Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Stubborn Epistemologists?

The naturalized epistemologist and the old school foundational internalist may be stuck in an argument of "nuh-uh" vs. "yes-huh":

(1) We (as philosophers) believe certain rules of deduction to be valid (eg modus ponens) but not others (eg modus morons--the fallacy of affirming the consequent).
(2) We can show through meta-theory why this is so, but even the meta-theory will implicitly depend on our use of the valid rules.
(3) The internalist will account for this by claiming that we can know certain things a priori.
(4) The naturalist will account for this by claiming that we are (as DePoe pointed out) 'hard-wired' to reason in such a way.

Now, for those of you in McGrew's Epistemology class, yesterday you witnessed his argument against 4. For those who were not, or have forgot, here is it's basic form:

What evidence is there to believe that this hard-wiring occurs? As those of us who have taught an introductory logic course will attest, students often commit modus morons fallacies, and have trouble seeing the validity of rules that are, to the trained eye, clearly truth-preserving. Evidence for hard-wiring is minimal at best.

It doesn't obviously follow from the fact that people have trouble grasping the formal rules of logic, that they do not view the world through logical glasses. Even if someone might mistakenly use modus morons in a formal proof, there is a good chance that they will not accept the following argument:

(5) If I'm George W. Bush then I have skin.
(6) I have skin.
(7) I'm George W. Bush.

An analogous occurence might occur when students make the jump from numerical arithmetic to algebraic variable arithmetic, that is, a young student who could easily perform (8) might have difficulty performing (9).

(8) 23 + 36 = ?
(9) 23 + x = 59

Is this proof that we do not see the world quantitatively?

Also, is an evidential argument against hard-wiring a proof for the a priori? Doesn't it make equal trouble for the foundational internalist that students have difficulty seeing the validity of these supposedly foundational beliefs? How can they build up from the foundations without having rules like modus ponens? Certainly my dog didn't work out the logic of MP before making the inference from:

(10) If there is a sound of a can opening, food is placed in my dish shortly thereafter.
(11) There is a sound of a can opening.
(12) Food will be placed in my dish shortly.

I'm not sure what I'm supposing this post to have demonstrated, other than that there might simply be a question-begging theoretical dispute between the Quinean and the Cartesian.

"Those beliefs are hard-wired."
"Nuh-uh, they're a priori."
"Hard wired!"
"A priori!"

Somebody show me the arguments and prove me wrong!!


At 3:57 PM, November 03, 2004, Blogger cheryl said...

you know, i am particularly fond of the hard-wiring idea, because more and more study into biology and medical science and experimental psychology is making it much harder for us to think that we aren't hard-wired to be the way we are. i mean, we are physical organisms, we are a product of our physicality, and we are restricted by our physicality. however, i don't equate the mind with the brain, and i'm not a reductionist, and i'm not even a naturalist.

but, as far as i can tell, this is the problem that the internalist has about the hard-wiring deal:

assuming that we are in fact hard-wired a certain way, this fact is not what makes us justified in those things. if we are in fact hard-wired to experience and interpret the world logically, that fact is not what justifies us in using logical inferences. two main reasons i think:

(i) historically speaking, our knowledge of even the possibility of being hard-wired is very very recent. but if it's the fact that we are hard-wired such that justifies us in being logical, then it follows that no one was justified in using logical inference 100 years ago. something else must do the job of justification. that fact just can't do it, because we'd have to know it first.

(ii) following with that line of thought then, if we'd have to know it, well, how would we come to know it? if the fact that we're hard-wired such gives us justification for knowledge, then how could we move from being ignorant of that hard-wiring, to knowing about that hard-wiring? we would be using all kinds of methods and beliefs that are not justified, because the fact of our hard-wiring is what does the justifying.

but the proponent of this view might say, well, we don't have to know exactly what it is that makes us justified. it's just that the fact of our hard-wiring does provide us with the right justification, even if we don't know it.

but then that begins to sound a bit suspect. if we don't know what provides us justification for certain belieffs, then how can we know we are justified in believing those beliefs? how would we be able to distinguish which beliefs we are justified in and which we are not if we don't know what it is that provides us with the justification?

