Friday, October 10, 2008

More on conjunctive characterization

In an earlier post, I had argued that there is something generally fishy about conjunctive characterizations of non-stipulative concepts, such as defining a murder as an act that is both a killing and morally wrong. Natural concepts just don't have conjunctive analyses, and so one can typically find counterexamples to conjunctive analyses simply by looking at cases where the conjuncts are coincidentally satisfied (e.g., something might be a killing but be morally wrong for a reason independent of its being a killing, such as because it is also an instance of promise-breaking, and this does not make it a murder). In a post on prosblogion today, I use this fact to refute a particular argument against Molinism.

What I want to offer here is two hypotheses about why conjunctive definitions sound so plausible to us. The first hypothesis, stated in the prosblogion post, is is that conjunctive claims often carry an implicature of relevant connection between conjuncts. If someone tells me that he went to the store and bought a pound of butter, I assume that he bought the pound of butter at that store (order matters here: "I bought a pound of butter and went to the store" carries an implicature that the pound of butter was not bought at that store; in that case, the connection is a negative one). If I am told that Fred intended to meet George and Fred did meet George, I tend to assume that Fred intentionally met George, though that does not strictly follow.

The second hypothesis is that our minds are designed for finding connections. When we read a set of statements, or see a bunch of evidence, we tacitly assume a relation between them. It is not a matter of implicature, because the phenomenon is more than just a linguistic one. I see an open garbage can, and I smell a stink. I assume that what I see and what I smell are the same thing. Often this is justified. But this habit of mentally inserting connections can be pernicious. When we see a bunch of conjoined statements, it is our natural reaction to imagine a situation where they are co-satisfied in a related way. It was the genius of Gettier to show us that in philosophically evaluating a conjunctive characterization we need to look at cases of unrelated co-satisfaction.

At the same time, it may be that some conjunctive characterizations are close to the truth—to get the truth, all we need to add is that the conditions are satisfied in relevantly related ways. It could be that knowledge will be justified true belief once we understand that it must be justified, true and believed in relevantly related ways. (I wonder if what counts as relevantly related might be contextual.) Of course this is not satisfying to the philosopher—we want to make explicit the relevant relation, but perhaps this just cannot be done.

8 comments:

Enigman said...

I finally get what's so great about Gettier, thanks :)

davida said...

I think that Frankfirt's attempt to show that PAP is false also may an instance of this phenomena. Accordingto Frankfurt the absence of alternative possibilities is not a sufficient condition for denying an agent moral responsibility. That is, if the agent could not have done otherwise, but the agent did not perform the act only because the agent could not have done otherwise, then agent may still be morally responsible. In other words, not being able to otherwise is not by itself sufficient to rule out moral responsibility. One must not be able to do otherwise in the relevant way in order for moral responsibility to be undermined.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Unfortunately, Frankfurt's original example simply fails--the sign that the example requires is only available if the action is causally determined by the sign.

That said, I think you're onto something. Consider the following characterization of a free action. Action A is freely done by x iff:
(a) x does A; and
(b) x might have refrained from doing A; and
(c) x is in a rational state of mind while doing A.

To use the Gettier method, just find an aberrant way for (a)-(c) to be satisfied, namely one where (a)-(c) hold for very different reasons. Actually, all we need to look at is (b) and (c), because (c) entails (a). So, let's take a case where George in a rational state of mind chooses A, and is determined by Smith to choose A. Thus, (c) is true. But we can make (b) be true for an aberrant reason: George might have refrained from choosing A, because Smith might have made him choose B instead.

This isn't really an argument against libertarianism. Rather, it is an argument against a libertarian's trying to give a conjunctive characterization of free action.

This issue occurs all over the place in philosophy.

Enigman said...

I wonder why it does, philosophy being all about good argumentation. Maybe there is a connection with the mathematical turn (e.g. Russell) of analytical philosophy, and the formalistic turn (e.g. Russell) of mathematics? (There does seem to be a similar thing in standard mathematics, e.g. we have Peano axioms describing the natural numbers and so we can, we think, have hyperreal numbers, just because those axioms don't rule out infinite natural numbers.)

Vlastimil Vohánka said...

Alex,



The issue of redundancy in and counterexamples to attempts at defining free action, encountered in your and davida’s comments, is worthy.

Consider this quotation from J. P. Moreland and W. L. Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, 2003, p. 271:

„Suppose some person P freely does some act e, say P changed his thought or raised his arm. ... initial characterization of libertarian freedom and agency can be given as follows:

1. P is a substance that had the power to bring about e.
2. P exerted its power as a first mover (an uncaused performer of action) to bring about e.
3. P had the ability to refrain from exerting its power to bring about e.
4. P had some reason R that was the end or final cause for the sake of which he did e.“

First, two caveats.

