The Epistemic Puzzle of Perception. Conscious Experience, Higher-Order Beliefs, and Reliable Processes

Dissertation, Ku Leuven (2014)
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This thesis mounts an attack against accounts of perceptual justification that attempt to analyze it in terms of evidential justifiers, and has defended the view that perceptual justification should rather be analyzed in terms of non-evidential justification. What matters most to perceptual justification is not a specific sort of evidence, be it experiential evidence or factive evidence, what matters is that the perceptual process from sensory input to belief output is reliable. I argue for this conclusion in the following way. Chapter 1: The Arguments from HallucinationChapter 1 presents a skeptical argument from hallucination that starts from a premise about the alleged introspective indistinguishability of perception and hallucination, and concludes that perceptual knowledge is impossible. Underlying this argument are certain assumptions about the nature of perceptual justification, and different responses to the argument portray different views of perceptual justification. Evidentialism and dogmatism both reject the premise that appearances do not provide evidence sufficient for perceptual knowledge, although they disagree about the precise nature of the appearances. Epistemological disjunctivism rejects the premise that introspectively indistinguishable experiences provide the same evidence, while upholding the idea that some sort of evidence, namely factive evidence, is necessary for perceptual justification and knowledge. Process reliabilism rejects the premise that evidence is necessary for perceptual knowledge on the grounds that even perceptual justification can be obtained without evidence, as long as the cognitive process producing the belief is reliable.Chapter 2: EvidentialismChapter 2 starts by introducing some motivations for experientialist views of perceptual justification, such as evidentialism and dogmatism, which hold that conscious experiences evidentially justify perceptual beliefs. These motivations have to do with their ability to accommodate the New Evil Demon Intuition that demon-deceived subjects have justified perceptual beliefs and the Blindsight Intuition that blindsighters do not have justified perceptual beliefs. However, experientialist views are also faced with a Sellarsian dilemma: either experience is construed as non-propositional, but then the proposed evidential relation is unclear, or experience is construed as propositional, but then it is ad hoc to hold that they can evidentially justify without being justified themselves.Chapter 2 continues with a discussion of evidentialism, which grasps the first horn of this dilemma. I argue that evidentialism cannot adequately explain why a non-propositional experience constitutes evidence for this rather than that belief, and also does not provide any account of how to determine which belief fits an evidence-set which partly consists out of non-propositional experiences. Although a reliabilist version of evidentialism can provide a better account of these matters, it suffers from counter-intuitive predictions about justification and a conception of evidence that is so liberal that it could even include blindsighters and clairvoyants as having such evidence.Chapter 3: DogmatismChapter 3 focuses on variants of dogmatism, a theory of perceptual justification that grasps the second horn of the Sellarsian dilemma by holding that a perceptual experience with the content that p is sufficient for immediate prima facie justification of the belief that p. I first argue that dogmatism should identify perceptual experiences with high-level conscious states to accommodate the problem of novice vs. expert identification and the problem of the speckled hen. I then argue that this version of dogmatism still fails to meet a certain explanatory challenge which I dub the `Distinctiveness Problem'. Dogmatism should explain what is so distinctive about perceptual experience that enables it, in contrast with desire and imagination, to evidentially justify the belief that p without, in contrast with belief, being justified itself.Phenomenalist answers to this problem fail because they either do not provide a distinctive property of perceptual experience, or else provide a property that is reducible to or possibly caused by beliefs. In both cases, dogmatism would have the result that intuitively unjustifying experiences, such as imaginations, nevertheless become capable of justifying beliefs. Moreover, phenomenalists still need some explanation of why phenomenology is epistemically relevant at all.A new variant of the problem of the speckled hen is an intuitive illustration of this point against dogmatists. If a perceptual experience that p is not reliably connected to the fact that p or the belief that p, then beliefs based on this experience simply will not be intuitively justified. One possible response to this problem incorporates reliability into the content of experience in the sense that an experience cannot have the content that p if it is not reliably connected to both the fact that p and the belief that p. However, this will lose the motivation from the New Evil Demon Scenario, and will make large concessions towards reliabilism.Chapter 4: Epistemological DisjunctivismGiven these problems for experientialist views of perceptual justification, chapter 4 focuses on a different evidential account of justification: epistemological disjunctivism. According to the Justified True Belief version of Epistemological Disjunctivism, the fact that I see that p is the factive and reflectively accessible evidence in virtue of which I know that p. I argue that JTBED faces formidable problems: first, it cannot adequately deal with the basis problem, second, it cannot accommodate the New Evil Demon Intuition, third,it faces the problem of hyper-intellectualization, and fourth, it has no good account of reflective access.Knowledge