so here's my thought on the issue, since i said that i am fond of the idea of hard-wiring:

we are hard-wired in some such way that does in fact allow us to have more true--or highly verisimilar--beliefs over false--or lowly verisimilar--beliefs. but it is not that fact that makes us justified. what provides us justification has to be something else. and i am not opposed to the idea that in some sense our hard-wiring can produce something else besides the beliefs that does provide the justification.

like logical thinking. okay, so most of my students looked at me like i had three heads when i first taught them the inference rules and equivalence rules. but when i put it all into english sentences, then it made more sense to them. i believe that we have some kind of hard-wiring for the basic rules of logic, but that it's not identical to the formal system we have built for ourselves. (like the conditional: the conditional we use in logic just isn't the conditional most people mean when they use a conditional statement. most people really mean the biconditional.) so we have these basic logic skills built-in.

but it's not that fact that makes us justified in using them. rather, we find our justification upon reflection. what makes us justified in thinking logically? well, we start to realize that it's really quite impossible to really, sincerely think illogically all the time. i mean, take the law of non-contradiction. it's really quite impossible for us to think in contradictions all the time.

(when one is not aware of a contradiction, that's another story. once they are made aware of it, and they are not stubborn and dogmatic, they know they'll have to abandon one of the statements making up the contradiction. of course, if they are stubborn and dogmatic, then they are accepting the contradiction, but they are not actually thinking contradictorily. we really do simply lack the ability to hold two contradictory beliefs in our minds simultaneously. we can flip back and forth really fast between the two, but it's never simultaneous.)

so the justification is found out through reflection that we simply can't do without basic logical thinking. again, i want to emphasize that our hard-wired logic is a bit different from our formalized logic. i think that seems obvious because most people do have some difficulty with those rules. but they aren't entirely different from our hard-wiring.

so, that's the problem the naturalist has when he claims that we are hard-wired a certain way, and he says that that is what makes us justified. like the reliablist. reliablism sounds great, and i think that there is at least something to be had by saying that we have these reliable methods of producing beliefs. like knowing we are hard-wired to think very basically logically. if that is the case, then it would at least allow us the understanding of why it is we can't do without logic! but the fact of the reliability of our methods can't give us the justification, because of the two reasons i stated above. it has to be something else.

so how does that sit with you? i have been battling with this in my head for the past few months, and this is pretty much where i am at the moment.

At 4:07 PM, November 03, 2004, Blogger cheryl said...

you know, i find it really annoying that all of this is in really huge font. is there any way we can change that? regular html tags won't work. blogger only allows a few tags, all the others are illegal. it's just that every time i pull up a post, my eyes are thrown back a bit when i am suddenly confronted with such huge letters! (maybe i'm just hard-wired to like small letters...?)

At 2:06 AM, November 04, 2004, Blogger Ed said...

Chris (et al.), I'm just going to "shoot from the hip." So if I'm incorrect about something, please correct me (is it not better to be humbled by correction than to remain in error?).
   Before I start, let me note that I will use Modus Tollendo Tollens (MTT) instead of Modus Mollendo Morons (MMM). Also, let me remind you of this Kornblithean remark: "This project of evaluating one's own inferences by means of the inferential machinery under evaluation ... is not an idle exercise" (Pojman, p. 332).
   Okay, I'm ready to start.
   As you all know, this is MTT:

   [MTT] P > Q; -Q; .: -P.

If I'm not mistaken, the problem with our being simply hard-wired to reason MTT-ly comes when we evaluate MTT using MTT (why use MTT to evaluate MTT? cf. the Kornblith quotation for an answer). (I should note that I'm not so sure I see what sort of evaluation of MTT takes place if we're simply hard-wired to reason MTT-ly. But this is another issue.)