Ad (2). Objection: God is the first cause of every being different from him. Aquinas, STh. Ia, q. 83, a.1 ad 3: "God ... is the first cause, Who moves causes both natural and voluntary."

But some fitting adjustment of (2) could be available somewhere. Eleonore Stump’s and William Most’s attempts at harmonizing God’s sovereignty and human free will come to mind.

Ad (3). Objection: Frankfurt (1969). „Here is a close approximation to the example Frankfurt presented in his original paper: Jones has resolved to shoot Smith. Black has learned of Jones' plan and wants Jones to shoot Smith. But Black would prefer that Jones shoot Smith on his own. However, concerned that Jones might waiver in his resolve to shoot Smith, Black secretly arranges things so that, if Jones should show any sign at all that he will not shoot Smith (something Black has the resources to detect), Black will be able to manipulate Jones in such a way that Jones will shoot Smith. As things transpire, Jones follows through with his plans and shoots Smith for his own reasons. No one else in any way threatened or coerced Jones, offered Jones a bribe, or even suggested that he shoot Smith. Jones shot Smith under his own steam. Black never intervened.“ (plato.stanford.edu/entries/compatibilism/#4.2)

Again, some adjustment of (3) could be around.

E.g.:
(3*) P had the ability to refrain from exerting its power to bring about e "under his own steam“/“as the uncaused performer“/“as the ultimate source“/from his own "self-determination.“

Of course, it would be nice to have some apposite explication of the concepts with quotation marks.

(Note: It would be circular to say that P had the ability to refrain from exerting its power to bring about e freely.)


Secondly, my questions.

1. Is some clause in the definition redundant? If yes, which and why?

2. Could you present a counterexample to the definition from some aberrant, unrelated co-satisfaction?

3. I have this hypothesis: the nub of the concept of libertarian freedom is expressed mainly by (3*).

P libertarianly freely did some act e =df P exerted its power to bring about e "under his own steam“/“as the uncaused performer“/“as the ultimate source“/from his own "self-determination,“ and P had the ability to refrain from exerting its power to bring about e "under his own steam“/“as the uncaused performer“/“as the ultimate source“/from his own "self-determination.“

Other additions to the definition (P is a substance, P had the reason R, ...) seem redundant. What do you think?

4. My other hypothesis is: the nub of the concept of freedom simpliciter is expressed mainly by the concepts with the quotation marks.

P freely did some act e =df P exerted its power to bring about e "under his own steam“/“as the uncaused performer“/“as the ultimate source“/from his own "self-determination.“

Other additions are redundant. What do you think?

5. Some human acts are free. Normally, human free acts are libertarianly free acts. Assuming we can talk sensibly about God’s actS (plural), every God’s act is free; some God’s acts are not libertarianly free – because it is not possible that he would not do them (e.g., loving himself, never sinning, being morally perfect, begottening of Son); some God’s acts are libertarianly free (e.g., creating a world, creating this world, incarnating). Do you agree?

Alexander R Pruss said...

Enigman:

The math example is interesting.

Vlastimil:

There is a partial redundancy, in that each of (2) and (3) entails that P had the power to bring about e. As a result of this partial redundancy, we can reduce (1) to:
(1*) P is a substance.

Another problem, a bit more serious. Suppose P is God. Then P freely refrains from doing injustice. But it is impossible for P to do injustice, contrary to (3).

OK, so maybe we restrict to finite persons.

One will get a counterexample in cases where (3) holds in some weird way. For instance, suppose George hits Bob. Suppose George's brain is, unbeknownst to George, cross-wired in such a way that he would refrain from hitting Bob if he thought about white roses, and that this is the only way for George to refrain from hitting Bob. In that case, George has the power to refrain from hitting Bob, but he doesn't know how to exercise this power. And he is not free.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I think there is an interesting relationship between the criticism of conjunctive characterization and the raison d'etre of Aristotelian nested species-genera classifications.

Vlastimil Vohánka said...

Alex,

"One will get a counterexample in cases where (3) holds in some weird way. For instance, suppose George hits Bob. Suppose George's brain is, unbeknownst to George, cross-wired in such a way that he would refrain from hitting Bob if he thought about white roses, and that this is the only way for George to refrain from hitting Bob. In that case, George has the power to refrain from hitting Bob, but he doesn't know how to exercise this power. And he is not free."


I suppose you mean this as a counterexample to both (3) and (3*).

It seems we must build in the know-how.

(3**) P had the know-how ability to refrain from exerting its power to bring about e "under his own steam“/“as the uncaused performer“/“as the ultimate source“/from his own "self-determination.“

Some other problems around?

***

What is the relationship between the criticism of conjunctive characterization and Aristotelian species-genera classifications?