Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Bealer on the A Priori

George Bealer ('A Theory of the A Priori' p.5, and elsewhere) gives the following as a 'principle of holism':

A theory is justified (acceptable, more reasonable than its competitors, legitimate, warranted) for a person if and only if it is, or belongs to, the simplest comprehensive theory that explains all, or most, of the person's evidence.

Surely a non-holist could accept the bare biconditional, however? What's needed to characterize holism, as I've always understood it, is some claim to the effect that a theory's being justified in some sense depends upon its belonging to the best justified (most explanatory, if you like) comprehensive theory.

Less nit-pickingly, I take issue with Bealer's characterization of 'moderate rationalism' on p. 7 of this paper as a commitment to the view that:

A person's phenomenal experiences and intuitions comprise the person's basic evidence.

To have an 'intuition' in Bealer's sense that p is for it to seem to you as if p in an a priori way (p. 3). So Bealer is effectively characterizing all a priorism as rationalism. No fair - there are plenty of honest, hardworking, non-Quinean empiricists out there who acknowledge and try to account for a priori knowledge. But presumably Bealer does not intend that any empiricist should count as a 'moderate rationalist'.

Another quibble: I don't see why we should think that all 'truth-based' (as opposed to pragmatic, coherentist, etc.) epistemological stories are 'reliabilist' (p. 7). I think a form of explanationism is preferable to reliabilism (even 'modal reliabilism' of the kind discussed on p. 9), and it looks equally 'truth-based' to me.

A more substantial point arising from this quibble: with an explanationist account in place, the mere existence of a modal tie between the deliverances of modal intuition and the truth looks inadequate for a genuine evidential relationship. In fact, such a modal tie looks inadequate anyway: we need to know why the tie holds in order to know whether it is evidential. (Bealer seems to be sensitive to this, as he does try to offer an explanation of the tie.) God could have so configured our psychology that, unbeknownst to us, there is a modal tie of the kind Bealer wants between our being willing to guess and the guess being true. But (by the same token which leads Bealer to reject contingently reliable guesswork as evidence on p. 9), such modally stable good luck at guessing wouldn't make our guesses count as evidence.

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