Monday, October 24, 2005

Naturalism and Epistemic Norms

Here's a question which I've been thinking about for a while but which I got a bit clearer on this weekend: have we successfully naturalized epistemic normativity if, for every epistemically normative claim, we can identify the fact which makes true, and it turns out to be a natural fact?

I'm tempted to say yes. The view could be that (for example) claims like:
(1) S's belief that p is epistemically correct
are made true by the same facts as claims like:
(2) (S believes that p and) given S's information, p is probably true.

This sort of view appears to raise an analogue of the Open Question Argument. It could be objected that the normativity of (1) is not adequately captured by (2) because one can agree that p is probably true given S's situation, but still wonder whether S's belief that p is epistemically correct.

One can respond that it need not be part of the view that (1) means the same as (2), and that therefore the identity between the facts which make these two claims true need not be at all obvious. If there is meant to be more to the objection than this, it's not clear what it is. To insist that the question of the correctness of S's belief remains genuinely open when you know that (2) is true is just to beg the question against the view that the fact which makes (1) true is the fact that makes (2) true.


Michael P. Lynch said...

Hi Carrie --
This is helpful and helps me to see what you were after in your great comments on my paper in Stirling.

As you noted then, this is nowadays the standard naturalist response to the open question argument. As you pointed out, I didn't raise any arguments against this view in that talk, and one might wonder what sort of arguments might be telling against such a view of alethic or epistemic norms in general.

I don't have any particular reason to reject such an account in theory, indeed, I may be committed to something like it, see below. Nonetheless, here's one question. Suppose we grant that (1) and (2) are made true by the same sort of facts. Why think the facts that makes them true are natural facts? Compare the ethical case, e.g.

(a) action x is right
(b) action x promotes happiness

Suppose our naturalist says that (a) and (b) are made true by natural facts about happiness. That is plausible only so far as their account of happiness is suitably naturalistic: e.g. where happiness just is pleasure. But of course, this is a unhappy view, and one worries that one can make it more plausible only be sneaking in some normative claims into the account (e.g. by claiming that some pleasures are morally better than others and so on).

Suppose one says that x is a natural fact just when its components are natural. The components of the facts that make (1) and (2) true would include the facts about truth. So it hinges in part on what your account of truth is. No surprise there: so the account will depend on whether we can give a theory of truth that does not include within its basic axioms normative claims.

Would you then claim that

(3) Bp is correct
(4) Bp is true

are made true by the same sort of fact? I suppose so, perhaps by

(5) Bp correspond to reality

or some such. That seems fine, just so long as one's account of correspondence is (a) not sneaking in some normative components and (b) can be plausibly be thought to be a more than instrumental value.

Indeed, one might think that my own view about truth -- alethic functionalism -- is committed to something like your account of (3) and (4). That is, one might think that the natural thing for the functionalist to say is that (3) and (4) are always made true by some underlying fact but which underlying fact that is will shift from domain to domain.

So on my view, correctness for belief (that is truth) just is a supervenient property, in other words. But does this mean my view about this "normative" property is a naturalistic one? I'm not sure, and one reason I'm not sure is that I am no longer completely sure who is a naturalist and who isn't. After all, Shafer-Landau defends a "nonnaturalist" account of moral properties according to which moral properties are multiply realized by natural properties. But of course others like Brink, call this sort of view a type of naturalism. Perhaps it is all in the labeling.

There is much more to say here but I'll leave off for the moment.

Carrie Jenkins said...

Hi Michael,

Thanks very much for these interesting comments. I myself wouldn't claim that:
(3) Bp is correct
is made true by the same fact as:
(4) Bp is true
because I think cases of misleading evidence (and the like) show that a belief can be perfectly epistemically correct without being true, and vice versa. But this would be a line that a naturalist could take.

I might be tempted, though, to go with saying that (3) is made true by the same fact as:
(5') p probably corresponds to reality.
As you say, this mustn't sneak in any normative components, but I don't see any immediate grounds for worrying that it does. You also say that it would need to be the case that a belief's having the property of truth (or, presumably, probable truth) can plausibly be thought to be of more than instrumental value. Is that just to say that it must be plausible that a belief can be epistemically correct (as opposed to merely instrumentally valuable) just in virtue of its being probably true? If so, then the point seems to be that the naturalist's main thesis must be plausible.

On how this stuff relates to the idea of truth being a supervenient property: I'm not sure how saying that would commit you to saying anything about what kind of fact makes true normative claims like (3). Even if you took correctness claims to be made true by the same facts as truth-claims (or probable-truth-claims), as well as taking truth to be a supervenient property, I don't think that would necessarily make one a naturalist about correctness claims like (3). Whether you were a naturalist about these claims might still depend on what sort of properties truth was allowed to supervene on (could it supervene on anything non-natural?), and whether, if the supervening property is really different from the subvenient one(s) - as you believe -, truth itself is a natural property.

I guess that how alethic functionalism scores on the latter point will depend on whether functional properties can be construed as natural properties.

Interesting stuff!

Michael P. Lynch said...

Hi Carrie ---

Interesting stuff indeed.

Two small comments: My (3) and (4) above were not meant to be a gloss on (1) and (2). I was assuming that if it is good for something to be probably true then it must also be good (valuable etc.) for it to be true, and so assuming that the value of what you are calling "epistemic correctness" would be cashed out in terms of the value of truth. In any event, I had slipped back into thinking about the matter in terms of my own views (leaving out the 'prima facie' 'pro tanto' qualifiers). Apologies for the confusion.

More importantly, I like your remark that the demand that x is "more than instrumentally correct" just means "x is correct just in virtue of x's being probably true". This sounds fine to me, and of course a move one can make whether one is a naturalist or not. And obviously I could make a similar remark with regard to my claims about what i called the "cognitive" correctness of a belief's being true.

At least right now, I don't see any reason to oppose your type of naturalism at all; and that leads me to think that -- as Paul Bloomfield recently reminded me I've said elsewhere -- that it is not naturalism about the value of truth per se to which I am opposed but to certain positions on that value often driven by *reductive physicalist* assumptions. It is those assumptions that are arguably encouraging Hartry's Papineau's very different positions.