speculation, generalization, and more speculation is fraught with potential trouble spots. Meanwhile the knowledge that I have a mind and conscious experience is a direct observation, requiring none of those speculative moves. It is ridiculous to think that such a fraught system of reasoning would be given precedence over direct observation.


I hesitate to engage without having read Zagzebski's book, and I hope this isn't too tangential a remark. But:

She urges the position, first argued by Reid, that some trust in the reliability of one's faculties is a prerequisite for knowledge or any kind of investigation

Don't you also need to assume the reliability of your faculties to investigate, argue, prove, or judge that some trust in the reliability of your faculties is a prerequisite for knowledge or any kind investigation? In other words, doesn't the argument require assuming what it hopes to prove?

s/b "kind [of] investigation"

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