Saturday, October 12, 2013

Non-Propositional Language

In the Tractatus, Wittgenstein says, “The totality of propositions is the language” (Prop. 4). But it may be argued, to the contrary, that language does not consist exclusively of propositions, and that language includes both propositional and non-propositional expressions (take, for example, emotive expressions that express feelings or emotions, but not propositions).
      Interjections such as “Oops!”, “Holy cow!”, and “Wow!” may be examples of non-propositional expressions. Such expressions may be meaningful without being true or false.
      Non-propositional speech-acts include rote recitations of numbers, times, and dates, repetitions of filler words or phrases such as "uh" and "y'know what I mean," conventional greetings such as “Hello” and “Good morning,” expletives such as "Gee whiz!" and “Damn!", and questions such as “How are you?” and “What is that?”.1
     Can language be meaningful without expressing propositional attitudes or having a propositional content?
      While propositional attitudes2 such as believing, knowing, hoping, desiring, fearing, or remembering that p (where p is a proposition) take a stand or have a bearing as to whether p is or is not the case (or as to whether p ought to or ought not to be the case), non-propositional attitudes take no such stand and have no such bearing. Are there indeed such non-propositional attitudes? Are all cognitive attitudes propositional in form and content?
      Is all thinking propositional in nature? If not, then is there some non-propositional language capable of expressing non-propositional thought? Can linguistic signs or symbols express purely intuitive or non-conceptual thinking? 
      Consider Russell’s example of a non-denoting phrase, “the present king of France.”3 If the sentence, “The present king of France is bald,” is neither true nor false because the phrase “the present king of France” doesn’t denote or refer to anything, then the sentence doesn't express a proposition. But isn’t the sentence still in some way meaningful? Isn’t the sentence a counter-example to Wittgenstein’s thesis that “The totality of propositions is the language”?
      

FOOTNOTES

1Chris Code, “Speech Automatism and Recurring Utterances,” in The Characteristics of Aphasia, edited by Chris Code (Hove: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1991), p. 158.
2Bertrand Russell, An Inquiry into Meaning and Truth [1940] (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1962), p. 18.
3Bertrand Russell, “On Denoting,” in Mind, 14 (1905): 479-493.


ADDITIONAL REFERENCES

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus [1922], translated by C.K. Ogden (Mineola: Dover Publications, 1999).

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Recommended Philosophy Videos

Linda Martín Alcoff, 2012 Presidential Address, APA, Eastern Division

Mark Alfano and Abrol Fairweather, on virtue epistemology

Danielle Allen, "Education and Equality"

Corey Anton, "Some Basic Characteristics of Language"

Corey Anton, "Language, Thought & Time"

Corey Anton, "Defining Language? Please Respond"

Corey Anton, "Boundaries between Books and Minds"

Corey Anton, "On Being a Reader"

James Cargile, "Philosophy of Logic"

Carneades.org
  The Euthyphro Dilemma
  The Gettier Problem
  In Defense of the Gettier Problem
  Properties of Relations
  Necessary and Sufficient Conditions
  Russell's Paradox
  De Re vs De Dicto Distinction
  Syntactically De Re vs Syntactically De Dicto
  Semantically De Re vs Semantically De Dicto
  Modally De Re vs Modally De Dicto
  Propositional and Categorical Logic
  Symbols and Terms (Predicate Calculus)
  Bayesian Epistemology
  Bayes' Theorem and the Monty Hall Fallacy
 
Stephen Darwall, "Making the "Hard" Problem of Moral Normativity Easier"

Jacques Derrida, "What Comes Before the Question?"

Ronald Dworkin, "Law and Political Morality"

John David Ebert, "Schelling's First Outline of a System of the Philosophy of Nature"

Miranda Fricker, "Moral Philosophy"

Paul Fry, "Introduction to Theory of Literature"
    1.  Introduction
    2.  Introduction (cont.)
    3.  Ways In and Out of the Hermeneutic                  Circle
    4.  Configurative Reading
    5.  The Idea of the Autonomous Artwork
    6.  The New Criticism and Other Western                  Formalisms
    7.  Russian Formalism
    8.  Semiotics and Structuralism
    9.  Linguistics and Literature
    10. Deconstruction I
    11. Deconstruction II
    12. Freud and Fiction
    13. Jacques Lacan in Theory
    14. Influence
    15. The Postmodern Psyche
    16. The Social Permeability of Reader and                Text
    17. The Frankfurt School of Critical Theory
    18. The Political Unconscious
    19. The New Historicism
    20. The Classical Feminist Tradition
    21. African-American Criticism
    22. Post-Colonial Criticism
    23. Queer Theory and Gender Performativity
    24. The Institutional Construction of Literary               Study
    25. The End of Theory? Neo-Pragmatism
    26. Reflections; Who Doesn't Hate Theory                 Now?

Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, "The Subject of Language"

Julia Galef, "What is 'Rationality'?"

Christopher Gauker, on Language

Tamar Gendler and Eric Schwitzgebel, on implicit associations and belief

Elizabeth Grosz, Keynote Address at the 2007 Feminist Theory Workshop

Thich Nhat Hanh, "What is Nirvana?"

Annabelle Lever, on "Greening Humanity"

Jennifer McWeeny, "Feminist Ontology for the Twenty-First Century"

Charles Mills, "Does Race Exist?"

Charles Mills, "Liberalism and Racial Justice"

Authors@Google: Steven Pinker

Thomas Pogge, "Global Justice: What are the Responsibilities of Citizens?"

Ryan Preston-Roedder, "Three Varieties of Faith"

Michael Puett, "On Zhuangzi in Relation to Confucius"

Avital Ronell, in "Examined Life" (2008)
                         
Thomas Scanlon, "Ethics of Blame"

John Searle, interviewed by Bryan Magee, on the Philosophy of Language: Section 1

John Searle, interviewed by Bryan Magee, on the Philosophy of Language: Section 2

John Searle, interviewed by Bryan Magee, on the Philosophy of Language: Section 3

John Searle, interviewed by Bryan Magee, on the Philosophy of Language, Section 4

John Searle, interviewed by Bryan Magee, on the Philosophy of Language, Section 5

Galen Strawson, "What is the Subject-Experience-Content Identity Thesis?"

John Turri, "Virtue Epistemology & Intellectual Character"

Jennifer Lisa Vest, "Gyeke. Akan Concept of a Person"

Jennifer Lisa Vest, "Hume. The Idea of the Self," part 1

Jennifer Lisa Vest, "Hume. The Idea of the Self." part 2

Edmond Wright, "Narrative, Perception, Language, and Faith"

George Yancy, "Ferris Reynolds Lecture"

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Nicolai Hartmann's Outlines of a Metaphysics of Knowledge


