Monday 27 January 2014

Social Aetiology of Mental Illness (SAMI) Training Program 2014–2015 Postdoctoral Fellowship

The Social Aetiology of Mental Illness (SAMI) Training Program 2014–2015 Postdoctoral Fellowship.
Application Deadline is February 1ST 2014, 5:00pm EST

The Social Aetiology of Mental Illness (SAMI) Training Program is now accepting applications for the 2014-15 Postdoctoral Fellowship program.

The SAMI training program is a CIHR Strategic Training Initiative in Health Research Training Program based at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and the University of Toronto, and includes international partners from across the globe. Fellowships are for 1 year, fully funded, research-based, and will help top-class research students further develop their skills in investigating the social aetiology of mental illness.

Deadline: February 01, 2014 (5:00pm EST). Please visit the SAMI Training Program website for more information on how to apply. Any questions can be directed to the program staff on-site today, Research Manager, Emma Ware,

Autonomy Summer School 2014 21-23 August, University of Essex

The Essex Autonomy Project is pleased to announce that bookings are now being taken for the Autonomy Summer School.

The programme for the 2014 Summer School focuses on three key areas. On day one we will be looking at the dilemmas surrounding mental capacity, on day two the focus will be on risk and decision making and on day three we will consider mental capacity legislation and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Each day will comprise of two teaching sessions, plus group discussion of case studies relevant to the topic, and will conclude with a lecture which presents the latest research from the Essex Autonomy Project.

For the first time, this year you are able to join the Summer School for one day only, two days or for the whole event.
Fees: £145 per day Early booking discount – pay £125 per day if booked before the 31st March (the fee includes teaching, course materials and lunch each day. Overnight accommodation can be booked separately from £40 per night, bed and breakfast).
Book all three days for the reduced rate of £375
To book your place please go to the Summer School pages of our website and click on ‘Apply’.
If you have any questions about the Summer School please contact:Becky Parsons
Administrative Assistant
Tel: 01206 872717
 Working days: Monday and Wednesday

Thursday 23 January 2014

The middle sections of McDowell’s ‘Perceptual Experience: Both Relational and Contentful’

I’ve been reading McDowell’s recent paper ‘Perceptual Experience: Both Relational and Contentful’ [McDowell 2013]. Although I think I understand the broad outlines of the picture presented – which is not to say that there are no deeply puzzling aspects – I have been confused by the choreography in the middle. McDowell talks about an argument with a first and second premise. But he also talks about an argument which can be read in either a modus ponens or a modus tollens way. I’ve been puzzled by what he’s talking about. But I now think I have an interpretation. Crucially, there are two distinct arguments.

The argument that can be given either a modus ponens or modus tollens spin has the following elements. There is a premise which comprises a simple claim and a more complex conditional premise. There’s then a simple conclusion.

Presented as modus ponens, the simple premise is that:
  • P1: the epistemic significance of experiences consists in their having content in the way they do.
The second, conditional premise is that:
  • P2: If the epistemic significance of an experience consists in its having content in the way it does, then it cannot be by bringing environmental realities into view that experiences enable their subjects to know things about the environment.
Or more naturally:
  • P2: If the epistemic significance of an experience consists in its having content in the way it does, then it cannot be that experiences enable their subjects to know things about the environment by bringing environmental realities into view.
The conclusion is that
  • C: It cannot be by bringing environmental realities into view that experiences enable their subjects to know things about the environment.
Or more naturally,
  • C: It cannot be  that experiences enable their subjects to know things about the environment by bringing environmental realities into view.
This modus ponens version leads to a highest common factor view of experience. The best experience does is to provide a defeasible warrant rather than bringing reality itself into view with conclusive warrant.

