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  • How do you justify your belief in the external world, etc.?

    For the unenlightened plebs who do not accept phenomenal conservatism, how do you justify your common sense beliefs? Some sort of explanationism? An appeal to God? Doxastic conservatism or Reformed Epistemology? Assumed incoherence mixed in with continental bullshit talk about "tensions" to help you live? It's an interesting topic, overall.
    Last edited by Atno; 03-08-2019, 08:55 PM.

  • #2
    So phenomenal conservatism is the view that in the absence of defeats you are justified in believing that p if it seems to you that p.

    Under what conditions does it seem to you that p?

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    • #3
      Originally posted by Atno View Post
      For the unenlightened plebs who do not accept phenomenal conservatism, how do you justify your common sense beliefs? Some sort of explanationism? An appeal to God? Doxastic conservatism or Reformed Epistemology? Assumed incoherence mixed in with continental bullshit talk about "tensions" to help you live? It's an interesting topic, overall.
      I really don't know much about this, but I think you could start of with the fact that your senses affirm the existence of an external world, and to deny the existence of the external world would be to deny the reliability of your senses, then show the denail of ones senses is incoherent.

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      • #4
        Originally posted by Greg View Post
        So phenomenal conservatism is the view that in the absence of defeats you are justified in believing that p if it seems to you that p.

        Under what conditions does it seem to you that p?
        That seeming is an experience of its own sort that is distinct from belief or a disposition to believe in something (for example, I can believe in something even if it doesn't seem true to me, or I can be disposed to believe in something not because it seems true, but because I want it to be true).

        I think we all have at least some grasp of having something appear true to us. I'd say that is even the standard, common way of rejecting external world skepticism: people may find skeptical scenarios possible and they may be unable to argue against them, but nevertheless they keep believing in the external world. Why? Because at the end of the day, it seems true to them. Skepticism, even if possible, just doesn't seem right; it appears obviously false.

        If you do not accept PC, how do you justify your belief in the external world?

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        • #5
          Originally posted by Atno View Post
          That seeming is an experience of its own sort that is distinct from belief or a disposition to believe in something (for example, I can believe in something even if it doesn't seem true to me, or I can be disposed to believe in something not because it seems true, but because I want it to be true).

          I think we all have at least some grasp of having something appear true to us.
          I'm not doubting that there is such a thing as its seeming to me that things are thus and so. Of course there is. But if we're going to attempt to explain the justification of my belief that there's a chair in front of me by reference to its seeming that there is a chair in front of me, then I think we will want to be sure we understand what's involved in admitting the latter. And that is not so clear. As you note, its seeming to me that p is not the same as being disposed to believe something. Seeming that p also isn't its looking as things would look if p were true, for in lots of normal situations there are lots of propositions inconsistent with p such that it is also the case that it looks as things would look if one of them were true.

          You call seeming "an experience of its own sort." If we hear "experience" in its unphilosophical usage, then this might only mean that seeming is something that happens, something the happening of which we are familiar with or have experienced. That is of course true, but contributes nothing to answering the question of what seeming has to do with justification. (That may not have been your intent.)

          We could alternatively hear "experience" in a philosophical register, placing it alongside the other things philosophers have called "experiences," like sensations. That would first of all seem to be a bad fit, for I at least don't think I'm familiar with any such thing. It seems just to posit an item to make true our ordinary claims that "it seems to me that p". In that case it would indeed be obscure what seeming has to do with justification.

          Originally posted by Atno View Post
          If you do not accept PC, how do you justify your belief in the external world?
          I don't have a developed view about the matter. My gut says that phenomenal conservatism concedes too much to skepticism, and it should simply be possible for me to know there's a chair in front of me by seeing it. The basic case is knowing through (say) seeing.
          Last edited by Greg; 03-11-2019, 08:08 PM.

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          • #6
            Originally posted by Greg View Post
            I'm not doubting that there is such a thing as its seeming to me that things are thus and so. Of course there is. But if we're going to attempt to explain the justification of my belief that there's a chair in front of me by reference to its seeming that there is a chair in front of me, then I think we will want to be sure we understand what's involved in admitting the latter. And that is not so clear. As you note, its seeming to me that p is not the same as being disposed to believe something. Seeming that p also isn't its looking as things would look if p were true, for in lots of normal situations there are lots of propositions inconsistent with p such that it is also the case that it looks as things would look if one of them were true.

