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Actual philosophy

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Comments on any of the below are welcome. You can contact me at ben [dot] bronner [at] rutgers [dot] edu.

Representationalism and the Determinacy of Visual Content, forthcoming in Philosophical Psychology.

DETERMINACY is the claim that covert shifts in visual attention sometimes affect the determinacy of visual content. (Capital letters will distinguish the claim from the familiar word, “determinacy.”) Representationalism is the claim that visual phenomenology supervenes on visual representational content. Both claims are popular among contemporary philosophers of mind, and DETERMINACY has been employed in defense of representationalism. I claim that existing arguments in favor of DETERMINACY are inconclusive. As a result, DETERMINACY-based arguments in support of representationalism are not strong ones.

Burge’s Defense of Perceptual Content, forthcoming in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research (with Todd Ganson and Alex Kerr).

A central question, if not the central question, of philosophy of perception is whether sensory states have a nature similar to thoughts about the world, whether they are essentially representational. According to the content view, at least some of our sensory states are, at their core, representations with contents that are either accurate or inaccurate. Tyler Burge’s Origins of Objectivity is the most sustained and sophisticated defense of the content view to date. His defense of the view is problematic in several ways. The most significant problem is that his approach does not sit well with mainstream perceptual psychology.

Assertions Only?, Thought 2, 1 (2013): 44-52.

It is standardly believed that the only way to justify an assertion in the face of a challenge is by making another assertion. Call this claim ASSERTIONS ONLY. Besides its intrinsic interest, ASSERTIONS ONLY is relevant to deciding between competing views of the norms that govern reasoned discourse. ASSERTIONS ONLY is also a crucial part of the motivation for infinitism and Pyrrhonian skepticism. I suggest that ASSERTIONS ONLY is false: I can justify an assertion by drawing attention to something that clearly makes the assertion true, or likely true.

Visual Prominence and RepresentationalismPhilosophical Studies 164, 2 (2013): 405-418 (with Todd Ganson).

A common objection to representationalism is that a representationalist view of phenomenal character cannot accommodate the effects that shifts in covert attention have on visual phenomenology: covert attention can make items more visually prominent than they would otherwise be without altering the content of visual experience. Recent empirical work on attention casts doubt on previous attempts to advance this type of objection to representationalism and it also points the way to an alternative development of the objection.

Problems with the Dispositional Tracking Theory of Knowledge, Logos & Episteme 3, 3 (2012): 505-507.

Rachael Briggs and Daniel Nolan attempt to improve on Nozick’s tracking theory of knowledge by providing a modified, dispositional tracking theory. The dispositional theory, however, faces more problems than those previously noted by John Turri. First, it is not simply that satisfaction of the theory’s conditions is unnecessary for knowledge – it is insufficient as well. Second, in one important respect, the dispositional theory is a step backwards relative to the original tracking theory: the original but not the dispositional theory can avoid Gettier-style counterexamples. Future attempts to improve the tracking theory would be wise to bear these problems in mind.

Written by fauxphilnews

February 22, 2012 at 5:48 pm

8 Responses

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  1. Disclaimer: I took an undergraduate in philosophy (graduated 2010), and epistemology was not my primary interest.

    It seems to me that many disputes on the nature of knowledge always quarrel around the third (and/or fourth) premise for what constitutes knowledge. Going back to my rudimentary understanding (while using your variables) , S knows p iff: (1) p is true, (2) S believes p, (3) S has reason to believe p. I understand that there are many variants on the latter part of the argument, including those proposed in your comment.

    I would argue that disputes over the last few premises may not be all that fruitful. I would prefer to talk about the first premise, that p is true. Now, I get that for storytelling purposes we get to define whether or not p is true, and use this to prop up or bring down the knowledge chain. However, from the perspective of science, we never even get to evaluate (1). For a scientist to know, they fulfill (2) and (3/4) via the scientific method and peer review. For practical considerations, (1) is fulfilled only when the scientific community elevates p to the status of theory (e.g., theory of evolution, theory of plate tectonics, etc).

    This all being said, I get that debates over the semantics of (3/4) are not trivial. However, I’d be more concerned with how we track (1). After all, when science fulfills (1) and calls p a theory, this is not an absolute Truth. Theories change and are revoked over time.

    So, what say you? I’m sure my position has been promoted before, but I am ignorant as to why it seems to not be commonly discussed.

    Jack H.

    March 13, 2012 at 7:54 am

    • Hi Jack.

      Not sure exactly what you’re advocating here. Philosophers certainly debate the nature of truth, as well as our grounds for thinking scientific theories true (and even whether science aims at truth). Those debates, however, aren’t really part of the analysis of knowledge. The question Briggs and Nolan ask is: What conditions have to be satisfied in order for a subject to know a proposition? Within the context of that question, condition (1) — the truth condition — is supposed to be pretty straightforward. For example, I can’t know that my house is on fire if it’s not true that my house is on fire — I can believe that my house is on fire, hallucinate that my house is on fire, etc., but I can’t know it. In order to know it, it has to be true that my house is on fire.