Nicolai Hartmann’s Outlines of a Metaphysics of Knowledge (Grundzüge einer Metaphysik der Erkenntnis, 1921) is perhaps his most important work in the field of epistemology. It was published early in his career, when he was teaching at the University of Marburg (where he was a professor from 1922-1925), and it describes the relation between epistemology and ontology. It has not, as of 2013, been published in English.
      In the Metaphysics, Hartmann describes four different sides to the problem of knowledge: (1) the psychological, (2) the logical, (3) the ontological, and (4) the gnoseological. The first two sides constitute the non-metaphysical side of the problem of knowledge, while the last two constitute the metaphysical side of the problem of knowledge. The first three constitute the “wider problem of knowledge,” while the last one constitutes the “narrower problem of knowledge.”
      The metaphysical side of knowledge is also metapsychological and metalogical in orientation, and thus it is closely connected to the non-metaphysical side of knowledge.1
      The psychological side of knowledge is represented by the fact that knowledge may be described as a psychological process or event. A knowing subject, just as much as a known object, is essential to any act of knowledge. But just as psychology adheres to the side of the subject, so does logic adhere to the side of the object.2 Just as psychology is concerned with a psychological event or process in the subject, so is logic concerned with the logical contents or structure of the object. Thus, the logical side of knowledge is represented by the fact that knowledge has an objective and not merely subjective character.3
      Psychologism may be described as a tendency to see all knowledge as dependent on, or explicable in terms of, psychological events or processes, while logicism may be described as a tendency to see all knowledge as dependent on, or explicable in terms of, logical relations. Hartmann argues that both psychologism and logicism, because of their inability to address important ontological and gnoseological questions, may lead to misunderstanding of the problem of knowledge.
      According to Hartmann, the problem of knowledge is inseparable from the phenomenon of knowledge, and thus the aporetics of knowledge can only be fully illuminated by investigation of the phenomenology of knowledge. The analysis of the problem of knowledge goes hand in hand with the analysis of the phenomenon of knowledge. Since the “narrower problem of knowledge” is also inseparable from the problem of being, epistemology may be inseparable from both phenomenology and ontology.
      The phenomenology of knowledge may define the relation between the knower and the known, and between the subject and object of knowledge. In the relation of knowledge (Erkenntnisrelation), as long as the object is independent of the subject and of the subject’s knowing, the object may be said to have a being-in-itself (Ansichsein).4 The object is inseparable from the subject only insofar as it is known or knowable. As long as it has a being-in-itself, the object is indifferent toward its objectification or objectifiability.5
      Similarly, the subject in the relation of knowledge has a being-in-itself and does not simply merge into being a subject for an object. The subject’s being-in-itself is initially only a gnoseological one, but it becomes a psychological, logical, and ontological one as well.6
      The form of the object in the consciousness of the subject is determined by the subject’s grasping (or knowing) of the object. The determinations of the object that lie within the consciousness of the subject are those that are graspable or knowable by the subject. Those that lie outside the (floating) boundary of objectification or knowledge constitute the “transobjective,” and those that lie outside the boundary of objectifiability or knowability constitute the “irrational” or “transintelligible.”7
      The “transsubjective” is analogous to the “transobjective” in the relation of knowledge. Just as the object of knowledge never merges into being merely an object for a subject and always has a being-in-itself, so also does the subject always in some way subsist independently as that which is in-itself.
      The aporetics of knowedge arise from the “general aporia of knowledge,” from which in turn arise six other aporias: (1) the aporia of perception and givenness, (2) the aporia of a priori knowledge, (3) the aporia of the criterion of knowledge, (4) the aporia of the problem of consciousness, (5) the aporia of the progress of knowledge, and (6) the aporia of being (the ontological aporia behind the gnoseological aporia).
      The general aporia of knowledge arises from the dynamic and changing opposition of subject and object. This opposition is reflected by such questions as: What kind of relation can exist between the subject and object, if they transcend each other by subsisting independently outside of their relation? From what source comes to the originally separated subject and object the unity that is posited in their relation as knower and known? How is such a relation possible? Does the phenomenon of knowledge emerge from the transcendence of subject and object, or does the transcendence of subject and object emerge from the phenomenon of knowledge?8
      The aporia of perception and givenness is reflected by such questions as: If an object must somehow be given to a perceiving subject in order for its properties to be known by the subject, then how can it be given to the subject if it transcends the subject and the relation of knowledge? —Either its givenness must be merely appearance or its transcendence must be merely appearance.9
      The aporia of a priori knowledge is reflected by such questions as: How can it be that for aprioristic knowledge only logical-immanent and ideal forms of essence are given to knowing consciousness, and that these forms of essence are indifferent to the real essence of the actual?  How can that which is grasped as ideal essence be indifferent to the real essence that transcends it? This indifference, according to Hartmann, is the focal point of the problem of transcendent apriority.10 Immanent apriority, or aprioristic knowledge of ideal objects, depends on the intersubjective identity of categories of knowledge and categories of being, but transcendent apriority, or aprioristic knowledge of real objects, depends on the transcendent identity of categories of knowledge and categories of being.11
      The aporia of the criterion of knowledge is reflected by such questions as: How can the perceiving subject know whether the immanent form of the object in consciousness corresponds to the transcendent object? If the subject can only determine whether the immanent form of the object corresponds to other immanent forms and cannot determine whether the immanent form corresponds to the transcendent object, then there may be no valid criterion of knowledge. 
      The aporia of the problem of consciousness is expressed by such questions as: How is knowledge possible of that which is unknown? How can objectification of the “transobjective” occur, without the latter as such being abolished?12
      The aporia of the progress of knowledge is reflected by such questions as: From knowledge that something is unknown, how can positive knowledge of that thing be attained?  From inadequate knowledge of an object, how can we arrive at adequate knowledge of that object?
      The aporia of being is expressed by such questions as: What is the ontological relation behind the gnoseological relation of knower and known? What is “that which is” (Seinde), insofar as it is independent of all knowability? What is the positive meaning of the “transintelligible”?
      Hartmann distinguishes between the “transintelligible” and the “mystical” by saying that the "mystical" can be an object of revelation, intuition, and ecstatic apprehension.13 The "mystical" is therefore knowable, even though it may not be completely understood. The “transintelligible,” on the other hand, is incapable of being objectified, and is unknowable.


 FOOTNOTES

1Nicolai Hartmann, Grundzüge einer Metaphysik der Erkenntnis (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter & Co., 1921), p. 11.
2Ibid., p. 19.
3Ibid., p. 19.
4Ibid., pp. 39-40.
5Ibid., p. 40.
6Ibid., p. 41.
7Ibid., p. 47.
8Ibid., p. 49.
9Ibid., p. 51.
10Ibid., pp. 52-53.
11Ibid., p. 286.
12Ibid., p. 53.
13Ibid., p. 57.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Philosophy from the Margins


