Tuesday, October 16, 2007

First Meeting of the Year!

The Mind Workshop met for its first meeting of the year the other week. There are a couple of changes: instead of spending the year mixing it up between student presentations and our ongoing reading, this year we will read for the first half of the year, and then have a series of student presentations beginning towards the end of the Winter Quarter, and continuing through the Spring. Nat has handed the co-ordinator's baton on to me, so if you'd like to present later in the year (and slots are filling up fast), or have any questions about the workshop, get in touch with me (wsmall AaTtt uchicago D. O. T edu).

Our readings this year will be on the topic of disjunctivism. We'll be reading a series of classic and contemporary articles, rather than a book.

The first meeting saw a healthy mix of old faces, new faces, ex-agitators, lapsed members, and a Swede who somehow fell into apparently incompatible categories. Our first reading was McDowell's 'Knowledge and the Internal'; there was beer, but no pizza. David F kicked things off with a brief presentation. Here's a sketchy recap:

If we 'interiorize' the space of reasons, we are left with four options:
(i) scepticism;
(ii) the 'touching and naive' view that we can get from the appearances (which are consistent with falsity) to certainty [Brandom calls this dogmatism];
(iii) a thoroughgoing externalism that isn't interested in justification but instead carves the world up into those things that are reliable indicators and those things that are not [Brandom calls this gonzo externalism];
(iv) the 'hybrid view' that will be McDowell's focus. According to this view, justification is important (unlike the gonzo view), but it doesn't 'reach all the way' to the facts; when I have knowledge, it is in part due to the world doing me a favour --- this favour is external to any standing of mine in the space of reasons.

There's a question about who actually holds the hybrid view. No one is mentioned by name (Peacocke's and Blackburn's views are in the vicinity, but aren't the target); David suggested that perhaps McDowell has (or had, when K&theI was written) Sellars in mind.

The ensuing discussion focused largely on two issues:
(1) Just what objection is put to the hybrid view by this question of McDowell's: "But if there cannot be...standings in the space of reasons [that simply consist in a cognitive purchase on an objective fact, i.e., if the truth requirement on knowledge is conceived as external to the space of reasons], how can reason have the resources it would need in order to evaluate the reliability of belief-forming policies or habits?" (402-403, in the reprint in Meaning, Knowledge, and Reality (HUP 1998))?
Aidan insisted, for some time, that a Sellars/Davidson-style view was capable of rationally assessing the reliability of belief-forming policies by appealing to holistic considerations. (or, at least, he challenged McDowell to show that such considerations could not satisfy the demand for rational assessment). Various people tried various tacks in trying to respond. My thought was that, for any given belief, the holistic considerations that could tell for or against adopting that belief would be just the same considerations that could tell for or against revising the belief-forming practice; thus, there would not be the requisite friction between first- and second-order 'policies'. But this, like all the offerings, didn't satisfy Aidan...

(2) What is the nature of McDowell's response, if indeed he has one, to the sceptic? Is it a consequence of McDowell's disjunctivism that, though perceptual knowledge is possible (pace the sceptic), one is never in a position to know whether one is in a good or bad case (thus opening a new wedge for the sceptic)? McDowell's answer to the latter question seems to be in the second half of n.19, and seems to be 'no', though no one was quite able to articulate the argument for this convincingly. (Sebastian Roedl, in his recent book Self-Consciousness, and in his talk to the Wittgenstein workshop at the end of last year attempts to articulate this 'no', but I don't have the references handy.)

The workshop meets again tomorrow, in Cobb 101 6pm-8pm, when Stina Backstrom will kick off our discussion of Brandom's response to K&theI, 'Knowledge and the Social Articulation of the Space of Reasons', and McDowell's response to that response, 'Knowledge and the Internal Revisited'.

As always, feel free to post comments and corrections; I'll try to get the recap of our meetings blogged more quickly in the future...