Wednesday, 14 July 2021

No doubt diminishing returns on hinges and sceptism

Gloria asked me: “Is the broad claim here this, i.e. that a framework of hinge-knowledge precludes our having to deal with the challenge to knowledge claims stemming from phenomenal indiscernibility? In effect, that this framework becomes a sort of transcendental condition that sculpts the space of epistemic possibilities in such a way that the very move to raise the spectre of phenomenal indiscernibility now becomes illegitimate?”

One way that hinges might be used to block scepticism is this. One concedes the MP version of closure and hence one looks vulnerable to a MT version which argues from the fact that we don’t know we’re not BIV (or any other relevant phenomenological indiscernible) to the fact that we don’t know some ordinary knowledge claim. But then while one concedes that we don’t know that not-BIV, we are committed to not-BIV as a hinge. Hinges are not knowledge claims but commitments of a different sort which lie outside closure. So not knowing not-BIV is no threat to ordinary knowledge. Pritchard argues this. He accepts that we are committed to hinges but not as either knowledge or as knowledge-apt belief (ie reason responsive belief). Hinges are commitments but not the sort of propositional attitude that can come under closure. Wright gives a pragmatic acceptance version of hinges according to which it is reasonable to act as though they are correct. It’s a rational bet.

Even if this were coherent - and frankly Pritchard doesn’t tell us enough while Wright gives us an obviously inadequate picture - it would still leave open the following possibility. While we realise that we have always a-rationally accepted hinges in the past, now we want to know whether it is reasonable to believe we’re not-BIVs. Now that that question has been raised in a philosophy class, we want to run the closure argument either way. What’s to reassure us that the propositional content that we’re not-BIV is held for good enough reason? 

I see no hope this way.

You ask - reasonably enough - whether a knowledge-based version of hinges (according to which they are conceptually structured, are the objects of attitudes and, even more, are known) provides a reason to rule out sceptical ringer arguments. Frankly, I’m not sure. I didn’t try to sell you my idea of hinges - as bits of knowledge held in place by holistic considerations and serving as the framework for the explicit asking for reasons - as an answer to scepticism. I’m proceeding by elimination. 

Hinges cannot be just animal certainties - as Stroll and Malcolm suggest - because they are / would be blankly external to our epistemic practices. (And the fact that we don’t check the checking of apples looks to be a problem if this animal fact is external to our epistemic practices. It looks like an oversight.)

Hinges cannot be extra-conceptual quasi conceptual entities as Moyal Sharrock suggests because there’s no conceptual space for that. (Here I add in a premises about the resolute reading of LW.)

They cannot be what Pritchard and Wright say.

So they must be conceptual. But if so and if not the non-epistemic attitudes of Pritchard and Wright, they must be contributions to our epistemic standing. I can only think they are known. That’s the argument from elimination.

OK so now you raise the standard sceptical argument from indiscernability / sceptical ringers. What could I invoke? Austin? McDowell? I need a way to suggest a difference between an actual possibility of being misled and a merely idling philosophical one. If there’s an actual possibility I should have addressed about the apples then I don’t know they were apples even if they were and I was lucky. But if it is idle talk of what might have been in the Matrix or a dream then I do know. 

One thing: LW’s worry that Moore cannot achieve very much by saying ‘I know’ is neither here nor there. Sincerity isn’t enough. About a third of OC goes after the wrong target by worrying about what isn’t achieved in the ‘I know’. ‘I know’ expresses objective certainty about the content of a knowledge claim but it does not, just by saying, achieve or guarantee it. This doesn’t imply that knowledge isn’t factive. It just implies that saying ‘I know’ isn’t factive. It seems remarkable that LW made such heavy weather of that.

Might that be enough? Knowledge is a genuine state achieved by ruling out real possibilities of error but, as Austin says, ‘enough is enough’. Better to focus on ‘he knows’ than ‘I know’ but also to realise that even that always leaves space in the game for the question: ‘Do you really know that he knows?’. ‘If he knows X then X, after all. Do you know X?’ But that question idles unless we can give it point.