   -MTT > MMM;

But there's something circular about this. (Would you not agree?) If, then, there's something circular, why think that MTT is true? In other words, why think that, given P > Q and -Q, -P follows? What is the reason (or are the reasons) for thinking that MTT is true?
   Here, the A Priorist (AP) appears on the scene and, smiling (or smirking?) at the Hard-Wiredist, says, "I have no problem with providing reasons for thinking that MTT is true" and proceeds to give reasons for thinking that MTT is true. E.g., a la Lemmon, AP shows that MTT is true because, given P > Q and -Q as assumptions, -P follows by Reductio Ad Absurdum (RAA):

   1       (1) P > Q    [Assumption (A)]
   2       (2) -Q        [A]
   3       (3) P          [A for RAA]
   1,3    (4) Q         [1,3 Modus Ponendo Ponens (MPP)]
   1,2,3 (5) Q & -Q [2,4 Conjunction Introduction]
   1,2    (6) -P        [3,5 RAA]

But, now, why is AP an a priorist? He is an a priorist because he believes that, although MTT is not known a priori, "certain things" (to quote Mr. Ragg) used to show that MTT is true--like, say, P > Q (cf. BonJour), and maybe MPP?--are those things that are knowable only a priori.
   Does that help, Chris?
   Well, I didn't use any sub- or super-scripts; and didn't McGrew say that one is a real analytic philosopher only if one uses either one of those or both? Well, I guess that I'm not a real analytic philosopher. Maybe I'll just have to settle for being a Mountie.


Can one evaluate MTT in the following way instead?

   MTT > MMM;

Perhaps--but why would one want to do this? For it seems to result in some sort of absurdity: the one who's hard-wired to reason MTT-ly uses MTT to show that MTT is false and, in so doing, presupposes that MTT is in fact true (unless MTT is true, how can it be used to show itself false?).

At 1:34 PM, November 04, 2004, Blogger Chris said...

I will address Cheryl and Ed in turn.


I don't think that the internalist would use the arguments you proposed to counter the naturalist. Here's why: The naturalist would not claim that you must know you're hard-wired in order to be justified in using what you were hard-wired to do. This is precisely what they want to do away with! That is why they argue against the traditional notion of justification to begin with--they think the internalist picture is much too strict. So when you say things like, "but it's not that (we are hard-wired) that makes us justified in using (logical rules). rather, we find our justification upon reflection", you are using an internalist picture of justification, which the naturalist would explicitly reject.

Instead, I think that the internalist will use something more along the lines of what Ed proposed. However, I will attempt to show my dissatisfaction with such a proposal.

I do think your notion of hard-wiring is interesting. However, I'm not quite convinced either way on this point...


I understand where you're going, but I think something is missing. Look at the analysis, ie the reductio, that you gave for the internalist. You have admittedly analyzed MTT in terms of other logical rules. Let's say that I am equally worried about how we are able to use those rules as well. Well, we can analyze further and further, but eventually we are going to hit some sort of bedrock. And it is here that, as you put it, the internalist is going to come along and claim that the bedrock is knowable a priori, through reason alone. The relevant sort of naturalist, on the other hand, will say we reason from those basic principles because we are hard-wired to do so. This was the issue I was attempting to bring out.

To quote you: "But, now, why is AP an a priorist? He is an a priorist because he believes that, although MTT is not known a priori, "certain things" (to quote Mr. Ragg) used to show that MTT is true--like, say, P > Q (cf. BonJour), and maybe MPP?--are those things that are knowable only a priori."

And I, playing naturalized epistemologist, say: A priori, or hard-wiring? That is the issue on which I still have not seen an argument either way.

On another note, I think that the way to interpret the Kornblith quote you used is to read him as saying something like this: Doing the psychology and neurophysiology (that is, analysis of hard-wiring) of our use of rules like MTT will not be an idle enterprise, considering that we must use MTT and rules like it while conducting that investigation.

Of course, the way he will justify his use of the rules while performing the investigation will rely once again on hard-wiring.

But, the internalist has an analogous problem. They must use certain rules of inference to deduce a priori truths, and how will they justify the use of those rules? By claiming that they are a priori. Hence, the rhetorical dialogue at the end of my initial post.

At 5:04 PM, November 04, 2004, Blogger Ed said...

