Ernest Sosa: And His Critics (Philosophers and their Critics)


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If 1 , then aiming for reflective knowledge can put us at risk of failing to attain animal knowledge, which requires reliability. Thus, aiming at reflective knowledge and aiming at animal knowledge are in normative conflict with one another: trying to achieve one may mean failing to achieve the other. When it comes to the special value of reflective knowledge, Sosa is on more secure ground.

The cognitive ideal argument at best begs the question, and the conflicting aims argument falsely presupposes that epistemic goals can never come into conflict. We tentatively conclude that Sosa can ground his distinction between animal and reflective knowledge in the distinctive value of reflective knowledge. Partly, it seems to me, because the deliverances of consultation need assessing in the light of reflection in a way that is different from how reflection is to be assessed through consultation.

We have lots of animal knowledge about the external world. Reflective knowledge ensures that the relevant first-order belief is safe. Assume, for reductio, that knowing-how is a kind of knowing-that. On this assumption, if a pupil knows how to reason in accordance with modus ponens, this must be in virtue of knowing some fact s e. Rather, knowing-how is a matter of possessing a sort of ability. For Ryle, failing to distinguish between knowing-how and knowing-that leaves us unable to make sense of what is involved in reasoning in accordance with rules.

For Sosa, failing to distinguish between reflective and animal knowledge forces us to choose between several individually plausible but jointly incompatible claims. In each case, the motivation is that the distinction is needed to solve a philosophical problem. It is part indeed, a crucial part of a plausible more general epistemological picture.

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It does not boil down to the familiar distinction between knowing that p and knowing that you know that p. It is worth drawing insofar as it is based on the distinctive value of reflective knowledge, and the anti-sceptical import of a bi-level epistemology. One must, for instance, treat reasons to worry about the reliability of the relevant first-order competence to be reasons to worry about the beliefs one forms through exercising it.

For discussion and criticism of the KK principle in epistemology see Alston , Greco and Williamson For discussion in formal epistemology see Hintikka For game theory see Lewis This condensed formulation is taken from Pritchard For the classic presentations of the case, see Ginet and Goldman Although Russell did not use this terminology, we might say that knowledge by acquaintance is an objectual knowledge relation, whereas knowledge by description is a propositional knowledge relation.

For discussion of the epistemic features of objectual knowledge relations, see Bengson and Moffett and Benton Kornblith has a simple response to this: there is no such thing as epistemic agency, only agency simpliciter , pp. We set this aside because the point of contention here is whether there is any need to posit an additional sort of agency, and this raises similar issues to those presently under discussion. For some recent developments of this point, see Mi and Ryan forthcoming. To make sense of this, consider archery. Compare two archers who are equally good when it comes to the actual practice of taking a shot but differ in that one is very competent at choosing when to exercise their archery skills whereas the other is not competent.

There seems to be a sense in which the successes of the first archer are more valuable than the successes of the second. Their successes are in some sense more creditable to them. See Tversky and Kahneman , for seminal discussions of the role of cognitive heuristics and biases in decision making. For discussion of the epistemological ramifications of the undetectability of such biases see Alfano , One potential line of reply, which we are setting aside for the present purposes, would be to dispute the sense of reflection that Kornblith is adverting to in this particular line of critique against Sosa.

This is our attempt to reconstruct his reasoning. For relevant discussion see Grimm , Hills , and Riggs Again, this is our attempt to reconstruct his reasoning. For discussion see Sosa , chaps 1, 3. In places Sosa embraces a novel account of dreaming as imagining to deal with dreaming scepticism e. However, he also appeals to his bi-level virtue epistemology to do the same job e. It is unclear why Sosa pursues both solutions. That is, if we assume some form of the closure principle roughly: if S knows that p, and that p entails q, then S is in a position to know that q.

Sosa also argues that we can have reflective knowledge about the external world. These points are made most forcefully in Ryle , chap. See Stanley , chap. We would like to thank two anonymous reviewers for Synthese and audience members in Leuven. Skip to main content Skip to sections. Advertisement Hide. Download PDF. Synthese pp 1—19 Cite as.

Kornblith versus Sosa on grades of knowledge. Authors Authors and affiliations J. Open Access. First Online: 16 January One has animal knowledge that p iff one has a competently produced true belief that p. Sosa thinks of beliefs as a species of performance, 2 and any performance with an aim can be evaluated along three dimensions: i whether it is accurate whether it attains its aim ,. We will briefly motivate each condition. But we hardly need to invoke a distinction between reflective and animal knowledge here, because we already have a perfectly good distinction between first-order and second-order knowledge—one that has been extensively discussed in epistemology including formal epistemology and in game theory.

Knowledge about redness versus knowledge not about redness.