To do philosophy from the margins is not to do merely marginal philosophy or to be concerned with merely marginal philosophical problems. It is not to promote the marginal as an end in itself or to be concerned with merely the margins, limits, or boundaries of philosophy.
      It is not to propose philosophical arguments that have merely marginal or questionable relevance and validity. It is not to behave unconventionally merely in order to explore the margins or test the limits of socially acceptable behavior.
      It is not merely to subscribe to the belief system of some marginalized social group. It is not merely to express disaffection or alienation from society. It is not to adopt some form of radical or extremist ideology.
      It is rather to stand outside the philosophical mainstream and to engage in philosophy from the standpoint of a person who has been marginalized. It is also to examine the implicit assumptions of mainstream philosophy, and to evaluate their rationality, justifiability, and validity.
      To do philosophy from the margins is to have been barred or excluded in one way or another from a conventional position of speakership within philosophy. It is to have been compelled to accept some marginalized status or form of postponed participation with regard to philosophical discourse.
      Must “philosophy from the margins” necessarily address the needs and concerns of those who have been marginalized? Is claiming to be marginalized something that is empty of meaning, by virtue of the fact that almost everyone can claim to have been marginalized in one way or another by someone else?
      Who exactly are the marginalized in our society? Who marginalizes whom? In what way do people marginalize those whom they do not want to recognize or engage in dialogue with?
      To do philosophy from the margins may be to recognize the diverse viewpoints of, and to examine the problems that are relevant to, those who have been marginalized, forgotten, displaced, or dispossessed by society. It may be to encourage social equity and to promote the eradication of distinctions between insiders and outsiders.
      Philosophy from the margins may also reveal the centrality of the marginal and the marginality of the central. It may question or destabilize the meanings of centrality and marginality, and it may allow their interdependence to be recognized.
      To do philosophy from the margins may be to record one’s thoughts in the margins of a philosophical text (or in the margins of a text that has philosophical implications). It may be to inscribe a text with one’s own philosophical thoughts and reflections. It may be to record one’s own observations on, or interpretation of, a text, and to become the author of a commentary on the text. It may be to identify whatever is noteworthy in a text and to engage in dialogue with that text.
      Doing philosophy from the margins may also mean recognizing the occurrence of epistemological thresholds, limits, breaks, and discontinuities. It may mean resisting the pressure to conform to traditional methods of reading, understanding, and problem solving.
       It may mean a concern with boundary objects, boundary concepts, boundary conditions, and boundary questions. It may mean an exploration of the horizons of being, time, space, consciousness, existence, and experience. It may also mean an investigation of the limits of thought, reason, emotion, discourse, and language.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Some Propositions Concerning Epistemic Ground, Warrant, and Justification


Despite the limitations of “S knows that p” epistemology, it may be worthwhile to examine some basic “S knows that p" propositions in order to try to clarify the relations between epistemic ground, justification, and warrant.  Such an examination may also help to delineate some of the controversies regarding the relations between epistemic ground, justification, and warrant. Thus, some basic “S believes that p” or "S knows that p" propositions are:

      1. Even if there is sufficient reason (or there are sufficient grounds) for S to believe that p, p may still be false. (Although it may be argued, to the contrary, that if there are sufficient grounds for S to believe that p, then p must be true.)
      2. If there is sufficient reason (or there are sufficient grounds) for S to believe that p, then S may be justified in believing that p. (Although it may be argued, to the contrary, that the justification for a belief cannot be provided solely by the grounds for that belief, and that a belief must not only have sufficient grounds, but also be true in order to be justified.)
      3. If S believes that p, but p is false, then S’s belief is unwarranted. (Although it may be argued, to the contrary, that warrant may be defined in such a way that all warranted beliefs do not necessarily have to be true. For example, Kent Bach (1996) explains that one way of defining warrant may be to say that warranted beliefs are those beliefs that, if true, are not accidentally true.1)     
      4. S’s believing p at a given time t may be justified on the basis of the evidence available to S at t, but that act of belief may turn out to be unwarranted if the evidence available to S at t is incomplete or contradicted by further evidence that may or may not have been available to S at t. (Although it may be argued, to the contrary, that S was not justified in believing p at t if that act of belief is later found to be unwarranted or to have been based on insufficient evidence that p.)
      5. If S has sufficient grounds for believing that p, then that belief may be justified.
      6. A sufficient reason or ground for a belief may constitute (or be taken as) a sufficient justification for that belief.
      7. The grounds for a belief may provide the justification for that belief. (Although in order for S herself to feel justified in believing p, S herself may have to judge the grounds for believing p to be sufficient.)
      8. S’s belief that p may, in fact, be fully or merely partially justified or warranted.
      9. If S’s belief that p is, in fact, fully justified or warranted, then that belief takes fully into account, and is fully supported by, the evidence that p (if an evidentialist theory of justification or warrant is proposed or accepted).
      10. The reasons or grounds for S’s believing that p at t may be logical, epistemic, moral, religious, and/or psychological.
      11. As shown by Edmund Gettier (1963), in cases where S believes that p, and S’s belief happens accidentally to be true and to be justified because of circumstances unknown to S, that belief, although true and justified, cannot properly be said to constitute knowledge that p.2
       12. If S believes that p, then that belief is warranted if (1) it is justified, (2) p actually holds, and (3) the justification for the belief cannot be questioned or refuted by the kinds of arguments provided by Gettier cases.3 However, it may be argued that there may always be exceptions to this set of conditions, involving warranted beliefs not covered by this theory or by some other similar theory of warrant.
      13. If S knows that p and also knows that q, then S knows that p (and that q). However, from S’s knowing that p and that q, it does not follow that S knows that p and q. That is to say, from S’s knowing that p and q hold independently, it does not follow that S knows that p and q hold conjointly (nor does it follow that p and q actually do hold conjointly).
      14. Prop. 13 may be stated negatively as: If S does not know that p and also does not know that q, then p knows neither that p nor that q.
      15. From S’s knowing that p, it does not follow that either S knows that p or S knows that q (because both consequents could hold). Nor does it follow that S knows that p or q (because from S's knowing that p, it does not follow that S knows that p or q hold disjunctively, nor does it follow that they actually do hold disjunctively).