Chris (et al.),

I'm not sure I know why an a priorist is an a priorist instead of a hard-wiredist, but I can venture a guess: perhaps some a priorist would concede that, given the options of being an a priorist or a hard-wiredist, either option is good if you're just looking at the "bedrock." If, however, you're looking at, say, MTT, then the option of being an a priorist looks much better than the option of being a hard-wiredist (or so the a priorist would say), given the problem of circularity, etc.
   Actually, I can venture another guess. Take, e.g., P > Q. If P > Q is held to be that which belongs to the "bedrock," then, given the options of being an a priorist or a hard-wiredist (with respect to P > Q), the a priorist will say something to the effect that the option of being an a priorist is clearly the only reasonable option available to anyone. Why? Because the hard-wiredist cannot account for whether Q follows from P, given as much empirical information as he wants in P (cf. BonJour, and cf. also McGrew's "If J(P1& ... &Pn), then JC"), whereas the a priorist can do just that.
   Now, about your "analogous problem" for the internalist, I'm not sure I see why the internalist "must use certain rules of inference to deduce a priori truths"--or at least I'm not sure I see what you mean by this. Do internalists deduce a priori truths? (?) If they do, can you give me an example of their doing this?

At 9:02 PM, November 04, 2004, Blogger Chris said...

Keeping this short, it had earlier been brought to my attention that 'deduce' was clearly the wrong word to use. The situation I was referring to was in first-order logic and the use of meta-rules to explain why our first-order logic works. I shouldn't have said 'deduce' because that obviously implies that it is not a priori, which would simply be question-begging. I should have said 'elucidate' or something like that. Imagine someone skeptical of logic--how would you explain to them that MPP is valid? Would you just say "Go to your armchair and think about it." Maybe you would, but if so I'm glad you weren't my logic teacher--he taught me meta-rules. :-) This is the situation I had in mind.

The problem, of course, is that the meta-rules implicitly used MPP, as Tim admitted to in class when I asked about it (on Tuesday).

Sorry I don't have time to clarify more.

At 11:51 AM, November 06, 2004, Blogger cocodrylo said...


I would have to say that your two reasons for claiming that being hard-wired is not what makes us justified are problematic:

(i) From an externalist perspective, your being hard-wired makes you justified, but it does not mean that since you are not aware that you are hard-wired, you are suddenly not justified. If you are an internalist, you might think so, but the debate shouldn't be discussed within those assumptions. So, 1000 years ago, when no one knew that they were hard wired (although this wasn't the case in Chinese Philosophy I think), they were still justified in making inferences based on their being hard-wired - they just called it "intuition" or, dare I say it, "a priori." Moreover, I think that the law of identity is just a fundamental assumption for linguistic competance, as Aristotle suggests.

(ii) We simply could be hard-wired to (be able to) figure out that we are hard wired. Notice that this is not necessarily circular, in a way that Tim pointed out in class. If our being hard wired IS justificatory, then figuring out that we are hard wired can be justified.

Generally -

What if we figured out we are hard-wired to think logically (even inductively) based on induction? Obviously, we have the problem of induction to worry about, but its only a problem when you keep on asking "why, why, why?" Quine simply says that we should dump the problem of induction, while internalists are still stuck with it.

Regarding the Tea Leaf Reader, the self-justification of Tea Leaf Reading is problematic, but the self-justification of induction (and therefore science) is not subject to the same problems. Tea Leaf Reading is controversial. Induction is universal.

If someone doubts that induction works, then put a gun to his/her head, and they should then believe it works :) Note its NOT an argument from force. They would only fear a gun if they for some reason thought that guns could be harmful. Where would they get an idea like that without induction? Is it a priori?

Also, Chris, I think your point is really good regarding Modus Morons. As someone who has taught logic, I find that students tend to be confused with the SYMBOLIC structure and drawing inferences from that structure, and more often they forget to slow down and plug in ordinary language when they are confused, rather than being "totally illogical morons."

In fact, ordinary language substitution is the suggestion that I give to my students in class, and they often times figure it out. I have actually found that most students don't have all that many problems with MP or MT, unless they are people that have really bad attendance.

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