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Consider a standard fake barn case: fake barns : Using his reliable perceptual faculties, Barney non-inferentially forms a true belief that the object in front of him is a barn. Sosa allows that the shape or situation components may hold even though they could easily have not held. What about reflective knowledge?


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This suggests that one has reflective knowledge that p only if the relevant meta-competence is not excessively likely to yield a false belief about whether one has animal knowledge that p. At first sight, this is hard to square with what Sosa says about competences in general. That is, one would think that reasons for holding that the situation component of the first-order competence holds are also reasons for thinking that the situation component of the meta-competence holds.

But, as we will argue, there is a principled reason for this differential treatment. First, why think that the situation component holds at the first order? Sosa invites us to consider three cases that, in his view, stand or fall together. The first case is Barney; the second is Kyle the hero of the kaleidoscope perceiver case, explained above ; the third is Simone, whose situation he describes as follows: Simone [ According to Sosa, Barney, Kyle and Simone are to be treated symmetrically because: i all retain their relevant inner competence or skill i.

This requires appreciating why a first-order competence can be present even when the relevant second-order competence is absent. So Barney, Kyle and Simone are ill-placed to determine whether their first-order competences are present because they are unable to discern their presence. The thought, then, is that exercising a first-order competence does not require an ability to discern its presence or absence , whereas exercising a second-order competence requires an ability to discern the presence or absence of relevant first-order competences.

This worry is not without ground. One requires, in addition, more animal knowledge, for instance, about how the relevant first-order belief came about, or how it fits into a broader network of beliefs. The third and final adequacy condition is that the distinction must be worth drawing.

In this section we look at three ways in which Sosa might argue that his distinction is worth drawing: i By appealing to the different competences involved in animal and reflective knowledge. One might argue that the distinction between reflective and animal knowledge is worth drawing because they involve different skills or, as Sosa would say, competences. Here is Timothy Perrine making this suggestion on behalf of Sosa: For Sosa, knowledge is a kind of excellence [sic.

The problem with this suggestion is that it faces a proliferation problem. If one can base a distinction between kinds of knowledge on a distinction between kinds of skills, one is going to have to countenance kinds of knowledge other than animal or reflective knowledge. Here is Kornblith making this point: [S]o-called consultative knowledge is not a different kind of knowledge from non-consultative knowledge.

Kornblith does over-state the point here.

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Of course, one could conclude that there are three kinds of knowledge: animal, reflective and consultative. One might instead argue that reflective knowledge differs from animal knowledge in that it is either more valuable than animal knowledge, or valuable in a different way to animal knowledge. Sosa suggests this in several places. For instance: Since a direct response supplemented by such understanding would in general have a better chance of being right, reflective knowledge is better justified than corresponding animal knowledge , p.

Sosa is making two distinct claims here. The first is that reflective knowledge is more valuable than animal knowledge because reflecting on our beliefs makes them more reliable. The second is that reflective knowledge is more valuable than animal knowledge along a dimension other than truth.

The thought is that reflective knowledge is a kind of success that is creditable to the knower in a way that animal knowledge is not. We will look at each claim in turn. This matter is, as Kornblith rightly notes, subject to empirical refutation or confirmation , and he offers some empirical evidence that he thinks shows that reflection does not generally increase reliability see , pp. First, we are generally very bad at identifying the causes of our beliefs. Many of our belief-forming processes occur below the level of consciousness. Second, when we try to identify the relevant processes, we often make mistakes because our beliefs are often influenced by factors we mistakenly treat as irrelevant.

Third, when we reflect on our beliefs, we confidently and entirely mistakenly end up rationalising them rather than uncovering these problems. As Kornblith puts it: In a large class of cases, the process of reflection is an exercise in self-congratulation. It is fair to complain that Kornblith somewhat exaggerates the strength of the empirical evidence. Cognitive ideal argument 1. Conflicting aims argument 1.

Reflection often detracts rather than enhances reliability. This is what Sosa says about the respective merits of reflection and consultation: [W]hy put reflection above consultation? In contrast, it is hard to see how a bi-level epistemology that distinguished between consultative and non-consultative knowledge would have similar resources. Sosa , develops this thought in connection with external world scepticism; Sosa , develops it in connection with Pyrrhonian scepticism.

Sosa is primarily concerned with dreaming scepticism rather than with scepticism based on evil demon or brain-in-a-vat scenarios because, in his view, the possibility that I might be dreaming is more of a threat to knowing anything about the external world than the possibility that I might be deceived by an evil demon or a brain in a vat. To see why, consider the two standard modal conditions on knowledge, safety and sensitivity: safety : An agent S has a safe belief in a true contingent proposition p iff in most near-by possible worlds in which S believes p, p is true.

