2002 meeting of the Society for Skeptical Studies
Seattle, WA: 3/28/02
Thesis: If we want to be externalists about the individuation of propositional thought content, then we can and should be contingent reliabilists about our introspective knowledge of that content.
Sub-Thesis 1: We should be contingent reliabilists to avoid the threat of an unacceptably strong content skeptical thesis posed by content externalism and the possibility of twin thoughts. The predominant strategy for resisting this threat has been to rely on the claim that introspective self-attributions are immune to brute error; but this claim is problematic from a naturalistic standpoint.
Sub-Thesis 2: We can be contingent reliabilists without denying the distinctive epistemic character of introspective self-attributions. While introspective self-attributions are in principle subject to brute error they are in practice incorrigible; and this is sufficient to put them on a qualitatively better epistemic footing than ordinary perceptual judgments.
P1: A significantly strong content skeptical thesis is intuitively unacceptable.
1a: It is intuitively undeniable that we can know the contents of a great many of our own occurrent thoughts non-empirically.
1b: A significantly strong content skeptical thesis denies this.
A. Occurrent Thoughts =df Active and available propositional attitude states.
B. Introspective Self-Attributions (ISAs) =df Judgments of the form I am thinking that T made about the contents of occurrent thoughts on the basis of introspection.
C. Privileged Access =df ISAs are warranted in way that no one else’s judgments about our thoughts can be—directly and without any empirical investigation of our environment or behavior, beyond what is necessary to possess the concepts needed to make the introspective judgment.
D. The Distinctive Epistemic Character of ISAs =df ISAs seem to occupy a place somewhere between traditional a priori judgments and ordinary perceptual judgments. Unlike traditional a priori judgments, ISAs are neither necessary nor analytic nor self-evident. Yet ISAs seem to be on a qualitatively better epistemic footing than ordinary perceptual judgments in the sense that they seem to be warranted in a qualitatively different way and seem to be less susceptible to error and doubt.
E. Content Skepticism (CS) =df Some ISAs cannot be warranted non-empirically—the more ISAs in question, the stronger the CS thesis.
P2: Content externalism poses a significantly strong content skeptical threat via an argument based on the Cartesian argument for external world skepticism.
2a: Content externalism implies the possibility of twin thoughts.
2b: The fact that twin thoughts are distinct supports the first premise of the Cartesian-style argument, where T is some wide thought and T* is its twin.
2c: The fact that twin thoughts would be introspectively indistinguishable supports the corresponding second premise of the Cartesian-style argument.
2d: If content externalism is true, then a significant number of thoughts are wide.
2e: Every wide thought has a possible twin.
A. Content externalism =df The contents of certain thoughts (i.e., wide thoughts) do not supervene on the intrinsic properties of the thinker but are determined in part by the thinker’s relations to a specific physical and/or social environment.
B. Twin Thoughts =df Thoughts with distinct contents (i.e., they employ distinct concepts) that could be possessed by individuals who are intrinsically identical. [Given that the introspectible (in some sense) features of a thought do supervene on the intrinsic properties of the thinker, it follows that twin thoughts will be introspectively indistinguishable.]
C. The Cartesian-style CS Argument:
P1: If S non-empirically knows that she is thinking T, then she can non-empirically rule out the relevant alternative possibility that she is thinking the twin thought T*.
P2: S cannot non-empirically rule out the possibility that she is thinking T*.
C: So S does not know non-empirically that she is thinking T.
P3: To undermine the Cartesian-style CS argument, we should reject the internalist reading of its first premise and reject the externalist reading of its second premise.
3a: The relevant alternative strategy for rejecting the first premise is not attractive.
3b: So we must say either that we do not have to non-empirically rule out any alternatives in order to non-empirically know what we are thinking, or we have to say that we can non-empirically rule out twin thoughts.
3c: It is implausible to claim that we can rule out twin thoughts in the internalist sense of “rule out”.
3d: So we must say that we do not have to rule out any alternatives in the internalist sense.
3e: It is implausible to claim that we do not have to rule out any alternatives in the externalist sense of “rule out”.
3f: So we must say that we can rule out twin thoughts in the externalist sense.