            You call seeming "an experience of its own sort." If we hear "experience" in its unphilosophical usage, then this might only mean that seeming is something that happens, something the happening of which we are familiar with or have experienced. That is of course true, but contributes nothing to answering the question of what seeming has to do with justification. (That may not have been your intent.)

            We could alternatively hear "experience" in a philosophical register, placing it alongside the other things philosophers have called "experiences," like sensations. That would first of all seem to be a bad fit, for I at least don't think I'm familiar with any such thing. It seems just to posit an item to make true our ordinary claims that "it seems to me that p". In that case it would indeed be obscure what seeming has to do with justification.


            I don't have a developed view about the matter. My gut says that phenomenal conservatism concedes too much to skepticism, and it should simply be possible for me to know there's a chair in front of me by seeing it. The basic case is knowing through (say) seeing.
            I take it, however, that people in general have a decent enough grasp of what a seeming is, or what it's like to have something appear true to us (distinctly from having a disposition to believe in something) to understand phenomenal conservatism (and to recognize it is self-evident, in fact). But a more thoroughly analysis of the phenomenology would certainly be beneficial, and some authors have attempted that. There are also very similar views to PC which focus on the phenomenology of something appearing to be true to us, see Bengson's article "The Intellectual Given" (he defends what he calls "presentationalism" and says that the mark of our intuitions, etc, is how there is a "presentation" of something to us, in a passive manner).

            Wrt your last point, I can't help but notice it *seems* to me as if it *seems* to you that some kind of direct perception should be the case, and you trust that. It's hard not to interpret a tacit appeal to PC there. Have you read Michael Huemer's Skepticism and the Veil of Perception? He defends a direct realist view in which we are really aware of the objects of perception themselves, not just images. Direct realism, roughly the same view one could find in, say, Aquinas. The problem is that direct realism apart from phenomenal conservatism would simply beg the question against most skeptical scenarios; Huemer defends phenomenal conservatism in the book (in fact that was the book that originated phenomenal conservatism) and uses it to show how direct realism can be justified and provide a justified response against skeptical threats.

            Apart from phenomenal conservatism, I don't know how one could really justify belief in the external world without begging the question somehow. And that is how most people in fact justify their belief: however possible a Matrix or brain in a vat might seem to someone, it nevertheless seems false to them. It seems true to them that our senses are reliably picking out real objects themselves.

            Of course there are other options, like explanationism, reformed epistemology, etc. But I don't think those work apart from PC.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Atno View Post
              I take it, however, that people in general have a decent enough grasp of what a seeming is, or what it's like to have something appear true to us (distinctly from having a disposition to believe in something) to understand phenomenal conservatism (and to recognize it is self-evident, in fact).
              Ordinary people have a perfectly adequate grasp of what a seeming is, if they can use the word 'seeming', at least. The term is used to cover a very heterogenous bunch of cases, however. I'm not so sure that ordinary people know "what it's like" to have something appear true to them, if that means that there is some one thing it is like for something to appear true to them, or if that means something more than: ordinary people are capacitated to say how things seem to them. And evidently Huemer believes something like that, that appearances are some kind of experience. Unfortunately I think there's no such thing, and to construe reports of seemings uniformly as reports of experiences in the philosophical sense is to misunderstand their grammar.

              Originally posted by Atno View Post
              But a more thoroughly analysis of the phenomenology would certainly be beneficial, and some authors have attempted that. There are also very similar views to PC which focus on the phenomenology of something appearing to be true to us, see Bengson's article "The Intellectual Given" (he defends what he calls "presentationalism" and says that the mark of our intuitions, etc, is how there is a "presentation" of something to us, in a passive manner).
              Bengson himself distinguishes presentations from seemings.

              Anyway, I am not remotely opposed to the idea that we learn about the world by, in some sense, passively receiving presentations with both sensory and conceptual aspects. Something along those lines has to be right. But that idea is not the same as phenomenal conservatism.

