Tuesday, March 08, 2022

How to Defeat Higher-Order Regress Arguments for Skepticism

In arguing for radical skepticism about arithmetic knowledge, David Hume uses what I'll call a higher-order regress argument. I was reminded of this style of argument when I read Francois Kammerer's similarly structured (and similarly radical) argument for skepticism about the existence of conscious experiences, forthcoming in Philosophical Studies. In my view, Hume's and Kammerer's arguments fail for similar reasons.

Hume begins by arguing that you should have at least a tiny bit of doubt even about simple addition:

In accompts of any length or importance, Merchants seldom trust to the infallible certainty of numbers for their security.... Now as none will maintain, that our assurance in a long numeration exceeds probability, I may safely affirm, that there scarce is any proposition concerning numbers, of which we can have a fuller security. For 'tis easily possible, by gradually diminishing the numbers, to reduce the longest series of addition to the most simple question, which can be form'd, to an addition of two single numbers.... Besides, if any single addition were certain, every one wou'd be so, and consequently the whole or total sum (Treatise of Human Nature 1740/1978, I.IV.i, p. 181)

In other words, since you can be mistaken in adding long lists of numbers, even when each step is the simple addition of two single-digit numbers, it follows that you can be mistaken in the simple addition of two single-digit numbers. Therefore, you should conclude that you know only with "probability", not with absolute certainty, that, say, 7 + 5 = 12.

I'm not a fan of absolute 100% flat utter certainty about anything, so I'm happy to concede this to Hume. (However, I can imagine someone -- Descartes, maybe -- objecting that contemplating 7 + 5 = 12 patiently outside of the context of a long row of numbers might give you a clear and distinct idea of its truth that we don't normally consistently maintain when adding long rows of numbers.)

So far, what Hume has said is consistent with a justifiable 99.99999999999% degree of confidence in the truth of 7 + 5 = 12, which isn't yet radical skepticism. Radical skepticism comes only via a regress argument.

Here's the first step of the regress:

In every judgment, which we can form concerning probability, as well as concerning knowledge, we ought always to correct that first judgment, deriv'd from the nature of the object, by another judgment, deriv'd from the nature of the understanding. 'Tis certain a man of solid sense and long experience... must be conscious of many errors in the past, and must still dread the like for the future. Here then arises a new species of probability to correct and regulate the first, and fix its just standard and proportion. As demonstration is subject to the controul of probability, so is probability liable to a new correction by a reflex act of the mind, wherein the nature of our understanding, and our reasoning from the first probability become our objects.

Having thus found in every probability, beside the original uncertainty inherent in the subject, a new uncertainty deriv'd from the weakness of that faculty, which judges, and having adjusted these two together, we are oblig'd by our reason to add a new doubt deriv'd from the possibility of error in the estimation we make of the truth and fidelity of our faculties (p. 181-182).

In other words, whatever high probability we assign to 7 + 5 = 12, we should feel some doubt about that probability assessment. That doubt, coupled with our original doubt, produces more doubt, thus justifying a somewhat lower -- but still possibly extremely high! -- probability assessment. Maybe 99.9999999999% instead of 99.99999999999%.

But now we're down the path toward an infinite regress:

But this decision, tho' it shou'd be favourable to our preceeding judgment, being founded only on probability, must weaken still further our first evidence, and must itself be weaken'd by a fourth doubt of the same kind, and so on in infinitum; till at last there remain nothing of the original probability, however great we may suppose it to have been, and however small the diminution by every new uncertainty. No finite object can subsist under a decrease repeated in infinitum; and even the vastest quantity, which can enter into human imagination, must in this manner be reduc'd to nothing (p. 182).

We should doubt, Hume says, our doubt about our doubts, adding still more doubt. And we should then doubt our doubt about our doubt about our doubt, and so on infinitely, until nothing remains but doubt. With each higher-order doubt, we should decrease our confidence that 7 + 5 = 12, until at the end we recognize that the only rational thing to do is shrug our shoulders and admit we are utterly uncertain about the sum of 7 and 5.

If this seems absurd... well, probably it is. I'm sympathetic with skeptical arguments generally, but this seems to be one of the weaker ones, and there's a reason it's not the most famous part of the Treatise.

There are at least three moves available to the anti-skeptic.

First, one can dig in against the regress. Maybe the best place to do so is the third step. One can say that it's reasonable to have a tiny initial doubt, and then it's reasonable to add a bit more doubt on grounds that it's doubtful how much doubt one should have, but maybe third-order doubt is unwarranted unless there's some positive reason for it. Unless something about you or something about the situation seems to demand third-order doubt, maybe it's reasonable to just stick with your assessment.

That kind of move is common in externalist approaches to justification, according to which people can sometimes reasonably believe things if the situation is right and their faculties are working well, even if they can't provide full, explicit justifications for those beliefs.

But this move isn't really in the spirit of Hume, and it's liable to abuse by anti-skeptics, so let's set it aside.

Second, one can follow the infinite regress to a convergent limit. The mathematical structure of this move should be familiar from pre-calculus. It's more readily seen with simpler numbers. Suppose that I'm highly confident of something. My first impulse is to assign 100% credence. But then I add a 5% doubt to it, reducing my credence to 95%. But then I have doubts about my doubt, and this second-order doubt leads me to reduce my credence another 2.5%, to 92.5%. I then have a third-order doubt, reducing my credence by 1.25% to 91.25%. And so on. As long as each higher-order doubt reduces the credence by half as much as the previous lower-order doubt, we will have a convergent sum of doubt. In this case, the limit as we approach infinitely many layers of doubt is 10%, so my rational credence need never fall below 90%.

This response concedes a lot to Hume -- that it's reasonable to regress infinitely upward with doubt, and that each step upward should reduce our confidence by some finite amount -- and yet it avoids the radically skeptical conclusion.

Interestingly, Hume himself arguably could not have availed himself of this move, given his skepticism about the infinitesimal (in I.II.i-ii). We can have no adequate conception of the infinitesimal, Hume says, and space and time cannot be infinitely divided. Therefore, when Hume concludes the quoted passage above by saying "No finite object can subsist under a decrease repeated in infinitum; and even the vastest quantity, which can enter into human imagination, must in this manner be reduc'd to nothing", he is arguably relying on his earlier skepticism about infinite division. For that reason, Hume might be unable to accept the convergent limit solution to his puzzle -- though we ourselves, rightly more tolerant of the infinitesimal, shouldn't be so reluctant.