      With that in mind, I’d respond to your comment by saying that, for a scientist to know, they must in fact believe a true proposition. They don’t satisfy (1) when “the scientific community elevates p to the status of theory” — rather, they satisfy (1) (and (2)) simply by believing a true proposition. Whether they know that they believe a true proposition is a different question, relating to whether they know that they have knowledge.

      If that doesn’t answer your questions, perhaps it can prompt you to point out exactly what it leaves unanswered.

      fauxphilnews

      March 13, 2012 at 3:07 pm

      • Sorry for the ambiguity, I have not reflected on these topics in quite some time.

        I follow the question that Briggs and Nolan ask – I am just not sure that knowledge, in the human context, is much more than having a good reason to believe in a proposition. I get that the truth condition ought to be straightforward, but out of all the conditions, it is the one that we have the least access to. Let me put it another way: condition (2), the belief condition, is trivial and conditions (3/4), the reasons to believe, are typically satisfied in one way or another through experience. Obviously, there are plenty of counter examples that can show that the reason we choose to believe in a proposition are flawed. My issue is that, barring examples where we can set whether or not something is true, we have very little ability to actually prove a certain proposition is true.

        Why include the truth condition as one of the requirements for knowledge when we are never actually able to satisfy it in anything but hypothetical situations? For example, I believe in the theory of plate tectonics. I have plenty of empirical evidence which leads me to believe in the theory of plate tectonics. And yet, I cannot show that the theory of plate tectonics is true. I can only show that we have yet to falsify it.

        I fear I may still be letting my ignorance of the topic show. I mean no disrespect to your research, I am just coming at the issue from a different perspective.

        Jack H.

        March 13, 2012 at 5:08 pm

      • First, it’s not clear that we don’t have “access to” the satisfaction of condition (1). Right now, for example, my cat is sitting on my lap and I have access (some would claim direct access) to the truth of the proposition that the cat is on my lap — after all, I can *see* that the cat is on my lap. There are contexts in which matters are not so straightforward — e.g. theory testing in science — but that doesn’t show that we can’t have access to whether condition (1) is satisfied, as the cat example illustrates, or even that we usually don’t have such access.

        Second, even if we never had access to whether condition (1) is satisfied, that issue is distinct from whether the correct analysis of knowledge includes condition (1), which is the type of question at hand. One question is whether knowledge of a proposition requires the truth of that proposition. Another question is whether we have access to that condition being satisfied. The question at hand is not whether we can “prove a certain proposition to be true.” The question is what is required for knowledge.

        “And yet, I cannot show that the theory of plate tectonics is true. I can only show that we have yet to falsify it.”
        I would disagree there (although, again, this issue is distinct from the analysis of knowledge). Without getting into the details, most philosophers are willing to go beyond simply saying that the theory hasn’t been falsified. (You might be interested in this, especially sections 2 and 3.) Personally, I’d say that the evidence that scientists adduce in favor of the theory of plate tectonics might well be sufficient to show that it is true. Whether the evidence is enough to lead to absolute certainty is a different issue. Perhaps here is where the confusion lies: in this context, “knowledge” does not mean absolute certainty. And, further, most philosophers would say that knowledge does not require absolute certainty or infallibility (which is a different issue from that raised in the previous sentence, as it regards knowledge itself rather than the word “knowledge.”)

        “Why include the truth condition as one of the requirements for knowledge when we are never actually able to satisfy it in anything but hypothetical situations?”
        Our beliefs satisfy the truth condition all the time. Right now, my belief that there is a cat in my lap satisfies the truth condition. Further, the belief that there are an even number of chairs in the world has a 50% chance of satisfying the truth condition (putting aside issues of vagueness), even if no one has any access to whether the truth condition is satisfied by that belief.

        “I am just not sure that knowledge, in the human context, is much more than having a good reason to believe in a proposition”
        I can have a good reason to believe a proposition that happens to be false, but I can’t have knowledge of a proposition that is false. It follows that having knowledge of a proposition isn’t just having a good reason to believe a proposition.

        “I mean no disrespect to your research”
        None taken!

        fauxphilnews

        March 13, 2012 at 5:18 pm

  2. Aha, I believe (no puns) that I follow your reasoning. It is easy to lose sight of what is meant of truth, Truth, and how important it is that we have access to either.

    I suppose what brought me to this was remembering back to Kuhn’s writings on the philosophy of science. I found myself thinking “But, surely, Newton had knowledge of physics”, even if most of his findings were inaccurate/false on many scales. I think the logical step forward in this thinking would be “How do we regard scientific theories which are later falsified?”. I think this is the core of what was troubling me, although now I think that I may just be using your knowledge (okay, some pun) on the topic for a fresh perspective.

    Jack H.

    March 13, 2012 at 6:07 pm

  3. [...] for publication in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. The paper can be downloaded from this page.] Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like [...]

  4. [...] of Illusion,” now available in draft form. You can read the abstract and download the paper here. The paper was coauthored by Todd [...]

  5. […] [Speaking of assertion, I've just had a paper on assertion and epistemic regress accepted for publication in Thought. You can read the abstract and download the paper here.] […]


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