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Disagreement and Phenomenal Conservatism

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  • #16
    Originally posted by Atno
    Where have I conceded that point?
    If in trying to follow our intuitions about morality we're so easily misled by habits, biases, cultural norms, religious influences, peer pressure, and other psychological factors, then our intuitions simply aren't reliable guides to morality—reliable guides wouldn't allow us to be so easily and frequently misled.

    First you said that we have good historical reasons to hold that our intuitions are not reliable; I disputed that and said that there are other factors at play. Now you are somehow concluding that by mentioning there are other factors at hand, our moral intuitions are generally not reliable period, as if we could never go beyond any cognitive penetration and our moral intuitions are useless. I never claimed that, though of course I think seeking an unbiased and good reflective position can be diffcult, but doable. I just think it is far more plausible that the historical moral ignorance you are mentioning is the result of many different factors other than failed intuitions. And then, to repeat myself, I don't think this is a big use for the moral intuitionist.

    Yes, those are exceptions, and they may very well have been widely believed not because our moral intuitions were constantly failing, but because of factors such as habits, specific reasonings, cultural norms, religious beliefs, biases, peer prssure, and so on. (Incidentally, I also think they are more complex, including in their historical contexts, than propositions such as "murdering random innocent people is okay", "torturing innocent children is good". However abhorrent they might be).
    What grounds do we have for assuming that yours are the moral intuitions that people have apart from the fact that they're your moral intuitions? I assumed you were relying on historical data (which you never presented). I presented contrary historical data to throw that into contention. Then you came back with the idea that all men everywhere fall prey to habits, biases, cultural norms, etc., so that we have no reason to believe that the fact that people widely thinking it okay to do things radically contrary to contemporary intuitions is evidence that our intuitions are unreliable moral guides.

    (I've stayed at the level of intuitions, but of course I don't need to. There is even more faction at the level of competent practitioners and philosophy of ethics, over every moral proposition imaginable.)
    Last edited by John West; 03-30-2019, 03:45 AM.

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    • #17
      Originally posted by Greg View Post
      People can of course be justified in believing all sorts of false things. I confess that I do find it flatly odd to think that that seeming can suffice for justification, though. I would think that the question "Should I believe it?" is generally a further question than "Does it seem to me to be so?".

      Earlier I had considered asking you about phenomenal conservatism and inferential justification, and I now see that you say it is not an account of inferential justification. I can see why the phenomenal conservative would say that, because phenomenal conservatism is a bad fit for inferential justification. Sometimes things will seem to me some way only because I've made a bad inference, and am not internally justified in believing what I believe, even though it's what seems to me to be true. But can that be sustained? Take what you said here. "If the presence of a disagreement makes it seem to you that you should be cautious about the seeming, then you can be more cautious about that seeming." How can the phenomenal conservative say such a thing? Surely the presence of a disagreement over p is only relevant to my belief that p because the disagreement is inferentially related to p (I estimate that other people are reliable, that I am fallible, etc.).

      These aren't exactly isolated cases. There are tons of instances of things that seem to me to be so only on the basis of inference or something relevantly like inference. He seems angry--I think this because I see him scowling. The ice seems safe--because a couple people have ventured out onto it. If phenomenal conservatism does not apply to such cases but just to the foundations on which they rest, then I don't have an intuitive grasp on what those foundations are, which is not good if phenomenal conservatism is supposed to be self-evident, and also is not good if phenomenal conservatism is supposed to remain fairly agnostic about what might count as a seeming.
      That's alright, I also find it flatly odd how someone could think that if P seems true to you, and you do your best to make sure you are not under the influence of any bias or delusion, and as far as you know there are zero defeaters for P, and P really does seem objectively true to you, perhaps even obvious, you still do not get any justification whatsoever for believing that P.

      If I understood you correcrly, then I don't think you understood what I meant when I said that PC is not a principle of inferential justification. The idea is not that we cannot have seemings of inferences or based on inferences. The point of PC is that we are not "inferring" beliefs from seemings; we are not using phenomena of things seeming to be such and such as "evidence" which makes the presented objects plausible. We do not need, for example, to believe or understand PC in order to be justified in believing things are the way they appear to be. He seems angry - I see him scowling. That is okay. I can infer he is angry because I see him scowling and it seems to me there is a connection between these two etc. What does *not* happen is the following: "I notice that he seems to me to be scowling, and I know my appearances are generally reliable, so I can conclude that he is indeed scowling, and from there I can infer he is angry". It just seems to us that he is scowling, and so we have some justification to believe he is scowling.

