Friday, 2 February 2007

"Internalising" McDowell

In my previous post, I addressed the main methodological objection to my claim that McDowell is a J-internalist. In this post, I will attempt to address what I take to be the primary theoretical objection to this proposal.

But first, what textual evidence do I have for holding that McDowell is a J-internalist? Two of the more suggestive passages are as follows:
I agree…that we lose the point of invoking the space of reasons if we allow someone to possess a justification even if it is outside his reflective reach. [McDowell 1998b, p. 418]
And:
[O]ne’s epistemic standing on some question cannot intelligibly be constituted, even in part, by matters blankly external to how it is with one subjectively. For how could such matters be other than beyond one’s ken? And how could matters beyond one’s ken make any difference to one’s epistemic standing? ([McDowell 1998a] p. 390)
I interpret the locution ‘how it is with one subjectively’, as an umbrella term for the sorts of things that are typically taken to be internally available to one, such as one’s thoughts, beliefs etc. By McDowell’s lights the circle delineating what is subjectively available to one exhausts that which may serve as a justifier for one’s beliefs. When this idea is restated in the argot of possible worlds, we arrive at McDowellian J-internalism, (M-Int):
(M-Int) For all agents S1 and S2 and worlds W1 and W2, if S1 in W1 and S2 in W2 are identical in terms of how things are with them subjectively, then S1 and S2 are identical in all respects relevant to the justification of their beliefs.
Now the main theoretical objection to my proposal can be put as follows: McDowell could not possibly be a J-internalist since he subscribes to a type of content externalism (henceforth, C-externalism) and C-externalism entails the falsehood of J-internalism. This objection hardly seems surprising when we juxtapose the popular construal of J-internalism and C-externalism:
(J-Int) For all subjects S1 and S2 and worlds W1 and W2, if S1 in W1 and S2 in W2 are identical in the intrinsic properties on which their thoughts supervene, then S1 and S2 are identical in all respects relevant to the justification of their beliefs.
(C-Ext) There are subjects S1 and S2 and worlds W1 and W2, such that S1 in W1 and S2 in W2 have the same intrinsic properties but differ in the content of their thoughts.
There is a conflict between (J-Int) and (C-Ext) since the former requires all subjects who are identical in terms of their intrinsic properties to have the same justificatory properties, while the latter allows subjects with identical intrinsic properties to differ with regards to the justificatory properties of their beliefs. For example, consider two subjects, S1 and S2, who are identical in terms of their intrinsic properties, but occupy different external environments, W1 and W2, respectively. Suppose S1 and S2 both performed the following valid deduction:
(A) Water is a liquid.
(B) Water is potable.
(C) Therefore, water is a potable liquid.
According to (C-Ext), the thoughts expressed by sentences (A)—(C) are different for S1 and S2. This is because S1’s thoughts are individuated in terms of water while S2’s thoughts are individuated in terms of twater. The distinct pairs of thought that S1 and S2 express by (A) and (B) are relevant to the justification of the pair of beliefs they respectively express by (C). Consequently, S1 and S2 satisfy the antecedent of (J-Int), since ex hypothesi they are identical in terms of their intrinsic properties, but fail to satisfy the consequent—to wit, they differ in some respects relevant to the justification of their beliefs. Thus, if (C-Ext) is true, then (J-Int) must be false.

There is a strong temptation to assume that this line of argument also impugns (M-Int). But if we take seriously McDowell’s notion of object-dependent thought there is no obvious inconsistency between (M-Int) and (C-Ext). According to McDowell, how it is with one subjectively is in part constituted by objects in one’s environment. For instance, in the Twin Earth examples generated by (C-Ext), the object-dependent thoughts expressed by (A) and (B) in the foregoing deductive inference are different for S1 and S2. Hence, by McDowell’s lights, S1 and S2 fail to satisfy the antecedent of (M-Int) since S1 and S2 are not identical with regards to how things are with them subjectively. Thus, McDowell can, without contradiction, continue to hold to (M-Int) while subscribing to (C-Ext).


References:

McDowell, J. (1998a), ‘Criteria, Defeasibility, and Knowledge’, Meaning, Knowledge, and Reality, 369-94, London: Harvard University Press.

McDowell, J. (1998), ‘Knowledge By Hearsay’, Meaning, Knowledge, and Reality, 414-43, London: Harvard University Press.

1 comment:

J Riding said...

But does not McDowell's attack on the deformation constituted by the interiorization of the space of reasons palliate against this thought? His form of justification is indeed genealogically linked to typical internalism, but surely the extent of the space of reasons (and hence the space of justification) extends such that one's justificatory position is constituted in part by a favour from the world conceived such that it is precisely not (logically) beyond our ken?
I take his remark in 'Criterea Deafeasibility and Knowledge', which you quote regarding states of affairs blackly beyond our ken, to be an attack on a sort of sideways on way of looking at knowledge. Beyond our ken here means inescapabley not how it is with one subjectively, in an almost Kantian sense.