Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Doing what people will expect one will do

Suppose true belief is intrinsically good or at least that false belief is intrinsically bad.

It's the middle of the summer, and I agree to go with a friend for a hike. I always wear long pants, no matter the weather, except when swimming. My friend has a very good inductive argument that I will wear long pants, and thus forms the belief that I will. If I do wear long pants, then my friend has a true belief. If I wear shorts, then my friend has a false belief. Since I have reason to bestow goods and prevent bads to friends (actually, on everyone), it follows that my friend's prediction gives me reason to wear long pants. But somehow I find this counterintuitive. I feel a pull to say: The direction of fit in belief is world-to-mind, and while there is reason to make mind fit the world, there does not seem to be reason to make the world fit the mind.

Maybe you can get out of this puzzle by saying that true belief isn't valuable; only knowledge is. Fine. But if I do wear long pants, doesn't that bring about that my friend had knowledge that I would? After all, my friend had inductive evidence that in other cases (like observations of a deer's behavior) we would count as sufficient for knowledge.

Since I do have the intuition that true belief, and if not true belief then knowledge, is intrinsically valuable, I have to conclude that we do have reason to make the world fit the mind. In particular, this means that we have reason to act in predictable ways, and to do what people expect that we will do (even if they don't expect it of us to do it in the normatively charged sense of "expect"). In particular, this suggests that the distinction between promises and predictions cannot be drawn simply along direction-of-fit lines.


James said...

If the above is correct, this presumably constitutes a reason for God to, all other things considered, fulfil his purposes in a way that's consistent with natural law.

Ryan said...

His induction-belief that you “always wear long pants, no matter the weather, except when swimming” is probably in fact supported both by (a) his knowing you always have in the past and (b) some foundation for the induction, e.g., that all the personal factors causally related to your past pants-decisions have not changed, that you are the same predictably routine fellow as in those prior occasions. The arguably questionable epistemic strength of this underlying character-belief is what may bring about the intuitional dis-ease, because, not only may he have no good reason for it, its truth-maker is also prior to your future pants-decision.

If you opt to wear pants and such a decision is in some way caused by a fact about your character that played a corresponding role in his induction-belief, then his belief becomes knowledge, or at least true belief, likely justified. If your motivation for wearing long-pants is to bestow the good of true belief unto your friend, then he only has true belief, but no knowledge (assuming that his belief in no way encompasses a supporting belief that ties your altruism to your pants-decisions in light of an awareness of his expectations). The post seems to suggest that if you would actually opt for shorts _but_for_ the altruism and expectation-recognition, then, ceteris paribus, your friend is being saved from an evil when you choose to obey the duty. In other words, all things being equal, such a duty should override your other motives and preferences, so long as they are “trivial” (as pants-decisions may – or may not – be) – or, at most, only unimportantly indicative of your character – and thus trivially self-revealing.

The problem, in practice, beyond the questionable inherent value of mere (lucky? also trivial?) true belief, is that you’re potentially misleading your friend into false belief regarding the objective state of your character, motivations, and/or preferences. That’s because his directly-supportive induction-belief causing the future-belief is likely based in a conviction which doesn’t remotely relate to your altruism and awareness of his expectations, and so a false belief – usually false beyond your possible, conscious truth-making control, since a typical philosopher-hiker’s pants-preferences tend to be whimsical, dare I say, irrational? – will be wrongly “confirmed” to him. Then he may proceed to make unjustified further inductions and character-beliefs, causing him the evil of false beliefs as well as that of the worsening of your friendship. Finally, and perhaps of utmost importance, this unnecessary motivation to “change the world” on your part results in your being uncomfortably warm on an otherwise lovely hike.

When all you have and struggle with are the unpleasant sweat, regret, and idealistic self-righteousness from your own unexposed creation, how will you, pants-dragging hiker, rejoice in the beauty of God’s better-lit version??

Alexander R Pruss said...

I've wondered about whether the friend counts as knowing in the case where I deliberate like this. But suppose we make the case be one of overdetermination. Typically, despite hot weather, I will choose long pants. In this case, I have in addition to my usual reasons (habit, protection from mosquitoes and vegetation, etc.) a new reason--to give the friend knowledge. The usual reasons would probably have sufficed for my wearing long pants. But adding the new reason did in fact increase the probability.

So on that variant of the story, it is knowledge.

On the other hand, on the variant you consider, where I would not have worn the pants except to make my friend have a true belief, maybe it's not knowledge. (Though it's not exactly luck, either, because he gets the belief right due to a truth-directed process, the process of my choosing which pants to wear so as to promote his true belief. However, his belief does not come from the truth-directed process.)

This reminds me of the idea that courts should respect precedent because it is valuable that we be able to have a pretty good idea of how the court would rule on a particular issue--predictability is a good thing in a legal system (though not more important than righting wrongs). Now, in my post, I am concerned with the intrinsic value of knowledge. But another case--perhaps a more compelling one--can be made on the basis of the instrumental value of true belief (even accidental true belief) and of predictability. For instance, if my friend expects me to wear long pants, he may feel free to plan a route where there are nettles, and if I show up in shorts, I cause him the inconvenience of forcing him to redo his plan.

Alexander R Pruss said...


That's a really cool argument for why God has a defeasible reason to avoid miracles.

James Bejon said...

Though potentially, I guess, (same James by the way) of limited application. For suppose God knows that the majority of people will come to believe in something along the lines of Young Earth Creationism. Does God then have a defeasible reason to use miraculous means to generate, say, life's phyla?