A Broad Perceptual Model of

 

Privileged Introspective Judgments

 

William S. Larkin

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On a broad perceptual model of introspection, there is a merely contingent causal connection between our introspective judgments and the occurrent thoughts that are their targets.Such a model is metaphysically unassuming and naturalistically appealing, but it would seem to have difficulty accounting for the special epistemic status of introspective judgments.It is intuitively undeniable that the introspective judgments we make about the contents of our own occurrent thoughts occupy a position of privilege in our cognitive economy:Privileged introspective judgments about the contents of our own thoughts seem to be on a qualitatively better epistemic footing than our ordinary perceptual judgments about the external world.

But now it is difficult to see how a model of introspection that explicitly likens that faculty to ordinary perception can possibly account for a qualitative difference in epistemic status between introspective and perceptual judgments.What is called for here is a philosophical explanation, in Nozickís sense, of how it is even so much as possible for a perceptual model of introspection to account for the privileged epistemic status of introspective judgments.My aim here is to provide such an explanation.

 

1.

Privileged introspective judgments (PIJs) seem, to both common sense and philosophically sophisticated intuition, to be qualitatively better off epistemically speaking than ordinary perceptual judgments (OPJs).Thus the irresistible tendency to think of PIJs as better suited to a foundational role than OPJs; not merely because PIJs are contingently more likely to be true or epistemically secure than OPJs, but because they are intrinsically more reliable.PIJs are privileged over OPJs not because PIJs are produced by mechanisms that happen to be more reliable in the sense of more frequently producing true or secure judgments, but because PIJs by their very nature are immune to some epistemic defect(s) to which OPJs are susceptible.

††††††††††† PIJs are thought to be qualitatively more reliable than OPJs in the sense that PIJs are utterly immune to some epistemic defect to which OPJs are not.Thus the traditional attempts to account for the special epistemic status of PIJs in terms of infallibility, indubitability, or incorrigibilityóimmunity to error, doubt, and correction respectively.Judgments of a certain type are infallible when it is not even possible for such judgments to be false.The difference between fallible and infallibile judgments is, in the sense intended here, a qualitative difference in their likelihood of being true.Fallible judgments may be extremely reliable and may in fact (contingently) always turn out to be true, but it is still possible for them to be mistaken; whereas infallible judgments are not even possibly mistaken.With infallibility we get a qualitative difference in reliability from a modal difference in likelihood of truth.

The situation is likewise with respect to indubitability and incorrigibility, except that instead of a qualitative modal difference in truth, there is a qualitative modal difference in epistemic security.Indubitable and incorrigible judgments are qualitatively more secure, in the sense that they are immune to compelling counter-evidence.Sís judgment J is indubitable when it is not possible for S to have evidence sufficiently cogent to rationally warrant S giving up J.Sís judgment J is incorrigible when it is not possible for someone else to have evidence sufficiently cogent to outweigh Sís testimony.In both cases we have an immunity to a certain epistemic defect that springs from the impossibility of there being sufficiently rationally compelling counter-evidence.The difference between a judgment that is extremely secure but still possibly subject to evidential defeat and a judgment that is utterly immune to defeat is, in the sense intended here, a qualitative one.With indubitability and incorrigibility we get a qualitative difference in reliability from a modal difference in epistemic security.

Traditional attempts to account for the privileged status of PIJs claim that PIJs are immune to error, doubt, or correction; thereby accounting for a qualitative difference between PIJs and OPJs in terms of a modal difference in likelihood of truth or epistemic security.OPJs might be extremely reliable, secure, or likely to be true; but it is still possible for them to be mistaken or defeated by cogent counter-evidence.So if PIJs were either infallible or indubitable or incorrigible, then there would be a modal difference in epistemic status between PIJs and OPJs; and we would have an account of the qualitative difference in reliability between PIJs and OPJs.

The problem is that on a naturalistically appealing broad perceptual model of introspection, PIJs are neither infallible nor indubitable nor incorrigible.On such a model, PIJs would seem to be subject to the very same epistemic defects as OPJs.Perhaps introspection would turn out to be contingently more likely to produce true or secure beliefs than ordinary perception; but still there is no modal gap.On a perceptual model of introspection, it is still possible for PIJs to be mistaken or defeated.Thus, though there might be a quantitative difference in reliability between PIJs and OPJs on a broad perceptual model of introspection, there can seemingly be no qualitative difference in reliability.I will argue however that even on a broad perceptual model of introspection, there will remain an epistemic defect to which PIJs but not OPJs are immune.This I will contend is a modal difference sufficient for a qualitative difference in reliability between PIJs and OPJs.

 

2.

I am attempting here to provide a philosophical explanation for how a perceptual model of introspection can nevertheless account for a qualitative epistemic difference between introspective and perceptual judgments.A philosophical explanation of this kind works by putting forth an explanatory hypothesis, which is to be judged not so much by its initial plausibility as by its ability to effect some desirable outcome.In this case the desirable outcome would be reconciling a naturalistically appealing perceptual model of introspection with the intuitively undeniable idea that PIJs enjoy a privileged status is desirable.

My explanatory hypothesis is this: If judgments of type J are immune to subjective irrationality whereas judgments of type G are not, then J-judgments are qualitatively more reliable than G-judgments.I will argue that even on a broad perceptual model of introspection PIJs are immune to subjective irrationality whereas OPJs are not.It will follow then from the explanatory hypothesis that even on a broad perceptual model of introspection PIJs are qualitatively more reliable than OPJs.Thus if we accept the explanatory hypothesis, we can reconcile a broad perceptual model of introspection with the special epistemic status of PIJs.

