Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Epistemic Responsibility 003: Reckless Belief and Access to Information

Audi, Robert (2006), "Testimony, Credulity, and Veracity", in Lackey, Jennifer, and Ernest Sosa (eds.), The Epistemology of Testimony. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

This examination into the principles of the legitimacy of believing something based on testimony is going to involve a lot of intuition-mining. We'll encounter a lot of stories and we will be asked to conclude whether the consequence is a justified belief based on testimony.

I dislike this method of philosophizing. We invent our language to use in regular day-to-day circumstances of normal life. Our concepts are not meant for the bizarre situation philosophers can imagine. I tend to support an instrumental view of language. Language is a tool. Its specific structure was selected substantially for its usefulness. Terms that are useful in the situations we regularly find ourselves in are not always useful in situations we never have to deal with.

Be that as it may, our first story concerns a teacher (Luke) who believes that evolution is false, yet teaches his students the facts of evolution - the fossil record, the methods of natural selection. He tells them that humans began in Africa and migrated out.

Have the students learned - do they know 0 that humans began in Africa and migrated out?

A part of my own intuition is that, if two teachers (Luke, Biggs) give identical lectures about evolution, and no student has access to the fact that one person believes the information and the other does not, then both sets of students acquire the same amount of knowledge. One cannot hold a person responsible for information they have no access to.

As long as we are telling stories, let us look at the case of Judith. Judith is on trial for negligence. She pressed a button that caused a trolley to runaway where it would have killed five people if not for the fact that a utilitarian pushed a fat man off of a bridge and stopped the train, only to precipitate a national dispute that resulted in massive quantities of angst, stress, and disutility.

Judith reports that she pressed the button because her coworker, Phillipa, told her that pressing the button would dispense an ice cold soft drink, and Judith was hot and thirsty. in one case, Phillipa believed what she told Judith, and in another case she did not. At her trial, the question of whether Phillipa believed her statement would be held to be entirely irrelevant. It is not at all relevant to the credence that Judith gives to the belief that pressing the button would yield an ice cold soda.

So, here is one of my principles: There is no moral implications for the credence that a person assigns to a belief based on information she has no access to. If the difference between stories is based on some hidden fact, then the intuitions about what the agent knows or does not know should yield the same results in each case.

Audi does not actually render a verdict in this case. He goes on to other cases such as:

Luke teaches the theory of evolution, but would have taught a false theory if the school had told him to. In other words, he taught what the school told him to teach.

In discussing this example, Audi brings up the idea that Luke is not a reliable transmitter of information.

Again, the relevant point as far as I am concerned is whether, and to what degree, the students have access to this information. If the students get exactly the same information in exactly the same way in two different circumstances, then the two sets of students are justified in assigning the same credence to their lessons.

We are going to be spending a lot of time in these posts discussing testifier prescriptions and subject (listener/reader) prescriptions. The point I will be making is that there is no burden based on the subject in virtue of information she has no access to. This type of information is irrelevant to subject assessment.

I am having a hard time figuring out what Audi wants to say about these cases. He identifies the questions, but does not seem to be giving answers. I am going to have to put some more care into reading these.

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