Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Dogmatism and The Content of Experience

If I understand correctly (and I'm indebted to Sebastian Schmoranzer's recent Arche presentation for clarifying the following exegetical points) it is a tenet of Pryor's dogmatism (as represented in this paper) that certain of my experiences give me a reason to believe I have hands, and this regardless of any antecedent warrant I may have for thinking that I am not hallucinating, not a brain in a vat, etc.. Why? Because my experience represents it as being the case that I have hands.

However, my experience's 'representing it as being the case that I have hands' cannot amount to its being as it would be if I had hands, lest we be able to construct a parallel argument to the effect that experience gives me a reason to believe I am a brain in a vat being fed perfectly hand-like sensations.

The standard response to this seems to be that although my experience is as it would be if I were that kind of brain in a vat, my experience does not represent it as being the case that I am that kind of brain in a vat in the way it represents it as being the case that I have hands. That is, the content of my experience is that I have hands, not that I am a brain in a vat having hand-like experiences.

This seems to raise a puzzle: how do we spell out the notion of content required? If it is purely something about (my relationship to) the external world that makes the difference between having an experience with content 'I have hands' and having an experience with content 'I am a brain in a vat having hand-like experiences', then the 'standard response' just described appears to collapse the dogmatist line into a familiar kind of disjunctivist response to scepticism.

On the other hand, suppose we try to use inferential role (assuming that to be something internally accessible) to distinguish the two contents. Then the important thing about the inferential role of the content of the experience I'm actually having is presumably going to include things like the fact that I can correctly infer from the content of this experience to the conclusion that I am not a handless brain in a vat, which is something I cannot infer from the content of an experience which represents it as being the case that I am a brain in a vat having hand-like experiences.

However, it seems to be blantantly begging the question against the sceptic to assume without further comment that I am presently having an experience the content of which enables me to correctly infer that I am not a handless brain in a vat. This is exactly what the sceptic doubts my experience is like.

So what other stories about the difference in content are available for the dogmatist to tell here?


Brian Weatherson said...

I don't think the first version of the dogmatist position you offer is quite the same as the disjunctivist response. For one thing, if I'm a recently envatted BIV, then it may well be that my visual appearances represent that I have hands, because that's what those appearances have usually been correlated with over my life. So this approach doesn't guarantee that appearances are accurate, in the way that at least some disjunctivist approaches do. I agree the positions are very similar, but I doubt identity.

But I'm more confused about the second point. Of course the dogmatist response here is question-begging. It is meant to be. It's dogmatism after all! It's a principle of the theory that there isn't a non-question-begging response to the sceptic.

Carrie Jenkins said...

Hi Brian,

Thanks for that - I agree about the non-identity point. But I think the new view is close enough to share the unattractive features of disjuncitivism.

On the second point: I'm not sure why dogmatism needs to beg any questions against the sceptic, at least, not in such a serious a way as it does on the 'inferential role' horn of my dilemma. The dogmatist (I take it) is someone who says that my experience is of kind K and (contra the sceptic) that experiences like this really do justify belief that I have hands. But she needs to characterize K in some way such that it's not a *trivial* consequence that K-type experiences justify that belief, or else it is just too easy for the sceptic to reply that I am *not* having K-type experiences. If an independent characterization of K is given, the sceptic can of course keep denying that the K-type experiences I'm having justify my belief that I have hands. But the dogmatist can have hope that some (perhaps previously undecided) party to the debate might one day find it persusive that K-type experiences justify that sort of belief (and that she is having K-type experiences), and hence be lead to agree with the dogmatist against the sceptic. Not so if K is characterized in terms of having a content from which one can correctly infer that one is not a BIV etc.. Any party to the debate would have to have already decided that the sceptic is wrong in order to believe that she is having any experiences like that.

Jim Pryor said...

Hi Carrie,

You're absolutely right that a dogmatist needs there to be an asymmetry between the experience's relation to P, and its relation to your hallucinating that P, and so on. It's natural to assume that this relationship will covary with the experience's content. (See below, though.)

You say "How do we spell out the notion of content required? If it is purely something about (my relationship to) the external world that makes the difference...[then] the dogmatist line [collapses] into a familiar kind of disjunctivist response to scepticism." As Brian says, that's not necessarily so: perhaps the difference has to do with, e.g., generally reliable connections between the experience and P, and doesn't require that you be perceiving that P right now.

However, that's not the way I want to go myself. My own take on this is internalist. I think phenomenology is pretty rich: for example, I think there's a phenomenology to occurrent thought, there's a phenomenological difference between an experience as of a complete house and an experience as of the facing surfaces of a house, a phenomenological difference between an experience as of a dog and an experience as of a brown furry four-legged animate creature, and so on. This bears on our present question because I also think there's a phenomenology "as of perceiving." Typically when we perceive that P we have the phenomenology as of perceiving that P, that is, as of being in a position to ascertain that P just by having that phenomenology. Obviously we need a richer notion of phenomenology than just colored patches to make sense of this. I freely grant that there could (logically) be a different kind of experience that "matches" our perceptual phenomenology in terms of which colored patches where, but that lacks this "as of perceiving" aspect. It might even have an "as of hallucinating" aspect. (If we allow for such phenomenological differences, should we count the "matching" experiences as having the same content? I don't want to make any assumptions about that. I'm not inclined to count them as having the same content, but I can see the attractions of it.)