A. Relevant Alternative Strategy =df Reject P1 of Cartesian-style CS argument by claiming that twin thoughts are rarely if ever relevant alternatives.
B. S can rule out an alternative P =df S is in a position to know (or warrantedly believe) that P is false.
C. S can rule out P in the internalist sense =df S has subjectively available evidence sufficient to warrant the belief that P is false.
D. S can rule out P in the externalist sense =df S can track the truth of P and/or those mechanisms relevant to whether S believes P or not-P are reliable.
P4: We should try to reject the externalist reading of the second premise of the Cartesian-style CS argument without claiming that introspective self-attributions are immune to brute error.
4a: The predominant strategy to reject to the externalist interpretation of the second premise of the Cartesian-style CS argument has been to claim that ISAs are immune to what Burge calls “brute error”.
4b: The various attempts to establish the immunity to brute error thesis are either committed (a) to a view whereon second-order introspective judgments are literally constituted by the first-order contents they attribute or (b) to a naïve causal view of the determination of the contents of second-order introspective judgments.
4c: The constitution view is incompatible with a more naturalistically plausible causal view of the connection between introspective judgments and their targets.
4d: The naïve causal view of content determination is incorrect as a general thesis and it is implausible that an exception should be made for second-order introspective judgments.
A. S’s belief that P is immune to brute error =df As a matter of metaphysical necessity: If S is a properly functioning rational agent who believes that P, then P is true.
B. Naïve causal view of content determination =df The content of a token state S at t is determined by the factors that caused S at t. Such a view does not allow for the possibility of misrepresentation.
1. “I think that, in all cases of authoritative knowledge, brute mistakes are impossible. All errors in matters where people have special authority over themselves are errors which indicate something wrong with the thinker.”
[“Individualism and Self-Knowledge”, p.120 in Ludlow 1998]
2. “When one knows that one is thinking that p, one is not taking one’s thought that p merely as an object. One is thinking that p in the very event of thinking knowledgeably that one is thinking it. It is thought and thought about in the same mental act.”
[Ibid., p. 116]
1. “What I am inclined to say is that second-order belief, and the knowledge it typically embodies, is supervenient on first order beliefs and desires—or rather, it is supervenient [my emphasis] on these plus a certain degree of rationality, intelligence, and conceptual capacity. By this I mean that one has the former in [author’s emphasis] having the latter—that having the former is nothing over and above having the latter.”
[“On Knowing One’s Own Mind”, p. 34 in Shoemaker 1996]
2. “If, as I have suggested, believing that one believes that P can be just believing that P plus having a certain level of ratiojnality, intelligence, and so on, so that the first-order belief and the second-order belief have the same core realization, then it will be altogether wrong to think of the second-order belief in such cases as caused by the first-order belief it is about.”
[“Self-Knowledge and Inner Sense”, p. 244 in Shoemaker 1996]
C. Peacocke: “I have been emphasizing the fact that when a thinker self-ascribes an attitude with an intentional content, he redeploys the very same [my emphasis] concepts which are constituents of the intentional content of the first-order attitude.”
[“Our Entitlement to Self-Knowledge”, p. 278 in Ludlow 1998]
D. Heil: “Consider again my second-order introspective state M*. We are supposing that externalism is correct, hence that the content of M* is determined by by some state of affairs, A*, that is at least partly distinct from M*. What, now, is to prevent A* from determining an intentional content for M* that includes [author’s emphasis] the content of M? What for instance keeps our simplified theory from allowing that a causal relation of a certain sort endows my introspective thought with a content encompassing [my emphasis] the content of the thought on which I am introspecting? The envisaged causal relation might plausible be taken to include as a component the causal relation required to establish the content of the state on which I am introspecting, and it might include much more as well.”
[“Privileged Access”, p. 138 in Ludlow 1998]
E. Falvey and Owens: “…there is a temptation to think that externalism gives rise to the possibility that one simply misidentifies the content of one’s own thought, in the sense that one might think that one is thinking that p, when in fact one is thinking the twin thought, p*. But this temptation should be resisted, because it arises from a failure to appreciate that externalism holds at second-intention. Just as I cannot think that water is wet unless my environment satisfies certain features, so I cannot think that I am thinking that water is wet unless my environment satisfies the same features.”