Third, higher-order doubts can take the form of reversing lower-order doubts. Your third-order thought might be that your second-order doubt was too uncertain, and thus on reflection your confidence might rise again. If my first inclination is 100% credence, and my second thought knocks it down to 95%, my next thought might be that 95% is too low rather than too high. Maybe I kick it back up to 97.5%. My fourth thought might then involve tweaking it up or down from there. Thus, even without accepting convergence toward a limit, we might reasonably suspect that ever-higher orders of reflection will always yield a degree of confidence that bounces around within a manageable range, say 90% to 99%. And even if this is only a surmise rather than something I know for certain, it's a surmise that could be either too high or too low, yielding no reason to conclude that infinite reflection would tend toward low degrees of confidence.

* - * - *

Well, that was longer than intended on Hume! But I think I can home in quickly on the core idea from Kammerer that precipitated this line of reflection.

Kammerer is a "strong illusionist". He thinks that conscious experiences don't exist. If this sounds like such a radical claim as to be almost unbelievable, then I think you understand why it's worth calling a radically skeptical position.[1]

David Chalmers offers a "Moorean" reply to this claim (similarly, Bryan Frances): It's just obvious that conscious experience exists. It's more obvious that conscious experience exists than any philosophical or scientific argument to the contrary could ever be, so we can reject strong illusionism out of hand, without bothering ourselves about the details of the illusionist arguments. We know in advance that whatever the details are, the argument shouldn't win us over.

Kammerer's reply is to ask whether it's obvious that it's obvious.[2] Sometimes, of course, we think something is obvious, but we're wrong. Some things we think are obvious are not only non-obvious but actually false. Furthermore, the illusionist suspects we can construct a good explanation of why false claims about consciousness might seem obvious despite their falsity. So, according to Kammerer, we shouldn't accept the Moorean reply unless we think it's obvious that it's obvious.

Kammerer acknowledges that the anti-illusionist might reasonably hold that it is obvious that it's obvious that conscious experience exists. But now the argument repeats: The illusionist might anticipate an explanation of why, even if conscious experience doesn't exist, it seems obvious that it's obvious that conscious experience exists. So it looks like the anti-illusionist needs to go third order, holding that it's obvious that it's obvious that it's obvious. The issue repeats again at the fourth level, and so on, up into a regress. At some point high enough up, it will either no longer be obvious that it's obvious that it's [repeat X times] obvious; or if it's never non-obvious at any finite order of inquiry, there will still always be a higher level at which the question can be raised, so that a demand for obviousness all the way up will never be satisfied.

Despite some important differences from Hume's argument -- especially the emphasis on obviousness rather than probability -- versions of the same three types of reply are available.

Dig in against the regress. The anti-illusionist can hold that it's enough that the claim is obvious; or that it's obvious that it's obvious; or that it's obvious that it's obvious that it's obvious -- for some finite order of obviousness. If the claim that conscious experience exists has enough orders of obviousness, and is furthermore also true, and perhaps has some other virtues, perhaps one can be fully justified in believing it even without infinite orders of obviousness all the way up.

Follow the regress to a convergent limit. Obviousness appears to come in degrees. Some things are obvious. Others are extremely obvious. Still others are utterly, jaw-droppingly, head-smackingly, fall-to-your-knees obvious. Maybe, before we engage in higher-order reflection, we reasonably think that the existence of conscious experience is in the last, jaw-dropping category, which we can call obviousness level 1. And maybe, also, it's reasonable, following Kammerer and Hume, to insist on some higher-order reflection: How obvious is it that it's obvious? Well, maybe it's extremely obvious but not utterly, level 1 obvious, and maybe that's enough to reduce our total epistemic assessment to overall obviousness level .95. Reflecting again, we might add still a bit more doubt, reducing the obviousness level to .925, and so on, converging toward obviousness level .9. And obviousness level .9 might be good enough for the Moorean argument. Obviously (?), these are fake numbers, but the idea should be clear enough. The Moorean argument doesn't require that the existence of conscious experience be utterly, jaw-droppingly, head-smackingly, fall-to-your-knees, level 1 obvious. Maybe the existence of consciousness is that obvious. But all the Moorean argument requires is that the existence of consciousness be obvious enough that we reasonably judge in advance that no scientific or philosophical argument against it should justifiably win us over.

Reverse lower-order doubts with some of the higher-order doubts. Overall obviousness might sometimes increase as one proceeds upward to higher orders of reflection. For example, maybe after thinking about whether it's obvious that it's obvious that [eight times] it's obvious, our summary assessment of the total obviousness of the proposition should be higher than our summary assessment after thinking about whether it's obvious that it's obvious that [seven times] it's obvious. There's no guarantee that with each higher level of consideration the total amount of doubt should increase. We might find as we go up that the total amount of obviousness fluctuates around some very high degree of obviousness. We might then reasonably surmise that further higher levels will stay within that range, which might be high enough for the Moorean argument to succeed.


[1] Actually, I think there's some ambiguity about what strong illusionism amounts to, since what Kammerer denies the existence of is "phenomenal consciousness", and it's unclear whether this really is the radical thesis that it is sometimes held to be or whether it's instead really just the rejection of a philosopher's dubious notion. For present purposes, I'm interpreting Kammerer as holding the radical view. See my discussions here and here.

[2] Kammerer uses "uniquely obvious" here, and "super-Moorean", asking whether it's uniquely obvious that it's uniquely obvious. But I don't think uniqueness is essential to the argument. For example, that I exist might also be obvious with the required strength.


Daniel Polowetzky said...

If I am in pain, it may be reasonable to assert that my metaphysical characterization of being in that state is dubious.
I could be wrong about characterizing it as occurring in an immaterial soul, or being essentially embodied in a brain, etc. The error may be the result of failing to recognize the presence of illusion. Some sort of eliminativist
position may be correct. However, that I am in pain is not an illusion. But then, it is difficult to believe that anyone would make THAT claim.
One could double down and assert a strict materialism that precludes a lot of what non-materialists claim. Somehow, what seems disembodied, or “private”, etc, is not, because those properties are illusory.
It may be argued that our terms are so incoherent that they don’t apply to anything, yielding a radical denial of the existence of ordinary objects. But this is hardly the denial of the external world in any but a linguistic sense.
The same holds for denials of consciousness.
That my experience of pain is somehow “illusory” is similar to the illusoriness of the brick I tripped over. True, ‘brick’ may be incoherent, but I did trip over something.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks for the comment, Dan! It's a question about how to interpret "strong illusionism" in Kammerer's sense. If strong illusionism just amounts to doubts about the metaphysical or epistemic *commitments* that some philosophers attach to consciousness, then it's not radical at all. However, it is typically presented as radical. My reading is that Frankish and Dennett don't accept the radical version (see Frankish's reply to my 2016 commentary on him). But Kammerer I interpret as making the radical claim, such that it's at least tempting to think that it's obvious that it's obvious that it's obvious... that consciousness exists. I could be wrong in my interpretation of Kammerer. Regardless, it's an interesting position to discuss.