      This is important because many skeptical scenarios treat our cognitive processes as *signs* of what we know, much like what representationalists do. So I am justified in believing I am not a brain in a vat not because I somehow infer that the phenomena of me being appeared to as having two hands gives me evidence that I really have two hands (the BIV scenario would also provide me with such phenomena, anyway), but simply because it seems that I have two hands. It reallt does objectively seem like I have two hands, so I have some justification for believing I have two hands and am therefore not a BIV.
      Last edited by Atno; 03-30-2019, 04:32 AM.

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      • #18
        Originally posted by John West View Post

        If in trying to follow our intuitions about morality we're so easily misled by habits, biases, cultural norms, religious influences, peer pressure, and other psychological factors, then our intuitions simply aren't reliable guides to morality—reliable guides wouldn't allow us to be so easily and frequently misled.



        What grounds do we have for assuming that yours are the moral intuitions that people have apart from the fact that they're your moral intuitions? I assumed you were relying on historical data (which you never presented). I presented contrary historical data to throw that into contention. Then you came back with the idea that all men everywhere fall prey to habits, biases, cultural norms, etc., so that we have no reason to believe that the fact that people widely thinking it okay to do things radically contrary to contemporary intuitions is evidence that our intuitions are unreliable moral guides.

        (I've stayed at the level of intuitions, but of course I don't need to. There is even more faction at the level of competent practitioners and philosophy of ethics, over every moral proposition imaginable.)

        What you said just doesn't follow. The fact that people are easily misled by habits, biases etc. doesn't imply that we can just conclude our moral intuitions in general are unreliable and that it is fruitless to, say, try to free oneself as much as possible from biases and cultural norms and just try to reflect on and analyze ethical propositions and disputes. I was merely stating what I take to be clear: the fact that a lot of people have held wrong moral beliefs in history isn't necessarily evidence for the unreliability of moral intuitions; these people may not have been misled by their intuitions, in fact I think it probable that they have been misled by factors other than misleading intuitions. That's all I'm saying.

        I have a clear intuition that murder is wrong, that torturing innocent people for fun is wrong, etc. I am convinced I can trust my moral intuitions here. You're saying I can't because a lot of people throughout history have held false moral beliefs. I just don't see how this would justify thinking that my moral intuitions are therefore unreliable.

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        • #19

          Originally posted by Atno
          What you said just doesn't follow. The fact that people are easily misled by habits, biases etc. doesn't imply that we can just conclude our moral intuitions in general are unreliable and that it is fruitless to, say, try to free oneself as much as possible from biases and cultural norms and just try to reflect on and analyze ethical propositions and disputes. I was merely stating what I take to be clear: the fact that a lot of people have held wrong moral beliefs in history isn't necessarily evidence for the unreliability of moral intuitions; these people may not have been misled by their intuitions, in fact I think it probable that they have been misled by factors other than misleading intuitions. That's all I'm saying.
          Who are we to dispute the testimony of apparently honest men and tell them they're confused (or biased or delusional) but that we aren't?

          I have a clear intuition that murder is wrong, that torturing innocent people for fun is wrong, etc. I am convinced I can trust my moral intuitions here. You're saying I can't because a lot of people throughout history have held false moral beliefs. I just don't see how this would justify thinking that my moral intuitions are therefore unreliable.
          You ground out your ethic in subjective measures (self-evidence, seemings, etc.) and claim that those are measures of objective reality. You then claim that it has no weight when other people make the same moves and contradict you. Do you not see the problem?

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          • #20
            Originally posted by Atno View Post

            No, phenomenal conservatism is not a theory of truth, it's about justification. I believe in the correspondence theory of truth; I reject any other theory of truth, in fact. Phenomenal conservatism is concerned with how we can be *justified* in believing in something, and in this case it requires some form of internalist view of justification. What makes someone justified in believing something is internal to that person's point of view.