FOOTNOTES

1Kent Bach, “Accidental Truth and Would-be Knowledge,” Philosophical Quarterly, 198 (1996), 183-190. Online at http://online.sfsu.edu/kbach/accidtruth.html.

2Edmund Gettier, “Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?” in Analysis, 23 (1963), 121-123. 

3Fred Dretske, “Gettier and Justified True Belief: Fifty Years On,” in The Philosophers Magazine (July 9, 2013), online at http://philosophypress.co.uk/?p=1171.


ADDITIONAL REFERENCES

Alston, William P. “The Deontological Conception of Epistemic Justification,” in Philosophical Perspectives, Vol. 2, Epistemology (1988), pp. 257-299.

Merricks, Trenton. “Warrant Entails Truth,” in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 55 (1995): 841-855.

Merricks, Trenton. “More on Warrant’s Entailing Truth,” in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 57 (1997), 627-631.

Ryan, Sharon. “Does Warrant Entail Truth?” in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. LVI, No. 1, March 1996, pp. 183-192.

Zagzebski, Linda. “The Inescapability of Gettier Problems,” in The Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 44, No. 174, (Jan., 1994), pp. 65-73.

Monday, July 15, 2013

On the Origins, Nature, and Extent of Epistemic Rights


Epistemic rights may include the right to believe, or the right not to believe, a given proposition, as well as the right to hold, or the right not to hold, a particular belief or set of beliefs. Epistemic rights may also include the right to assert, or the right not to assert, something, as well as the right to claim, or the right not to claim, knowledge of something. Thus, there may be positive as well as negative epistemic rights.
      Epistemic rights may also include the right to affirm or deny the truth of a proposition. They may also include the right to take the truth of a proposition as evidence for the truth of other propositions. They may also include the right to withhold judgment about the truth or falsehood of a proposition.
      They may also include the right to expect a particular event to occur, given the occurrence of previous events as a result of which that event could reasonably, safely, and reliably be expected to occur. If our expectations of the occurrence of an event turn out to be unjustified, then we must question whether we did indeed have a right to expect that event to occur, given the occurrence of the previous events on which our expectations of its occurrence were founded.
      According to Fred Dretske (2000), the epistemic right to believe a proposition p (or to accept p as true) may entail an epistemic duty (obligation, or responsibility) to justify that belief in the truth of p. From an epistemic standpoint, we may have the right, or may be entitled, to believe p only if we can epistemically justify that belief in the truth of p. However, there may be cases in which we believe p or accept p as true (perhaps because p’s truth has been established by reliable methods), despite the fact that we may have good reasons for believing p to be false. In such cases, we may perhaps have a right to believe things that we are not completely justified in believing.1
      Thus, Dretske raises the question of whether there may in some cases be epistemic rights to hold beliefs without corresponding epistemic duties to justify those beliefs.
      It may be argued to the contrary, however, that the extent of any epistemic right that we may have to hold a particular belief or set of beliefs depends on the extent to which we are able to epistemically justify that belief or set of beliefs. We may have an epistemic duty not to believe a proposition p unless there is sufficient evidence of the truth of p. We may also, before believing p, have an epistemic duty to consider any evidence that may refute or disprove p.
      From an epistemic standpoint, we are therefore not entitled to believe whatever we want to believe (about p, or about some other proposition, occurrence, or event) and not consider whether our beliefs are epistemically warranted or justified. We are only entitled to hold those beliefs for which there is sufficient epistemic warrant or justification (although such warrant or justification may be defined in a variety of ways).
      The epistemic right to believe p may also depend on the absence of significant defects in our perceptual status or cognitive function that could impair the epistemic merits of our belief in the truth of p.
      From an internalist standpoint, the extent of any epistemic right to believe in something depends only on factors internal to the believer (e.g. the believer’s ability to justify his/her beliefs on the basis of previous experience or on the basis of what he/she already knows). From an externalist standpoint, however, the extent of any epistemic right to believe in something depends on factors external to the believer (e.g. the facts that actually hold in the given situation, regardless of the believer’s ability to justify his/her beliefs on the basis of previous experience or on the basis of what he/she already knows).
      Thus, a number of consequences logically follow from epistemic deontologism (the theory that knowledge requires the fulfillment of principles of epistemic duty) and from the recognition by Descartes, Locke, William K. Clifford, and others that epistemic rights and duties may be inseparable and may go hand in hand.