First Epistemological Disjunctivism, in contrast, holds that seeing that p just is a way of knowing that p. The fact that I see that p constitutes my justification for believing that p, even though it is not necessary for my knowledge that p. Although this view solves most of the above problems, I argue that KFED still faces a challenge of its own: its notion of justification is so strong that justification entails knowledge but is not itself entailed by it. This means that it too faces a hyper-intellectualization objection because it cannot accommodate animal justification, and that it too will struggle to accommodate the New Evil Demon Intuition.Nevertheless, there is something to the epistemological disjunctivist idea that higher-order capabilities are important to perceptual justification. Specifically, higher-order capabilities provide one with a way of accommodating the Blindsight Intuition without appealing to the notion of experiential evidence: blindsighters are epistemically worse off than normal human perceivers because they lack higher-order beliefs about how they are gaining their information. If one holds that these higher-order beliefs provide a special sort of justification for perceptual beliefs, then blindsighters lack this type of justification. Chapter 5: Process ReliabilismAfter displaying the problems of several evidential accounts of perceptual justification, chapter 5 introduces a non-evidential account: process reliabilism. The classic version of this view holds that the reliability of a belief-forming process is necessary and sufficient for the prima facie justification of a specific set of beliefs, namely, those that arise out of belief-independent processes. Two classic major problems for this view consist of counterexamples to both the necessity and sufficiency of reliability for justification. Although the Generality Problem raises some difficulties for reliabilism, they do not appear to be insurmountable.The second part of chapter 5 focuses on a variety of process reliabilism, inferentialist reliabilism, that is explicitly aimed at responding to clairvoyance cases. According to inferentialist reliabilism, one should distinguish between basic and non-basic beliefs, where basic beliefs are those that result out of the non-inferential operation of an inferentially opaque cognitive system that developed in a natural way. Reliability is only sufficient for the justification of basic beliefs, while non-basic beliefs also require conditional reliability and justification of the beliefs on which they are based.This distinction between basic and non-basic beliefs is meant to answer the challenge arising out of clairvoyance cases because these are all supposedly cases in which the resulting beliefs arenon-basic. However, I argue that the beliefs in these cases come out as non-basic primarily because of the etiological constraint on cognitive systems, a constraint that is unfortunately undermotivated. It seems that beliefs can be justified even if they are produced by a cognitive system that developed by accident, or by a system that was artificially designed to produce those beliefs. So even though the inferentialist reliabilist might have a point in distinguishing between basic and non-basic beliefs, it is still in need of a different response to clairvoyance cases. Chapter 6: Rejoinders for ReliabilismChapter 6 improves on the inferentialist reliabilist account of justification by presenting a different way of dealing with the clairvoyance cases and New Evil Demon Scenario. I start from the empirically plausible idea that we know that we are perceiving when we are perceiving, not because of the use of experiential evidence, but rather, because of an unconscious source-monitoring mechanism. I then argue that the existence of such a source-monitoring mechanism could be used to explain why clairvoyance cases actually have to do with defeat rather than absence of prima facie justification: beliefs that pop up in our head should be recognized as stemming from untrustworthy sources, and so we acquire defeating higher-order beliefs about the first-order beliefs. I also argue that this defeat should be able to occur even if the higher-order beliefs are themselves unjustified. This defeater-account of clairvoyance is preferable to several externalist alternatives. Making reliability relative to a specific world seems rather ad hoc, and further requirements on justification, such as evidence-based belief, cognitively integrated belief, or properly produced belief, all appear unnecessary and are susceptible to adapted versions of the clairvoyance case.I further argue for an alternative inferentialist reliablist response to the New Evil Demon Intuition which treats it as mistaken rather than correct. The New Evil Demon Intuition might arise because of a mistaken view of actual perceptual justification as having to do with experiential evidence. This mistaken view could be explained by the fact that experience is actually reliably connected to belief and is often cited in response to a knowledge-challenge. If this is a correct analysis of the New Evil Demon Intuition, then there is an element of question-begging involved when this scenario is still pressed against inferentialist reliabilists who do not adhere to the experientialist assumption it presupposes.With the inferentialist reliabilist account in hand,we are able to see that many of the premises of the epistemological argument from hallucination are problematic. Evidence does not appear to be required for perceptual knowledge, as perceptual justification does not even require such evidence. Moreover, if we accept a reliabilist model of introspection, then we are often able to know on the basis of introspection that we are perceiving rather than hallucinating. Once one gets clear about the alternatives, it becomes apparent that the argument thrives on internalist assumptions about justification and knowledge that one need not accept.



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