            Again, I don't see any problem with disagreements per se. If it seems to you that ~p, then you should (or could) believe that ~p, but if it seems to me that p, I should believe that p. Coming to know that matters seem different to you wouldn't change this fact, unless we are assuming I should be more cautious about my appearances - which is fine for PC, and will plausibly follow the same structure as I said (p will seem to me less probable than before, for instance). The fact people have disagreements doesn't mean we can't trust our intuitions as basic, or even that they are unreliable in general. Moreover, I think it is often exaggerated how much people disagree in, say, matters of morality. People usually have disagreements when it comes to complex dilemmas (and even then, often not because of intuitions per se, but because of different reasoning processes and so on), but nonetheless tend to strongly agree on certain basic moral intuitions (such as that murder is wrong, theft is wrong, torturing people for fun is wrong, etc).

            Resources I recommend for phenomenal conservatism? Michael Huemer's books and articles: Skepticism and the Veil of Perception (this one is very important); Moral Intuitionism; Compassionate Phenomenal Conservatism. Bengson's article "The Intellectua Given" is excellent, and although it is not technically phenomenal conservatism it still defends a very similar position, namely that we can be prima facie justified in believing in what we see in our "presentations". Blake McAllister's work. Kai-Man Kwan's defense of his Principle of Critical Trust.

            To me, essential to understanding the intuition behind PC is the recognition of 1) the internalist sense of justification behind the principle; 2) the fact that it is NOT about inferences, it is NOT a principle of inferential justification; 3) the very notion of something seeming true, or striking you as being the case.
            Thanks for all the discussion and recommendations. I plan to read more on the topic in future. PC does seems somewhat intuitively plausible and interesting to me though I am not sure I grasp its content and extent fully.

            And thanks to the mods for this thread, following the discussion here, its very interesting and brings up many points I have in my mind.

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            • #21
              Originally posted by Atno View Post
              If I understood you correcrly, then I don't think you understood what I meant when I said that PC is not a principle of inferential justification. The idea is not that we cannot have seemings of inferences or based on inferences. The point of PC is that we are not "inferring" beliefs from seemings; we are not using phenomena of things seeming to be such and such as "evidence" which makes the presented objects plausible. We do not need, for example, to believe or understand PC in order to be justified in believing things are the way they appear to be. He seems angry - I see him scowling. That is okay. I can infer he is angry because I see him scowling and it seems to me there is a connection between these two etc. What does *not* happen is the following: "I notice that he seems to me to be scowling, and I know my appearances are generally reliable, so I can conclude that he is indeed scowling, and from there I can infer he is angry". It just seems to us that he is scowling, and so we have some justification to believe he is scowling.
              Ok. As a matter of presentation, "PC is not a principle of inferential justification" is not the best way of putting this point. A principle of inferential justification would usually be understood to be a principle which accounts for the justification of forming beliefs on the basis of inferences. Your point is that PC is not the view that either it itself or some other principle about the reliability of appearances is a premise in inferences from appearances to justified beliefs.

              I have no special problem with that. But what was implicit in my remarks about inferential justification was a dilemma over whether PC should be taken as a principle of inferential justification in my sense. I suggested that it is a bad fit because when the formation of beliefs on the basis of faulty inferences is a paradigm failture of internal justification, but faulty inferences do convey appearance to the beliefs consequently formed, and there need not be any defeaters of which the subject is cognizant. Take for instance someone who forms the belief that someone is out to get him because of some little gesture or facial expression; it seems to this person that the other is out to get him because this person is petty, say. This seems like a form of irrationality to which petty people are sometimes given. As far as I can tell, there need not be any defeater here; vices such as pettiness are infamously not always available to the subjects who possess them.

              That's the horn which you seem to be grasping by virtue of not agreeing with me that PC is unsuited to provide an account of inferential justification in my sense. (As I outlined in my previous post, I take this to be an issue not just for inferences but also for similar forms of epistemic dependence, for instance the way in which one's background beliefs inform the beliefs one can form on the basis of perception.) Whereas the other horn is the one I outlined in my previous post: if it's granted that PC is unsuited to provide an account of inferential justification, then I lose my grip on the foundations it is supposed to be providing justification for, and also lose my grip on why I should be confident about it as an account of seemings which are foundational but not of seemings which are not.

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