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.



Mecredi 22 juin de 14h30 à 16h30 - Salle de Séminaire du Pavillon Jardin- Institut Jean-Nicod, ENS, 29, rue d'Ulm 75005 Paris.
Pierre Déléage (LAS, EHESS)
"Traditional Epistemologies in Oral Traditions".

I will argue that the transmission of institutionalised knowledge in oral traditions (stabilised discourse memorised by heart) always goes along with the transmission of a set of explicit metarepresentations I coined "traditional epistemologies". A specific epistemology thus corresponds to each genre of traditional knowledge in a given society (e.g. "myth", "shamanistic tales", "curing songs", etc.) These traditional epistemologies state the ultimate source of knowledge, the relation between this source and the actual speaker, and the truth value ascribed to the uttered discourse. I will also show how an identical narrative content, when transposed from one genre of knowledge to another, shifts form on traditional epistemology to another.


Past Sessions

Mercredi 14 octobre de 14h à 16h - Exceptionnellement en Salle Langevin, ENS, 29, rue d'Ulm 75005
Nicholas Shea (King's College London)
"Metacognition of Concepts and its Role in Cognitive Control"

Concepts are the constituents of thought and underpin much personal level reasoning. They also allow us to ‘project’ properties we have learnt about one object to new objects. For example, I might interact with something I have classified under my CAT concept and learn that it purrs when stroked. When subsequently encountering another object that is classified under CAT I can form the expectation that it will purr if stroked. Reasoning and ‘projection’ are two core uses of concepts.

Some concepts are more dependable than others for these purposes. This paper will suggest that thinkers often make use of a sense of how dependable their concepts are. Such ‘feelings of dependability’ are not explicit higher order beliefs about a concept, but a form of what has been called ‘procedural metacognition’ (Proust 2013 The Philosophy of Metacognition). Metacognition has been studied in relation to many cognitive processes, prominently memory and decision making, but it is little-studied in relation to concepts. This paper starts by making a prima facie case that there metacognition of concepts, in the form of a non-conceptual representation or feeling of dependability that is associated with the use of many concepts.

If there is metacognition of concepts, it is likely to play a role in cognitive control. Recent evidence suggests that in some settings two systems compete for control of behaviour: a model-based system that encodes information about the causal structure of the world and the connections between actions and outcomes, and a model-free system that places values on actions and situations based on simple reinforcement learning from past rewards (Smittenaar et al. 2013 Neuron). There is also evidence that both systems make predictions about expected outcomes, and that the system that has made more accurate predictions about past outcomes is thereby more likely to gain control over current behaviour (Donoso et al. 2014 Science; Lee et al. 2014 Neuron). Concepts are likely to be involved in this process, at least in the model-based system (Shea et al. 2008 Cognitive Affective and Behavioral Neurosciences). This paper will argue that the dependability ratings attached to concepts are likely to influence the competition between model-based and model-free control. When the concepts involved in planning a course of action are associated with low dependability, the model-based system is thereby less likely to gain control of behaviour - to determine which action is performed on an occasion.

Finally, the paper will examine a prominent argument from Peter Carruthers against the idea that metacognition is involved in cognitive control (Carruthers 2009 Behavioral and Brain Sciences). Carruthers argues that self-ascriptions of cognitive states are too unreliable to be a plausible basis for allocating attention and behavioural control between different cognitive processes. This paper will argue that the kind of metacognition of concepts developed here side-steps Carruthers’ objection. His arguments apply to explicit metacognition but are ineffective against procedural metacognition. Therefore, metacognition of concepts remains a plausible candidate to play a substantial role in how control is allocated between cognitive systems.

Mecredi 25 novembre de 14h à 16h
Edouard Machery (University of Pittsburgh)
"Is there a Core Folk Epistemology?"

Abstract: In this talk, I will review the experimental research on epistemic intuitions. Of particular interest will be cross-cultural studies attempting to identify a core folk epistemology and studies testing the stability of epistemic intuitions. Results bearing on the distinction between the ascription of knowledge and the ascription of true justified belief as well as on the role of stakes, reliability, and safety in knowledge ascription will be presented. Various framing results will also be reported. These results will be used to characterize the folk concept of knowledge, the central piece of our hypothesized core folk epistemology.

Lundi 14 décembre de 14h à 16h
Philippe Rochat (Emory University)
"Distinct collective temperaments in children across cultures"

Abstract:  Personality research tend to show remarkable consistency in how people from various cultures describe themselves as well as other individuals within their group. The “big five” factor structure of personality (extraversion, neuroticism, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness) is found to be remarkably robust across 56 nations and other cultural clusters, albeit with subtle variations. East Asian populations are for example found to score less along the extraversion dimension compared to other populations from around the world  (Schmitt, Allik, McCrae, & Benet-Martinez, 2007). At a group level, research shows that the distribution of personality traits can thus vary across cultures, in ways that are predictable of national surveys regarding sexual habits (useful for HIV prevention) or self-esteem reports.

We can conclude that on one hand there are universals in ways we construe self and others. On the other, we find significant variations in the levels of such universal traits across cultures. Such variations often tend to be the source of stereotypes regarding group characters, for example the commonly held perception that Southerners are more easy going compared to Northerners. This assumption (which appears also to be universal) does assume that there are both intergroup variability and intragroup consistency that define distinct collective temperaments or behavioral proclivities, in short distinct ways people co-exist  (Hofstede,  1991; Triandis et al., 1988).

