SOPhiA 2019

Salzburgiense Concilium Omnibus Philosophis Analyticis

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Programme - Talk

The Knowledge Argument and the Wishful-Thinking Problem
(Philosophy of Mind, English)

Some philosophers have responded to the Knowledge Argument against physicalism by denying that Mary acquires propositional knowledge upon seeing red for the first time. For David Lewis and Laurence Nemirow, Mary merely acquires a set of abilities relating to the colour red; for Earl Conee, Mary acquires "knowledge by acquaintance" of the colour red. In this paper, I argue that these anti-propositional views are undermined by a problem analogous to the "Wishful-Thinking Problem" for non-cognitivism about moral judgements. Moral non-cognitivists, Cian Dorr shows, are unable to explain the possible rationality of basing one's beliefs on one's moral judgements. Anti-propositional opponents of the Knowledge Argument, I argue here, are similarly unable to explain the possible rationality of basing one's beliefs on one's phenomenal judgements.

Suppose that Mary is shown a red rose, and forms this thought:

(P1) If that is what it is like to experience the colour red, then I have seen a red rose

Mary is later able to confirm that the colour of the rose was indeed red, making this phenomenal judgement:

(P2) That is what it is like to experience the colour red

On the basis of P1 and P2, Mary concludes:

(C) I have seen a red rose

Mary possesses no counterevidence against C.

Intuitively, Mary's reasoning here is rational: it is rational for her to accept C on the basis of P1 and P2. This reasoning, after all, appears to be a straightforward application of modus ponens.

For the anti-propositional opponent of the Knowledge Argument, however, it cannot be rational for Mary to accept C on the basis of P1 and P2. On their view, P2 does not express a proposition, and so does not constitute propositional evidence for C. P2 itself does not give Mary any reason to believe C. Mary thus cannot rationally base her belief of C on her phenomenal judgement P2.

To explain how Mary's reasoning can be rational, we must concede that she acquires knowledge-that upon learning what it is like to see red.

Chair: Louis Longin
Time: 12:00-12:30, 19 September 2019 (Thursday)
Location: SR 1.007

Joseph Adams 
(University of Nottingham, United Kingdom)

I am a PhD candidate at the University of Nottingham, working primarily in normative ethics, and with research interests in epistemology, metaethics and philosophy of mind. I previously completed both my BA (in French and Philosophy) and MA (in Philosophy) at the University of Nottingham as well. My doctoral research centres on the nature and moral significance of desert. I am interested, for example, in defending a presentist view of desert: on this view, what a subject now deserves is determined exclusively by facts about the present. I am also particularly interested in questions concerning moral rightness more generally, such as whether a maximising-act-consequentialist view of rightness is defensible.

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