David Duffy said...

Is there a genuine ascent here? If you say, "are you certain that you are certain", and I double down, then all I am saying is that I have a high credence about X. That I am so certain about X entails (ISTM) that I judge this will remain unchanged in the face of whatever new evidence I can plausibly expect. Now, in a dialogue with Socrates, the latter might come into question, but that process won't involve meta-meta-meta considerations (we don't have to go Achilles-and-the-Tortoise here).

As to the general line of argument - I think we know from the neuroscience that pain is actually a terrible example (eg can be dissociated into different phenomenal experiences under hypnosis). One needs to concentrate on much more elementary sensations.
And let's not get started on "incorrect representation" and "seeming".

Howard said...

Isn't a problem with Hume's argument that adding things up is in time while math is timeless?

SelfAwarePatterns said...

I like the third option to escape Hume's infinite regress. He assumed it would all go in the same direction.

That said, if "the Moorean response" is what I think it is, something like Samuel Johnson's appeal to the stone, then I can't say I'm a fan. An illusionist can say the illusion is just as obvious, with no easy way to determine what exactly it is that's obvious.

The real question, as Eric discusses, is what exactly is being denied in a particular illusionist stance?


Kyle Thompson said...

This is super fascinating—and dizzying! (To think I clicked the blog post to "take a mental break" from the day only to wrap my head around even more delightful complexity!)

I'm getting caught up on "obvious" and I wonder if I'm missing something simple here. It seems obvious to me that "obviousness" is not something that can take hold at the second-order. For doubt, I can easily conceive of doubting my doubting, and so on. But I can't seem to imagine questioning whether it is obvious that something is obvious. For how I'm thinking about obviousness right now, it is a terminal concept: "it is obvious that x" seems like the end of the story. I can imagine asking third-personally: "Is it obvious that other people think it is obvious that x?" But I'm struggling with the first-personal question: "Is it obvious that I find it obvious that x?"

Obviously, I need help.

Kyle Thompson said...

(P. S. I was hoping that "super-Moorean" would be something like: "It is obvious that I exist, but I don't believe it.")

Arnold said...

Is Moorean for purpose?

The end of distances the place for being...

Doubting and certaining for understanding being...

François Kammerer said...

(Comment 1/2)

Hi Eric, thanks a lot for engaging! As a big fan of your blog for the last 8 years, I’m honored to have my work discussed here – even as a target of devastating criticism 
First, to facilitate inter-discussion (I talk of obviousness, you prefer talk of probability), let’s say that a proposition is uniquely obvious (in my sense) <-> we should have super-Moorean certainty about it <-> independently of the prior acceptance of any contentious philosophical thesis, we can conclusively rule out its negation even if its negation is supported by strong scientific-cum-metaphysical argument <-> independently of the prior acceptance of any contentious philosophical thesis, we should assign it a credence above a certain extremely high threshold (>T).
Now, I think that there are a number of important differences between my argument and Hume’s, so that mine escape the criticism you’re mounting here. The most relevant things to keep in mind are A and B.
A. first, (see for example p. 2 of the paper), I take it that illusionism, contrary to skepticism about mathematics, is not a skeptical hypothesis (a mere epistemic possibility that we do not have strong positive reasons to believe), but a coherent hypothesis with strong scientific-cum-metaphysical arguments (I cite two: Chalmers argument from coincidence, Frankish argument from anomalousness). Of course, one could disagree with this, but this framing is key to the dialectic of the paper – I agree that my argument would not have the same kind of bite for someone who denies this.
B. Second, I claim (see p. 15 of the paper) that the considerations that provide good arguments for illusionism can be easily recruited to provide good arguments against the view that we have a first-order epistemic relation of a kind that would ground “super-Moorean certainty”, to consciousness or to anything of the kind; and against the view that we have the same sort of (second-order) epistemic relation to the existence of this previous first-order relation, etc., ad infinitum (Indeed, considerations regarding coincidence & anomalousness can also be recruited against these relations).
Because of A and B, I think that answers 1 and 3, which seem available to counter Hume’s argument, are not available in the case of my argument. Answer 2 will require that I stress a different point.
Answer 1 seemed available in the case of Hume’s argument, because, as you said, “Unless something about you or something about the situation seems to demand third-order doubt, maybe it's reasonable to just stick with your assessment.”. But the case of my argument is different, as I claim (in virtue of A & B) that the denial of second, order, third-order super-obviousness (and of super-obviousness all the way down) does not come from the need to leave room for doubt, but is grounded in strong arguments. Therefore, I think that we do have positive, strong reasons to deny the reality of each of the nth-order appropriate epistemic relations.
Answer 3 seemed available in the case of Hume, because it seems that this sort of general principle of meta-doubt regarding one’s ascription of credence could go either way (i.e. my doubts could lead me to believe that I might in fact have conceded too much to the skeptics). But it is not available in the case of my argument, as we have positive reasons to deny the reality of the appropriate epistemic relations, which always “push” in the same direction, so to speak.

François Kammerer said...

(Comment 2/2)

I take it that answer 2 is not available, for a slightly different reason. This will also allow me to point out a way in which my argument departs from your own sum-up. I think that unique obviousness/super-Moorean certainty need to hold independently of the prior acceptance of contentious philosophical views (in that respect, I got inspired by the way in which Chalmers framed his own argument), and therefore that we can only plausibly have it towards propositions that feature among commonsensical propositions, about which we have pre-theoretical intuitions. So, I argued that there has to be a n-th order level such that the n-th order appropriate epistemic relation cannot be uniquely obvious (and cannot be believed with super-Moorean certainty), because at this level of complexity it is not plausible that we have the appropriate pre-theoretical intuitions (see p. 16 of the article). If I’m right, there cannot be a convergence towards super-obviousness. This is also in respect in which my argument departs from the way in which you present it: I do not really think that the problem for the Moorean about consciousness is that they are led to an infinite regress, with “a demand for obviousness all the way up [that] will never be satisfied”, but that at some point they will not be able to plausibly go to the next level.
Finally, two things about your notes. Regarding your note 1: This is an on-going debate in illusionism (even among self-described illusionists): do we simply deny a theorist’s conception, or do we deny something that seems obvious? I tried to make it clear in section 4 that illusionism, to my mind, amounts to denying something apparently obvious, although it does not deny everything that seems obvious about mentality (here, about pain).
Regarding your note 2: I agree that “uniquely” obvious might be slightly misleading, as uniqueness is not really important here, and it was not in my mind. On p. 12 I used interchangeably “super-obvious” and “uniquely obvious”, and I now think that I should have just used “super-obvious”, to avoid confusion. Apologies.

François Kammerer said...

