Thursday, 31 December 2015

Transparency in Belief and Self-Knowledge

In this post I report on the Teorema sponsored workshop on Transparency in Belief and Self-Knowledge, held at the University of Oviedo (pictured below) on 9th and 10th November 2015, organized by Luis M. Valdés-Villanueva. Below I summarise the talks given by Sarah Sawyer, Miriam McCormick, José Zalabardo, and Jordi Fernández



In her talk ‘Contrastivism and Anti-Individualism’ Sawyer argued that contrastive self-knowledge entails externalism about mental content. According to contrastivism about knowledge, saying that a subject S knows a proposition p, is elliptical for saying that S knows that p rather than that q. Understanding this requires the positing of a positive contrast class (the set of propositions in contrast to which S knows that p), and a negative contrast class (the set of propositions in contrast to which S does not know that p). Sawyer argued that internalism about mental content makes impossible a negative contrast class in the self-knowledge case, and so has it that self-knowledge is non-contrastive. This means that if self-knowledge is contrastive, that fact would entail the truth of externalism about mental content.

In her paper ‘The Contingency of Transparency’, McCormick argued that Transparency is not a conceptual truth (as proponents have held), and further, nor is it even a psychological fact in all cases of deliberative belief formation. McCormick adopted Nishi Shah’s characterization of Transparency as ‘when asking oneself whether to believe that p’ one must ‘immediately recognize that this question is settled by, and only by, answering the question whether p is true’ (Shah 2003: 447). According to Transparency, one cannot take non-alethic considerations as reasons for belief when deliberating over whether to believe some proposition. McCormick considered three cases which she presented as counterexamples to the Transparency thesis. She then considered three ways the Transparency theorist might understand these cases, and discussed how we might adjudicate between these contrary interpretations. She concluded with some implications and challenges for her claim that Transparency does not always characterize our deliberation over what to believe.

In his paper, ‘Pragmatism and Truth’, Zalabardo sought to flesh out the pragmatist position and differentiate his version of pragmatism from similar, competing views. Zalabardo's pragmatism makes central use of speakers’ attitudes of approval and disapproval directed towards the mental states of the speaker and others. Unlike Robert Brandom's pragmatism, Zalabardo’s view does not have the implication that one does not count as believing a content unless one is able and prepared to defend what one believes with reasons. This had direct implications for the previous discussions of Transparency. In contrast to Huw Price's pragmatism, for example, Zalabardo does not explain the difference between idealism and pragmatism by invoking multiple conceptions of representation. Instead we avoid pragmatism collapsing into idealism by denying the cogency of taking up an ‘external’ perspective on our cognitive practices in general, a kind of manoeuvre Zalabardo credited to Quine.

Fernández opened the second day of the workshop with his paper ‘Agency and Self-Knowledge’. He began by posing two questions about knowledge of our own actions:

1. How do we know what we are doing?
2. What makes us think that we are performing some action?

Question 1 arises since our knowledge of what we are doing looks dissimilar from our knowledge in other cases. For example, to know that I am giving a talk, I do not need to draw any inference, or hold a mirror up to myself and perceive that I am giving a talk. Fernández’s proposal to answer question 1 was that we know what we are doing on the basis of our grounds for performing the action in question. He argued that this proposal had at least two points in its favour. The first is that it is able to explain the special type of knowledge that we have of our own actions. And the second is that it explains errors of self-knowledge exhibited in the cognitive science literature (in particular, the experimental results from Marcel (2003), and Fourneret and Jeannerod (1998)).

With respect to the second question, Fernández claimed that his proposal suggests an answer here, and one which explains the difference between two disorders of action—anarchic hand syndrome and utilization behavior. He introduced what he called the ‘bypass’ proposal, according to which ‘One forms the belief that one is performing, or has just performed action j on the basis of one’s grounds for j-ing’. But awareness of having grounds for acting is not required for believing on the basis of those grounds. And that means that the bypass proposal does not require one to form an inference to the conclusion that it is oneself performing some action.

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