      If we have an epistemic right or entitlement to believe in the truth of a proposition p, then we must be epistemically justified in believing p. We are within our epistemic rights to believe p only if we have good reasons or sufficient epistemic grounds to believe p. If we have fulfilled our epistemic duty to believe p only on the basis of sufficient evidence of p, then we may have the epistemic right to believe p.
     If we believe p but p turns out to be false, then our justification for believing p may be questioned, and so may our epistemic right to believe p. P’s turning out to be false may indicate that we were not actually justified in believing p. Our purported or alleged justification for believing p may have been merely a supposed and not an actual epistemic justification for believing p.
      It may also be argued that the epistemic right to believe p depends on the epistemic rationality, defensibility, and justifiability of believing p. Thus, approaches to epistemic rationalization and justification include epistemic foundationalism, reliabilism, coherentism, and reliance on authoritative or expert testimony.
      It may also be argued that even if we are not aware or do not know that we believe p, we may still have an epistemic duty not to believe p unless there is sufficient evidence of p.  Our unconscious beliefs may influence our conscious beliefs, and may in some cases function as motives for our actions, and thus we may be obligated to ensure, to the extent that this is possible, that all our beliefs (conscious or unconscious) are epistemically justified.
      If we have no epistemic grounds, reasons, or justification for believing p, then we may have no epistemic right to believe p. We may also have no right to believe p if we know p to be false. To knowingly hold false beliefs may be a dereliction of our epistemic duty to ensure, to the extent that this is possible, that all our beliefs are epistemically justified.
      William K. Alston (1988) offers a cautionary point of view with regard to epistemic deontologism by arguing that this approach to epistemic justification is viable only insofar as it holds that we are not blameworthy for beliefs that are epistemically justified. To the extent that we have not violated any epistemic rules or principles in forming our beliefs, we may be deontologically justified in holding those beliefs.2
       Alston maintains that many of our beliefs are not under our voluntary control, and that we may therefore not be blameworthy for holding those beliefs. Many of our beliefs may be involuntary and may be incapable of being deontologically justified. Moreover, even if we have fulfilled our duty to epistemically justify our beliefs, we may still not be justified in supposing that the grounds for those beliefs are in fact adequate.3 These findings, according to Alston, are not sufficiently accounted for by deontological theories of epistemic justification.
      Just as epistemic rights or entitlements may be relative rather than absolute, so may epistemic duties or responsibilities. A relative epistemic right to believe p may entail a relative epistemic duty to justify that belief. A (merely) relative epistemic right to believe p may also be grounded on a (merely) relative epistemic justification for believing p.
      With regard to the relation between epistemic and moral rights, an epistemic right to believe p may also be a moral right to believe p if the believer has fulfilled his/her epistemic duty to epistemically justify that belief, and if this epistemic duty is also a moral duty. In other words, if the believer is not only epistemically, but also morally obligated to epistemically justify a belief in order to rightly hold that belief, then the right to hold that belief is not only an epistemic, but also a moral right.
      However, epistemic rights may differ from moral rights insofar as there may be situations in which we have the moral right to assent to the truth of a proposition p even though we have no epistemic right to do so (such as when we do not actually know p to be true, or when we know p to be false). There may be situations in which moral duty is in conflict with epistemic duty, such as when telling the truth to a person may unnecessarily offend or cause harm to that person or to some other person(s). We may have the epistemic right, if we know p to be true, to affirm p as true, but we may not always have the moral right.
      With regard to the relation between epistemic and legal rights, an epistemic right to believe p may also be a legal right to believe p if it is legally protected (although most commonly, it is the freedom to believe p that is legally protected, rather than a particular form or expression of that belief in the truth of p).
      Epistemic rights may differ from legal rights insofar as some laws may be based on false premises or fallacious reasoning and may thus be epistemically unjustified. In such cases, we may have the epistemic right to affirm a proposition p as true (if we know p to be true), but we may not have the legal right.
      Legal rights may also differ from moral rights insofar as some laws may be morally unjust, cruel, inhumane, or deleterious to basic human rights. In such cases, we may have the moral right to affirm principles of charity and compassion, but we may not have the legal right.


FOOTNOTES

1Fred Dretske, “Entitlement: Epistemic Rights Without Epistemic Duties?” in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. LX, No. 3, May 2000, p. 595.

