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LINGUISTIX&LOGIK, Tony Marmo's blog
Wednesday, 28 July 2004

Topic: Cognition & Epistemology

Contrastivism and Hawthorne?s principle of practical reasoning

by Jon Kvanvig
Source: Certain Doubts 7/26/2004

Contrastivism holds that the truth makers for knowledge attributions always involve a contrast, and Hawthorne thinks that if you know something, you are entitled to use it in practical reasoning. So one way to test what it is known is to see what kinds of practical reasoning we?ll allow are acceptable.

Depending on what the contrast is, contrastive knowledge may be easy or hard to have. So, it is easier to know ?the train will be on time rather than a day late? than it is to know ?the train will be on time rather than 2 minutes late.? One way to put the difference is that one is presupposing more in knowing the first claim that one is in knowing the second.

Consider then a piece of practical reasoning using the following conditional: if you are pointing a gun at me, and if your gun is loaded and if you intend to shoot me, I should shoot you first. Suppose I know that you are pointing a gun at me rather than a twig, and that I know that your gun is loaded rather than having just been disassembled for cleaning, and suppose I know that you intend to shoot me rather than give me a million bucks. Should I shoot you? Maybe this is an anti-gun sentiment coming out, but I think it is far from obvious that I should.

Compare this case to another. In this case, I know that you are pointing a gun at me rather than any non-lethal item, and I know that your gun is loaded rather than merely having the appearance of being loaded from where I stand, and I know that you intend to shoot me rather than anyone else in the universe. Now I think I should shoot you first.

Why the difference? In contrastivist language, I?m presupposing too much in the first case, I think. The knowledge I have is easy knowledge because it presupposes so much. I?m presupposing that the thing in your hand is either a gun or a twig, that it?s either loaded or disassembled, that you intend to shoot me or make me rich. In the context of these assumptions, it?s too easy to come to the conclusion that I should shoot first and ask questions later. In the second, case, however, my presuppositions are much broader, broad enough that my knowledge is no longer easy. And since my knowledge is not easy, I doubt I could be faulted on grounds of rationality for shooting first.

It appears, then, that contrastivists will have to deny Hawthorne?s principle. Moreover, I don?t see any obvious way to qualify the principle for the following reason. If the action is relatively inconsequential, then easy knowledge may be enough to warrant performing the action. But if the action is immensely significant, as it is in the case of taking a life, then easy knowledge doesn?t seem to be enough.

One way to think about such cases is that they may provide a reason for including pragmatic issues in one?s account, either indirectly as contextualists typically do or directly as we find in the invariantist camp. Or maybe a reason for rejecting Hawthorne?s principle??

Posted by Tony Marmo at 12:28 BST
Updated: Monday, 9 August 2004 07:45 BST
Wednesday, 30 June 2004

Topic: Cognition & Epistemology

Can Justification Just Fall Short of Knowledge?

By Matt Weiner

From the Certain Doubts blog

We all know that justified true belief can fail to be knowledge when funny stuff happens (or at least most of us think this). What I want to ask is whether a JTB can fail to be knowledge for a more mundane reason-because the belief is justified, but it isn't justified enough to count as knowledge.

Another way, perhaps, to put this is to question a line from section 6 of Ralph's paper "The Aim of Belief" : "[T]here is no way for a rational thinker to pursue the truth except in a way that, if it succeeds, will result in knowledge." Is this so?

Here's a case I'd like to survey you on. Charlie Brown, a baseball general manager, is trying to decide who to pick in the amateur draft. He looks at the prospects and comes to believe, based on his high school performance, that Joe Shlabotnik will be a good major league player someday. Indeed, Joe does turn out to be a good major leaguer. So Charlie had a true belief; it also seems as though it may have been justified, because it was based on performance. Yet I would think that it falls short of knowledge, because predicting someone's eventual major league performance on the basis of his high school performance is too uncertain.

(Apologies to non-baseball fans; the argument probably transfers to any sport, though baseball performance is notoriously difficult to predict.)

Indeed, I'd argue that Charlie is much better off knowing that his pursuit of the truth about Joe's future performance will not result in knowledge. I'm convinced by Tim Williamson's argument that one of the advantages of knowledge over JTB is that it is less likely to be abandoned in the face of counterevidence. Yet Charlie should be ready to abandon his belief in Joe's future in the face of counterevidence. Given the chancy nature of baseball prospects, a general manager has to be prepared to abandon someone who looked promising but who isn't panning out, or he may damage his team by keeping on an underperforming player. Players who you know to be good will be kept in the lineup after a poor start (I remember Barry Bonds batting under .200 one May when he was in Pittsburgh and going on to win the MVP-er, sorry again to non-baseball fans); players who you think to be good won't.

Does this case convince you? Do you think Charlie is only justified in believing that Joe will probably be good? Do you think it casts any sort of light on the kind of justification that's necessary for knowledge?


Posted by Tony Marmo at 17:25 BST
Updated: Monday, 9 August 2004 08:19 BST

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