Sunday, August 02, 2015

From an old post by Gregory on evidentialism

From this discussion.

But the most damning problem with Clifford's thesis is this:

Whatever criterion is used to measure the sufficiency or insufficiency of "evidence", by the very nature of the case, it is not something that is susceptible to evidential verification. Rather, such criterion are "brute" principles by which we must assess the adequacy or inadequacy of evidence. It [first principles] cannot be "proven". Therefore, Clifford's approach is self-stultifying and/or incoherent.

Consider Clifford's statement:

"It is wrong always, and everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence."

Question: how does Clifford prove his own statement? What does he mean by "wrong"? Are ethical principles the sorts of things that can be scientifically verifiable? Are the methods and principles of science, themselves, scientifically/empirically verifiable?

"Should one say that Knowledge is founded on demonstration by a process of reasoning, let him hear that first principles are incapable of demonstration; for they are known neither by art nor sagacity."

St. Clement of Alexandria in his "Stromata" Bk. II; Ch. IV.

8 comments:

planks length said...

You mean it isn't turtles all the way down?

Kairos said...

It seems to me that you may be able to prove Clifford's thesis (CT). The proof would be a reductio. Assume CT is false. It would imply believing whatever you want on insufficient evidence. This would lead to epistemic irresponsibility. Epistemic discourse would be very hard. If we scold someone for violating epistemic duties, the scolding won't have CT to fall back on, and since there would be no CT, the scolded person could feel epistemically fine. So, the 'sufficient evidence' for CT might take the form: "Look what happens if CT were false?" This reductio could be construed as sufficient evidence for CT, and thus CT wouldn't cuts its own throat. Thoughts?

Steve Lovell said...

The problem with Clifford's thesis is that it's empty. What is "sufficient evidence"? Clearly for different propositions, different kinds and different levels of evidence are required. In some cases no evidence might count as sufficient evidence. "Sufficient" simply means enough.

Until either or both "sufficient" and "evidence" are given further content it is quite simply meaningless to assert that "It is wrong always, and everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence." And if these are given absurd empiricist interpretations, then the principle becomes self-defeating as the OP describes.

Kairos's approach is interesting. Accepting it would of course entail that not all "evidence" or reasons for believing things are of an empirical sort!

Victor Reppert said...

What goes into "evidence" is exactly what is at issue. Here is Lewis's version of it.

The man who accepts Christianity always thinks he has good evidence; whether, like Dante, fisici e metafisici argoment: or historical evidence, or the evidence of religious experience, or authority, or all of these together. ("On Obstinacy of Belief")

This is such a wide concept that Plantinga says that on this view, everyone is an evidentialist.

Edgestow said...

For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified.
(1 Corinthians 1:21-23)

Gyan said...

"The man who accepts Christianity always thinks he has good evidence"

There exist differences between a freely willed acceptance and a willful acceptance.

Kairos said...

Reppert,

Agreed. All hangs on what evidence is. I think we'd all agree that if 'evidence' just means 'empirical evidence', then that's going over-board. But CE can apply to non-empirical evidence as well. Can't we say that religious experience or philosophical intuitions can constitute evidence too? The evidence may begin 'private', but if it's put out in the open in the form of frank personal testimony, we can at least see why cognitive assent followed upon such experience/intuition. If the empirical adherent of CE objects, then that just leads to the self-stultifying objection; but when 'evidence' is broadened to include experience/intuition, a kind of CE is preserved. Even supposing extreme solipsism to imprison some unfortunate thinker because he can't find a way out, the unfortunate thinker is still following epistemic duties in being honest with what Plantinga (in Warranted Christian Belief) call his 'internal rationality'. This implies that broad-CE may be necessary, but not sufficient, for knowing truth. Even in the philosophical notion of 'proper basicality' (PB), there's no explicit 'inference' that's made on the part of the assent; but we can at least postulate a succession of relevant 'happenings', such that experience/intuition A were the conditions in which thinker B came to cognitively assent. And this, such that (in this particular case) without A, B 'would not' (not 'could not') have assented.

Crude said...

The proof would be a reductio. Assume CT is false. It would imply believing whatever you want on insufficient evidence. This would lead to epistemic irresponsibility. Epistemic discourse would be very hard. If we scold someone for violating epistemic duties, the scolding won't have CT to fall back on, and since there would be no CT, the scolded person could feel epistemically fine. So, the 'sufficient evidence' for CT might take the form: "Look what happens if CT were false?"

Where's the reductio? You're saying that the result of rejecting the reductio would be a diversity of opinions in philosophy, making it difficult - maybe impossible - to have a shared view and discourse, because ultimately anyone can privilege their views.

Great - that's what we have as-is.

In fact, it looks like we've got a reductio of your reductio: CT, to avoid the situation you speak of, requires an agreement about what constitutes sufficient evidence. We lack that. Falling back to the CT is of no use, because CT itself comes in a variety of forms. So to hell with it.