Yesterday I attended the first day of the 1st Arché Basic Knowledge Workshop. (Unfortunately I’m missing the second day.) There were papers by Ernie Sosa, Martin Smith and José Zalabardo.
Sosa presented some work from his new book project. Among other things, he suggested what he called a ‘transcendental argument’, intended to bolster the (anti-sceptical) thought that we are entitled to the position that our faculties are not completely unreliable. The main thrust of this was that the alternatives – rejection or even suspension – are cognitively unstable. But I'm not convinced; even granting that they are, and that this makes them epistemically unacceptable, in order for this to lend support the remaining option it must be assumed that there is always some epistemically acceptable option available to us. If we have no reason to assume that, the epistemic unacceptability of two out of our three options does not entail the epistemic acceptability of the third.
Smith presented an intriguing paper in which he suggested that we rethink our notion of justification so that it is not linked to ideas of probability-raising or probabilification. Instead, we should think that justification is a matter of what he called ‘normic support’. A normically supports B just in case the most normal worlds where A and B are more normal than the most normal worlds where A and not B. This suggestion raises a number of very interesting issues, but what caught my attention were Smith’s further claims about the interactions between randomness and normality. His notion of normality has it that any outcome of a genuinely random process is as normal as any other. One worry this raises is that if, as some results in quantum physics suggest, most or all of what happens in the physical world involves quantum-level random processes which can have macro-level effects, it will be difficult to order worlds for normality so as to generate the kind of results Smith has in mind. But it would be interesting to consider whether notions of normality without this link to randomness might serve in this context, even if they may not get quite the results Smith is after (such as the result that one is not justified in believing one's lottery ticket will lose).