In response to Dan (response also made on Facebook): Hi Dan! If this can help, in section 4 of the paper criticized by Eric, I tried to be as clear as possible regarding what illusionism exactly deny (in my mind). I think that it denies something obvious, but certainly not everything that is obvious about mentality. For example, it does not deny that, when someone sincerely says that they are in pain, there is "something" going on that has similarity to what goes on when others say the same thing, that makes them cry, scream, that is awful, etc. But it does deny that this thing possess this "felt" quality that introspection putatively represents

In response to David Duffy: I think it's important to distinguish psychological certainty (having very high credence) and epistemic certainty( being justified in having very high credence). I take it that the whole debate concerns epistemic certainty, although there are interpretations of Moorean epistemology that make it a matter of psychological certainty (see p. 13, note 21 of the paper)

In response to self-aware patterns: I try to make clear, in section 4 of the paper, what exaclty illusionists should deny!

In response to Kyle Thompson: the sort of second-order obviousness I have in mind will not be correctly explicited by "It is obvious that I find it obvious" (i.e. the question is not really about whether I correctly introspect credences), but rather by "It is obvious that this should be held with the appropriate kind of certainty". Does that help?

Philosopher Eric said...

I’d say that denying the potential usefulness of higher order regress is a bit of a cop out. If we’re being fooled here then we should try to figure out specifically how we’re being fooled, not just say “You can’t do that”. This reminds me of tacking on an anti nesting principle to your favorite consciousness theory so that you don’t have to admit that your theory suggests the United States probably phenomenally experiences its existence as a whole.

The convergent limit regression does seem better, but is it a practically useful explanation of the trickery here, or rather just a convenient way to deny the tricksters? If I always say that 7 + 5 = 12 then it could be that I’m always right about this. In that case it doesn’t also seem correct to say that I should instead have some level of uncertainty about it. Being uncertain about something that is right is actually one way to be wrong about it.

The third option that higher order thinking might sometimes decrease doubt seems better still, since it isn’t clear to me why uncertainty would always need to increase. I remain unsatisfied however.

Commonly when people trick us it depends upon us first taking the bait. In Hume’s math case the bait might be “probability”. Yes we should generally be uncertain given that we’re mere humans, but this doesn’t mean that math itself should be probabilistic. The statement 7 + 5 = 12 should be true (or false, or say nothing) by definition. Though humans do use language instruments this way, even here we can be mistaken. But we shouldn’t extrapolate this mistake-ability to mean that the 7 + 5 might not equal 12 when we have good evidence to believe that it does. All of our understandings about what exists should ultimately be a posteriori, or inductive (except for one that I’ll discuss next).

Kammerer’s bait seems to be getting us to accept the “obvious” term when logic suggest that it doesn’t carry sufficient certitude regarding the existence of consciousness. If I’m not currently conscious then it’s not possible for me to currently be wrong about being conscious since I wouldn’t exist. Conversely I must be conscious in order to either think I am or think I’m not. And I don’t mean the words you’re reading, which could be wrong, but the thinker that thinks them. If you think then you might deduce the same. This should then be the only element of reality that’s impossible for you to be wrong about.

Beyond Rene Descartes’ “evil demon” argument, I also like the line that use to be at the top of Peter Hankins’ Conscious Entities site: “If consciousness is an illusion, who is it that’s being fooled?”

Hello François,
There may be some uncertainty about how strong an illusionist you happen to be. Keith Frankish was unable to deny
Schwitzgebel’s innocent conception.
Would you also say that this consciousness exists? And if so then what are your thoughts about trying to help this consciousness definition become more standard among serious thinkers to perhaps help the field progress in general?

Jim Cross said...

How do we know or doubt anything without conscious experience? How does the knowing or doubting occur? If the conscious experience is illusory, the knowing or doubting would also need to be, but then the argument we should doubt conscious experience becomes absurd.

This isn't the same as questioning the coherence of the concept or questioning how veridical conscious experience is.

The word consciousness "originally derived from the Latin conscius (con- "together" and scio "to know")" according Wikipedia.

SelfAwarePatterns said...

Hi François,
Thanks for engaging. Sorry, have to admit I hadn't read your paper on my first comment. Just read Section 4. So what's being denied is phenomenal experience, but not the functionality of that experience (or its normative nature). This seems to fit with Keith Frankish's version.

I want to focus on this line at the end of 4.1:
"I grant that it seems obvious, introspectively, that we sometimes enter phenomenal pain. Illusionists deny that there are feelings of pain in this sense."

Since "phenomenal" basically means how things seem, it looks like this is an admission of the theory-free version of phenomenal experience. In this case, it seems like the illusion of the experience just *is* the experience, and denying it, I think, strikes a lot of people as incoherent.

Now, if you were to say that what's being denied is that phenomenal experience is something separate and apart from the functionality (as Ned Block claims), then I'm onboard. But to Eric's point, that gets to the theoretical baggage a lot of philosophers sneak in with the concept of phenomenal consciousness. It seems more productive to challenge them on that baggage rather than on the idea of phenomenality itself.


Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks for all of the interesting comments, folks!

First, Francois, thanks for this super thoughtful and detailed reply! On A: I'm not sure why you deny it is a skeptical hypothesis, if you think that consciousness in the relevant sense is not a philosophers' technical notion but rather a folk psychologically "obvious" thing (not that those are exhaustive of the options). I think of skeptical hypotheses as hypotheses according to which we don't know (or shouldn't have high credence in) a broad swath of what we ordinarily regard as uncontentious truths. That we have pain experiences, that we have imagery experiences, that we have conscious experience of emotions, etc., are both denied by strong illusionism in the sense that I'm interpreting you (but I am amenable to correction on this) and also are generally regarded as uncontentious truths by ordinary people.

On your replies to 1 and 3: That requires "positive, strong reasons to deny the reality of each of the nth-order appropriate epistemic relations". I have two thoughts about this. First -- as I express in some of my other work -- I think the positive, strong reasons you mention are positive strong reasons to deny the existence of conscious experience that *also* has Property X, where Property X is some naturalistically dubious property like immateriality or indubitability, but I think we can define consciousness "innocently" in a way that avoids such dubious commitments. (I know that you know this is my view, but just for the record.) Second, even if there are first-order positive, strong reasons, it's not clear why we should infer that there are second-order, third-order, etc., positive, strong reasons. At least more of a case probably should be made. For example, you might think that it's an inherent part of obviousness that when something's obvious to you it's normally obvious that it's obvious to you. For example, maybe "believing it's obvious that P" is a dispositional state some of whose constitutive dispositions overlap with the dispositions constitutive of believing that it's obvious that it's obvious that P". Or maybe there's that relationship between sixth and seventh order obviousness, even if not believe first and second order obviousness.

