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July 05, 2014


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Hi Ralph,

I agree that it's irrational for you to believe the relevant proposition and that there's the right kind of reason not to believe it. I'm curious about the test, though, for determining whether a reason is state-given or not. If you thought that the fundamental norm of belief is a knowledge norm and noted that the relevant proposition isn't knowable, would the fact that you couldn't know whether p count as an object-given reason or a state-given reason?

Does the relevant reason count as state-given because part of the reason why you couldn't know the relevant p is that part of the explanation of p's unknowability has to do with the belief condition on knowledge and the relationship between meeting that condition and the truth-conditions for the relevant proposition?

I wonder if some higher-order defeaters (such as the belief that I may be hallucinating) count as state-given reasons to suspend. So, for example, I may believe in t1 that there is a dog running out there and learn at t2 that probably there was drug in my coffee, so that not it seems rational for me to suspend about whether there is a dog running out there. Would the (right) reason for me to suspend here be a state-give reason? Maybe so: If I believe that there is a dog running there I may be holding a false belief.

Thanks, Clayton and Luis!

1. Clayton --

I have no real interest in defending any particular version of the object-given / state-given distinction, since I think this distinction has no theoretical importance. So in my post I deliberately gave a very narrow interpretation of "state-given" reasons, and a very broad interpretation of "object-given" reasons. I wanted to argue that even on this very narrow interpretation of state-given reasons, there are state-given reasons not to believe. (A fortiorti, there will also be state-given reasons on any more expansive interpretation of what they are.)

On this narrow interpretation, a fact about the proposition that p only counts as a state-given reason for you to believe (or not to believe) p if it is fact that can be stated by a counterfactual of the form "If you believed that p, then q". The fact that it is unknowable that p seems not to be fact of this sort. So it doesn't look as if it is a state-given reason. But who cares? The whole object-given / state-given distinction has no importance in my view...

2. Luis --

First, as I just said in reply to Clayton, I'd like to emphasize that I was deliberately using a very narrow interpretation of state-given reasons, in order to undermine the view that all state-given reasons are of the "wrong kind" as effectively as possible.

However, even on more expansive interpretations of what "state-given reasons" are, I believe that it is possible to interpret higher-order defeaters as "object-given". Suppose that there is some probability function that captures how strongly the believer's evidence supports all the propositions that are under consideration. (It could be a Williamson-style evidential probability function or something more subjective; it won't matter for our purposes.) This probability function could give a low conditional probability to There is a dog running out there conditional on the supposition that There was a drug in my coffee. So it would be possible to interpret this as an object-given reason against belief (though again, I admit that since I don't think the object-given / state-given distinction has any importance, I don't think it really matters how this reason is classified).

Hi Ralph

I was wondering whether a simpler case would do, and if not why not. That a Dutch book could be created against you seems like a good reason not to have various sets of credences. This seems like a state-given reason - it's based on what would happen (you'd lose) if you had those credences. This reason also explains why it is irrational to have those sets. Yet, I don't have a clear intuition that this reason is a wrong kind of a reason not to hold the given sets of credences.

Thanks Jussi!

That's an excellent point: everyone who accepts that the fact that certain credences make the believer vulnerable to a Dutch book is what explains why it is irrational to have those credences is also committed to accepting that there are "state-given" reasons against having certain beliefs.

As a matter of fact, I'm not convinced that the fact that a Dutch book can be made out against anyone with these credences really is what explains why these credences are irrational (at least if these credences are thought of as what I call "theoretical credences" as opposed to "practical credences"). But as an ad hominem point, what you say seems quite right!

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