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Speckled Hens and Objects of Acquaintance

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Discussão sobre a relevância da Acquaintance para o projeto de justificação epistêmica.
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  SPECKLED HENS AND OBJECTS OF ACQUAINTANCE Richard FumertonUniversity of Iowa The speckled hen has been pecking away at various versions of classicalfoundationalism for well over sixty years. 1 It has been raised again recently byErnest Sosa (2003a and b) to criticize the kind of acquaintance theory of noninferential justification that I have defended in a number of articles andbooks. 2 In this paper I want to re-examine the problem(s) Sosa raises and tocanvas a number of solutions available to those who are interested in defendingan acquaintance theory of noninferential justification. Classical Foundationalism and Direct Acquaintance: Classical foundationalists claim that all knowledge and justified beliefs owetheir justification ultimately to noninferentially justified knowledge/belief. Themost obvious and most critical question for all foundationalists concerns whatcould render a belief noninferentially justified. And it is an understatement tosuggest that classical foundationalists have differed amongst themselves con-cerning the answer to that question. Some of the most hard-core foundational-ists, however, have sought to identify plausible candidates for foundations withinfallibility. The foundations for knowledge and justified belief are found byfollowing a Cartesian method of doubt. We strip away from our beliefs all thatcan be in error and what is left will be the foundations upon which we can buildthrough legitimate inference the rest of what we know and justifiably believe.It is important when thinking about infallibility to make distinctions. Soone might take the above view to amount to the suggestion that foundationsconsist of infallible belief, where a belief is infallible if the mere having of thebelief entails that it is true. 3 Descartes, for example, was confident that he hadfound at least one building block of the foundations of knowledge when hereflected on the fact that he couldn’t believe that he existed without his existing.The mere contemplation of the question by  him  requires that he exist. Philosophical Perspectives, 19, Epistemology, 2005  But as many have argued, it is not clear that we are getting at the heart of an interesting  epistemic  concept with the notion of an infallible belief. Trivially,if one finds oneself believing a necessary truth, for example, one’s belief willentail the truth of what one believes. But one can believe a necessary truth for abad epistemic reason that renders unjustified the belief. Similarly, I mightbelieve an enormously complex contingent truth that is entailed by the proposi-tion that I exist, but where the proposition entailed is far too complex for me to‘‘see’’ the entailment. Again while the truth of that proposition will be entailedby my believing it, it is implausible to suppose that my belief is justified.If one is determined to locate foundations relying on something likeDescartes’s method of doubt, it is more plausible to turn one’s attention frominfallible belief to infallible justification. One’s justification renders a belief infallible when one’s  justification  guarantees the truth of what one believes.One still, of course, faces the problem of necessary truth. Even if one believesa necessary truth based on the testimony of someone one takes to be anauthority, the justification for one’s belief will (trivially) entail the truth of what one believes. Yet there is a clear sense in which the  epistemic  probabilityof what one believes is less than 1. Furthermore, there are externalist proposalsfor noninferential justification that would render noninferential justificationinfallible even though it would hardly satisfy a Descartes searching for securefoundations. If one takes one’s paradigm of foundationally justified belief, forexample, to be belief directly caused by the truth maker for that belief, then such justification will (again, trivially) entail the truth of what is believed. But theinternalist is concerned that the causal connection that guarantees the truth of the belief might be ‘‘hidden’’ from the believer in a way that renders theguarantee epistemically impotent—at least if epistemic guarantees are supposedto give one the kind of assurance that Descartes sought.Intuitively, one wants the relevant sort of infallible justification to includeas a constituent the truth-maker of the belief and to include it in a way thatrenders the belief based on that justification  transparently  true. One wants thetruth-maker ‘‘before’’ consciousness in a way that provides complete intellectualassurance concerning the truth of what one believes. But all this is highlymetaphorical. Critics of the idea are often convinced that the search for suchepistemic assurance is the search for an illusion. But some proponents of theidea turn to the technical concept of direct acquaintance to capture the relevantrelation to truth-makers that ends regresses of justification. When one is in painand one is directly acquainted with the pain, the thought that one is in pain andthe correspondence between the thought and the pain, one has all that oneneeds, all one could possibly want, by way of epistemic assurance that what onebelieves is true.One would, no doubt, like an analysis of the relation of direct acquaintancebefore accepting a foundationalism that relies critically on the concept.Unfortunately, proponents of the view are likely to take the relation to beunanalyzable. Still, one can try to ‘‘ostend’’ the relation through thought 122 / Richard Fumerton  experiments. Consider again a prime candidate for direct acquaintance, one’sintrospective awareness of one’s own pain as one feels it. To be sure, externalistshave their own accounts of