Read the other way round as a modus tollens argument, and holding the conditional constant, the conclusion is that it is not true that the epistemic significance of experiences consists in their having content in the way they do. One such view is Travis’ in which experiences play no content-bearing role. They are simply routes to the world for subsequent judgement. They enable the world to be in view for subsequent conceptual judgement. Here’s the description of that view:

We would be immune to the puzzlement those questions express if we accepted a relational conception of the sort that refuses to conceive the epistemic significance of experience in terms of content. On this view, experiences contribute to one’s having knowledge about one’s environment, but only by placing one’s surroundings in view. If one knows something about one’s environment through perception, that is because one has made something of things an experience places in view for one. One has brought them under concepts, exercising cognitive capacities that are extra to having the things in view. If someone has a knowledge-constituting warrant for a belief about how things are in her environment, the warrant depends on the epistemic credentials of the capacities she has exercised in applying concepts to things her experience anyway places in view for her. So the puzzlement does not arise. There is no application for the conception that causes it; there is no such thing as an experience that itself provides its subject with a conclusive warrant, or indeed any warrant, for believing something about her environment. [ibid: 149]

I don’t think that there’s a very strong argument against this position in this paper. We know that McDowell continues to think that it falls prey to the Myth of the Given and we know that Travis continues to think that it doesn’t. If I am at all on track with Travis his key idea is that it is an entirely acceptable view of the exercise of reason that it mediates between the conceptual (which exemplifies generality, understandings, occasionalism etc) and the non-conceptual (that which instances general concepts) so we do not need accept McDowell’s acceptance that there is almost a truth in the Davidsonian idea that the only thing that can serve as a reason for a belief is another belief. (Almost a truth because belief-like experiences can play just this role too. That’s the point of Mind and World’s transcendental empiricism.) But I will park this disagreement here. McDowell aims to show, at least, that it should receive no further support from the forced choice discussed here. He can head off a reason for thinking it obligatory. (That said, this does not seem to be the motive Travis himself has for his position which - mainly? - concerns, instead, the distinction between the conceptual, which admits of understandings, and the non-conceptual and the argument that making experience itself part of the conceptual is incoherent. For some attempts to get clear on that see this.)

Now one possible way to reject the conclusion that provides such a further motivation for Travis’ account would be to adopt the content view and attempt to head off the worry caused by the fact that contents can be misleading. Sadly it won’t do for reasons which have to do with the distinction drawn in ‘Knowledge and the internal’ between mathematics or logic and empirical knowledge.

We might be tempted by a thought on these lines: if one takes an experience to make knowledge available when it does not, that reflects some flaw in one’s cognitive conduct—haste, inattention, or whatever. That way, we could suppose an experience can conclusively warrant a belief about the environment, consistently with the requirement that one’s self-consciousness in enjoying it must put one in a position to know it has that epistemic significance. It is just that to avail oneself of that possibility of knowing the epistemic significance of an experience, one needs to ensure that one’s cognitive conduct, in exercising one’s capacity to know the epistemic significance of one’s experiences, is flawless. The idea would be that if one exercised that capacity without such flaws in cognitive conduct as haste or inattention, one would not be at risk of taking an experience to enable one to know something about the environment when it does not.
But the trouble with this idea is that it is not credible. Taking an experience to make knowledge available when it does not can be blameless.
[ibid: 150]

So going back, both the MP/MT arguments depend on a conditional for which there is a distinct argument ie one which isn't the same as these MP and MT arguments. It happens earlier in the paper on p146 where the second premise is that experiences can appear to make knowledge about the environment available when they do not. The more complicated first premise is in this passage:

The epistemic significance of an experience must be available to the subject in enjoying the experience. It must reside in some aspect of the experience’s subjective character. So on the content conception, an experience’s having content as it does must be constitutive of its subjective character, in so far as its subjective character is relevant to its putting its subject in touch with her surroundings, or at least seeming to. [ibid: 146]

Now I think that McDowell accepts both of these. But they can seem, wrongly, to lead to the conditional which drives the MP/MT forced choice. So having set out that forced choice he has to explain why these two premises don't lead to the conclusion of this other argument: the conditional which drives the forced choice in the MP/MT argument.

