Thursday 7 July 2016

Reply to Adams and Clarke, and their Rejoinder

My recent Logos & Episteme paper, 'Two New Counterexamples to the Truth-Tracking Theory of Knowledge', has come in for criticism by Fred Adams and Murray Clarke. (Here is my original blog post about the paper.)

A recent issue of the journal contains a discussion note by Adams and Clarke entitled 'Two Non-Counterexamples to Truth-Tracking Theories of Knowledge'. Peter Baumann drew my attention to this and discussed it with me. I have also been happy to learn that Adams has given presentations where he talks about my paper and what he thinks is wrong with it.

The latest issue of the journal contains my reply to them, as well as a rejoinder by them.

The following is in response to their rejoinder:

Regarding the first counterexample, I am beginning to consider the possibility that the real lesson of our disagreement over it is that there are two possible concepts of knowledge which disagree about this case. Perhaps some people have one of these concepts, and some have the other, but this hasn't become clearly evident yet. Intuitively, I think that if a belief, even if it be true and truth-tracking in Nozick's sense, rests on a delusion in such a way that the delusion continues to be associated with it, and in such a way that if the delusion were removed, the belief would be relinquished, then that belief doesn't count as knowledge. If you have such a belief, I feel, you do not possess the truth about the matter in question, since your belief can be taken away from you just by correcting a delusion that you have. Adams and Clarke do not agree, and claim that everyone they have put the question to is on their side. I have certainly had people on my side too. So perhaps it is time to consider the possibility that there are two different concepts of knowledge here, and perhaps neither party is misapplying their concept in judging the example.

(Also, it may not be simply that some people have one concept of knowledge and other people have another. Some people, or even most, may have both. Or be disposed to form either (i.e. they may, in advance of considering this type of case, have just one concept which is in some sense indeterminate with respect to the case). Perhaps when I am talking to someone, urging the case as a counterexample, charity makes them select the concept of knowledge which behaves as I maintained in my original article, and perhaps when Adams or Clarke are talking to someone, urging their contrary judgement about my case, then charity makes their audience select the concept of knowledge which behaves as they maintain in their reply to me.)

Regarding the second counterexample, their latest argument seems to me very weak. In short, they contend that 'it seems intuitively likely that if p weren’t true, it might not be the case that Nutt speaks the truth regarding p [sic]' (p. 229).

This talk about what is likely true of a partially specified scenario is methodologically flawed. All I require is that there is a possible scenario, however unlikely, in which, if p weren't true, then Nutt - their name for the neighbour in my example - would still speak the truth about p, telling me that it is false. And this is the scenario I have tried to describe, by emphasizing that Nutt had a counterfactually robust desire - and ability, I might have added - to have me believe the truth about whether p is true or not. And my idea was that this desire and ability is counterfactually robust with respect to whether or not p is true. Surely this is possible. And in that case, it seems to me, Nozick's conditions are fulfilled and yet I do not have knowledge. That there is also a possible case nearby which doesn't make trouble for Nozick's theory is irrelevant.

Toward the end of their rejoinder, they seem to fall again into the misunderstanding of Nozick's theory that I tried to ward off in my reply:
[i]f one is to know something about tax law from a tax lawyer, it had better be the case that the tax lawyer would not say “p” about tax law unless p. (p. 230)

It looks here as though they mean that, if someone is to know something about tax law from a tax lawyer, it had better be the case that the tax lawyer would not assert any proposition about tax law unless it were true. As it happens, I am inclined to think this is false. But the point is that this requirement is not part of Nozick's theory. What Nozick's theory requires is that, to know something about tax law from a tax lawyer, it had better be the case that the tax lawyer would not assert that very thing unless it were true. And this is clearly a weaker requirement.

So, what Adams and Clarke say here does not succeed in neutralizing my counterexample to Nozick's theory. And their justification for saying it is cryptic and strained. They write:
Haze says that we are going rogue, and not staying true to Nozick's conditions. But as every constitutional lawyer knows, the letter of the law does not cover every application to every case. Some interpretation is required. Nozick's theory does not anticipate Haze's attempted counterexamples. But it is not hard to figure out how to apply the theory to the example and it goes as we suggest. (p. 230)

What does this claim, that 'Nozick's theory does not anticipate Haze's attempted counterexamples', mean? I don't really understand this, but it seems weaselly to me.