†††††††††† Two beliefs conflict when one provides sufficiently compelling evidence against the other.It is subjectively irrational to knowingly maintain conflicting beliefs.That is, it is irrational for one to maintain a belief B even though one is aware that some of oneís other beliefs conflict with B.Two conditions, then, are necessary for subjective irrationalityóthe cogency condition and the awareness condition.The cogency condition insures that the counter-evidence is sufficiently compelling; and the awareness condition insures that one is aware that she has sufficiently compelling counter-evidence.Thus:

It is subjectively irrational for S to maintain a belief B on the basis of some faculty F at time t only if:

 

(Cogency) ††††††† S has certain beliefs C at time t, and C is sufficient to undermine Sís trust in F at t.

 

(Awareness)†††† S is aware at t that the cogency condition is met.

 

 

††††††††††† Ordinary perceptual judgments are not immune to subjective irrationality.It is possible for S to have a belief on the basis of some perceptual faculty and yet to be aware that she has compelling evidence against that belief.Imagine that Mary forms a visual belief that there is a table in front of her.Though her vision is highly reliable, in the sense of producing a high ratio of true to false beliefs, it is conceivable that Mary could be told by an eminent and implicitly trustworthy source that her vision is faulty at the present time.This auditory input could produce in Mary beliefs that she recognizes to conflict with her visual belief, as they are sufficient to undermine her trust in her vision at the present time.Mary would be subjectively irrational if she were to continue to maintain her belief that there is a table in front of her on the basis of her vision.

 

3.

Privileged introspective judgments are utterly immune to subjective irrationality; and this is so even on a broad perceptual model of introspection where PIJs are not immune to either error or compelling counter-evidence.In the case of PIJs, the awareness and cogency conditions for subjective irrationality cannot possibly be jointly satisfied.

On a broad perceptual model, there can be compelling counter-evidence to any PIJ.Imagine that Sam judges, on the basis of her introspective faculties at time t, that she is now (at t) thinking that the Orioles last won the World Series in 1970.Now imagine that at t S is hooked up to a highly reliable and carefully calibrated brain scanner that prints out that S is now thinking that the Orioles last won the World Series in 1983.The evidence of the brain scanner conflicts with the evidence of Samís introspection.If introspection is merely a highly reliable contingent causal process, then there might well be a highly reliable brain scanner device and the evidence from that contingent causal mechanism could compete on a level par with introspective evidence.Thus, given a broad perceptual model of introspection, there can be compelling counter-evidence to PIJs (and this is why PIJs are neither indubitable nor incorrigible on a broad perceptual model).

††††††††††† However, no subject S can be aware that there is sufficiently compelling counter evidence to one of her introspective judgments at time t.Let S form a belief B on the basis of her introspective faculty F at time t, and let there be some compelling counter-evidence C.C is sufficiently compelling only if there is a cogent argument from C to the conclusion that F is not trustworthy at t.S is aware that she has sufficiently compelling counter-evidence to B only if she is aware of C and reasons from that to the conclusion that F is not trustworthy.Thus it is subjectively irrational for S to maintain B on the basis of F at t only if there is a cogent argument from Sís awareness of C at t to the conclusion that F is not trustworthy at t.But there can be no cogent argument from Sís awareness of C to the conclusion that F is not trustworthy.For S will have to rely on F (i.e., her introspective faculties at time t relevant to the content of B) in order to be aware of C and reason to the conclusion that the source of B (i.e., F) is untrustworthy.Thus, any argument from Sís awareness of C to the conclusion that F is not trustworthy is self-defeating.

††††††††††† To put the argument in a slightly different way:It is subjectively irrational for S to maintain B at t on the basis of F given counter-evidence C only if it is subjectively rational for S to give up B at t on the basis of C.It is subjectively rational for S to give up B at t on the basis of C only if there is a rationally compelling argument from Sís awareness of C to the conclusion that F is untrustworthy.But there is a rationally compelling argument from Sís awareness of C to the conclusion that F is untrustworthy only if it is reasonable to think that F is both trustworthy and untrustworthy at t.Since it is not reasonable to think that F is both trustworthy and untrustworthy at a single time, there can be no rationally compelling argument from Sís awareness of C, and thus Sís relying on F at t, to the conclusion that F is unreliable at t.So it can never be rational for a subject to give up an introspective judgment on the basis of her awareness of some conflicting beliefs.Thus it can never be irrational for S to maintain an introspective judgment despite her awareness of some conflicting beliefs.

 

4.

Introspective judgments are immune to subjective irrationality, even if they are not immune to error or compelling counter-evidence.Thus even on a broad perceptual model of introspection PIJs are immune to a certain epistemic defect to which OPJs are not.My explanatory hypothesis is that immunity to subjective irrationality is sufficient for epistemic privilegeóthat is, since PIJs are immune to subjective irrationality but OPJs are not, PIJs are qualitatively more reliable than OPJs.If we accept this hypothesis, then we can reconcile a perceptual model of introspection with a qualitative difference in epistemic status between PIJs and OPJs.If immunity to subjective irrationality is sufficient for epistemic privilege, then a broad perceptual model of privileged introspective judgments is viable.

 

William S. Larkin

Department of Philosophy

Southern Illinois University Edwardsville

wlarkin@siue.edu