Sub-projects

MODAL EPISTEMOLOGY:

SIX INVESTIGATIONS

COUNTERFACTUAL KNOWLEDGE

Asbjørn Steglich-Petersen (University of Aarhus)

Our knowledge of counterfactuals conditionals, expressed by conditional statements in the subjunctive mode (i.e. ‘If it were the case that A, then it would be the case that B’), is of fundamental cognitive importance, yet remarkably ill-understood. Counterfactual reasoning is perhaps most prominently displayed when uncoveringcausal relationships, but it is equally involved when assessing evidence, when placing responsibility, and many other tasks. Counterfactual knowledge is currently a hotly debated topic in the historical sciences, where investigations into the consequences of counterfactual scenarios are growing in prominence. Furthermore, the importance of counterfactual thinking for learning is well documented. For example, there is an empirical correlation between formulating counterfactuals about past experiences, and improved performance on various subsequent tasks.

Despite their widely accepted importance to human cognition, the question of how we can know counterfactual conditionals to be true remains controversial. A central difficulty when assessing counterfactuals is in selecting which features of the imagined scenario to change, and which to keep fixed in line with reality. But how can we ever be warranted in making such selections? Cognitive psychologists have recently become interested in how subjects actually select which features of counterfactual scenarios to keep fixed, and which to change, when evaluating counterfactuals. Among the most predominant findings, is that we tend to hold fixed those features of the situation that we regard as in some sense normal or even normatively appropriate. But the important question from an epistemological point of view is whether any selection criteria are more rationalthan others, so as to make knowledge of counterfactuals possible. Building on my previous research on causal judgment, this project aims to contribute to the epistemology of counterfactuals by focusing on this central question.

 

 

INFERENCE TO THE BEST EXPLANATION IN MATHEMATICS

Jacob Busch (University of Aarhus)

For more than a hundred years, attempts have been made to account for knowledge of mathematical truths by reference to the role of mathematics in science. Doing so comes at the risk of jeopardizing the status of mathematical truths as necessary. Most current discussion of this issue proceed on the assumption that early attempts failed, mainly because of assumptions about the nature of science and confirmation. However, in recent years it has been argued that scientific methodology can be used to argue for the truth of mathematical statements all the same. The new kind of arguments proceed upon observing that mathematics enhances the good-making qualities of explanations, making it the case that mathematised explanations are better than their nominalised counterparts, i.e. theories formulated without mathematics. Because it is widely believed, among those of scientific realist persuasion at least, that there is a positive correlation between good explanations and likelihood of truth, this way of arguing (by inference to the best explanation) should at least appeal to those who are already disposed to believe that scientific theories are true on the basis of inference to the best explanation. This subproject is aimed at interpreting to what extend this new argumentative strategy succeed or fail and the implications of either outcome.

 

 

MODAL INTUITIONS AND KNOWLEDGE ASCRIPTIONS

Mikkel Gerken (University of Copenhagen)

It is widely assumed that a judgment that someone knows that p, involves a modal judgment. The assumption may be illustrated by knowledge ascriptions of the form: “I know that the car is parked in the street but it is possible that it has just been stolen”. Such assertions are infelicitous in normal conversational contexts. While the explanation of their infelicity is disputed, most parties agree that part of the proper explanation must appeal to a central assumption about knowledge: To know that p one must be in a position to rule out the relevant counter-possibilities to p.

However, there is no consensus on what makes a counter-possibility epistemically relevant. Likewise, it’s disputed what it takes to rule out some counter-possibility. As a minimum, it involves a cognitive ability to form reliable judgments about what is a possibility in the first place. So, understanding the nature of judgments about possibilities in general is required in order to understand the epistemic properties of judgments about epistemically relevant counter-possibilities.

Hence, the investigation of modal intuitions may illuminate a fundamental issue in the theory of knowledge. On the other hand, however, understanding knowledge is crucial to understanding what it is to know that something is possible. So, the sub-project aims to shed light on the theory of knowledge as well as the epistemic properties of judgments about modalities in general and relevant counter-possibilities in particular.

Judgments about what is possible are central to modal epistemology and they figure importantly in thought experiments in philosophy and science. Moreover, the cognitive basis such judgments is a research topic in cognitive psychology. The present subproject integrates the two strands of research by pursuing a novel hypothesis about the source of the infelicity of concessive knowledge attributions in the face of salient counter-possibilities.