On your reply to 2: I interpreted your objection as a disjunction. *Either* there's a level at which it's not obvious, *or* there's a vicious infinite regress. Only the second disjunct is parallel to Hume. Apologies if I wasn't clear enough about that! It's not clear to me that folk psychology can't tolerate an infinite hierarchy of levels of obviousness. It need not really be too weirdly complex. One way in which it might not be complete if we take a nested disposition approach like I suggested in my previous comment. It's not like there needs to be a distinct mental state for each level of obviousness. Dispositions are ontologically cheap.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

David: I'm partly inclined to agree with your interpretation of "I'm certain I'm certain". It could just be a doubling down. Alternatively, it could be some introspective or quasi-introspective act concerning your own state of certainty. But even if the latter, at higher-order levels, there might not be distinct mental states of being certain one is certain one is certain one is certain.... (See my reply to Francois' points 1 and 3 above). I agree that pain is in a certain respect a tricky example since it's not clear that it's a wholly unified notion psychologically or physically, which gives some traction to eliminativist who want to dispense with the concept as broken. But I'm inclined to think that's a side issue here, since the point is a general one about having experiences of any sort at all.

Howard: I'm not inclined to agree with that. Math is timeless, but our judgments about math are temporally located and uncertain.

Mike/SelfAware: This is definitely a tricky part in interpreting illusionism. What *exactly* is being denied? I am inclined to think that it's somewhat different things by different illusionists. I'm inclined to read Kammerer as more radical than Frankish or Dennett in this matter, denying an extremely obvious thing. But how exactly to define this obvious thing, and how to settle that we are indeed thinking about the same obvious thing, when we discuss "conscious experience" or "phenomenal consciousness" is a tricky matter (and the topic of a 2016 paper of mine).

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Kyle: Interesting thought. Maybe that's so, and if so it could create trouble for the structure of Kammerer's argument (and maybe also for Moorean arguments?). But then I think Kammerer could drop the talk of "obviousness" and substitute something closely related, like "super-duper probable" -- which would make it even closer to Hume.

Phil E: Yes, that's like reply 1 in my thinking. Externalism about justification and knowledge is one way to do it. But as you suggest, so also is self-fulfillment, which I see as the logic of Descartes' cogito: The truth conditions of the judgment that I am thinking are a subset of the existence conditions of the judgment that I am thinking.

Jim: Here Kammerer and I agree. I think we can be mistaken about and doubt at least *features* of our conscious experiences, such as features of our imagery experiences -- how vivid they are, how detailed, in what respects they have color or lack color, etc. (see my 2008 article and 2011 book for a very detailed discussion of this!). It's not as clear to me that we can doubt that we are having *some conscious experience or other*, but maybe we can. In any case, I don't want to build my counterargument to Kammerer on *absolute* indubitability.

David Duffy said...

Dear François

"...psychological certainty (having very high credence) and epistemic certainty (being justified in having very high credence)."

I don't think this works when we are talking about "preferring the most plausible premises...I adopt [that] which I take to be the least committal." [My emph].

Jim Cross said...

"Jim: Here Kammerer and I agree. I think we can be mistaken about and doubt at least *features* of our conscious experiences, such as features of our imagery experiences -- how vivid they are, how detailed..."

I think with what we know scientifically about our conscious experience there isn't much doubt about the "features" of consciousness being merely representations. The features, however, are only secondary representations of the external world in my view. That is, they are representations of representations. The original representations are the raw material of sensory input and memory whereas the features of consciousness are representations of the raw material.

If that is all "doubting" conscious experience means, then I'm onboard and I don't see much to debate about.

François Kammerer said...

Thanks Eric for your response!

On A: I accept that illusionism is a skeptical hypothesis in the sense you use, because it implies that many ordinary beliefs are false. Note that, in that sense, special relativity also is a skeptical hypothesis, because it implies (among other things) that two events never take place at the same time simpliciter (which goes against many ordinary beliefs). But I wanted to stress that illusionism (and special relativity) does not play the role usually played by skeptical hypotheses in skeptical argumentations (being a mere epistemic possibility, that we cannot rule out, although we do not have positive reasons to embrace it, and so that, because we cannot rule it out, it endangers some of our ordinary knowledge).

On your response on the topic of answer 1. First: yes, I know your answer, which is that illusionists are guilty of doing some “inflate and explode”, and that you suggest to avoid that thanks to an innocent definition of consciousness. My view, as you know from our previous conversation, is that introspection is not innocent in the way you want it to be, so that your “innocent” definition of consciousness probably ends up being guilty by association (or, alternatively, it remains innocent, but then it does not capture anything specifically phenomenal). Second, I think that we have also strong reasons to be illusionists on the second-order, third-order levels, etc., because the sort of peculiar epistemic relation required by super-Moorean certainty appears similarly anomalous & explanatory idle as phenomenal consciousness itself – hence, the anomalousness & coincidence considerations also play against them. I agree that, ideally, this should be argued at length. Third, I am not sure that it would help much to claim, for example, that “it's an inherent part of obviousness that when something's obvious to you it's normally obvious that it's obvious to you”. First, this certainly looks like a philosophical thesis: independently of the case of consciousness, I’m really wondering if this thesis is intuitive or not. I feel like it seems possible sometimes to have a very strong intuitive justification for something, without beliefs in this justification to be similarly intuitively justified. Really, I don't know if I would have endorsed this principle, even independently of the current debate. But if the principle is indeed contentious, it is problematic to appeal to it while treating the second-order question, as this would endanger the pretheoretical nature of the Moorean argument. Also, even granting that this principle is intuitive, I would find it surprising if someone claimed that this principle itself is super obvious (i.e. more obvious than absolute simultaneity, say). But it needs to be such to be able to kick in at some n-th order level against the n-th order illusionist argument.

On 2: in my paper, I do not make the case for the vicious regress, and I’m not using the disjunction you mention (you might think that the argument would have been stronger in this way, though! :) ). I am not sure what you mean by “It's not like there needs to be a distinct mental state for each level of obviousness”. When one intuits a 10-th order proposition as obvious, it seems to me that they have to be in a different mental state than the one where they intuit the first-order proposition as obvious. The states have to have different functional roles, if only to impact verbal behavior differently. Of course, the realizer of these mental states could have much in common, but that's a separate question.
My claim is that there is a level of complexity at which we do not have direct strong intuitions anymore regarding the complex claim. Of course, I agree that we can still find the corresponding complex claims intuitive in some wider sense, because they result from the application of intuitive philosophical principles connecting levels of obviousness like the one you described – but then see my worry about this above.

François Kammerer said...

