Institut Jean Nicod

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La naturalisation des normes épistémiques

Naturalizing Epistemic Norms


Salle de Séminaire du Pavillon Jardin- Institut Jean-Nicod,
ENS, 29, rue d'Ulm 75005 Paris.

Responsables : Joëlle Proust et Paul Egré


Epistemic norms (from now on: "ENs") refer to the dimensions on which mental contents can be evaluated with respect to their contribution to knowledge. Any learner needs to predict how exhaustively or accurately she can learn some material,  assess whether she understands what she reads, and  determine whether she should accept a proposition given a context of epistemic or instrumental deliberation. Little is known, however, about how ordinary people actually recognize ENs and use them in their epistemic decisions. There is no agreement as yet about whether all humans are sensitive to the same ENs, nor, even, about what they are. Epistemologists have mainly focused on truth, coherence, evidentiality and rationality, while anthropologists and psychologists have emphasized the import of additional norms such as relevance, consensuality and fluency. The seminar will be open to philosophers interested in addressing these questions, on the basis of all the methods available, among which formal and non formal epistemology, semantics, decision theory, and experimental psychology.



Past sessions

November, 26, 2-4 pm
Paul Egré (CNRS, IJN),
"Knowledge, Justification and Reason-Based Belief" (joint work with P. Marty and B. Renne)

Abstract: Can knowledge be defined as justified true belief? I will present elements from a recent joint paper with Bryan Renne and Paul Marty in which we argue that the answer can legitimately be positive or negative depending on how the concept of justification is articulated. Gettier's counterexamples to the JTB analysis typically challenge internal justifications. Our main argument is that we can give an alternative version of the JTB analysis in which the concept of justification is understood is more externalist terms. To achieve this goal, we argue for the need to represent reasons in epistemic logic, and for the need to distinguish between adequate reasons and veridical reasons. The distinction also allows us to make progress on the typology of Gettier cases.

December, 10, 2-4 pm
Joelle Proust (IJN),
"Time and action: impulsivity, habit, strategy".

Granting that various mental events might form the antecedents of an action, what is the mental event that is the proximate cause of action? The present article reconsiders the methodology for addressing this classical question: Intention and its varieties cannot be properly analyzed if one ignores the evolutionary constraints that have shaped action itself, such as the trade-off between efficient timing and resources available, for a given stake. On the present proposal, three types of action, impulsive, routine and strategic, are designed to satisfy the trade-off above when achieving goals of each type. This analysis applies equally to actions aiming at world or at cognitive outcomes. While actions of the first two types depend on non-conceptual appraisals of a given intensity and valence, strategic intentions have a propositional format and guide action within longer-term executive frameworks involving prospective memory. Interestingly, different epistemic norms are underlying the regulation of mental actions of each variety.

January, 7, 11:30- 13:00. Séance conjointe avec le séminaire Linguae
Paul Egré (CNRS, IJN)
"Vague Judgment: a Probabilistic Account"

Abstract: This paper investigates the idea that vague predicates like "tall'', "loud'' or "expensive'' are applied based on a process of analog magnitude representation (see Fults 2009, van Rooij 2012, Solt 2012), whereby magnitudes are represented with noise. I present a probabilistic account of vague judgment, inspired from early remarks by Emile Borel (1907) on vagueness, and use it to model judgments about borderline cases. The model involves two main components:  probabilistic magnitude representation on the one hand, and a notion of subject-relative criterion. The framework is used to compare judgments of the form "x is clearly tall'' vs. "x is tall'', using the idea of a shift of a criterion shift. The model can be viewed as giving a naturalistic counterpart to the strict-tolerant semantics of vagueness (Cobreros et al. 2012). I then extend it to fit data concerning borderline contradictions of the form "x is tall and not tall'' (Egré, Gardelle and Ripley 2013).

February, 4, 2-4 pm
Benjamin Spector (CNRS, IJN),
"Decomposing knowledge".

It seems uncontroversial that knowledge can not be in general identified to some 'internal' state of the agent to whom knowledge is attributed. This is so because knowledge is factive. To know whether X knows p, we have to know whether p is true, and the truth-value of p is most often completely independent of X's internal epistemic state. In this sense, "externalism" for knowledge appears to be the default assumption. However, a natural idea to consider is that `X knows that p' might be equivalent to  'p and K', where K is a proposition whose truth-value only depends on X's epistemic state. For instance, K could be `X believes that p and has internal justifications for this belief'. Gettier's problem suggests that this specific proposal is not tenable, and Williamson argues that no such K can be found.

In this talk, I will argue that even though we might well be incapable of providing a perfect paraphrase of `X knows that p' as described above, the best theory of natural language must nevertheless assume that the mental lexical entry for the verb 'know', and for factive verbs in general, can be decomposed into a presuppositional part and an assertive part, with a specific consequence in the case of `know'. In the case of "know', the presuppositional part encodes the fact that "know' is factive, and the assertive part would be a non-factive and purely internal attitude. The fact that we cannot paraphrase this non-factive attitude is in itself no more surprising than the fact that many other words cannot be perfectly paraphrased, and is any case irrelevant to the question whether there is an 'internal' attitude corresponding to knowledge (i.e. knowledge minus factivity). The argument will be based on a section of a recent paper that I co-authored with Paul Egré on the interpretation of interrogative clauses when they are arguments of a presuppositional (typically factive) attitude predicate (as in  `John knows who came'). We need to assume that the rule whereby such constructions are interpreted must make reference to the `non-presuppositional' part of the relevant attitude verbs. If our account is correct, it follows that the mental lexical entry for `know' includes two components, one of which can be thought of as referring only to the agent's internal mental state.

