Friday, 26 January 2007

McDowell, Knowledge and Credit (Carter)

Note: The following post was written by J. Adam Carter, from over at Virtue Epistemology, who has given me permission to feature it here. Be sure to check out the exchange between Adrian Haddock and I that follows:

I'm interested in getting clear about two features, specifically, of John McDowell's theory of knowledge. (1) How does his account answer any of the three value problems; (2) How does his account explain why knowers are credit-worthy?

I haven't yet come across literature that can explain the first of these questions, but after thinking about 'Knowledge and the Internal' I am somewhat confused as to how a satisfactory answer to (2) would go.

McDowell, in criticizing the 'hybrid' account, claims that what is epistemically significant between a knower and a non-knower (take the context of the New Evil Genius setting) should not fall outside the knower's standing in the space of reasons. And so, because the hybrid account posits that the 'favor from the world' is something external to the knower's standing in the SOR, McDowell rejects the view.

However, by preserving the Sellarsian idea of knowledge as a satisfactory standing in the space of reasons, McDowell abolishes the hybrid idea by Trojan Horsing in what was external in the hybrid account so that it falls within the knower's standing in the space of reasons. He does this by requiring that facts be reasons, and also be such that they shape the space of reasons in which agent finds herself.

What is troubling to me is this: McDowell, by making this move, thinks that facts are reflectively accessible. However, this just seems dubious to me when we think about an agent and his envatted counterpart forming the belief that p. What seems to be reflectively accessible to both is the content of some belief, which they take as a reason. For the lucky non-envatted agent, the content reflectively assessible to her is a fact. However, crucially, it is not reflectively accessible to the non-envatted agent that what she takes as a reason is a fact. And so, what is 'epistemically significant' between the knower and non-knower is something which, as in the case of the hybrid view, is not obiviously creditable to the agent. And so, I can't see how his account is going to explain why knowers are any more creditworthy than non-knowers.

The above is my 'naive' concern, and perhaps this will be assuaged after I get clearer on his view.

That aside, I'd be interested in either reasons for or against endorsing my concern and also any literature recommedations that would be useful to getting clear on what McDowell's view would say (on either of the initial questions).

J. Adam Carter

1 comment:

Adrian said...

Hi Adam,

I feel a bit strange leaving this message here, as I could just speak to you in person... But anyway, here goes.

I think you load the dice against McDowell by bringing in the problematic notion of "reflective access". What does it mean to say that a reason is "reflectively accessible" to one? Here is one thing it could mean: reason R is reflectively accessible to subject S iff R is knowable both by S and by S's "envatted counterpart". According to McDowell, the knower's reason (in a case of visually based perceptual knowledge) is: the fact that she sees that P. Now I take it the "envatted counterpart" does not see that P, and cannot know that she sees that P. Consequently, what McDowell thinks of as the knower's reason is not reflectively accessible to S.

Now it seems this conclusion follows as a simple consequence of what "reflectively accessible" means. So it looks as if the knower's factive reasons cannot be "reflectively accessible". As it happens, I think it is most unclear whether McDowell thinks the knower must know that she sees that P, in order to know that P on the basis of this reason, and even less clear whether this reason must be "reflectively accessible" to the knower. What I think is clearer is that McDowell thinks that the knower must know that she sees that P in order to be entitled to claim that she sees that P (or: that she knows that P on the basis of seeing it).

But what is more important, I think, is to realise that "reflectively acccessible" is a philosophical term of art. I defined it above, in a way that I think is compatible with how certain others understand it, but I cannot see why it *must* be defined in this way. Perhaps, when we speak of something as reflectively accessible to the subject, we just mean: accessible to the subject in the way in which the subject's mental states are accessible to the subject. And why not? On this understanding, there is no *obvious* problem with the thought that the subject's factive reasons are reflectively accessible to her (modulo certain controversial "internalist" assumptions about the nature of mental states).

Anyway, perhaps that helps. I think it is unfortunate that, when McDowell's epistemological views get discussed in the philosophical literature, it seems always to be in the context of scepticism (see the famous paper by Wright, for example). I think McDowell's position is most interesting, not for the way it deals with scepticism (in which I do not think it has much of an advantage over standard externalist positions), but in its opposition to "hybrid" epistemologies.