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Vixens and Vixens*

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Last weekend we benefited in Newtonmore from a very enjoyable Arché Reading Party. Thanks again to Doug and Paul for organizing this!

There, Carrie presented the paper ‘Experience, Concepts and Modal Knowledge,’ where she extends the ideas in her 'Knowledge and Arithmetic' as to cover modal issues, by substantiating the contention that structural relations between concepts can lead to a correct understanding of the structural relations between those features of the world to which the concepts correspond.

The worry I had is the following. In discussion, it was clear that, for Carrie, the relevant relations between the properties of being a fox, being female, being a vixen—as opposed to the induced relations between their extensions —all hold within the actual world. Now consider the property of being a vixen*, which is had by something in the actual world iff it is a vixen in the actual world, but is also had in some counterfactual situation by things by things that are male fox in those. Presumably, the contrasting relations between the properties of being a fox, being female, being a vixen* also hold within the actual world. Now it seems then crucial for Carrie’s project that our concept vixen fits (refers to, signifies) the property of being a vixen as opposed to the property of being a vixen*.

But in virtue of what is this the case? One option seems to be that there are some facts about the concept itself in virtue of which this holds—perhaps manifesting in intuitions about how to describe using 'vixen’ certain 'vixen’-free described scenarios, in the sort of way made familiar by recent two-dimensional literature. But this seems close to the “Carnapian” alternative that Carrie was officially opposing. One other option is that there are some empirical facts settling the issue. But this in turn seems to be what motivated Craig’s concern, given that presumably these empirical facts would concern the properties only through their instances, which by assumption being a vixen and being a vixen* actually share. Thus they seem not to discriminate between the two coextensive different properties. The worry is, in a nutshell, that is not clear what else could do the job—nor how to pursue Carrie’s project without something of the sort.


Modality Conference Registration Open

Monday, April 24, 2006

Registration is now open for the Arche conference on the Metaphysics and Epistemology of Modality taking place in St Andrews on 7-9 June 2006. The registration form is available online from the conference webpage.


Thursday, April 20, 2006

With all the conference stuff that was going on this weekend, I forgot to ask Jason Stanley what he thought of the following case. Recall that Stanley holds the following views; IRI about knowledge (and most other epistemic notions), plus know-how is a species of know-that. According to the first thesis, whether or not a subject's true belief counts as knowledge is partly determined by the direness of being wrong, given the subject's practical interests ('The more you care, the less you know' as Stanley is reported to have put the view). According to the latter, having know-how isn't to be analysed as having a capacity or an ability of some sort, but rather as possession of a type of propositional knowledge (albeit under a 'practical mode of presentation').

In a very recent paper, Jonathan Schaffer has argued that IRI is incompatible with a certain natural and compelling picture of the 'social role of the expert'. The basic idea is that experts 'serve as a reservoir of knowledge' of a particular field, but for experts to have this status requires a certain stability; it cannot be the case that their possession of knowledge of the relevant body of information can 'fluctuate as the stakes rise and fall'.

Schaffer's point inspired the case I want to raise here. A bomb-disposal expert is presumably someone who knows how to diffuse and dispose of a bomb. But bomb-disposal seems like a risky-business; the consequences of getting something wrong are surely about as dire as we can imagine, supposing (as seems likely) that such an expert doesn't want to be blown to pieces. So according to IRI, a bomb-disposal expert diffusing a bomb doesn't know how to diffuse a bomb. (One might dispute whether the stakes really are high enough to force this conclusion. But throughout the literature on these issues, we are invited to conclude that losing a bet, being late for an important meeting, or failing to have enough money in your bank-account to cover a critical bill are consequences dire enough to defeat relevant knowledge attributions; getting blown up by a bomb seems sufficiently unpleasant too).

So like Schaffer, I feel there's a case to be made that IRI about knowledge does some violence to our intuitive picture of expertise and experts. And given Stanley's other committments, it's not even an option to say that although the bomb-disposal expert loses various items of propositional knowledge, he retains some relevant know-how. (It is still an option to say that he retains some relevant set of abilities or capacities, but I expect (and hope!) that others will share my intuition that this does not sufficiently mitigate the conclusion that a bomb-disposal expert diffusing a bomb doesn't know how to diffuse a bomb).