              Originally posted by Atno View Post
              Wrt your last point, I can't help but notice it *seems* to me as if it *seems* to you that some kind of direct perception should be the case, and you trust that. It's hard not to interpret a tacit appeal to PC there.
              This is a good example of how heterogenous talk of seemings is. It can seem to Fred that the stick in the water is bent. It can seem to Alex that we are not in the matrix. I doubt there's something in common between those cases so that the way things seem bear a single sort of evidentiary relation to how Fred and Alex take them to be.

              I doubt anyone, besides perhaps the skeptic, thinks that how things seem is epistemically irrelevant. The question is whether the justification for all of our perceptual beliefs is that they seem to us to be true, in the absence of defeaters.

              Originally posted by Atno View Post
              Have you read Michael Huemer's Skepticism and the Veil of Perception? He defends a direct realist view in which we are really aware of the objects of perception themselves, not just images. Direct realism, roughly the same view one could find in, say, Aquinas. The problem is that direct realism apart from phenomenal conservatism would simply beg the question against most skeptical scenarios; Huemer defends phenomenal conservatism in the book (in fact that was the book that originated phenomenal conservatism) and uses it to show how direct realism can be justified and provide a justified response against skeptical threats.

              Apart from phenomenal conservatism, I don't know how one could really justify belief in the external world without begging the question somehow. And that is how most people in fact justify their belief: however possible a Matrix or brain in a vat might seem to someone, it nevertheless seems false to them. It seems true to them that our senses are reliably picking out real objects themselves.
              I have no particular interest in pitching arguments from the constructive philosophy of perception at skepticism. I think skepticism is best handled therapeutically.
              Last edited by Greg; 03-12-2019, 03:45 AM.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by Greg View Post
                Ordinary people have a perfectly adequate grasp of what a seeming is, if they can use the word 'seeming', at least. The term is used to cover a very heterogenous bunch of cases, however. I'm not so sure that ordinary people know "what it's like" to have something appear true to them, if that means that there is some one thing it is like for something to appear true to them, or if that means something more than: ordinary people are capacitated to say how things seem to them. And evidently Huemer believes something like that, that appearances are some kind of experience. Unfortunately I think there's no such thing, and to construe reports of seemings uniformly as reports of experiences in the philosophical sense is to misunderstand their grammar.


                Bengson himself distinguishes presentations from seemings.

                Anyway, I am not remotely opposed to the idea that we learn about the world by, in some sense, passively receiving presentations with both sensory and conceptual aspects. Something along those lines has to be right. But that idea is not the same as phenomenal conservatism.


                This is a good example of how heterogenous talk of seemings is. It can seem to Fred that the stick in the water is bent. It can seem to Alex that we are not in the matrix. I doubt there's something in common between those cases so that the way things seem bear a single sort of evidentiary relation to how Fred and Alex take them to be.

                I doubt anyone, besides perhaps the skeptic, thinks that how things seem is epistemically irrelevant. The question is whether the justification for all of our perceptual beliefs is that they seem to us to be true, in the absence of defeaters.


                I have no particular interest in pitching arguments from the constructive philosophy of perception at skepticism. I think skepticism is best handled therapeutically.
                Well I think there clearly is an experience of having something appear true or plausible to us, and I'd bet (money!!!) ordinary people would at least be inclined to agree there is such a thing as an experience of intellectual seeming, of something appearing true to us, etc. But the way one frames this whole talk isn't, to me, entirely fundamental to the insight behind phenomenal conservatism (even though I share this view), hence why I mentioned Bengson's phenomenological analysis of the intellectual giving. He does differentiate presentations from seemings, but at its root his theory would be quite friendly to the phenomenal conservative's insight that appearances (maybe reconstructed as passive presentations) gives some justification for believing what they are about.

                So if someone like you might have a problem with "seemings", presentationalism might be a friendly alternative that can stil accomodate a good part of PC's insight and the capacity to justify common sense beliefs.