introspection. A reliablist, for example, might arguethat so-called introspective awareness of one’s pain just is one’s belief that one isin pain produced by the pain itself without the causal mediation of other beliefs.But there seems to me to be a world of difference between merely believing thatone is in pain and one’s being directly aware of one’s pain. Suppose, forexample, that one becomes convinced (perhaps through philosophicalargument) that one can be in pain without being aware of that pain. One isfurther convinced by a neurophysiologist scanning one’s brain that one is insevere pain right this moment, even though one isn’t aware of it. Though onebelieves that one is pain, one’s situation is quite different from that of the personwhose belief is based on direct awareness of the pain itself ‘‘present’’ beforeconsciousness.Of course, many would reject the intelligibility of a pain distinct from ourawareness of it. One might suppose that it is the mark of a genuinely mentalstate that it cannot occur without one’s being conscious of it. But this supposi-tion is highly problematic. Most of us are familiar with pains that ‘‘recede’’ fromconsciousness as we become interested in something else. I have a bad backache,but as I become engaged in a heated political debate, I don’t notice the pain fora period of time. As soon as the conversation ends, I am again distinctly awareof the pain. There are two alternative descriptions of the familiar phenomenon I just described. On the first, one says that for a period of time the pain itself ceased. On the second, one supposes that while the pain continued, I wastemporarily unaware of it. I’m not sure that any evidence will render conclusiveone hypothesis over the other, but one can imagine that neural evidence corre-lating certain brain states with pain might corroborate the view that the painwas there all along while I lost introspective ‘‘sight’’ of it for a period of time. If one finds persuasive this characterization of the situation one will have a definitedescription that succeeds in denoting acquaintance. Acquaintance is that rela-tion I had to my pain (something other than belief) that was present, tempora-rily ceased during my conversation, and began again when the conversationended. The Problem of the Speckled Hen: What do speckled hens have to do with classical foundationalism built onthe idea of direct acquaintance? Well, as we saw, many classical foundationalistssought to identify the objects of direct acquaintance by stripping from experi-ence all that is clearly not before consciousness. One does this through some-thing resembling a Cartesian method of doubt. So suppose, for example, thatsomeone thinks that one is directly acquainted with physical objects and theirproperties. The classical foundationalist asks such a person to compare the Objects of Acquaintance  / 123   justification one has for believing that there is something physical that is brownand rectangular before one with the justification one would have for believingthat same proposition were one vividly dreaming or hallucinating while one isunaware of the nonveridical character of that experience. The claim(controversial to be sure) is that the justification in the two situations is thesame. Since direct acquaintance is supposed to involve a real relation thatrequires the existence of its relata, and since by hypothesis there is nothingphysical that is brown and rectangular before one in the nonveridical experience,one cannot take oneself to be directly aware of a brown rectangular physicalobject in the veridical case. So far, so good. But the next move is to takesubjective experience with its phenomenal character to be a plausible object of acquaintance, an acquaintance that allows noninferentially justified beliefsabout the phenomenal character of that experience.Enter the speckled hen. Or, more precisely, enter the sort of appearance thata speckled hen might produce in one’s visual field. For the moment, let’scharacterize that appearance as a sense datum. If one is conscious of one’sexperience one is supposed to be directly acquainted with its phenomenalcharacter. But the visual field is occupied by a shape with many speckles. Forthe sake of argument, suppose that there are, in fact, 48 speckles present in thevisual field. Unless one has ‘‘Rainman’’ like abilities, 4 one will have no ideaprecisely how many speckles are present in the visual field. Despite one’sacquaintance with one’s experience there are truths about the experience thatremain epistemically problematic. Clearly direct acquaintance with an experi-ence cannot yield the epistemic results the acquaintance foundationalist wants.In Sosa’s (2003a and b) version of the problem, the kind of experience that wehave of our own conscious mental state can be described as experiential aware-ness (henceforth e-awareness). It just is whatever renders an experience con-scious. There is e-awareness of the many-speckled visual field. Experientialawareness is contrasted with noticing-awareness (henceforth n-awareness). N-awareness is whatever is involved in realizing that, becoming aware of, noticingthat the appearance has some feature, for example 48 speckles. N-awareness,Sosa suggests, looks more like justified belief or propositional knowledge. So wehave a dilemma. If we appeal to e-awareness to ground foundational knowledgeof the phenomenal character of experience, it apparently isn’t up to the job, atleast with respect to certain characteristics of the experience. If we appeal to n-awareness, we are surreptitiously appealing to the very concept of propositionalknowledge we were trying to explicate—our account has become viciouslycircular. Moving More Carefully—The Nature of Sensation: We have been painting with a very broad stroke. It’s time to make distinc-tions. As we shall see, epistemology quickly meets metaphysics. First, as I have 124 / Richard Fumerton
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