Here the key thought is that a possibility has gone missing in the conventional view:

The premise that has been giving us trouble is that one can take an experience to make knowledge available when it does not. That does not show that when an experience makes knowledge available, it is not by bringing a suitable environmental reality into view for one. The point is just that the capacity to be in such positions is fallible.
We take in stride the fact that a capacity to know through perception such things as that there is something red and rectangular in front of one is fallible. We must, if we are going to suppose we ever have such knowledge. What makes it look as if the capacity cannot work in the way I have described— yielding knowledge whose title to count as such depends on experience making environmental realities present to us and thereby giving us conclusive warrant for beliefs about the environment—is the thought that knowing the epistemic significance of an experience that warrants a bit of knowledge we have through that fallible capacity would have to be an act of another capacity: a separate capacity to know such things, which would have to be in principle infallible. And the argument’s second premise is that there is no such infallible capacity. But the argument fails, because the capacity by which one knows the epistemic significance of one’s experiences is not another capacity, but just the capacity whose fallibility we anyway have to take in stride.
[ibid: 151]

So at this point, to cut a longer story very short, the disjunctivism of McDowell’s account in ‘Criteria, defeasibility’, ‘Knowledge and the internal’, ‘Perception as a capacity for knowledge’ and others heads off the worry that the fallibility of observation impacts on the warrant of seeing when, in fact, all does go well. This includes the idea that the fallibility of the faculty of observation as a whole does not rule out the idea that ‘when all goes well’ one’s experience itself provides warrant sufficient for the truth of the belief; that the same faculty enables one to know how and that one knows; and the fact that, had one been in the bad disjunct one would not have known that has no negative implication for the possibility that if one is in the good disjunct one can know that.

Still, this paper makes something clear which hadn't been to me, at least, before. The content of experience can be the same in veridical and misleading cases, between the good and bad disjuncts. The word ‘content is used in this way. Content is a highest common factor. But theres more to experience than its content, there is the way an experience has the content it does. This marks the key difference between being a case of seeing, or a case of having the world in view, and merely enjoying/suffering an appearance.

One further interesting claim is that visual experiences share a de se character. Seeings are de re but the broader class of visual experiences are de se:

Visual experiences as such, whether seeings or not, have content that enables those that are seeings to place their subjects in such relations to objects. But that is provided for, not by a de re character that belongs to the contents of seeings, but by a de se character that belongs to the contents of visual experiences as such. When I formulate an aspect of the content of an experience with the words “(There is) something red and rectangular in front of me”, “in front of me” is schematic for a much more specific placement, in relation to me, of an apparent red rectangular thing. That is enough to secure that if the experience is a seeing, it enables me to refer, with a visually grounded demonstrative, to the red rectangular thing I see. [ibid: 155-6]

What puzzles me here is why the de re character of a reference I chose to make of my experience - the sort of thing Travis starts his story with - belongs* to the content of the seeing and not the judgement made on its basis.
(*It is hard to know how to put this. It isn't that the content is de re articulated since the content of the good and the bad disjuncts are the same: de se. But the way the content of a genuine seeing comes about is de re.)

McDowell, J. (2013) ‘Perceptual Experience: Both Relational and Contentful’ European Journal of Philosophy 21: 144-57

Wednesday 22 January 2014

Philosophers' Rally, Nijmegan 2014

I have been invited to be one of the three international speakers at the student philosophy rally at Nijmegan, Netherlands, in a couple of months. I must say that I rather like the idea of a rally and must resist the temptation to appeal for a storming of the palace afterwards. An army of philosophers!

The website is here.

And the blurb runs:
Philosophers’ Rally 2014: Selves & Persons24th & 25th April 2014, Radboud University NijmegenConfirmed keynote speakers: Simon Critchley, Tim Thornton, Katalin Farkas
On April 24th and 25th, the Radboud University Nijmegen will host the 2014 edition of the annual Dutch Philosophers’ Rally:  a two-day conference organized by students under the banner of the Dutch Association for Philosophy Students. The Philosophers’ Rally aims to offer talented students of all levels (undergraduate to PhD) an opportunity to present their own research and to become acquainted with the work of their peers. The Rally aims to be an inspiring platform where both young as well as very experienced philosophers can meet and exchange ideas.
The theme for this edition of the Philosophers’ Rally will be ‘Selves & Persons’:
The philosophical question ‘Who are we?’ shows up in many debates and contexts. The difficulty is that each time it surfaces, the meaning of ‘we’ may differ. It can mean ‘we’ as humans, as organisms, as citizens, as men or women, and a countless variety of other things. This shows that this question  transgresses different philosophical genres and ages. The common goal these different genres share is the quest for identity and recognition of what it means to be a self or a person, outside of their immediate context.
Thus, for the Philosophers’ Rally 2014 – held this year at Radboud University Nijmegen – we will be searching for answers to that question: what does it mean to be a self or person? And hopefully, that question will be answered from all possible philosophical angles, containing many different notions of selves and persons.