 

 

DISPOSITIONALISM ABOUT BELIEF: EPISTEMOLOGICAL CHALLENGES

Nikolaj Nottelmann (University of Southern Denmark)

One is a dispositionalist concerning belief, if one holds a version of the view that for an agent A to believe the proposition p, is simply for A’s over-all behavioral and/or phenomenal dispositions to be suitably p-related.  D-bel holds the attractive promise of accounting for the role of belief in causing behavior, while circumventing the perennial problem concerning the causal influence of conscious events (such as judgments) on behavior. This, since, either the relevant disposition itself, or its categorical base, may be taken as a contributing cause of the agent’s behavior. Neither of those are easily construed as conscious phenomena.

Nevertheless, D-bel remains a controversial position, facing knotty metaphysical - as well as epistemological – challenges. Here I shall focus on the latter kind. Plausibly, belief is characterized by:

  1. First-person transparency: A subject’s access to her own belief-states is transparent in the sense that, in determining whether she believes that p, she must direct her attention towards p rather than towards her mental life and/or behaviour.
  2. Reliable third-person accessibility: At least for many beliefs, we are able reliably to ascribe them in the third person.
  3. First/third person asymmetric defeasibility: A first- person avowal with every mark of sincerity that the agent does not believe p generally defeats justification for the claim that she believes p based on observing her other behavior.

It would seem that D-bel faces problems with regard to (1)-(3).  My principal aim is to investigate, whether D-bel must be given up in light of such epistemological challenges, or whether the position may be suitably adjusted and explicated to cope with them.  Only in the light of such an investigation may we probe, whether D-bel may justifiably cash in on its metaphysically attractive features.  The project will be anchored in four bodies of literature: 1. Modal epistemology, in particular the epistemology of dispositional properties and counterfactual conditions. 2. The epistemology of self-knowledge and belief-ascription. 3. The metaphysics of belief. 4. The metaphysics of dispositions.

 

 

THE ROLE OF INTUITION IN PHILOSOPHICAL METHODOLOGY

Sara Kier-Praëm (University of Aarhus)

Analytic philosophy prides itself by its methodology. Where the empirical sciences conduct experiments, the majority of philosophical investigations are practiced mainly ‘from the armchair’. Armchair philosophy refers to any a priori philosophical inquiry that attempts to explain and justify theories ‘just by thinking about them’. Intuitions are thought to play a critical evidential role in these philosophical investigations. Questions or disputes regarding philosophical definitions and concepts can be answered and resolved by philosophical inquiry alone - that is - answered by reference to intuition: a philosophical theory can be prima facie undermined by a contradicting intuition, or it can be prima facie confirmed by a supporting intuition.

Despite this widely accepted procedure, philosophy has no generally accepted account of how intuitions work and no generally accepted explanation of the tie between having the intuition I and the truth of I.

My dissertation will provide an analysis of intuition itself; what are they? And what role should they be assigned in our methodology? This will, among other things, include:
1)    Determining the various ways in which the term is used – including placing the current discussion of philosophical intuitions in a broader historical context.
2)    Focusing on how different models of intuition – the reductive accounts, the non-reductive accounts, (and the eliminative account) - manage to defend themselves against a number of well-known critiques and thereby assess the plausibility of the models in question.
3)    Comparing the role of intuitions in the context of discovery vs. the role of intuitions in the context of justification.
4)    Investigating the proposed link between philosophical intuitions and religious intuitions.

 

 

MODAL KNOWLEDGE AND CONCEIVABILITY

Asger Steffensen (University of Aarhus)

Many statements and arguments depend on modal facts. That is, facts about what is possible, contingent or necessary. It seems we have easy access to modal facts, but how? In this Ph.D. project, I will develop an account of the epistemology of modality based on conceivability; our ability to represent scenarios to ourselves using words or concepts or sensory images, scenarios that involve actual or non-actual things in actual or non-actual configurations. The thesis is that if we can conceive of something, we judge this to be possible. That conceivability entails possibility: the Entailment Thesis. In the literature on the epistemology of modality, the Entailment Thesis is often criticized on two points: 1) we seem to be able to conceive of the impossible hence the Entailment Thesis must be false; 2) individually, we can conceive of different and sometimes even contradictory things hence the Entailment Thesis must be false. Proponents of the Entailment Thesis have typically responded by sacrificing either of the two claims i) that the Entailment Thesis holds for any conceivable proposition, or ii) that conceivability is sufficient for or infallibly entails possibility. I will argue that both i) and ii) holds for a hypothesized ideal conceiver, and that we non-ideal conceivers conceive ideally under certain circumstances.