Here, based on my own cross-cultural observations of children, I want to revisit the putative existence of distinct collective temperaments across cultures. I present data and observations that could validate` the assumption of variable collective temperaments expressed early in childhood, even infancy. For illustration, I draw primarily, but not exclusively, on observations of 3-7 year-olds Samoan, Ni-Vanuatu and North American children in their distinct proclivities to engage with others, particularly to engage with peers as opposed to adults, how they share, cheat, compete, take risks in the context of economic games. Based on these observations, my goal is to capture what we might mean by cultural character and temperament, two elusive concepts that are sources of dangerous profiling and stereotypes, but also natural realities that should we further studied empirically, particularly in the perspective of development if we want to capture gene-culture interaction in personality development.

Mardi 15 décembre de 15h30 à 17h30
Bence Nanay (Professor of Philosophy, University of Antwerp),
"Mental imagery and the epistemic cachet of perception"

Abstract: There is a famous slogan in machine vision, attributed (wrongly, it seems) to Max Clowes: ‘vision is controlled hallucination’. The aim of my paper is to argue that perception is controlled mental imagery. What I mean by mental imagery, following Kosslyn and Jeannerod, is ‘quasi-perceptual processes that are not triggered by corresponding sensory stimulation in the relevant sense modality’. Mental imagery can be conscious or unconscious, voluntary or involuntary and accompanied or not accompanied by the feeling of presence. Perception is mental imagery inasmuch as (almost) all perception involves the exercise of mental imagery: of quasi-perceptual processes that are not triggered by corresponding sensory stimulation in the relevant sense modality. But it is controlled mental imagery inasmuch as these quasi-perceptual processes are most often combined with and tweaked by sensory-stimulation-driven perceptual processes. The main claim of this paper is that perception, as we know it, is the combination of the two: it is controlled mental imagery. But if this is so, then perception does not have the epistemic cachet it is often assumed to have.

Vendredi 22 janvier 2016 de 11h30 à 13h00
Christian List (London School of Economics),
"What is it like to be a group agent ?"
Résumé et article

Mercredi 6 avril 2016 de 16h à 18h
Pascal Engel (CRAL- EHESS),
"Epistemic Reasons and Fitting Attitudes"


The vocabulary of epistemic normativity is not unified, at least in two senses. First it is not unified in terms of the choice of the central normative concept. Some theorists talk in terms of reasons, others in terms of values, still others in terms of oughts, still others in terms of rationality. Second it is not unified because normativity seems to be Janus faced:  it has an objective  side, pertaining to what is valuable, or to what one ought, has reasons, to do and think objectively, and a subjective side, pertaining to what is valuable, or to what one ought, or has reasons, to do or think, from one's point of view, relative to one's own cognitive limitations, etc. One way to reconcile these familiar divisions  is to adopt the fitting attitude analysis of normativity, according to which value, reasons and oughts are to be understood, and possibly defined, in terms of one's own fitting attitudes. I examine here this proposal, and ask myself whether it can deliver its promises. I reply by a tentative yes: the proposal has great merits, although it is doubtful that it can produce a reductive analysis of epistemic normativity.

Mercredi 11 mai 2016 de 14h à 16h - Exceptionnellement en Salle Langevin, ENS, 29, rue d'Ulm 75005
Ernest Sosa (Rutgers University)
"Two Puzzles in Epistemology"


Puzzle 1. On reasons to believe

"Reasons to believe are epistemic reasons, dedicated reasons for belief. Strictly speaking one cannot really believe for any other sorts of reasons, such as those of practical advantage." Some have reasoned thus, but others disagree.
Certainly one can be better off pragmatically for holding a certain belief. What can possibly be wrong with believing for that reason? If one can believe for reasons at all, why not for that sort of reason? This is puzzling. Is it perhaps just that one is unable to believe thus at will? Perhaps what is wrong with the idea of believing for advantage is that it is impossible to believe based on practical reasons simply because it is impossible to believe by choice, at will. Maybe so, but this bears scrutiny.

Puzzle 2. On synchronic rationality versus diachronic reliability

A belief might be acquired based on excellent perception, and then stored through excellent memory. Such combined perception and memory might be extremely reliable. Compatibly with this, however, one might eventually forget how one acquired and retained one’s belief. What if at that later juncture one even acquires some direct evidence against its content?
Consider how irrationally stubborn it might be to retain one’s belief in the teeth of synchronic evidence arrayed against it. Suppose the contrary evidence is at least a match for whatever reason derives from the mere fact that one then believes as one does. If so, one cannot just stamp one’s foot and keep on believing just the same, not rationally.
What if the perception-cum-memory that accounts for one’s stored belief is far more reliable than is a synchronic rationale that now speaks against its content? Isn’t epistemic normativity determined by a truth connection? Why should the more truth-reliable process yield to the less reliable? A puzzle remains.

Mardi 7 juin 2016 de 14h30 à 16h30 - Salle 235C, ENS, 29, rue d'Ulm.
Daniel Singer (University of Pennsylavania).

"Sophisticated Epistemic Consequentialism"

The goal of this paper is to flesh out the most plausible version of a truth-centered consequentialist account of epistemic normativity. I argue that the best version of epistemic consequentialism should be viewed as giving an account of the epistemic ‘ought,’ an ‘ought’ that’s analogous to the moral ‘ought’ that ethical consequentialists aim to account for. By taking seriously the strengths and limitations of real human agents and distinguishing between the criterion of right or good belief and what subjective strategies an agent ought to use in her deliberations, the epistemic consequentialist can account for the structure of important epistemic normative notions like justification and rationality while avoiding prominent objections to more simple consequentialist views in the literature, like the objections from Berker (2013a,b) and Greaves (2013). In getting clear about how the analogy between ethical and epistemic consequentialism is most plausibly construed, I hope to establish a base from which future work can exploit the structural similarities between the two views to advance research in both subdisciplines. In the end, I argue that there’s an important way in which the case for the developed version of epistemic consequentialism is more compelling than its ethical counterpart.