Monday, September 22, 2008

Knowledge as the Norm of Assertion

I have recently been talking to one of my colleagues about norms of assertion. during the course of our conversation, there was some amount of miscommunication between us. My friend wanted to defend that the following is a rule of language:

R1. Assert only what you know.

I expressed skepticism about that rule and suggested that perhaps the following rule was both true and the strongest epistemic rule governing assertion:

R2. Assert only what you justifiably believe.

My friend pointed out that if one were to try to follow R1 he would do all the same things as he would if he were to try to follow R2 (and vice versa). He suggested that we think of our situation like an internal dialogue. Think about a situation in which you are about to assert something and imagine asking yourself if you know the thing you are about to assert. Record whether you said "yes" or "no" in answer to that question. Now ask yourself whether you justifiably believe that same thing. Your answer should be the same as before. So, it looks like you will get the same results regardless of whether you try to follow R1 or R2.

At this point one might think that following R1 amounts to the same thing as following R2. However, I am inclined to think is incorrect. Although you will do the same actions regardless of which rule you try to follow, you will be criticizable in some situation if R1 expresses an accurate rule of assertion but not criticizable if R2 is the strongest rule governing assertion. Let me explain. If you are in fake bark country and assert that the object in front of you is a barn, then you will be criticizable under R1 but not under R2. After all, you asserted something you didn't know but you did not assert something you were not justified in believing.

This, at least, is what I thought a couple of days ago. But, perhaps I don't know what it means to follow a rule. It seems that we can distinguish an internalist interpretation of following a rule and an externalist interpretation. To make these two interpretation clear consider the following scenereo:

Late last night we were all kidnapped and hooked up to the matrix. Now, although we think we are living our lives as usual, we are in fact trapped in a computer generated world. While we were in this world, Greg ordered me to bring him a pen. I picked up what seemed to me to be a pen and seemingly brought it to him. Of course, in reality I did whatever it is that envatted people do when they seemingly pick up a pen and hand it over to another person. Now the question is this: Did I follow Greg's command. In an externalist sense of following commands I did not. After all, Greg is speaking English to me and asked for a pen not a vat-pen and (at most) I brought him the latter and not the former. However, in an internal sense I did follow the command. From the inside I thought, "Greg wants a pen" and then I was appeared to pen-wise and thought "oh there is a pen"and proceeded to do something that I thought was picking up and handing over a pen. So, it seems clear that I internally followed the command but externally did not.

What goes for commands goes for rules as well. We might internally follow a rule while not externally following it. Now, given this background information, we might accept that we should follow the rule R1. However, we might still disagree with whether we should follow it in an internal sense or an external sense. If we decide that we should follow it in an external sense, then we will come up with a very different principle about assertion than we would if we had decided that we should follow it in an internal sense.

If we decide we should externally follow R1, then we might affirm this principle:

P1. One is permitted to assert P only if one knows P.

If however, we decide that we should follow it in an internal sense, then we'll get something more like the following:

P2. One is permitted to assert P only if one is justified in believing P.

As I see it, there are several different positions one might have. One might think that we should follow R1 in an external sense and hence believe that P1 is true. On the other hand, one might think that we should follow R1 in the internal sense and hence believe that P2 is true. On the third hand, we might think that we should follow R2 in the external sense and hence believe P2. Finally, one might think we should follow R2 in the internal sense and believe . . . Oh myhead is spinning! Well, I hope you get the picture.

It is clear though that if we start thinking about norms of assertion by thinking about rules we should follow, then we should do two things: (1) figure out which rule we should follow and (2) figure out what we mean by "follow". Once we have done these two things, then we'll be able to formulate a principle about assertions.

1 Comments:

Blogger Clayton said...

Hey Joshua,

I disagree with this:
However, I am inclined to think is incorrect. Although you will do the same actions regardless of which rule you try to follow, you will be criticizable in some situation if R1 expresses an accurate rule of assertion but not criticizable if R2 is the strongest rule governing assertion. Let me explain. If you are in fake bark country and assert that the object in front of you is a barn, then you will be criticizable under R1 but not under R2. After all, you asserted something you didn't know but you did not assert something you were not justified in believing.
This assumes something that I think we must reject (and must reject if we're to give the K rule a fair hearing). It assumes that any violation of a rule leaves you open for criticism. It doesn't. It leaves your assertion open for criticism, but we have the distinction between justifications and excuses precisely because we want to say that blame can be removed even in the presence of certain kinds of wrongs that cannot be justified.

Also, I think you might enjoy Sutton's discussion of R1 and R2 in his "Stick to what you know". He thinks both are true. Of course, R1 seems to entail R2, but on his view R2 also entails R1.

7:06 PM  

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