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LINGUISTIX&LOGIK, Tony Marmo's blog
Saturday, 26 June 2004
I have found this interesting article at the Musings from the Lehigh Valley log:

Knowledge and Stability

by Joe Shieber
June 08, 2004

Marc Moffett has been considering some interesting questions concerning knowledge and stable belief and justification at Close Range. In response to some probing questions, he submitted a follow-up post, including the following example:

The other day I was going out of town and was supposed to call some friends when I got into the airport. My wife wrote their number down and I glanced over it. As I was leaving, she reminded me to take the number. I said, 'I know it' and proceeded to recite it from memory. Knowing that the number was still fresh in my mind her response was, 'Do you really know it?'

Marc suggests that the example shows that knowledge sometimes requires not simply reliably-produced true belief (let's grant that the short-term memorial faculty allowing Marc to rattle off the number correctly is reliable), but stable belief, or stably justified belief. Marc claims that we have an intuitive grasp of stability and instability to which he can appeal in making this suggestion. However, and without meaning to be difficult, I still don't know what stability is; nevertheless, let's leave this problem aside.

What I want to do here is suggest an alternate diagnosis for Marc's example. To do so, let me first present one of my own:

The other day I was sitting in a restaurant with my wife, planning our summer vacation while perusing the menu. My wife wanted to go to Germany to visit her family, while I wanted to spend most of the trip visiting Denmark and Norway. Finally, I acquiesced to her wishes just as the waitress was coming to take our order. Right before the waitress interrupted our discussion, I told my wife, 'Okay, we'll go to Germany this summer.' Then the waitress took our orders -- first my wife's, then mine. I ordered the duck breast and broccoli rabe. After the waitress left, my wife simply said, 'Are you sure?' Wishing to tease her, I answered, 'Yes, I'm in the mood for some duck.' She smiled and then repeated, 'Are you really sure?' At which point I reassured her that I'm happy to go to Germany.

This (fictional!) conversation seems to me perfectly possible. The question, 'Are you really sure?' doesn't indicate that my wife thought me unsure about the duck and broccoli rabe; rather, it indicates that I should return to the question at issue -- that of our summer vacation plans.

Similarly, in the case that Marc presents, his wife's question, 'Do you really know it?' doesn't deny that he now knows the number; rather, it indicates that his rattling off the number is an attempt to change the subject. The real question at issue is whether his knowledge involves the sort of reliable process that would underwrite his knowing the number once he reaches his destination. So Marc is correct when he notes that his wife's question was perfectly proper; she needn't have asked, 'Will you know it when you arrive?' However, he is incorrect, I would offer, in suggesting that the interpretation of his wife's question involves the introduction of the notion -- as yet unexplained -- of stability. Rather, in asking the question his wife was asking, 'Do you have the sort of knowledge (i.e., knowledge produced by a faculty reliable over the course of your trip) at issue in our discussion thus far?'


The case you offer is quite complex (more complex, I think, than the original). As I see it, there are two ways of construing it neither of which threaten my position.

On the first way of construing it, your assertion that you are sure that you want to order the duck is to be understood literally (though playfully). In this case, my initial reaction is that the follow-up question of whether or not you are really sure is not appropriate. So I guess I don't believe that "really" has the revert-to-conversational-thread use that you suggest.

Why then does your example read reasonably well? Because on the second reading, your assertion that your are sure that you want the duck is used to conversationally implicate that you are happy with the Germany decision and that you have already moved on. In this case, the use of "really" is apt and functions as I suggested in the original example (Are you sure or merely feigning?)

Posted by: marc | June 9, 2004 07:36 AM

What I say in the previous comment doesn't do justice to your case. Even if you grant me the discourse function of "really", the general point is just that my wife is asking whether or not I have the right sort of knowledge.

The picture then is that knowledge simpliciter defines a genus of knowledge relations which are further individuated by the type of faculty which produces/sustains the associated belief. So in the case, though it is true that I have knowledge-1 (i.e., the sort of knowledge produced and sustained by perception-cum-short term memory), what is required is that I have knowledge-2 (i.e., the sort of knowledge produced and sustained by perception-cum-medium term memory). So my wife asking whether I really know-2 the number or if I am just faking it (by relying on my knowledge-1).

Now, unless there is a principled way of restricting the determination relations, the cost of this view is a very great deal of ambiguity in the word "knows". I'm not sure why the resulting view is preferable. I suspect, however, that what is bugging you is the contextualist component (since the stability view is consistent with reliablism). The idea is that, on the stability view, whether or not I know that the number is such-and-such depends on the context. On your alternative, however, there is an upward necessitation from knowing-n to knowing simpliciter. As a result, you will get to say (context independently) that I know-simpliciter the number.

Is that the crux of the disagreement?

Posted by: marc | June 10, 2004 02:45 PM

Your second post precisely captures the crux of our disagreement, Marc. Thanks for revisiting the question, and for taking the time to spell out the disagreement so clearly. On a related note, thanks for posting your paper on these issues at your website. As soon as I've had a chance to go through it carefully (in the next week or so), I'm sure I'll be posting some further thoughts on the very interesting issues you address there.

Posted by: j.s. | June 11, 2004 11:34 AM

Posted by Tony Marmo at 01:41 BST

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