Psychopathy: what apology making tells us about moral agency

I see that the paper Gloria Ayob and I have written on psychopathy for Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics is now available from the journal's website. It is here.

The abstract runs:

Psychopathy is often used to settle disputes about the nature of moral judgment. The “trolley problem” is a familiar scenario in which psychopathy is used as a test case. Where a convergence in response to the trolley problem is registered between psychopathic subjects and non-psychopathic (normal) subjects, it is assumed that this convergence indicates that the capacity for making moral judgments is unimpaired in psychopathy. This, in turn, is taken to have implications for the dispute between motivation internalists and motivation externalists, for instance. In what follows, we want to do two things: firstly, we set out to question the assumption that convergence is informative of the capacity for moral judgment in psychopathy. Next, we consider a distinct feature of psychopathy which we think provides strong grounds for holding that the capacity for moral judgment is seriously impaired in psychopathic subjects. The feature in question is the psychopathic subject’s inability to make sincere apologies. Our central claim will be this: convergence in response to trolley problems does not tell us very much about the psychopathic subject’s capacity to make moral judgments, but his inability to make sincere apologies does provide us with strong grounds for holding that this capacity is seriously impaired in psychopathy.

Friday 10 January 2014

On democratically selecting research ideas

I spent the day at a brainstorming session on mental health research at the University today (one of a series of ‘Grand Challenge’ workshops organised across a number of inter-disciplinary themes), aimed at outlining some key problems or issues that face mental healthcare and hence potential subjects for research.

It served as a good opportunity to meet another selection of researchers at the University interested in mental health, in addition to those who already are part of our Mental Health Research @ Uclan group. It was also very well attended by colleagues who work broadly in research support, meeting whom face to face is really useful. There are all sorts of tacit dimensions, especially concerning trust and collective action, which are poorly served by emails.

Four genuinely interesting topics emerged for development:  the use of electronic resources and game playing in the diagnosis and data collection especially concerning motor skills of those with dementia; the possible connection between dental hygiene and dementia; the use of tasers on the mentally ill including in clinical settings; and the wellbeing of call centre workers. All of that is a positive result for the day and it was well worth attending.

But I realised that there was also a counter-intuitive effect of the selection process, perhaps because of the initial highlighting of practical concerns for mental healthcare, perhaps because we were encouraged to see what issues emerged from conversation in groups that day rather than bringing along a prepared list of topics (as I had in case such be needed) and perhaps because we were encouraged in the morning to think very broadly or laterally and with no concern for the usual issues of what is fundable, or this year's intellectual or research fashion. This was that the connection between a topic being selected, a principal investigator being interested and possible funding streams being available came only as a matter of happy contingency. In the afternoon we were rather landed with the blue skies thinking of the morning. (Cf "That's a problem for Future-Homer. Man, I don't envy that guy!")

Voting on brainstormed topics in the abstract, rather than topics proposed explicitly by individuals, meant that there was at least a chance that what emerged wasn't researchable by those present. In my group this was only avoided by narrowing down the selected topic very dramatically and pragmatically to fit one of the two academics at the table in such a way that, sadly, the resultant topic had no obvious conceptual or philosophical spin. This makes me think that useful though the day was, it wasn't really the best way coping with the contingency and chance that often underpins new research.