Philosopher Eric: Regarding Eric Schwitzgebel’s innocent definition, I’m inclined to think that it can be interpreted in various ways. Roughly: Either it refers to “whatever important x is shared by state A, B, C, etc.”, where A, B, C, etc. are examples of phenomenal states. In that case (and in neighbouring cases), the definition really is neutral and innocent, and I’m fine with saying that consciousness in that sense most probably exists. (I take it that Keith Frankish also ,interprets Eric’s definition in this way). Of course, it’s unclear that the definition captures anything specifically phenomenal.

But I think that there is another interpretation of his innocent definition, which gives a stronger role to introspection. In this sense, it refers to “whatever x is shared by state A, B, C and is introspectively obvious”. But if this introspective obviousness does a crucial job, it imports what I take to be introspective mischaracterizations in the definition, and it’s not innocent anymore ; and in that sense I think that there is no consciousness.

I think that other options can be interpreted as falling in one of these two options.

Jim Cross: I recommend strongly Keith Frankish’s paper “Illusionism as a theory of consciousness”, which brilliantly clears this sort of issues. There can be doubting and knowing without phenomenal consciousness, so that illusionism is not incoherent.

Selfawarepaterns: Well, I think that we should distinguish between various concepts of “seemings”. There are concepts of seemings such that seemings are more or less synonymous with the phenomenal; in that sense, if you're an illusionist, there is no phenomenality and there are no seemings. There are other senses of seeming that involve no such relations, for instance, functionally defined kinds of seemings. In that sense, phenomenality seems to exist without existing.

David Duffy: I agree with you that we cannot merely equate “obviousness” (relevant for Moorean epistemology) with epistemic certainty, but it was merely to distinguish it from psychological certainty – obviousness is closer to the first than the second. There are certainly conditions to add to get obviousness from epistemic certainty (e.g. maybe a certain accessibility of the justification, for instance complex mathematical proofs might make a proposition epistemically certain but not obvious), and some would also accept that obviousness does not even require full epistemic certainty in terms of degree of justification, but just something near enough. But I don't know if that was your concern?

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks for continuing the conversation, Francois!

I'm not sure there's a "peculiar epistemic relation required by super-Moorean certainty". Can't it just be extremely high (warranted) credence, which seems like a ordinary epistemic condition, not something that requires a special apparatus.

On its being obvious that it's obvious: Here I think we only need the truth of the philosophical thesis not the obviousness of the thesis in order to defeat the regress argument. If it's true that it's obvious that X implies that it's obvious that it's obvious that X, then we get obviousness, in fact, all the way up, right?

On there not being distinct mental states and dispositions being ontologically cheap: This rock here is disposed, in virtue of its mass, to attract this other rock, and this other rock, and still this other rock. There are potentially infinitely many other objects it is disposed to attract, but that doesn't mean it needs infinitely many parts to have those infinitely many dispositions. Likewise, it could be the case that whatever dispositional facts constitute finding it obvious that it's obvious are exactly the same dispositional facts that constitute finding it obvious that it's obvious that it's obvious. Actually realizing the 7th order thought is a distinct event from actually realizing the 8th order thought, but if finding something obvious is a dispositional fact rather than a mental event then you don't actually need to realize the thought for it to be true that you find it obvious that it's obvious that... X times... it's obvious.

On your response to Phil E on my innocent definition, this is the kind of response that leaves me still confused about how strong your view is! The "something important" interpretation is not enough. For example, that something important could be just 40 hz oscillations or whatever. It has to be something important that meets certain further conditions, especially folk-psychological (or introspective) obviousness (it's an *obvious* property that the states share in common and not something merely theoretical like 40 hz oscillations unless that property is identical with a folk-psychologically obvious property [leading into tough metaphysical questions about property identity]) and wonderfulness (there has to be enough of an epistemic gap between the property (or at least the property in the guise in which it presents itself [again the metaphysical and phil of language questions get tricky]) that one can reasonably wonder, at least before doing the relevant empirical or a priori work, whether someone could continue to have that property after their body dies and whether garden snails might have that property.

Now why does adding these conditions now make the definition non-innocent? I agree that they are substantive, so they are not innocent of *certain* commitments, like that there's a folk-psychologically obvious category to which all the instances belong. But it still seems like these conditions are innocent of the kinds of problematic metaphysical and epistemic assumptions that motivate illusionism. And thus I wonder whether it's really a philosopher's inflated notion of consciousness-plus-philosophers'-problematic-assumptions that you are exploding rather than the intended target of just-plain-old-consciousness.

Jim Cross said...

"There can be doubting and knowing without phenomenal consciousness, so that illusionism is not incoherent".

If there is doubting and knowing without consciousness, then how would you "know" it? It sounds incoherent. It seems to me that knowing and doubting are part of a conscious state that informs us of the degree of coherence of our view of reality with reality itself. It doesn't necessarily mean what we know actually matches reality but only that it is usefully coherent with it.

François Kammerer said...

Hi Eric, thanks for your answer !

First, quoting you: "peculiar epistemic relation required by super-Moorean certainty". Can't it just be extremely high (warranted) credence, which seems like a ordinary epistemic condition, not something that requires a special apparatus.”
>> by “peculiar epistemic relation” I just mean a relation that provides this sort of pre-theoretical, intuitive warrant for an extremely high credence. I argued that it is peculiar, because it needs to be strong enough to remain untouched even by strong scientific-cum-philosophical arguments, and we usually accept that most seemingly “obvious” beliefs can be trashed by such arguments (I try to make this case in section 5, referring to debates on Moorean epistemology).
Quoting you: “On its being obvious that it's obvious: Here I think we only need the truth of the philosophical thesis not the obviousness of the thesis in order to defeat the regress argument. If it's true that it's obvious that X implies that it's obvious that it's obvious that X, then we get obviousness, in fact, all the way up, right?”
>> Well, if really things are obvious at the first level, and the principle P that obviousness at level 1 implies obviousness at level 2 is true, then of course things are obvious at level 2. But if we accept to raise the second-order question, what matters is not whether P is true, but whether we should believe it (what if P happened to be true, but that we were not justified in holding it? Then we would not be justified in appealing to it in our answer to the second question). And here, if we have a strong argument against obviousness at level 2 (as I suppose), the premises of the argument (which include P) in favor of the level-2 obviousness will need to have the sort of support making them able to stand against such strong arguments. Here I argued (a bit similarly to the point above) that “ordinary” obviousness won’t be enough.

