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UNSAFE KNOWLEDGE. M&M Conference, Lund, May 2014. NIKOLAJ NOTTELMANN, SDU. The Safety Condition.
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UNSAFE KNOWLEDGE M&M Conference, Lund, May 2014 NIKOLAJ NOTTELMANN, SDU
The Safety Condition • S’s belief is safe iff in most near-by possible worlds in which S continues to form her belief about the target proposition in the same way as in the actual world, her belief continues to be true. Pritchard(2005), Carter(2009) • S’s belief B is safe just in case the method S employed to arrive at B did not put S in serious epistemic danger. Bogardus(2014) • S’s belief p is safe iff. in all near-by possible word in which S does not form her belief p on a quite different basis from the actual world, still p. • Williamson (2000: 149), paraphrasing Sosa (1996, 2000).
Example of safebelief • Typicalperceptualbelief under normal circumstances • I makevisualcontact with a cup on the table, and thereforecomes to believethat a cup is on the table. • The methodheredoes not put me in danger: In most near-by worlds (whether the cup is still there or not), I wouldget to the truthconcerningwhether a cup is on the table by visuallyinspecting the scene.
Example of unsafebelief • True perceptualbelief under unusualcircumstances: • I visuallyinspectwhether a cup is on the table, makevisualcontact with a holographic image of a cup, arrive at beliefthat a cup is on the table (this is true, since a cleverlydisguised real cup is alsothere) • Here, the methodbringsme in danger. In manynear-by possibleworlds I wouldarrive at a false belief on the issuewhether a cup is on the table by visuallyinspecting the scene.
The point of a safety-basedanalysis of knowledge • If knowledgerequiressafety, thisexplainswhy in many Gettier-cases the subjectsdoes not gainknowledge: • The subject’sbelief is true, but unsafe. • E.g. The holographic cup from before, Gettier’stwoclassic cases etc.
Unsafeknowledge, takeone • Halloween Party: I am invited to a Halloween party at Andy’s House. Andy has hired Judy to stand at a junction and directpeopletowards the party. Andy does not want Michael to find the party. Unbeknownst to me, Andy has thereforeinstructed Judy to point Michael towardsAndy’s House down the leftroad, but thenimmediatelycallhim, so that the party is moved to Adam’s House down the right road. I nearlychoose to disguisemyself as Michael, but don’t. When I arrive at the junction, Judy accuratelydirectsmedown the leftroadtowards the party. • Comesaña(2005, 397) • Verdict: I get to knowthat the party is at the house down the leftroad.
Comment’s on Comesaña’sExample • Unsafebelief? • Indeed in onereading, it is NOT the case thatin most near-by possible word in which S does not form her belief about the location of the party on a basis quite different from Judy’s testimony, the party is down the left road: • Had the subject dressed up as Michael, which presumably in many near-by worlds he does, he would have been wrong, since here the party would have moved down the right road. • But arguably, the c.f. ought to be evaluated w.r.t the subject as he was at the time of the actual belief-formation. By then, “epistemic danger” had entirely passed since he did NOT chose to dress up as Michael. • So, really S’s belief is safe in any sense that matters. See Bogardus(2014)
Unsafeknowledge, taketwo • (Atomic Clock) A normal subject Smith forms true belief that it is 8.22 by consulting the world’s most accurate atomic clock reading “8.22”. However, that this clock is currently working is actually an improbable coincidence. Had a nearby alien isotope decayed, the clock would have stopped functioning, freezing on the reading “8.22”. By all likelihood the alien isotope should already have decayed and the risk is high that it will decay very soon. Nevertheless Smith competently acquires a correct belief about the current time by looking at a (still) fully functioning and highly accurate clock. • Paraphrased from Bogardus(2014). • Bogardus’ verdict: Smith’s belief is unsafe, not just unsafely safe. But still, by consulting the clock, Smith comes to know that it is 8.22!
Too environmentallylucky? • Consider the following revision: • (Environmentally lucky atomic clock) Everything as in (Atomic Clock). Except at the time, when Smith gains true belief by looking at the atomic clock, she could just as easily have consulted atomic-clock* or atomic-clock**, which are hanging in two adjacent rooms. Smith always consults one clock only, when establishing the current time. Atomic-clock* is just as the original atomic clock, only it is frozen at “8.21”. The same goes for atomic-clock**, only it is frozen at “8.23”. Had Smith looked at atomic-clock* or atomic-clock**, Smith would have formed a false belief about the current time. • Here many would judge that Smith fails to gain knowledge (parallel to fake barn cases). But (Atomic Clock) and (Environmentally lucky atomic clock) are naturally read as sharing the feature that error possibilities are present in the close actual spatio-temporal environment!
More on temporal environmentalluck • This objection is not entirely ad hoc! • Too much temporal environmentalluckseemslike a promisingexplanationwhyyoucannotgainknowledge by consulting a Russellian Clock Tower. • That the Russellian Clock did not work at the time it wasconsulted, seems to matter less on reflection: • Imagine it did not work but the errorwasimmediatelydiscovered and fixedbefore the clockneeded to moveitshand in order to show the time accurately. Doesthisimpedeknowledge?
Unsafe Knowledge, take 3. • (Lucky Sheep Observer) Anna is a zoological expert about to turn around and direct her gaze towards the center of a field behind her, her mind occupied with the question whether there is a sheep in that field and determined to settle this issue by way of visual inspection. Given the absence of unusual interference with her cognitive situation, she would soon lay her eyes upon a sheep grazing in the field. Given the perfect optical conditions and her impeccable sheep-discerning abilities she will acquire true belief that a sheep is in the field. However, a highly unusual bus with a very convincing all-over image of an empty field on its side (including the windows) is about to park between the subject and the field with the sheep, perfectly blending into the landscape. Since this is a one-of-a-kind bus and the subject will mistakenly come to believe that no sheep is in the field, if the bus should park with its windows closed (which they normally are) before she could turn around, this is incredibly bad luck from a cognitive perspective. However, due to a streak of incredibly good luck, passengers inside the bus on both of its sides simultaneously and most unusually decide to roll down its windows (perhaps due to an improbable lottery outcome), thus spoiling the optical illusion of an empty field before Anna’s belief-forming process has fully terminated, and also allowing Anna to see right through the bus and spot the sheep grazing in the field behind the bus. Should the windows of the bus be rolled back up before Anne has become entirely convinced that a sheep is in the field, the illusion of an empty filed would once again become so eerily convincing that Anne would think she had dreamt up the bus, rub her eyeballs, look closely again, and come to think that no sheep is in the field. The windows, however, stay down and Anna comes truly to believe that a sheep is in the field by looking straight at it through the bus.
Desirable features of thisexample • Source of knowledge (sheep on field) is not phony or frail. Arguably, believer is in an actual position sufficiently to establishthis. • Believer is not phony. • Actualmethod or basis for belief is not phony (at least on a naturaldescription as visualinspection of landscape). • Source of unsafety is far tooexotic to support arguments thatknowledge is undermined on account on intellectualimprudence, epistemic vice etc.
What if unsafeknowledgeexist? • 1. Safety is nopanecure for Gettier case diagnosis. • 2. Safety accounts of knowledge do not accuratelycaptureour folk concept. • 3. Causaltheories of knowledgerebound?