What would be? Thinking back I realise that much of the philosophy of mental health I have researched, whether in the end individually or with others, has emerged from or been inspired by chance conversations but I am not sure that there is any clear pattern in the nature of the conversations. (They have not usually been started with the idea of articulating a research area in mind.) But ultimately it has never been a democratic process. That others (I mean others in general, not others to me) find a topic interesting is never, in the end, enough to motivate someone else also doing it. So shared ownership cannot be engineered by a democratic day but is a rather slower matter of seeing how topics appeal to others where, on any given day, not appealing is rather more likely than appealing. The alternative seems to be akin to a high risk speed dating session where everyone has to marry someone at the end of the process.

With this in mind, I again regret the passing from academia of the post work beer.

Thursday 9 January 2014

Postscript on disjunctivism and induction

A conversation with Gloria and actually teaching a session on Hugh Mellor on induction has prompted a couple of further thoughts on what a disjunctivist account of induction would look like.

1) What does a disjunctivist spin on McDowell’s remarks add to their intended use as a deconstruction of Hume’s starting point for the problem of induction?

As we would expect of a therapeutic McDowell, he himself does not aim to solve Hume’s problem but dissolve it. Hume assumes a contrast between unproblematic observation and problematic induction. But, McDowell argues, such a distinction cannot be drawn because the reports of observation are always (I want to say: always already) induction presupposing.

Consider a characteristic Humean formulation of the predicament that is supposed to invite inductive skepticism:
It may, therefore, be a subject worthy of curiosity, to enquire what is the nature of that evidence, which assures us of any.. .matter of fact, beyond the present testimony of our senses....
Taking it seriously that what is in question is testimony of our senses, we must think in terms of something content-involving-something in which, say, colors figure as apparent properties of objects. A mere wash of chromatic sensation, not referred to a supposedly perceived environment, could not count as testimony of our senses. Now my fourth Sellarsian idea can be put like this: there cannot be a predicament in which one is receiving testimony from one's senses but has not yet taken any inductive steps.
[McDowell 1995: 890-1]

This looks like the bare bones of a transcendental argument. Observation is possible; observation presupposes induction; so induction is possible.

But whilst that might serve to undermine the legitimacy of a scepticism which is differentially directed against induction but not observation it does not shed light on how induction is possible. One might respond to the transcendental argument that whilst one accepts that observation stands and falls with induction, nevertheless, one is still baffled by how the latter is possible or, to put it another way, how the inductive element of observation – that which transforms it from a mere wash of chromatic sensation – is possible.

Sketching a disjunctivist picture of induction helps start to address that remaining worry. Induction is possible because one can take in, experientailly, a future-implicating pattern of events. Observation is not just of temporally unrelated time-slices. (That’s what Hume seems to rule out at the start.)

2) But doesn’t the question of what we do, experientially, take in underdetermine possible future patterns? That is, are we not in the end any better off than the Humean inductive sceptic?

To make this worry vivid requires, I think, slipping back into the assumption that all that is really taken in experientially is a set of time-slices with no implications for the future. But there is a related worry which seems legitimate: Goodman’s New Riddle of Induction. On this picture, observation reports are taken to be conceptually structured in a way which has future implications. But there remains the challenge of justifying which concepts are instantiated in past observations in the face of merely future differences.

3) What kind of future-directed structure needs to be implicit in past observations for such observations to form the basis for future predictions?

My motivation for this question stems from the contrast I have in mind between Mellor’s blankly external factors and what I take to be internal in a disjunctivist approach. On Mellor’s account, past observations warrant predictions for the future in virtue of there actually being laws which link the worldly events observed in the past and the predicted future events whether or not the subject knows this. So the question as to the nature of this link is left to the world: the link is whatever it is.

By contrast, on my sketch of a disjunctivist account, the nature of the good disjunct should be ‘internal’ to the subject’s epistemic standing and provide her with reasons for her belief. If so, it can hardly be that the subject is only justified if she has a correct account of the natural laws by the standards of a future physics. But what conception would be sufficient to justify the future-directed inference? More seems to have to be loaded onto the subject in the case of induction than in the case of object-directed perceptual thought.

