Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Epistemic norms and foundherentism

This post is about two articles. One of the articles is by John Pollock called "Epistemic Norms." The other is called "A Foundherentist Theory of Empirical Justification" by Susan Haack. At least one way to think about the meaning of 'epistemic norms' is as 'good reasons for your beliefs.' And at least one way to think about 'foundherentism' is the idea of beliefs that have good reasons to support them that account for the beliefs that come from the five senses but that doesn't give any kind of priority to them as opposed to other beliefs a person might have. So this post is about those two things.

Pollock argues in his article that good reasons for a person's belief do not come from the outside world but rather the good reasons come from within. He writes that you can think about the view he opposes 'externalism' as either 'belief externalism' or 'norm externalism.' According to Pollock:
Belief externalism insists that correct epistemic norms must be formulated in terms of external considerations...

In contrast to this, norm externalism acknowledges that the content of our epistemic norms must be internalist, but employs external considerations in the selection of the norms themselves.
So belief externalism needs objects outside of a person's body to generate the good reasons (?) but norm externalism needs objects outside of a person's body for us to have the good reasons, which are internal beliefs. Hmm. It's not entirely easy for me to see the difference.

I don't know exactly what's going on with his argument, but he thinks that to understand when people have good reasons for beliefs, we have to accept when the internal beliefs guide our actions. But belief externalism, he thinks, can't account for how the internal beliefs guide our actions, perhaps absent the things of the outside world. And norm externalism can't work because we don't need external world events to make us change our good reasons when considering, for example, the conditions under which we saw something; we could reason on our own without altering those conditions. Maybe to make the point clear, suppose you saw what looked like a gun barrel on a table in a dim-lighted room. But then later you thought it was unlikely that it was a gun barrel but probably a pen you left there. The reasoning changed not because of changes of the conditions but your own changes in thought.

This frees us up for some kind of internalist view of providing good reasons. Surely more will come of that in upcoming posts but now we need to turn to foundherentism, which is a fairly simple plausible belief.

As said above, foundherentism is "a new approach which allows the relevance of experience to empirical justification, but without postulating any privileged class of basic beliefs or requiring that relations of support be essentially one-directional." He makes four basic points about when people have good reasons for belief.
[1.] [J]ustification comes in degrees: a person may be more or less justified in believing something.

[2.] [T]he concepts of evidence and justification are internally connected: how justified a person is in believing something depends on the quality of his evidence with respect to that belief.

[3.] [J]ustification is personal: one may be more justified in believing something than another is in believing the same thing--because one person's evidence may be better than another's.

[4.] [J]ustification is relative to a time: a person may be more justified in believing something at one time than at another.
But in spite of these pieces of relatives, philosopher Susan Haack doesn't believe that the good reasons we would have are radically relative. Rather, the standards of better and worse evidence are based on human nature: It's because we're the beings that we are that we have the kinds of thinking that we have and way we use our basic cognitive skills and perhaps advanced cognitive skills when we do science or forensic investigation. She writes:
I see these standards--essentially, how well a belief is anchored in experience and how tightly it is woven into an explanatory mesh of beliefs--as rooted in human nature, in the cognitive capacities and limitations of all normal human beings.

It is sure to be objected that the evidential standards of different times, cultures, communities, or scientific paradigms differ radically. But I think this supposed variability is at least an exaggeration, the result of mistaking the perspectival character of judgments of evidential quality for radical divergence in standards of better and worse evidence.
So those were the two articles: one supporting internalism for beliefs and the other supporting sensory beliefs as being important among the set of beliefs a person could have but not necessarily being primary among the set of beliefs a person could have.

Next time, more stuff on skepticism.

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