As I want to deploy dogmatism, it only applies to experiences with the "as of perceiving" aspect. I mention that in my paper "The Skeptic and the Dogmatist" <>, in a footnote. I chose not to highlight it because the main apparatus I was developing could also be used by reliabilists, internalists with different motivations, and so on. (I wanted to use "dogmatism" to refer to the main apparatus, not to my own idiosyncratic take on it.)

If there can be "matching" experiences without the "as of perceiving" aspect, I don't think they'd justify us in the same way for believing we have hands, and so on. (We'd have to fall back on inference to the best explanation of why we're having those experiences.) If there can be "matching" experiences with the "as of hallucinating" aspect, I'm prepared to embrace the view that those experiences give their subjects prima facie justification to believe they're hallucinating that P, in the same way that our experiences give us prima face justification to believe that (we're perceiving that P and that) P.

You ask whether this kind of account doesn't beg the question against the skeptic. In one sense it does. I don't think any satisfying non-question-begging responses to the skeptic are to be found. The work we're doing here still constitutes progress, though. I said at the start of "The Skeptic and the Dogmatist" that " The modest anti-skeptical project is [only] to establish to our satisfaction that we can justifiably believe and know such things as that there is a hand, without contradicting obvious facts about perception. This is not easy to do, for the skeptic can present us with arguments... The modest anti-skeptical project attempts to diagnose and defuse those skeptical arguments; to show how to retain as many of our pretheoretical beliefs about perception as possible, without accepting the premises the skeptic needs for his argument. Since this modest anti-skeptical project just aims to set our own minds at ease, it’s not a condition for succeeding at it that we restrict ourselves to only making assumptions that the skeptic would accept."

I think this kind of attitude about how we should understand the role of the skeptic is fairly prevalent. Keith DeRose and Stew Cohen have written things similar to what I just copied. It's also the kind of attitude my ethics teachers used to encourage us to take towards the moral skeptic.

In your response to Brian, above, it sounds like you're prepared to accept all that. You just want to hear a more substantial characterization of which experiences it is that have the justifying power we're talking about, and a possibly-persuasive story about why they might have that power. Does what I said about phenomenology count?

Carrie Jenkins said...

Thanks for that Jim.

I'm not sure the difference you're calling phenomenological is plausibly a difference in the experience as opposed to a difference in how we take or interpret the experience. But if it's the latter, it's not clear why it's the sort of thing that should make any difference to what the experience can and can't justify.

Anonymous said...

what is possibility?
What is the given?
What is real and unreal? imaginary?
Differences in defining these make a big difference.
SInce your question involves Moore in some way let's say a character named Moore makes his definition of real hands and criteria for there being real hands ( not just imaginary hands) the following: looking at my hands and saying "I see my hands plainly, patently" .
Moore contiinues: The idea of sensations in the brain in the vat instead of hands-- this idea does not effect my definition of real hands and my criteria for real hands and is separate from those things.
And the brain in the vat idea does not create a real possibility: if my hand suddenly just faded away like the cheshire cat--then I might think the possibility real that the hand is not real--- those are my criteria and my definition. Without these criteria, it would be like saying that the idea of the present bald king of France riding his unicorn --indicates a real possibility.
And the skeptic replies that the idea of brains in vats does indicate a real possibility of brains in vats and the idea of the present bald king of France rides his unicorn does indicate a real possibility (perhaps there is a french king and a unicorn kept secret by the French).
The skeptic may say implausibility does not eliminate possiblity. The non-skeptic may say
implausibility does eliminate possibility.
The non-skeptic Moore may say that the idea that something is possible does not make it possible --so it remains an idea. (is the possibility created by the words or just express an existent possibility ?)
But, says the skeptic, if an idea turns out to be the case (however that is decided and it is problematic) then it must have been a possibility all along.(The skeptic is not skeptical of his idea of skepticism, but the non-skeptic is skeptical of the skeptics idea of skepticism ) But replies Moore, if an idea turns out to not be the case then was it all along, not a possiblity?
And so on---
Thus, the argument devolves, as most philosophical arguments do, into attempts to pin down the definitions and concepts of concern using ever finer detail-- but detail just leads to everwidening inquiry. where does the truth buck stop?
Maybe it stops at something like taste: truth is like taste--- one person says the taste is good another says it is bad. Or from the point of view of the person: I like this-- and the other says --I hate this;
I think this is patently obvious, the other: I think this is patently false.
People do differ as to what is the case. If the truth is what is apparently the case until something else that is apparently the case replaces it--- if this is the definition of the truth, is that which all truth has in common-- then everything that is apparent is true-- is the case.
Is taste then where you have an end to the uncertainty? Where does it stop, this doubt you may apply anywhere? Is it at taste?
We have an option I think not to think any idea necessary-nor any idea connected to any other--including the idea of a brain in a vat in relation to whether you have hands or not. to the that it is not obvious that the brain in the vat is related to the hands observed. Nor is it necessary that it is not related.
I think that taste is what is reflected in the differences as to what is thought of as or what is actually given and what follows or does not from what is given.