4) Isn’t there a difference between the role that enduring objects play in securing the future implications of past observations and that played by recurring events?

I just want to flag this worry (suggested by G.). It might seem that the very idea of the default status of an object’s continued existence over time  is more basic than that of the continuation of a merely repeated pattern of events. I am not sure that I see this as an important distinction of kind but I may just be missing something.

Wednesday 8 January 2014

Some thoughts on Hugh Mellor's 'The Warrant of Induction'

Mellor’s account of the warrant of induction in his inaugural lecture of that name turns on a comparison with observation. The idea is to get clear on the warrant of observation and then use that to motivate an account of induction. For one thing, he argues, the traditional problem stems, in part, from assuming that induction should have a warrant which even observation cannot have. Since a well grounded observation trumps a well grounded induction, that must be wrong. But his account of observation is revisionary. He says that it isn’t factive. Seeing something is so does not imply that it is so.

But observations are... fallible, a fact we obscure when we use words like ‘observe’ so that by mere definition we can’t observe what isn’t there. So I will not use ‘observe’, ‘see’, ‘hear’, etc. in that misleading way. When my looking to see if there are sparrows makes me believe that there are, I shall say that I see that there are, whether there are or not. For there might not be: our senses always can give us false beliefs and sometimes do. Observation no more entails the truth of the beliefs it gives us than induction does. How then can it warrant them? [Mellor 1988]

The question here is how observation warrants the truth of the beliefs it motivates. Mellor’s answer is that causal links enable observations to warrant beliefs because, he claims, the fact that makes a belief true is what causes the belief to be held. (Given that this is supposed to be the warrant observation provides, the causal connection must (I assume) be via a suitable sensory path.)

The claim that observation isn’t factive can now be accommodated via the further – independently plausible – claim that causation isn’t deterministic. If causation merely raises the chances of its effects (ie if it doesn’t have to make the chances of its effects = 1) then thinking that one sees a sparrow can warrant a belief in sparrows by suitably raising the chances of their being sparrows, though not to 1 and other things can also cause a belief in sparrows.

This then serves as a point of departure for thinking about the warrant of the truth of beliefs produced by induction. In this case, it cannot be that the facts that cause the beliefs are the same facts that make those beliefs true because induction isn’t a kind of direct perception of the future, for example. Rather, the facts that cause the inductive belief are the inductive base: the premises not the conclusion of the inductive inference. So what warrants the truth of the resultant belief in the conclusion?

Mellor’s answer is that the warrant is the lawlike connection between the truth of the premises and the truth of the conclusion. Providing that the world is suitably lawlike, induction is warranted. Hence a quotation at the start of the lecture from Frank Ramsey ‘we are all convinced by inductive arguments, and our conviction is reasonable because the world is so constituted that inductive arguments lead on the whole to true opinions’. But the laws need not be deterministic to provide a warrant. They just need to raise the chances of effects sufficiently.

Suppose, to simplify the discussion (it’s not essential), that your inferential habits are deterministic, like your mass: this habit would always make you infer that a lecture was terse, never that it wasn’t. And suppose that every lecture has some chance of being terse. Then whenever your premise (‘this is a lecture’) is true, your conclusion (‘this is terse’) has some chance of being true. And if this chance is high enough, your prediction is warranted. [Mellor 1988]

Being warranted depends on what the laws of nature are. But providing there is a sufficient natural uniformity, induction is warranted. Now putting it like this (Mellow does not) invites a comparison with versions of the problem of induction going back to Hume in which defences of induction that invoke the uniformity of nature face a problem. Since a claim about uniformity is not a ‘relation of ideas’ it must be a matter of fact. But it isn’t a directly perceivable matter of fact and thus must be the result of an inference from what can be observed. What inference? Well induction. So if the defence of induction requires appeal to the uniformity of nature, it looks to be circular. Here’s Mellor’s summary of that worry.