March, 4, 2-4 pm
Emmanuel Chemla, Alexandre Cremers & Lyn Tieu (LSCP)
"Children's exhaustive readings of questions"

Embedded questions have been argued to give rise to multiple readings, which are related in terms of strength. Cremers and Chemla (2014) provide experimental evidence that questions embedded under 'know' are ambiguous between 'weakly exhaustive' (WE), 'intermediate exhaustive' (IE), and 'strongly exhaustive' (SE) readings. The SE reading entails both the IE and WE readings, and the IE reading entails the WE reading. Certain proposals in the semantics literature derive the stronger readings from weaker ones through the same process of pragmatic enrichment that underlies scalar implicatures, i.e. exhaustification (Klinedinst & Rothschild 2011). Given previous developmental studies of scalar implicatures that suggest children typically perform this pragmatic enrichment less often than adults do (Noveck 2001, Chierchia et al. 2001, Papafragou 2003, among many others), such proposals might lead us to expect that children may initially prefer weak readings. The present study investigated French-speaking children's comprehension of such embedded questions, and found that 5-year-olds were sensitive to the multiple readings of questions embedded under 'savoir' ('know'). Compared to adults, however, children were more tolerant of weaker readings. We discuss connections between our results and existing literature on children's performance on scalar implicatures: in both cases children appear to be aware of the ambiguity between weaker and stronger forms, but are more tolerant of weak meanings than adults.

April, 1, 2 - 4 pm - Exceptionnellement en Salle 235C, 29, rue d'Ulm.
Adrian Cussins (National University of Colombia),
"Hot, Wild and Thoughtful"

How can perception deliver content which is sufficient for empirical knowledge of an objective environment? There are three reasons why this appears impossible. One is the problem of how perceptual content could be both, at once, receptive and spontaneous, as McDowell discusses towards the beginning of "Mind and World". Another is that we lack an account of how content could be either receptive or spontaneous. We do not understand how perceptual experience can justify observational belief in a distinctive way, different from how one belief may justify another.  Standard accounts do not allow perceptual justification to be punctate rather than holistic, nor to provide that cognitive resistance of the world which is necessary for the receptivity of perception. Nor do we understand the possibility of cognitive content which is capable of sustaining a distinction between fiction and reality. A third reason shows how it follows from the nature of animal being that animal perception is not objective. Perception in animals is in the service of the guidance of niche-adapted activity. Since human perception is a form of animal perception, human perception should not be able to deliver world knowledge.

I show how empirical knowledge entails nonconceptual content, meaning construction from the structure within atomic concepts, and punctate justification from hot and wild encounters with the environment.  We must re-think the nature of perceptual content as mediational content which is wild (ie it is possible to have a perceptual experience whose content is genuinely a representational content, but is such that, initially, it makes no sense at all to the subject); which is motivationally hot (not neutral in relation to judgment or activity); which does not respect the attitude-content distinction characteristic of the theory of propositional attitudes; which is affective and involves affordances, solicitations and a characteristic subjective valence; and which has a normative structure appropriate to activity guidance. We should rethink semantics as dynamic meaning constructions through which mediational and referential contents are transformed into truth-evaluable contents. Perceptual justification occurs internally to meaning construction, rather than as an inferential process subsequent to the availability of complex conceptual contents.  Meaning construction in thought is governed by the epistemic virtue of thoughtfulness, and only indirectly by the norm of truth.

The problem of empirical knowledge is not resolved by epistemology, but by a theory of meaning which allows us to reconceive cognition in terms of an interplay between the mundane normativities (of activity guidance and thoughtfulness), and the elite normativity of truth.

This talk will focus on perceptual justification sufficient for the co-application of spontaneity and receptivity, and its dependence on content which is hot, wild and thoughtful.

June, 10, 2-4 pm
Christoph Michel (University of Stuttgart),
"Context Sensitive Rationality and the Construction of Attitudes"

Abstract: Two concepts have been at the heart of our behavioral sciences and their understanding of our mind in reasoning, deciding and acting: rationality and attitudes. These two fundamental concepts of analysis have always been seen as being closely linked. However, developments of our understanding of human rationality and reasoning during the last decades have yet failed to make a deep impact upon how to model our building bricks for mental explanations: attitudes such as beliefs and preferences. In this talk I shall consider implications of pluralism in the theory of rationality for attitude theory and for the idea that attitudes are subject to rationality constraints. If, as I am going to argue, context-sensitivity holds as a meta-norm for rationality, this entails a demand for context-sensitivity also on the level of attitudes. This demand creates tensions with the naïve internalist realism in the representationalist, functionalist and dispositionalist orthodoxies that have been dominating in the philosophy of mind. It appears that context-sensitivity creates a pressure to take constructionism more seriously also in the metaphysics of propositional attitudes.

June, 10, 4:30 - 6:30 pm
Jack Spencer (MIT),
"Pluralistic Decision Theory"

Abstract: This paper is about two disputes in decision theory—a familiar dispute between evidential and causal approaches to decision theory, and an unfamiliar dispute between monistic and pluralistic approaches to decision theory. The dispute between evidential and causal approaches to decision theory is about whether we need to invoke explicitly causal notions in an adequate decision theory. The dispute between monistic and pluralistic approaches to decision theory is less familiar. Decision-theoretic monists think that there is a single value quantity—expected value—that governs rational decision-making. Though monists disagree with one another about what kind of expected value governs rational decision-making, they are united in their belief that there is a single value quantity that all agents are rationally required to maximize. Decision-theoretic pluralists disagree, maintaining that different agents are rationally required to maximize different value quantities. Although almost all proponents of evidential decision theory champion the monistic form of the view, we shall argue that the pluralistic form is superior, and although almost all proponents of causal decision theory champion the monistic form of the view, we shall argue that the pluralistic form is superior.