                "The doubt is whether the justification for all of our perceptual beliefs is that they seem to us to be true". So what would you sugget is the way perceptual beliefs are justified, without relying on PC or begging the question?

                Why do you think skepticism is best handed therapeutically? And do you think one can "therapeutically" get rid of skepticism without having to rely on seemings and PFJ from appearances? If so, how exactly?



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                • #9
                  Originally posted by Atno View Post
                  Well I think there clearly is an experience of having something appear true or plausible to us, and I'd bet (money!!!) ordinary people would at least be inclined to agree there is such a thing as an experience of intellectual seeming, of something appearing true to us, etc.
                  I think the way an ordinary person will hear talk of "seeming" is different from the way a philosopher needs to hear if it is to do explanatory or justificatory work. An experience, in the ordinary sense of the term, and the sense it has in, e.g., ancient Greek, is, for instance, going to Disney World. It's something I've experienced, or had the experience of doing. In an ad, Disney might say that going to Disney World is an experience you don't want to miss.

                  In the modern period, 'experience' acquires a grammar in a technical, philosophical usage closely related to that of 'sensation', and it is deployed to explain all sorts of mentality.

                  I think it's in the former sense that one could readily admit that there are experiences of seeming. But in that usage, to say "I had the experience of its seeming to me that p" says nothing more than "It seemed to me that p". That's in large part why you never hear ordinary people say the former. We need the philosophical sense to satisfy our explanatory ambition. But it's in that sense that I think there is no such thing as an experience of seeming.

                  The point I am making about seeming and experience is helpfully compared to the point Wittgenstein makes at Philosophical Investigations ยงยง305-306 about remembering and inner process.

                  But I have said this already, so I'll drop it.

                  Originally posted by Atno View Post
                  But the way one frames this whole talk isn't, to me, entirely fundamental to the insight behind phenomenal conservatism (even though I share this view), hence why I mentioned Bengson's phenomenological analysis of the intellectual giving. He does differentiate presentations from seemings, but at its root his theory would be quite friendly to the phenomenal conservative's insight that appearances (maybe reconstructed as passive presentations) gives some justification for believing what they are about.

                  So if someone like you might have a problem with "seemings", presentationalism might be a friendly alternative that can stil accomodate a good part of PC's insight and the capacity to justify common sense beliefs.
                  I would worry that the ecumenism here is going to empty phenomenal conservatism of its content. It will not be as significant as it sounds to say "without phenomenal conservatism, skepticism wins" if phenomenal conservatism is understood broadly enough to include Huemer, Bengson, John McDowell, Barry Stroud, and perhaps others still.

                  Originally posted by Atno View Post
                  "The doubt is whether the justification for all of our perceptual beliefs is that they seem to us to be true". So what would you sugget is the way perceptual beliefs are justified, without relying on PC or begging the question?

                  Why do you think skepticism is best handed therapeutically? And do you think one can "therapeutically" get rid of skepticism without having to rely on seemings and PFJ from appearances? If so, how exactly?
                  I don't have a developed view of perceptual justification. But the absence of alternatives argument for phenomenal conservatism doesn't work if one has problems with phenomenal conservatism too, so I'm not going to accept a view I find unacceptable just because I haven't worked out my own decisive answer to one of philosophy's perennial problems.

                  What I mean by a therapeutic approach to skepticism is that we let the skeptic attempt to show what he wants to show, and see whether he can do it or whether he starts saying things that don't make sense. I think it's possible that one can come to see that some skeptical scenarios are not intelligible or do not have general import without having a general theory of perceptual justification. It's possible to think that in answering, for instance, a Cartesian skeptic, we will accept the constraints of the skeptic's scenario but just disagree about whether we can construct a theory of warrant out of them. So the externalist admits that what's available in the skeptical scenario does not justify one but insists that our beliefs are nevertheless warranted. The phenomenal conservative admits that what's available in the skeptical scenario does not imply the truth of our beliefs but insists that our beliefs are nevertheless justified in the absence of defeaters. These might strike one as unpromising replies, and unpromising in a similar way: because they concede that the skeptic is in essentials right, but tweak the notion of justification or warrant to let us say we know what we would like to say we know.