2William Alston, “The Deontological Conception of Epistemic Justification,” in Philosophical Perspectives, Vol. 2, Epistemology (1988), p. 284.

3Ibid., p. 292.


REFERENCES

Altschul, Jon. “Epistemic Entitlement,” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2011), at http://www.iep.utm.edu/ep-en/.

Alston, William, “The Deontological Conception of Epistemic Justification,” in Philosophical Perspectives, Vol. 2, Epistemology (1988), pp. 257-299.

Clifford, William K. “The Ethics of Belief,” in Contemporary Review, 1877, pp. 289-309.

Dretske, Fred. “Entitlement: Epistemic Rights Without Epistemic Duties?” in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. LX, No. 3, May 2000, pp. 591-606.

Plantinga, Alvin. Warrant: The Current Debate. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Why Formulate a List of Black Philosophers?


Is there any purpose to be served by assembling a list of black philosophers? The assembling of such a list may indeed be useful, because there are, and historically have been, more black philosophers than is (or has been) generally known and appreciated. However, the assembling of such a list is also problematic in a number of ways.
      One of the principal advantages of assembling, even in a preliminary fashion, a list of black philosophers is that it may help to promote greater recognition of the fact that there are currently many black writers and scholars who are engaged in the practice of philosophy. There may, in fact, be many more black philosophers than we might at first suppose, and the names of those individuals may be easier for us to recall if we have some sort of readily available list. At present, most people would probably find it difficult to name, on the spur of the moment, more than one or two black philosophers. Most people would probably also find it difficult to describe any particular intellectual traditions or philosophical movements that have been established or contributed to by black philosophers. Name-recognition of a number of the less well-known black writers and scholars who have made important contributions to philosophy may be facilitated if we assemble, at least in a preliminary fashion, a list of individuals who may be described as “black philosophers.”
      Another advantage of assembling such a list is that it may help us to answer the question, “Who (or what) is a black philosopher?” It may help us to broaden the definition of the term “black philosopher,” particularly when we realize that black thinkers, writers, and scholars in a variety of disciplines, such as philosophy, cultural studies, gender studies, political science, and sociology have engaged in and made important contributions to the practice of philosophy, and thus may be described as philosophers.
      An additional advantage of putting together a list of black philosophers is that it may help to promote recognition of the fact that there is an intellectual community of black thinkers and writers who are engaged in, and dedicated to, the practice of philosophy, and who have interests, concerns, and commitments (philosophical, ethical, theoretical, practical, and sociocultural) to share with each other and with the rest of the black community, as well as with society as a whole.
      The attempt to formulate, in a preliminary fashion, a list of black philosophers may enable us to rethink the notion of what it means to be a black philosopher. It may also enable us to reevaluate our assumptions about what it means to be a philosopher and what it means to engage in philosophy. Some of our unquestioned assumptions may not always promote the development of philosophy as a socially relevant and inclusive enterprise, an enterprise that will promote greater understanding of the conditions for, and the means to attain, social justice and human well-being.
      However, a number of arguments against, or objections to, the formulation of a list of black philosophers may also be made. One such argument is that the assembling of a list of black philosophers may marginalize a particular group of philosophers (those who are included in the list), because they are described as “black philosophers” rather than simply as “philosophers.” This argument, however, may assume that the philosophy practiced by “black philosophers” will be seen as inherently marginal compared to the philosophy practiced by other philosophers. It may also assume that the philosophy engaged in by “black philosophers” will not be seen as mainstream or conventional philosophy (a perception that may, to some extent, have good or bad effects for those who are described as “black philosophers”).
      The argument may also be made that the assembling of a list of black philosophers may marginalize those black philosophers who are not included in the list, by failing to recognize their contributions to philosophy. A counter-argument, however, is that no list of black philosophers can ever be considered to be finished or complete, and that there can be no conclusively authoritative and final list of “black philosophers,” just as there can be no conclusively authoritative and final canon of philosophy. Any list of black philosophers must be considered to be preliminary and subject to further revision. The formulation of such a list should always be done in a manner that is as thoughtful, respectful, and inclusive as possible.
      Another argument to be made against the assembling of a list of black philosophers is that the color of a person’s skin may have nothing to do with the way in which that person does philosophy. To describe a person as a black philosopher may be to make a “category-mistake” by conflating two separate and unrelated social categories.
      Similarly, the argument may be made that discourse about “black philosophy” may be as misguided as discourse about “black physics” or “black mathematics.” On the other hand, the counter-argument may be made that philosophy has always been practiced within the context of particular historical situations, and that philosophers have always been influenced by the prevailing social assumptions of the particular times in which they have lived. The ways in which white philosophers in the past viewed society were very much influenced by their assumptions regarding the proper allocation (or lack of allocation) of full citizenship to various members of society, and thus their skin color had a lot to do with the way in which they practiced philosophy.
      Philosophy may be an art as well as a science (or perhaps it is neither an art nor a science), and it may therefore be informed by a “black aesthetic” as well as by other kinds of aesthetics; in this sense, it may perhaps be worthwhile to reflect on what might constitute “black philosophy.”
      Another argument to be made against assembling a list of black philosophers is represented by the following question: “What is the point of assembling a list of black philosophers, when there are also many white philosophers who have made significant contributions to Africana philosophy?” However, a counter-argument may be made that to recognize the work of black philosophers in various fields of study is not to depreciate or disregard the work of white philosophers in those same fields of study.
      Another possible argument to be made against assembling a preliminary list of black philosophers is that some philosophers who are included in the list may be biracial or multiracial and therefore may not identify themselves simply as black. Some philosophers may, for other reasons, desire not to be included in the list. To the extent that a particular philosopher has expressed his/her preferences regarding being included or not included in a list of black philosophers, those preferences should indeed be respected.
      Another possible argument to be made against assembling a list of black philosophers is that the compiling of such list might facilitate the targeting of philosophers on the list by bigoted individuals who might desire to subject them to racial hostility or discrimination. This is a very serious concern, but it must be weighed against the need for members of all minority groups to be able to fully participate in society, openly and without fear of intimidation.
      Another possible argument to be made against assembling a list of black philosophers is that if the concept of race is merely a social construct or convenient fiction that has outlived its usefulness, then to categorize people on the basis of their skin color may be futile and meaningless. A counter-argument may be made, however, that the concept of race continues to be a significant sociocultural reality whose meaning is deeply rooted in human history.
      A concise answer to the question of why it might be useful to assemble a list of black philosophers may therefore be that such a project may enable us to become better acquainted with their work and with their contributions to philosophy.