So far so good - provided these warrants needn’t be self-intimating. I say the law that all tree frogs are green warrants my inferring that something is green from the fact that it’s a tree frog. But suppose I must know that I have this warrant. Then I must know this law. So I must believe it, and this belief must be warranted. But the law entails the very inference which it’s meant to warrant: tree frogs can’t all be green unless this one is. So unless my inference is warranted already, my belief in the law won’t be warranted. Thus to claim that the law is what warrants this particular application of it simply begs the question of whether it’s warranted at all. [Mellor 1988]

The solution is to part company with an assumption built into Hume’s version: that justification is self-intimating or that to be justified, one must know the justification. Mellor’s solution is an externalist denial of that. One can be warranted without knowing the warrant.

This is the stock objection to contingent solutions to the problem of induction: they beg the question. And so they would if belief-warrants had to be self-intimating. But … they don’t. The law that all tree frogs are green can warrant the habit of inference which induction will then give me, just because I needn’t know that it does. I can know by induction that a frog is green without knowing that law, just as I can know that it’s green by looking at it without knowing I’m not colour-blind. I may know the law, just as I may know that I’m not colour-blind; but I needn’t. So my saying that the law is what warrants this induction doesn’t beg the question. [Mellor 1988]

The lecture conducts some further business. Because of the nature of the appeal to indeterministic or probabilistic laws in this epistemological context, Mellor reminds us that these can be thought of as objective chances with mind-independent causes and effects. He also explains the advantage of larger sample sizes in the premises of inductions and why counter-induction is generally a less good strategy than induction in a lawlike world but that no strategy triumphs in a lawless world. But the general idea is that a possibly probabilistic but generally lawlike universe warrants a form of inference which moves between nomologically related properties.

One question this prompts is the relation of warrant and truth. In the case of observation, there is a potential for a gap which isn’t there in a disjunctive account. Since ‘seeing’ a sparrow does not entail that there is a sparrow, a warranting but merely probabilistic relation between sparrows and beliefs in sparrows can coincide with the falsity of a belief. So Mellor accepts the idea that two subjects can be equally warranted in their beliefs, one can be false and the other true but the latter subject nevertheless have knowledge. That seems odd as it seems that the fact that their belief is true is, relative to their counterpart, a matter of some luck (likely though they are to be right).

A disjunctivist like McDowell can attempt to account for the fallibility of observation by conceding that whilst that faculty as a whole is fallible, its exercise on particular occasions falls into two sub-groups: actually seeing the sparrow or merely thinking one sees the sparrow. In the good disjunct, no probability is in play: the sparrow is simply there in view. So the warrant in the good disjunct is of a quite different kind to that in the bad disjunct. (The worry now is whatever is surprising about the idea that warrant and truth cannot come apart symmetrically.)

Returning to Mellor, in one kind of case of failed induction, there seems to be a similar possibility for a false but warranted induction: the unlucky case in which a probabilistic connection fails to yield the fact that fits the inductively supported conclusion. But I wonder about a case in which, for fully deterministic reasons, one causal regularity is trumped by another. The regular spinning of the Earth may be interrupted by a supernova, eg. In that case, the sun’s previous behaviour considered alone might be thought to warrant the inductive belief that it would rise the next day but the physical system as a whole suggests that such a belief is not, in fact, warranted. The former approach would require some principles of individuation of the physical system considered independently of the subject’s grasp which seems tricky. But the latter approach would undermine the possibility, in deterministic cases, of warranted but false beliefs. Whilst it might seem the exercise of epistemic responsibility, the inference isn’t in fact warranted. This seems odd.

The appeal to me, however, of Mellor’s approach is that it sidesteps the ‘internalist’ version of the problem of induction. Not requiring that one knows the principle of uniformity of nature more generally, or the local laws more specifically, blocks the circularity which Hume stresses. So is there a way of embracing that and which maps something like a disjunctivist ‘correction’ of the warrant of observation onto induction? Not quite, I think.

Note that there are opposing tensions in calling McDowell’s disjunctivist picture of seeing ‘internalist’ and ‘externalist’. It is externalist, or perhaps more precisely not internalist, insofar as the fact that one occupies the good or the bad disjunct depends on a worldly favour which is beyond what the subject can control (hence the rejection of the interiorization of the space of reasons). But it is internalist, or rather not externalist, insofar as, if one is in the good disjunct, the seen sparrow is simply there for the subject, in no sense external to their experience (contra the highest common factor approach).

