SOPhiA 2022

Salzburgiense Concilium Omnibus Philosophis Analyticis

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Programme - Talk

Knowledge First Psychology
(Epistemology, English)

I shall argue that belief/desire psychology (BDP) is wrong and should be replaced by knowledge first psychology (KFP). BDP is widely accepted in cognitive science (Egan, 2012)(Fodor, 2008)(Block, 1995)(Chomsky, 1959)(Pylyshyn, 1980). It explains behaviour in terms of two mental states. Belief explains how mind is adapted to world, while desire explains how world is adapted to mind. My hypothesis is that this psychological methodology rests on false epistemological assumptions about the nature and role of belief. The best way to explain how mind is adapted to world is not through belief, but through knowledge.

BDP accepts the epistemological framework defended by the JTB analysis of knowledge. This programme defends three main theses. First, the (i) primitiveness and (ii) simplicity of belief, i.e. belief is (i) the starting point of epistemology and (ii) the simplest epistemic mental state to acquire. For instance, one cannot know without believing, but one can believe without knowing. So belief must define knowledge and not vice versa. If belief defines knowledge, then knowledge is a form of belief. So knowledge is not a mental state since it is reduced to the mental state of belief. Belief is primitive because it explains knowledge and it is simple because it is acquired before knowledge. Secondly, cognitive internalism. According to JTB, knowledge is defined by an internal condition or narrow content (belief) and an external condition or broad content (truth). According to cognitive internalism a mental state cannot depend on the environment. Therefore knowledge cannot be a mental state (Stitch, 1978)(Burge, 1979)(Fodor, 1981)(Kim, 1993), unlike belief, which does not depend on the environment since it can be true or false. So belief again seems to be the only way to psychologically describe the way mind is adapted to world. Finally, causal effectiveness. If belief allows us to explain our actions it is because it depends on cognitive processes internal to our brain that cause our actions. Since knowledge depends on the environment, it does not depend on these cognitive processes internal to our brain and therefore it does not allow us to explain what causes our actions. The whole point of my paper will be to show that these three epistemological presuppositions are false. The argument is as follows. BDP relies on the JTB analysis of knowledge, yet the JTB analysis of knowledge is false, so BDP is false. I will show that JTB is false by introducing an alternative epistemological program, that of knowledge first epistemology (Williamson, 2000). I will then explain how this new epistemology can give rise to a new psychological methodology, that of knowledge first psychology (KFP).

Contrary to what JTB defends, knowledge first epistemology argues that knowledge is just as primitive as belief and is simpler than belief. Belief is primitive because it cannot be defined. But firsters argue that knowledge cannot be defined

either. Indeed, if belief can be true or false, knowledge is necessarily true. So JTB's assumption that belief can define knowledge is false. Secondly, knowledge is less complex than belief since it is binary: either I know or I do not know. On the other hand, belief can be of several kinds: true, lucky, probable, false, etc. So it is easier to attribute knowledge than belief (Nagel, 2011)(Phillips, et. al., 2021). Secondly, cognitive internalism also applies to knowledge. Indeed, not only does belief also partly depend on the environment (if I believe that p and p becomes false without my being aware of it, then I continue to believe that p, but I have gone from a true belief to a false belief), but knowledge also corresponds to precise cognitive heuristics (Nagel, 2013, 2017) as well as to identifiable neurocognitive mechanisms (Bricker, 2021). So knowledge admits of at least a minimal form of cognitive internalism. Third, if cognitive internalism also applies to knowledge, then knowledge has causal efficacy and can therefore explain our behaviour. For instance, if I ring my neighbours_ doorbell, I would not behave in the same way if I knew they were home or if I simply believed they were home. In the first case I might be offended if they don_t open the door, whereas in the second case I would simply tell myself that my belief was wrong (Williamson, 2000, p. 86). Knowledge therefore has at least as much explanatory power as belief.

The whole point of the last part will be to show how knowledge has a stronger explanatory power than belief and therefore why KFP should be preferred to BDP. KFP faces two main objections (Magnus & Cohen, 2003). Firstly, belief cannot be dispensed with in psychological explanation. Second, more complex beliefs such as "belief-that-will-survive-scrutiny" does as well as knowledge. I will argue that both of these objections miss the mark. First, KFP does not imply an elimination of belief in psychology. It only implies that the norm of belief is knowledge (my belief that p is correct if I know that p), so any explanation from belief involves an explanation in terms of knowledge. Second, belief may have strong explanatory power at the local level (to explain a particular behaviour), but the explanatory power of knowledge is at the global level. In other words, KFP relies on a knowledge/ignorance (absence of knowledge) explanation, i.e. it can explain all behaviour based on this distinction. Nevertheless, ignorance can correspond to different types of beliefs at the local level (true, lucky, reliable, probable, false, etc.). KFP therefore has a greater explanatory power than BDP because our knowledge attributions are easier, more numerous and allow us to explain a greater number of behaviours. Furthermore, KFP makes a finer psychological explanation possible in terms of beliefs at the local level while BDP prevented any explanation in terms of knowledge. For all these reasons, KFP is preferable to BDP.

Chair: Leon Assaad
Time: 16:00-16:30, 09. September 2022 (Friday)
Location: SR 1.003
Remark: CHANGE. The talk is cancelled!

Valentin Teillet 
(EHESS, France)



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