Thus, many epistemologists—including, at one point, Sosa see Sosa —have appealed to safety in order to ward off the threat of external world scepticism. While worlds in which I am deceived by an evil demon or a brain in a vat are modally distant , worlds in which I am dreaming are plausibly modally close. Thus, one standard response to scepticism based on evil demons or brains in a vat is toothless when it comes to dreaming scepticism.

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First, there is the problem of what a reliabilist should say about what are referred to as evil demon victims : subjects whose beliefs seem justified although, due to the massive deception to which the victims are subjected, their beliefs are grounded in unreliable faculties. Sosa responds that, whereas the demon victims' beliefs are actual world justified as the victims' faculties would be reliable in the actual world, they are same world unjustified because the faculties the victims employ are unreliable in their own world a. In more recent terminology, Sosa classifies the victims' beliefs as adroit though not apt Sosa Second, Sosa's reliability-grounded virtue perspectivism is challenged by what Sosa calls the problem of meta-incoherence , which arises from cases in which a subject's beliefs are produced by a faculty whose de facto reliability is not or at least not yet recognized by the subject.

Since such subjects do not meet the perspectival condition of having formed reliability-attributing meta-beliefs about the relevant belief sources, Sosa judges that the beliefs in question are unjustified, or not reflectively justified Sosa Third, there is the generality problem, which for Sosa amounts to the challenge of finding the right level of specificity in describing field and circumstances. Here, Sosa's solution is to require that the relevant descriptions be useful within the subject's epistemic community and to the subject herself Sosa Three further, important problems to which Sosa has articulated detailed solutions are the following: First, how can we distinguish between accidental and non-accidental reliability?

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Second, what justifies reliability-attributing perspectival meta-beliefs Sosa a? Third, why is the process by which reliability-attributing meta-beliefs are formed using, for example, perception to attest to the reliability of our perceptual faculties not viciously circular b and ? Recently, Sosa has also contributed important work on the following question: If a belief is to be an instance of knowledge, what modal link must there exist between the belief and its truth? According to some, knowledge requires sensitivity: S would not believe that p if p were false. Viewing this condition as too demanding, Sosa objects to it on the basis of the following case: Having dropped a trash bag in the garbage shoot, you believe the bag will momentarily reach its destination in the basement.


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  • This belief, Sosa suggests, amounts to knowledge even though it is not sensitive: if p the bag will land momentarily were false because, say, the bag snagged in the shoot , you would still believe p. As an alternative, Sosa proposes safety: If S were to believe p, p would be true or: Not easily would S believe incorrectly in believing that p.

    Though your belief that the bag will land momentarily is not sensitive, it is indeed safe, for possible worlds in which S believes that the bag will shortly arrive downstairs, but believes this mistakenly, are indeed remote Sosa The distinction between safety and sensitivity assumes particular significance for Sosa, for he appeals to it for the purpose of rejecting the contextualist solution to the puzzle of skepticism. Contextualists have argued that, when confronted with a skeptical argument, we face a paradox because, although we find the premises plausible, we wish to reject the conclusion.

    According to the contextualist response, the puzzle is to be solved by appeal to the context-sensitivity of the word know. Sosa suggests an alternative solution: Skeptical arguments may misleadingly seem cogent because we fail to recognize that knowledge requires not sensitivity, but merely safety Sosa and Syntax Advanced Search.

    About us. Editorial team. John Greco ed. Wiley-Blackwell John Greco Saint Louis University. Metaphysics, General Works in Metaphysics. Perception and Skepticism in Philosophy of Mind. Skepticism, Misc in Epistemology. Virtue Epistemology in Epistemology. Edit this record. Mark as duplicate. Find it on Scholar.

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    Add one. Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server Configure custom proxy use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy. Configure custom resolver. Chapters BETA. Sosa, Safety, Sensitivity, and Skeptical Hypotheses. Keith DeRose. Ernest Sosa. Sosa on Abilities, Concepts, and Externalism. Virtue Epistemology.

    Ernest Sosa: And His Critics (Philosophers and their Critics) Ernest Sosa: And His Critics (Philosophers and their Critics)
    Ernest Sosa: And His Critics (Philosophers and their Critics) Ernest Sosa: And His Critics (Philosophers and their Critics)
    Ernest Sosa: And His Critics (Philosophers and their Critics) Ernest Sosa: And His Critics (Philosophers and their Critics)
    Ernest Sosa: And His Critics (Philosophers and their Critics) Ernest Sosa: And His Critics (Philosophers and their Critics)
    Ernest Sosa: And His Critics (Philosophers and their Critics) Ernest Sosa: And His Critics (Philosophers and their Critics)
    Ernest Sosa: And His Critics (Philosophers and their Critics) Ernest Sosa: And His Critics (Philosophers and their Critics)
    Ernest Sosa: And His Critics (Philosophers and their Critics) Ernest Sosa: And His Critics (Philosophers and their Critics)
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