Thursday, 29 December 2016

The Varieties of Self-Knowledge

Today's post is by Annalisa Coliva on her new book The Varieties of Self-Knowledge.

I am Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Irvine. My main interests lie in epistemology, philosophy of mind and the history of analytic philosophy.

The Varieties of Self-Knowledge (Palgrave 2016) is a sustained defence of pluralism about self-knowledge. I argue that, contrary to what behaviourists, several cognitive scientists, theory-theorists and inferential theorists have maintained in the last seventy years or so, there is an asymmetry between first- and third-personal self-knowledge. Hence, empirical studies that tend to show that we can be mistaken about, or ignorant of several mental states of ours do not in fact impugn the existence of first-personal self-knowledge. Rather, they show that the scope of first-personal self-knowledge is more limited than philosophers have thought. Hence, in many cases, we do know our own mental states in a third-personal way.

That is to say, we know our own dispositional mental states and character traits based on third-personal methods. By contrast, when we do know our occurrent phenomenal mental states, but also our intentions, passing thoughts, basic emotions, perceptions and commissive propositional attitudes, we know them in a distinctively first-personal way. Hence, in my view, both first- and third-personal self-knowledge are philosophically interesting and in need of explanation.

In particular, it should be recognized that the ways we gain third-personal self-knowledge are many and diverse. There is not just inference to the best explanation, starting with the observation of our own overt linguistic and non-linguistic behaviour and further inner promptings. There is also inductive inference, simulation, inferential conceptual deployment (or “hermeneutics”) and—last but not least—testimony. Indeed, we can get to know some of our dispositional psychological properties by trusting what other people tell us about ourselves.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Aiming at the Truth and Aiming at Success

In this post, Lubomira Radoilska (pictured above) summarises her paper "Aiming at the Truth and Aiming at Success", which is forthcoming in a special issue of Philosophical Explorations on false but useful beliefs. The special issue is guest edited by Lisa Bortolotti and Ema Sullivan-Bissett and is inspired by project PERFECT's interests in belief. Lubomira has a new project on Reassessing Responsibility which underlies some of the themes in this post.

Are the demands we face as believers compatible with the demands we face as agents? In other words, is our aiming at the truth consistent with our aiming at success? Since our lives as believers and agents are inexorably intertwined, it seems vital to find out whether and how the normative requirements that apply to us as believers relate to the normative requirements that apply to us as agents.

Until very recently, theorists of normativity discussed the spheres of belief and action as though they were governed by two separate sets of norms with no significant overlap. Yet, on closer inspection, if the relationship between these two sets of norms remains unspecified, it is likely to result in practical contradictions for human beings, who are at the same time believers and agents and so are subject to both sets of norms. This is particularly the case when tracking the available evidence is interpreted as the only way of satisfying the most fundamental norm of belief, which is the truth norm.

I propose a new account, which enables us to resolve these contradictions by establishing the significance of believers’ own agency in satisfying the truth norm of belief, in addition to tracking the available evidence. On this account, there is a robust two-way connection between the requirements we are expected to meet as believers and the requirements we are expected to meet as agents. In sum, this means that it is o.k. to get it right by succeeding, i.e. to acquire a true belief in virtue of achieving one’s goal as an agent.