                  This is not my main focus in philosophy, so this is just a hipshot expression of philosophical commitment, concerning which approaches to a problem I find promising. But I think people like Wittgenstein, McDowell, and Stroud have promising approaches (though, I also think, not without problems, which I lack solutions to).
                  Last edited by Greg; 03-13-2019, 07:16 PM.

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                  • #10
                    I was reading Pruss' book about the PSR and I found this line relevant to the discussion. "If the PSR is true, and if our perceptions are contingent, then they cannot be all there is. There must be an explanation of why we have these perceptions and not others. Thus, were the PSR self-evident, it could be the start of a climb out of skepticism." (Pruss 2006)

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                    • #11
                      Atno: Is this a fair rendition of the argument implicit in your post?

                      (i) Our beliefs in the existence of the external world are justified.
                      (ii) Our beliefs in the existence of the external world can be justified only if phenomenal conservatism.
                      (iii) Hence, phenomenal conservatism.
                      Last edited by John West; 03-24-2019, 07:00 PM.

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by John West View Post
                        Atno: Is this a fair rendition of the argument implicit in your post?

                        (i) Our beliefs in the existence of the external world are justified.
                        (ii) Our beliefs in the existence of the external world can be justified only if phenomenal conservatism
                        (iii) Hence, phenomenal conservatism.
                        No, I wasn't really making an argument there. I was just interested in seeing how non-PCs here justified their common sensical beliefs; I have some friends who take the explanationist route and I was just curious to see what people thought here. I accept phenomenal conservatism because it's self-evident.

                        But there are arguments like that for PC and related principles, like Kwan's argument from the impartiality thesis and so on. I think they can be persuasive, but my interest here was seeing other justificatory attempts.

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                        • #13
                          Okay. Thanks for clarifying. Just to show that I wasn't just asking a meaningless pesky question: if you had said "Yes", I was going to post

                          I need to justify (i) and (ii) before I can accept (iii). But suppose I accept (ii). Then it follows that the justification for (i) is (iii) and the conclusion implicitly shows up in the premises.

                          Since I reject a couple of the presuppositions this thread requires of answerers and don't want to derail it (and would), I'm not going to reply (even though it sort of springs from a conversation we had in a previous thread). I think it's interesting, though.

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by John West View Post
                            Okay. Thanks for clarifying. Just to show that I wasn't just asking a meaningless pesky question: if you had said "Yes", I was going to post

                            I need to justify (i) and (ii) before I can accept (iii). But suppose I accept (ii). Then it follows that the justification for (i) is (iii) and the conclusion implicitly shows up in the premises.

                            Since I reject a couple of the presuppositions this thread requires of answerers and don't want to derail it (and would), I'm not going to reply (even though it sort of springs from a conversation we had in a previous thread). I think it's interesting, though.
                            But how do you justify your common sensical beliefs? I mean, I'm just repeating the original question here. I assume you accept (i) or at least want to somehow accept (i), since you take this forum way too seriously for someone who could in principle suspend judgment about whether or not its users exist. How do you justify it? Or you're not convinced you can justify it at all? If so, how are you content about living irrationally or whatever?

                            That's what I wanted to know in this thread.

                            Feel free to question any presuppositions; I'm just asking, how do you personally justify your belief in the external world without PC? Maybe you can dissolve the problem or whatever (for quite some time my own position was an attempt to dissolve it in a Wittgensteinian-esque manner, but I wasn't satisfied with it and in the end the PC solution made more sense to me).
                            Last edited by Atno; 03-24-2019, 07:26 PM.

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                            • #15
                              I'm a critical philosopher (small c). Qua philosopher, I don't dogmatically accept any beliefs and I consider justifying philosophy from this presuppositionless starting point one of the problems of philosophy. Qua everything else, I accept all the common sense beliefs and live in the world the same as anybody else. In other words, I live with unjustified beliefs. (I would rather not, but what am I supposed to do? I don't think the beliefs are justified in the rigorous way that philosophy requires, and sometimes suspect that they can't be here below.) I don't think that doing this should be taken as especially controversial. People live with unjustified beliefs all the time.

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