July 28, 2011

Mes Amis--

The Web of Belief is officially closed.  Let it stand as a record of the intellectual passages of the Tufts community, 2004-2007.

--your moderator.

November 3, 2007

Burge on Perceptual Systems and Veridicality (Part 2)

In my previous post, I attributed to Burge the thesis that that the perceptual system, though a product of evolution by natural selection, has a representational function that is apriori connected to normative notion of veridicality. However, this prima facie seems like a problematic claim since natural selection is not itself concerned with normative notions, such as veridicality, and so one may wonder how our perceputal systems come to acquire such a normative concern. In this post, I will attempt to articulate one way this objection may be further unpacked.

According to Darwinian assumption, we have the particular perceptual systems that we do because they promoted the biological fitness of our ancestors. However, this seems to present a problem for Burge’s account. If we accept his insistence that a system which is unreliable may still promote biological fitness, then we seem faced with the following question: what reason do we have to think that our perceptual systems are reliable? In other words, there appears to be a mismatch between the practical mechanism (i.e., natural selection) that produced the perceptual system and the normative role the system is supposed to play. This seems to open up a lacuna between what the perceptual system has been “designed” for—namely, to promote biological fitness—and its representational function—namely, to arrive at true beliefs.

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October 23, 2007

Burge on Perceptual Systems and Veridicality

Often when a philosopher says that something is obviously true or true apriori, it is a good idea to pause and pay careful attention. Frequently, such claims conceal many weighty assumptions; assumptions one would do well to make explicit. In his essay “Perceptual Entitlement”, Tyler Burge takes as one of his fundamental tenets the claim that there is an apriori connection between the representational function of an organism’s perceptual system and verdicality:
I take it as obvious that it is known apriori that the central representational function of a perceptual system is to perceive. This function is apriori associated with a representational function (to represent veridically).
This, of course, does not amount to the implausible claim that an organism’s perceptual system is always successful in carrying out its representational function—i.e., that perceptual experiences are always veridical. Rather, Burge is making the highly plausible claim that it is a conceptual truth that an organism’s representational system aims at veridicality. However, as plausible as this claim is, I believe more needs to be said in its defence. In this post I will summarise Burge's views and in my next post on this topic I will present one objection to Burge's account.

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July 20, 2007

A Priori Self-Knowledge: A Real Pain...In the Head?

Here is a question that has recently been giving me a headache, and I'd really appreciate getting your feedback on it. One major criticism of content externalism is that it undermines a priori self-knowledge. When such critics say that self-knowledge is a priori I take them to mean that self-knowledge is independent of experience (i.e., not based on empirical observation). However, it is not clear to me that self-knowledge is essentially a priori. (This is a point that I believe has been made by Crispin Wright.) Suppose, for example, that I were suffering from a migraine. Presumably, my knowledge that I am currently suffering from a migraine is a type of self-knowledge. However, is my knowledge that I am currently suffering a migraine independent of experience? The answer seems to be ‘no’. I can only know that I am currently suffering from a migraine if I am currently experiencing the migraine. Thus, my knowledge that I am suffering from a migraine is a posteriori.

Am I missing something here? Could there be an alternative definition of a priori according to which my knowledge that I am suffering a migraine counts as a priori? Or am I mistaken in claiming that my knowledge that I am currently suffering from a migraine is a type of self-knowledge? Or perhaps I am missing the point of the critics of content externalism altogether? I should add that the issue of a priori self-knowledge is separate from the issue of infallible self-knowledge and authoritative self-knowledge, so that even if I am right, this does not mean that the content externalist is out of the woods just yet. But presently, I am only concerned with whether a priori self-knowledge is a type of self-knowledge with which the content externalist needs to be concerned.

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July 13, 2007

Tips for Comps

Hi folks! Hope you're all having great summers.

I took the liberty of writing up my strategy for the comps. Hopefully that (along with the guides I've been compiling) will help make them less painful for some. Please let me know if you have additional tips (or, especially, if you think I'm wrong about something)!

May 9, 2007

Probable But Still Unjustifiable

I am attempting to construct an argument against the widely accepted thesis that one may justifiably believe that p based on evidence that makes p probable but which does not guarantee that p. In short, I wish to argue that any belief based on evidence that makes p probable, but with a probability less than 1, is unjustified. My argument utilises a lottery-type analysis†. Imagine a lottery composed of n tickets in which n is large enough to make the following claim putatively true, according to the standard probabilistic analysis, of some particular ticket, t1: S may justifiably believe that her ticket, t1, will lose. For example, most probability theorists would hold that in a lottery of 1,000,000 tickets in which one ticket must win but only one ticket can win, S may justifiably believe that her ticket, t1, will lose. (Of course, S does not know that her ticket will lose, but on the view I wish to impugn she may still justifiably believe that her ticket will lose. You may make n as large as necessary to motivate the relevant intuitions.)

I take it as a truism that a subject may not justifiably believe a set of inconsistent propositions which she recognises to be inconsistent. My argument will take the form of a reductio beginning with the assumption, “S may justifiably believe that her ticket, t1, will lose”, and concluding with the negation of the aforementioned truism. Assuming that the first premise is the least plausible of all the premises in my argument, then my argument should establish that my first premise ought to be rejected. I would greatly appreciate any feedback concerning the structure, validity or soundness of my argument, or questions regarding any of my assumptions or steps. My reductio runs as follows:

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April 23, 2007

Higher Order Truths about Chmess

Note: This post represents Daniel Dennett's submission to the 46th Issue of the Philosopher's Carnival.

Philosophy is an a priori discipline, like mathematics, or at least it has an a priori methodology at its core, and this fact cuts two ways. On the one hand, it excuses philosophers from spending tedious hours in the lab or the field, and from learning data-gathering techniques, statistical methods, geography, history, foreign languages. . . . ., empirical science, so they have plenty of time for honing their philosophical skills. On the other hand, as is often noted, you can make philosophy out of just about anything, and this is not always a blessing. The point of this little essay is to alert graduate students entering the field to a way in which the very freedom and abstractness of philosophy can be a weakness.
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