On your point about “On there not being distinct mental states and dispositions being ontologically cheap”: I am not sure. I think that I agree with you, but my impression is that your point only implies that there is no contradiction in the view that there could be an infinite chain of obviousness. But I was not really denying that it is possible; I was rather denying that it is plausible in our case. I do not have any clear, strong and direct pre-theoretical intuition about ten-th level obviousness. When I ask myself whether really it’s obvious to me that it’s obvious that it’s obvious that’s it’s obvious, etc., that I’m conscious, I am just left in confusion; and I very much suspect that it’s the same for others. And in the paper I raised the suspicion that those who claim to have such intuitions do not really, but rather believe that they should have them, because they have antecedently endorsed a contentious philosophical view (p. 17 of the paper). I understand that you might disagree with that (! :) ) and I grant that it is certainly one way to answer my argument, but I just wanted to point out that the fact that such nested obviousness was possible was not really tackling my view; it also has be plausible in this precise case, for us.

(to be continued)

François Kammerer said...

On the debate on innocent definitions: I like this debate and I’m looking forward to exploring it further! My view is that if you specify that we need to introduce, in our innocent definition of consciousness, some link to introspection or folk-psychology, then a lot will hinge on how you do it exactly. I suspect that you can have an illusionist-friendly definition of consciousness if you make sure to use the reference to introspection (or FP) in a way that does not directly import the introspective characterization. For instance: “consciousness is whatever important property is shared by A, B, C, and tends reliably to produce introspective characterizations of it as phenomenal in humans, in standard conditions”. In that sense, consciousness very probably exists (again, I take it that it’s the way in which Frankish interpreted your definition).

On the other hand, if you go further than that and somehow introduce the introspective (or FP-al) characterization directly (requiring that consciousness satisfies this introspective or FP-al characterization), then I think your definition will be as innocent as introspection (or FP) itself. And my view is that introspection itself (and FP) is not so innocent : here too we will have disagreement, I suppose. But at least, maybe, we can now agree to disagree: if you take the second route, your definition will only be as innocent as introspection itself (and you might think that introspection is innocent enough/silent enough on the nature of consciousness for this to work, in which case this will be where our disagreement lies) – while if you take the first route I described it will be innocent in any case (at least in the context of this debate). Would you be fine with this?

François Kammerer said...

Jim Cross: I agree that there are conceptions of doubting and knowing that somehow require phenomenal consciousness, but the illusionist has also to get rid of those. It seems that it should be possible to escape them, for example by defining doubting purely in functional terms, and appealing to some (for instance!) reliabilist theory of knowledge.

Philosopher Eric said...

I’m inclined to agree with you that Schwitzgebel’s innocent conception of consciousness can be interpreted in various ways. But then what argument can’t be interpreted in various ways? If we like we may interpret “No” to mean “Yes” for example. I love how he masterfully anticipates ways that one might be able construe his words differently than what’s intended, adding warnings such as “Don’t be too clever here!” knowing full well that various clever people will try to transform his innocent definition into something much less so. You seem to do this when you add “and is introspectively obvious”. We’re specifically told to not add anything to his simple definition, and certainly not if such an addition will be used to make blanket statements such as “consciousness doesn’t exist”.

It’s interesting to me that you said his conception only “most probably exists”. Conversely I mark this understanding as the single element of reality that’s impossible for me to be wrong about. I do not mean this merely metaphysically, but in terms of absolute logic. As professor S formally said, “The truth conditions of the judgment that I am thinking are a subset of the existence conditions of the judgment that I am thinking.” Can you think of a scenario where something that would need to be true by definition, would not be true at all? If not then you might want to change your answer.

In the end I think that you and I use philosophy for different end goals, yours being the traditional one and mine being something new. Traditionally philosophy is not meant for anything to ever get figured out but rather to be appreciated throughout the ages of humanity. Here it’s an art. In that sense people like you, Frankish, and Dennett are tremendous credits to your profession. And I know that Eric very much appreciates the wonder of a field in which humanity will continue to forever explore the same questions without any agreed upon answers being achieved.

I do have some sympathy for this perspective, though I also understand that science can’t function properly without any agreed upon principles of metaphysics, epistemology, or axiology — all topics that lie in the domain of philosophy rather than science. Thus I believe that we’ll need a new brand of philosophy (or perhaps we could call it metascience?) that provides scientists with founding principles from which to do what they do. As I see it this void explains the softness of our soft sciences. That Schwitzgebel’s innocent conception of consciousness has not yet become the default definition for all scientists in the field, seems like one of may things that a new breed of philosopher has yet to accomplish in the quest for progression in science.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks for the continuing discussion, folks!

François: On the point about extremely high credence: Here I see two options. One is to say that "conscious experience is occurring" is super unusually obvious, following Descartes' cogito. Another option is to shift the ground a little. My view is that theoretically motivated claims in consciousness studies in general tend to be pretty dubious, whether they are introspective claims, scientific theories, or philosophical claims. Even if "conscious experience is occurring" is less than perfectly obvious, I can be confident based on a generalization that the kinds of arguments that consciousness researchers discuss won't be enough to overcome the obviousness it does have. (In that way it's different from the better corners of physics.)

On innocence: Maybe part of why I continue to be confused about exactly how strong your view is that I think the two options you put forward aren't exhaustive. The first is too weak. But the second is too strong. It's fine to deny that "consciousness" exists if consciousness requires the truth of some dubious implicit theoretical commitment of introspection or folk psychology (like immateriality or infallibility). In the middle is another option. We can conceive of it as a property or a guise of a property that is obviously shared among the examples but which doesn't logically imply dubious theoretical commitments like immateriality or infallibility. Or we can conceive of adding conditions to the reference fixing to land specifically on the property, such as that among the candidate properties that the examples share in common it's the one such that you can wonder whether it could continue after death and that you don't need to understand neuroscience to recognize.

David Duffy said...

Hi François.
"obviousness does not even require full epistemic certainty in terms of degree of justification, but just something near enough. But I don't know if that was your concern?"

I was thinking that a Moore-type argument, especially the minimal one you have put forward as "a preference for the most plausible", doesn't really slot into a more formal framework that allows regresses of the type being talked about. It is not quite as strong as saying p is a self-evident truth, but does seem to have the foundationalist "take it or leave it" vibe. I don't think that "people sometimes feel pain" (and really, this is an enthymemic weakening of "all of us reading this have experienced incorrigible pain") is that much stronger than "here is a hand", which Wittgenstein spends so much of On Certainty puzzling about. W doesn't seem to think there is a regress logicians can take advantage of ;)

François Kammerer said...

Philosopher Eric: I don’t think I’m the one adding talk of “introspective obviousness” to Eric Schwitzgebel’s definition. Talk of “obviousness” is already there in the 2016 paper, and it is rather natural, in the context of the paper, to understand it as concerning introspective obviousness.
Of course, I then press it with distinctions, but that’s what philosophers do mostly – drawing distinctions!
And I said: “most probably exists” when talking about the referent of the “really” innocent definition to account for the possibility that there is no cause of my introspective representations (=i.e. if some weird skeptical scenario obtains, for instance if I’m a partial Boltzmann brains or something of the kind).