Friday, June 28, 2013

Black Philosophers Online


Selected articles by contemporary philosophers

Jacoby Adeshei Carter, "Alain LeRoy Locke"

Tina Fernandes Botts, "Legal Hermeneutics"

Kristie Dotson, "How is this Paper Philosophy?"

Delia Fara, "Possibility Relative to a Sortal"

Arnold Farr, "Herbert Marcuse"

Kathryn Gines, "Comparative and Competing Frameworks of Oppression in Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex"

Lewis Gordon, "Is Philosophy Blue?"

Kwame Gyeke, "African Ethics" 

bell hooks, "The Oppositional Gaze: Black Female Spectators"

Brandon Hogan, "A Hegelian Argument for Restorative Criminal Justice"

Bill Lawson, "The Value of Environmental Justice"

Henry Odera Oruka, "Sagacity in African Philosophy"

John Pittman, "Double Consciousness"

Ryan Preston-Roedder, "Kant's Ethics and the Problem of Self-Deception"

Neil Roberts, "The Critique of Racial Liberalism: An Interview with Charles W. Mills"

Tommie Shelby, "Race and Ethnicity, Race and Social Justice: Rawlsian Considerations"

Georgette Sinkler, "Ockham and Ambiguity"

Darian Spearman, "The Philosophical Significance of Slave Narratives"

Kenneth Taylor, "The Syntax and Pragmatics of the Naming Relation"

Mariam Thalos, "Two Conceptions of Collectivity"

Cornel West, "The Dilemma of the Black Intellectual"

Ajume Wingo, "Akan Philosophy of the Person" 

George Yancy, "I am a Dangerous Professor"


Philosophers (with links to their web pages)

Birt, Robert E.
Boaheng, Paul
Bodunrin, Peter ( -1997)
Boni, Tanella
Buffington, Lina
Burton, Roxanne
Butler, Broadus N. (1920-1996)
Carew, George
Carter, Jacoby A.
Cassell, Lisa R.
Cavers-Huff, Daseia (1961-2007)
CheeMooke, Robert A. (1939-2010)
Cherry, Myisha
Davis, Angela 
Davis, Illya
Davis, Nena
Dawson, Clanton
Decker, Johnathan P.
Dent, Gina
DeVries, Sandra
Diagne, Souleymane Bachir
Dotson, Kristie
Du Bois, W.E.B. (1868-1963)
Dunham, Jr., Albert Millard (1906-1949)
Eddins, Berkley (1926-2009)
Edwards, Tracy A.
Emagalit, Zeverin
Etieyibo, Edwin
Gbotokuma, Zekeh
Mazrui, Ali A. (1933-2014)
Mbiti, John S.
McAllister, Winston Kermit (1920-1976)
McBride, Lee 
Serequeberhan, Tsenay
Sharpley-Whiting, Tracy Denean
Shelby, Tommie
Shelton, LaVerne
Watson, Charles H.
Williams, Samuel W. (1912-1970)
Valentine, Desiree
Vanterpool, Rudolph V.