[“Externalism, Self-Knowledge, and Skepticism”, p. 122, Philosophical Review 103, 1994]
F. Gibbons: “The fact that the first-order thought determines the content of the second-order belief guarantees the relevant sameness of content. Since the second-order belief inherits its content from the first-order thought, it makes no difference whatsoever what determines the content of the first-order thought….A common theme among many externalist replies to the self-knowledge objection is that just as the environment determines the contents of our first-order thoughts, the environment also determines the contents of our second-order thoughts. I think it is more informative to say that the first-order thought determines the content of the second-order belief.”
[Externalism and Knowledge of Content”, p. 293, Philosophical Review 105, 1996]
P5: We can reject the internalist reading of the first premise of the Cartesian style argument and reject the externalist reading of its second premise without relying on the immunity to brute error thesis by being contingent reliabilists about the warrant for introspective self-attributions.
5a: If we are contingent reliabilists about ISAs, then we can maintain the elegantly simple, eminently plausible, and easily naturalized RIM account of introspection.
5b: If we are contingent reliabilists about ISAs, then we can reject the internalist interpretation of the first premise of the Cartesian-style CS argument.
5c: If we are contingent reliabilists about ISAs, then we can reject the second premise of the Cartesian-style CS argument.
A. RIM account of introspection =df ISAs are caused by the first-order thoughts they are about via a mechanism whose function is to provide information about certain types of first-order states, and the contents of ISAs are determined by the functions of these causal mechanisms.
B. Contingent Reliabilism about ISAs =df ISAs are in fact produced by mechanisms that are contingently reliable; and the fact that they are produced by such mechanisms is sufficient for their warrant. [If a contingently reliable ISA is in fact true, then it counts as knowledge.]
P6: We can be contingent reliabilists about the warrant for introspective self-attributions without denying the distinctive epistemic character of those judgments.
6a: If we are contingent reliabilists about the warrant for ISAs, then we seem to be denying the distinctive epistemic character of ISAs.
(i) It ordinary perceptual judgments are subject to brute error and at least some may be warranted on the basis of being produced by a contingently reliable mechanism.
(ii) If there is no significant difference between ISAs and ordinary perceptual judgments, then we are denying the distinctive epistemic character of ISAs.
6b: We should not deny the distinctive epistemic character of ISAs.
6c: This not a problem for the predominant strategy, since the immunity to brute error thesis can account for the distinctive epistemic character of ISAs.
6d: However, if ISAs are contingently reliable but still practically incorrigible, then we can account for their distinctive epistemic character.
(i) If ISAs are practically incorrigible but ordinary perceptual judgments are not, then there will be an obvious sense in which ISAs are less susceptible to doubt and seem less susceptible to error.
(ii) If ISAs are practically incorrigible but ordinary perceptual judgments are not, then contingent reliability will be sufficient for warrant for ISAs but not for ordinary perceptual judgments.
6e: ISAs are practically incorrigible.
See Argument Below
A. ISAs are practically incorrigible =df In practice if not in principle, maintaining a particular ISA can never be subjectively irrational—i.e., ISAs are immune to subjectively compelling counter-evidence. [Ordinary perceptual judgments are not immune to subjectively compelling counter-evidence.]
6Da: It is subjectively irrational to maintain some ISA, J, only if it is subjectively rational to doubt J.
6Db: It is subjectively rational to doubt J only if one recognizes that there is compelling evidence against J.
6Dc: Recognizing that there is evidence against J made at time t1 requires being aware at t1 of some beliefs that conflict with J.
6Dd: But being aware at t1 of beliefs that conflict with J requires relying on the very same introspective faculty responsible for J.
6De: So it would be subjectively rational to doubt J only by relying on the very same faculty responsible for J.
6Df: It can never be rational to doubt a judgment on the basis of the same faculty that is responsible for that judgment.
6Dg: So it can never be subjectively rational to doubt an ISA.
6Dh: So it can never be subjectively irrational to maintain an ISA.
C: So if content externalism is true, then we can and should be contingent reliabilists about the warrant for introspective self-attributions.
William S. Larkin
Southern Illinois University Edwardsville