François Kammerer said...

Eric Schwitzgebel:
Regarding your strategy about high credence: I see, I discuss a strategy of his kind on p. 11 of the paper. My answer is as follows. I am not claiming, of course, that the answer gives the last word here; I suppose your response could be maintained, and things will become a bit tricky at some point. But I do think that when considering the answers below, the Moorean argument loses much of its bite.
“there are serious problems with such answers, which is probably why Chalmers himself does not seem to take this route. Indeed, (a) would make the Moorean argument against illusionism dangerously vulnerable to potential future scientific progress (no particular view of phenomenal introspection is currently as well justified as special relativity, but we can very reasonably bet that one of them ultimately will be), which would seriously undermine the very project of the Moorean argument. Remember, after all, that the Moorean argument is supposed to be able to show the falsity of illusionism even if we admit that illusionism is coherent and supported by strong arguments. Alter¬natively, illusionists could claim that the basis of their argument is not a particular scientific theory (of, say, introspection), but the (much better-confirmed) disjunction of the scientific theories which have the appropriate features (i.e. they do not mention phenomenal consciousness as an explanans). The corresponding premise would have a much higher level of justification, so that it would be much harder to discard it as mere unscientific speculation.”

François Kammerer said...

Eric: On innocence: thanks for the response, I think we might be closer to a clarification of our disagreement. So, you gave two solutions to land somewhere in the “middle”, between the “strong” and the “weak” approach.
One of these I’m not sure I understand, when you say: “we can conceive of adding conditions to the reference fixing to land specifically on the property, such as that among the candidate properties that the examples share in common it's the one such that you can wonder whether it could continue after death and that you don't need to understand neuroscience to recognize”. I do not really see how we could add this sort of condition. I mean, if we agree that our definition should be “wonderful” in your sense, it should be such that, when properly understood, it leaves various questions open (does it persist after death?). On the other hand, that does not mean that we want the real property referred to by the so-defined concept, and shared in common, to leave these questions open. The “real property” so referred to might be such that, necessarily, it does not persist after death.
The other seems more promising to me, and more able to clarify our disagreement. You claim that we could try to make sure that we conceive of “a guise of a property that is obviously shared among the examples but which doesn't logically imply dubious theoretical commitments like immateriality or infallibility.”
Here I think one problem is that I think we have to leave space for sorts of a priori reasoning of the kind that Husserl called “material a priori”, which could make it so that, even if there is no logical contradiction in the view that consciousness is nothing but c-fiber firing, there might nevertheless be some a priori tension – a little bit like with the existence of reddish green. If that’s the case, i.e. if our introspective representations of consciousness indeed are such that they lead to this sort of Husserlian “material” tensions when we think that conscious pain is nothing but c-fiber firing, even if on a formal level there is no logical contradiction, then the corresponding definition by examples, which import our introspective characterization, will not logically imply anything about problematic properties, but still be essentially problematic in some deep sense. My own view is that something of this kind is at play with consciousness. I’m not sure the husserlian material a priori is really the best way to describe it (I have to think harder about this), but I hope you see where I want to get at.

François Kammerer said...

David Duffy: Interesting! First, I think that people who take Moorean arguments seriously would disagree that “people feel pain” is an enthymeme, but let’s set that aside.
My view, developed in the paper, is that there are important difference between the “standard” Moorean arguments, countering the conclusion of purely a priori philosophical arguments, and the Moorean argument against illusionism, which putatively counters a scientific-cum-philosophical argument. Hence, one could buy the conclusion of standard Moorean argument, without leaving the possibility of regress open, without being as confident in the illusionist case. (Of course, some people simply don’t buy Moorean arguments at all). If I remember correctly, Wittgenstein thought that Moorean propositions were beyond doubts, but also were not properly pieces of knowledge; I wonder if it still makes sense to try to build arguments on those. Also, if I remember clearly, W. also gave as an example of this sort of proposition that “no one has ever been on the Moon”. It was in the 50’s :)
(it does not prove anything as such, although it might be harnessed to justify that we should be really careful with what we find obvious, a little bit like what I say in the paper p. 14 with the case of Bergson and special relativity, but I always found that super funny)

Philosopher Eric said...

Apparently you’re right François, it wasn’t you but rather Eric Schwitzgebel that brought in the idea of “introspective obviousness”. Furthermore if something is merely introspectively obvious then apparently your contention is that the reality of it may be countered by means of higher order regress. I’m not quite conceding this contention however since it seems to me that the existence of his innocent consciousness conception is impossible for me personally to deny in an intelligent way. I don’t think that any skeptical scenario, Boltzmann brain, evil demon, or otherwise, could ever provide a sufficient counter argument. This seems to be the unique element of reality that I cannot possibly be wrong about. Of course I suspect that you exist as well (and by means of certain brain function, possibly neuron induced electromagnetic radiation), but since I don’t experience the existence that I presume you do, this can’t be true by definition to me, but rather only you (should you exist). Do you not consider an innocent phenomenal existence to be true by definition to you?

François Kammerer said...

Philosopher Eric: if by "innocent phenomenal existence" you mean something relying on a definition that includes the appeal to introspective obviousness, then I want to be open to the idea that introspection can be misleading. Of course, it seems not misleading (it might even seem infallible in this respect!), but I have learnt that there would be nothing surprising in one of my naïve faculty of representation deeply mischaracterizing its target. And the fact that I have a hard time grasping that introspection could be misleading (as if it could not be, as a matter of definition) might itself be a natural consequence of the way in which introspection implicitly (mis)-characterizes its target (as something immediately known, say). This is my view, developed for instance here:https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11229-018-02071-y

If by "innocent phenomenal existence" you mean something relying on a definition that does not include appeal to introspective obviousness, then I would be very confident that I am conscious, but still not certain, for reasons said above. But then in this kind of approach, there should be not "definitional" difficulty in admitting that it might not exist - it's just that the view would be weird, and not very explanatory.

Philosopher Eric said...

Sounds good François. And let me emphasize that I consider your position entirely appropriate both in terms of ancient as well as modern philosophy. Conversely what I seek does not seem appropriate in those terms. I yearn for the development of a new community of respected professionals which is able to agree upon various things in order to hopefully provide scientists with a more solid foundation from which to do their work. Furthermore one thing that I think each of these individual professionals would agree upon, is that he/she cannot possibly not exist (or “I think, therefore I am”). This would be the first rule for such an organization, or a founding premise from which to potentially build. Without the emergence of a community which is able to achieve such common understandings, I don’t consider there to be much hope for the hardening of our softest forms of science.