Sunday, November 18, 2007

KUt' - Round II

As I understand it, the objective of chapters 3 and 4 is to test out the idea that the methodology of philosophy consists in something like searching for analytic truths and that the linguistic/conceptual-turners can take refuge in this fact on the grounds that analytic truths are linguistic or conceptual in some sense.
I was with Williamson in chapter 4 right up until the end where he argues against KUt’ (i.e. whoever knows …insert epistemic-analytic true thought here… in the normal way does so on the basis of their grasp of the thought).
Here is my formulation of Williamson’s argument:
(1) Either ‘their grasp of the thought’ in KUt’ can be taken in a thick way or in a thin way.
(2) If we take ‘grasping’ in the thick way (i.e. on the basis of the facts underlying the grasping), then grasping depends on knowledge that is not conceptual.
(3) If KUt’ is taken in a way that doesn’t depend on conceptual knowledge, then it will not help the conceptual-turner any.
(4) If we take ‘grasping’ in the thin way (i.e. on the mere fact that the thought in question has been grasped), then there is no way in which grasping is a basis for knowing in any useful sense.
(5) If KUt’ is taken in a way that makes it epistemologically useless, then it will not help the conceptual-turner any.
(6) If (1)-(5), then (7).
(7) KUt’ will not help the conceptual-turner any.
Ignoring the sloppy grammar in my formulation of Williamson’s argument, I think that (4) is false. There is still an important way in which ‘grasping’ in the thin sense is a useful basis for knowing. Namely, such grasping is a useful basis for knowing in cases where the truths are so thin, fundamental and basic that there can be no other way to explain our knowledge of them. These cases include truths of logic and truths about truth. To be sure, these are truths about the way the world is. But I’m sure Williamson would agree that we do not come to know about them by coming to know about the world – we come to know them merely by having grasped them.
Despite this point, I think that to restrict the role of philosophy only to the study of these “thin” truths is to place too strong a constraint on philosophy, so the conceptual-turner is not saved by resorting to this line of reasoning.

1 comment:

Dan said...

Hey Justin,
I also considered this sort of point, but a couple things worried me.
1: Williamson spends a good deal of the chapter arguing that analytic truths aren't nearly as thin as we think they are
2: In general, merely grapsing a thought provides no epistemic justification for that thought. Saying that analytic truths are the exception to this has little to no explanitory value (as Williamson also points out when considering understanding-knowledge links).

I'm not unsympathetic to this sort of line. However, I think an explanation as to why grasping of these types of thoughts lends justification while grasping other types do not.
Perhaps that program isn't futile either. Williamson suggests that grasping a thought is at least necessary for being justified epistemically (though I'm not sure about this either, it seems we're justified in some beliefs that haven't occurred to us, or some we only partially understand). If this were true and it were shown that this is in fact the only necessary condition for being justified in believing an analytic truth, perhaps this would suggest that it's both necessary and sufficient. One the other hand, other types of thoughts would would have other necessary conditions attached (such as evidence of a certain type). More work would have to be done of course.