Monday, December 14, 2009

Meinongianism and Skepticism

Some people hold that there are a plurality of concrete possible worlds inhabited by concrete individuals who have experiences, abstract thoughts, and beliefs. One might hold this view and also believe that the actual world is ontologically special; all and only actual things exist. This is a kind of Meinongian Modal Realism.

Similarly, there are those who hold that there are a plurality of concrete times inhabited by individuals who have expereinces, abstract thoughts, and beliefs. One might hold this view and also believe that the present is ontologically special; all and only present things exist. This is Meinongian Presentism.

One problem for these views is that they seem to lead to skepticism. Consider Meinongian Modal Realism. On this view, there are lots and lots of people who have evidence much like ours that seems to indicate that they are actual. However, they are all mistaken. There is no significant difference between their evidence and our evidence. Moreover, there are so many more individuals who are mistaken than individuals who are not. So, it is highly likely that each one of us is mistaken when we believe that we are actual. So, we don't know that we are actual. A similar problem arises for Meinongian Presentism (I have also heard that Parson's briefly discusses a problem like this for Meinongianism in general).

I would like to sketch two solutions to this puzzle. I am attracted to both of these solutions and I am not sure which I like the best.

On the first solution, we must make some claims about evidence. Suppose that some experiential states are evidence (and let's, for simplicity, ignore non-experiential evidence). Should we believe that all experiential states are evidence? Perhaps not. Moreover, we might say that someone's having an experiential state is evidence for a belief only if he/she actually has that experiential state. On this view it is false that there are lots and lots of people who have evidence much like ours for the mistaken belief that they are actual. No non-actual people have any evidence whatsoever.

One strange consequence of this view is that we have to be careful how we state reductions of modal claims. Consider the claim that possibly, someone has sufficient evidence to believe that there is a dinosaur in front of him (and suppose that no one actually has sufficient evidence for that belief). On a standard modal realist view, we would say that this claim is grounded in the claim that there is an individual who is in a non-actual world and who (in that world) has sufficient evidence for believing that there is a dinosaur in front of him. But, we cannot say this if we accept the proposal above. This is because, on the proposal above, no non-actual experiential states are evidence. So, this non-actual person's experiential states are not evidence.

What we have to say, if we are going to accept the proposal above, is that the claim that possibly, someone has sufficient evidence to believe that there is a dinosaur in front of him is grounded in something else. We have to say that there are experiential states that are not evidential but that ground claims about possible evidence.

My second proposal is a bit more dogmatic (which makes me kind of like it). We might simply admit that there are lots of people who have evidential states much like ours and that those people are even justified in believing that they are actual. Unfortunately for them, they are mistaken. We, on the other hand, have evidential states that make us justified in believing that we are actual and, moreover, we are correct. So, assuming we are not in a Gettier situation with respect to the claim that we are actual, we know that we are actual.

This solution needs to be augmented a bit since the original argument for skepticism inferred from the high likelihood of mistake to a lack of knowledge. What we have to say is that even though there are lots of people out there like us and that makes it (in some sense) highly likely that we are mistaken, we still have knowledge.

Here is an analogy. Suppose we come to learn that a significant portion of the human population has been abducted and envatted by aliens. These envatted individuals have experiential states much like ours (or lets just assume that for the sake of this post), yet they are mistaken. In fact, we learn that most humans are envatted and only a small portion of the human population has true beliefs based on experiential evidence. Should this new knowledge make us suspend judgment about whether we are on earth, living non-envatted lives? I think now. We and our envatted brethren have all the same kind of evidence. We should believe that we are living non-envatted lives and so should they. It doesn't matter that we have some evidence for the claim that (in some sense) it is highly likely that we are envatted. We also have overwhelming evidence for the claim that (in some sense) it is highly unlikely that we are envatted. So do the poor envatted folks. I think we are justified in believing that we are not envatted and the envatted folks are also justified in believing that they are not envatted. We are lucky in that our justified beliefs are true and they are unlucky in that their justified beliefs are false. Hence, we have knowledge and they do not.

(Cross Posted at joshuaspencer.net)

43 Comments:

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4:39 AM  
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9:26 PM  
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4:23 PM  
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8:02 PM  
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6:35 AM  
Blogger 建鄭勳建鄭勳 said...

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1:42 AM  
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10:41 PM  
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11:20 PM  
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4:45 AM  
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4:56 PM  
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12:55 AM  

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