At first sight, it doesn’t seem possible to play quite this game with the inductive base. One cannot simply see in the observed past behaviour of ‘sunrise’, for example, the next day’s rise, that very event. Recall that in setting up Hume's problem, the connection between past and future regularities is a matter of fact rather than a relation of ideas. But then, within the class of matters of fact, such a regularity is not directly observable and must be extracted or inferred from what is observable (past regularities). At that point, we realise that the principle needed to do this presupposes the very thing that was supposed to be the conclusion of the inference.

With Mellor in mind, we might suggest that the observed past sunrises physically necessitate the next day’s rise. But if so, it isn’t so clear what the difference is in what is available to the subject between observing past sunrises which necessitate a future sunrise and sunrises which do not. The subsequent necessitation seems to be something external to what is observed and thus external to the subject’s grasp. So the feature of the disjunctivist account of observation which merits the description 'internal or at least not external' does not apply to Mellor's view of the law that connects past to future sunrises. Such a law is not part of what the subject can take in.

In McDowell’s discussion of the testimonial transmission of knowledge, he suggests that we speak of hearing, in another’s words, that things are thus and so. There is also here a possible line of analogy in that, for one to hear that things are thus and so, the interlocutor must be reliable and that is not something one typically ensures oneself. So their reliability is not in their utterance but is a precondition for hearing in their utterance the facts.

There is, however, also a potential disanalogy to induction here. The ‘content’ that the sun will rise tomorrow – or the sun’s rise, tomorrow – is not there in the induction base to be embraced. It seems that it must be inferred from that. This might suggest that there isn’t an equivalent idea to the mix of internal and external that characterises observation in the good disjunct. The link from past to future seems, as it is with Mellor’s account, an external addition to is observed. But the problem of making the connection external is that were it ‘blankly external’, as McDowell sometimes says, then it is hard to see how it can contribute the subject’s epistemic standing.

To get something akin to the disjunctivist account of the good disjunct for observation for the case of induction, I think we need to think along these lines. The subject who bases a prediction for the future on experience of past events must not merely take the past facts as atomic.To have a bearing on the future, they see a kind pattern or ‘habit’ in the sun’s behaviour. They see in the past behaviour of the sun its ongoing, and hence future implicating, pattern. And if the pattern really is ongoing – by contrast with a kind of bad disjunct in which the seeming pattern is not really there – then the subject does have a justification which balances internal and external.

Hume’s problem of induction is generated not just from the fact that the inference from past to future is not a ‘relation of ideas’ and hence must be a matter of fact but also because it is not a matter for direct perception and hence must be an inference. But perhaps the latter distinction does not neatly divide two aspects of the inductive base: atomic facts and subsequent inference. One sees in the facts the ongoing pattern.

McDowell’s own comments on the problem of induction are aimed rather differently. He attempts to deconstruct the starting assumption which compares induction with observation unfavourably. But I wonder whether by denying the separation of observation and induction they also sustain something like a disjunctivist view of seeing the enduring pattern in the past events:

there cannot be a predicament in which one is receiving testimony from one’s senses but has not yet taken any inductive steps. To stay with the experience of colour... colour experience’s being testimony of the senses depends on the subject’s already knowing a good deal about, for instance, the effect of different sorts of illumination on colour appearances... [McDowell  1998: 411]

So the supposed predicament of the inductive sceptic is a fiction... Hume’s formulation can seem to describe a predicament only if one does not think through the idea that its subject already has the testimony of the senses and this means that scepticism about induction can seem gripping only in combination with a straightforwardly interiorizing epistemology for perception. [McDowell 1998: 412].

PS: a few more thoughts on this are here.

McDowell, J. (1995) ‘Knowledge and the Internal’ Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 55: 877-893 reprinted in McDowell, J. (1998) Meaning knowledge and reality, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press

Mellor, H. (1988) ‘The warrant of induction’