No Match Point for the Permissibility Account

Abstract

In the literature, one finds two accounts of the normative status of rational belief: the ought account and the permissibility account. Both accounts have their advantages and shortcomings, making it difficult to favour one over the other. Imagine that there were two principles of rational belief or rational degrees of belief commonly considered plausible, but which, however, yielded a paradox together with one account, but not with the other. One of the accounts therefore requires us to give up one of the plausible principles; whereas the other allows us to save them both. The fact that it allows us to save both of the plausible principles might well be considered a strong reason in favour of the relevant account. The permissibility-account-based resolution of the lottery paradox suggests that the permissibility account is a candidate for being supported in this way, since the account seems to save two plausible principles of rational belief and rational degrees of belief. I argue that even if the permissibility account were supported in this way the support would be defeated, since one cannot provide an analogous resolution of the preface paradox. The principles remain unsaved by the permissibility account.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Notes

  1. 1.

    In epistemology the terms ‘rational’ and ‘justified’ are often used synonymously. I will adopt this usage, and will pretend that the authors I discuss do likewise. Furthermore, in this paper I am concerned with propositional rationality, or justification—as understood by Moretti, who characterises it as follows:

    A subject has propositional justification for a proposition \(P\) just in case \(P\) is epistemically worthy of being believed by her whether or not she believes \(P\) for the right reason or at all. (Moretti 2014: Fn. 1)

    For the sake of simplicity, phrases of the form ‘one is rational to believe that \(p\)’ are used synonymously with phrases of the form ‘one is rational in believing that \(p\)’, and even with ‘one’s belief in \(p\) is rational’.

  2. 2.

    See Brössel et al. (2013) and Kelly (2003, 2007) for the consequentialism vs. non-consequentialism debate. See Goldman (1980) and Pollock (1987) for the internalism vs. externalism debate. See White (2005, 2014) and Kelly (2014) for the debate on rational disagreement. In the present paper I presuppose a deontic conception of the normative status of rational belief: the normative status of rational belief is stated in terms of obligations or permissions. However, this is not to say that I think that this conception of normative status is always adequate. In Eder 2015 I argue for a pluralistic account of the adequate normative status of rational belief. Depending on the purpose for which the respective theory of rational belief is being proposed, the normative status may be an evaluative status (stated in evaluative terms such as in terms of goodness or badness) or a deontic status (stated in deontic terms such as in terms of obligations or permissions). It is beyond the scope of this paper to give the details here.

  3. 3.

    For the sake of simplicity, in this paper it is presupposed that ‘ought’, ‘must’, and ‘is obliged’ are synonymous. Nothing I shall argue for hangs on the exact reading of these expressions. What is relevant is that ‘ought’—as understood here—has a deontic and not an evaluative reading. It is often not clear whether proponents of the ought account share this latter presupposition.

  4. 4.

    Kroedel presents his resolution of the lottery paradox in terms of justified belief. However, he claims that it can be employed just as well if one refers to rational belief instead (2012: 59). The lottery paradox, the preface paradox, and the mentioned principles were originally presented in terms of rational belief (see Makinson 1965: 205; Foley 1992: 111; Kyburg 1961: 197; the latter refers to rational acceptance, seemingly meaning rational belief). Moreover, ‘justified belief’ and ‘rational belief’ are often used synonymously. Thus, I refer only to rational belief, and will pretend Kroedel does likewise.

  5. 5.

    The lottery paradox was first presented by Kyburg (1961). The preface paradox is due to Makinson (1965).

  6. 6.

    It is noteworthy that this does not imply that one is permitted to believe and disbelieve the same proposition at the same time. Permissibility does not agglomerate; we will come back to this shortly.

  7. 7.

    Nelson, for example, claims something in this line: “Given th[e] same visual evidence, which propositions should I not believe? On the permissive view [which Nelson endorses], the answer is simple: other things being equal, I should believe nothing that is clearly incompatible with any beliefs that are on balance licensed for me” (Nelson 2010: 87).

  8. 8.

    See also Kroedel (2012): 58. The paradox’s premises are made more explicit here. This helps to better compare the lottery and the preface paradox and to clarify how far both paradoxes rest on both principles.

  9. 9.

    To be more precise, in order to replace ‘rational’ by ‘permitted’ in a context which concerns degrees of belief, we require the following principle:

    (PERMISSIBILITY*) :

    For each proposition, one is rational to believe it to a high degree iff one is permitted to have a high degree of belief in it.

    I think that if one accepts PERMISSIBILITY, one is also committed to accepting PERMISSIBILITY*. However, my objections against the permissibility resolution do not depend on this.

  10. 10.

    It is noteworthy that one may object right from the outset that the sentence ‘For each ticket, one is permitted to believe that it will lose’ is not ambiguous and that the narrow scope reading of ‘permitted’ is the correct one (Wolfgang Spohn in conversation), and thus that CLOSURE, or CLOSURE*, is false and CLOSURE** is correct. However, what is decisive is that permissibility does not agglomerate. By contrast, if one adopted the ought account and replaced ‘permitted’ by ‘ought’, the respective proposal would not work since oughts do agglomerate.

  11. 11.

    This example furthermore shows very well that permissibility does not agglomerate in practical cases. While Littlejohn agrees that permission does not agglomerate in practical cases, he considers it to be plausible that it agglomerates in epistemic cases. He presents possible ways to argue in defence of agglomeration in epistemic cases (2013: 236–238). In this paper I assume—with Kroedel—that epistemic permission does not agglomerate. For lack of space I cannot discuss the issue here, and for the purposes of the present paper such a discussion is not necessary. It is not an aim of the paper to show that Kroedel is wrong with respect to the lottery paradox.

  12. 12.

    I am grateful to an anonymous reviewer for making me aware of the need to expand my remarks on this strategy.

  13. 13.

    That one knows that at least one assertion in the book is not true is stated in the book’s preface; thus the label ‘preface paradox’.

  14. 14.

    As Hannes Leitgeb pointed out to me in conversation, the falsity of C*\(^P\) may not be as obvious as the falsity of C*\(^L\). However, it follows from (i) PREFACE and (ii) if one knows a proposition, then one ought not to disbelieve it.

  15. 15.

    Relevant aspects might include whether the proposition gets evidential support and if so how much, the proposition’s relationship to other propositions, and background assumptions of the agent.

  16. 16.

    Note that although the PRINCIPLE OF FACTUAL DETACHMENT is not acceptable, this does not imply that there is no instance of it that is acceptable.

References

  1. BonJour, L. (1980). Externalist theories of empirical knowledge. Midwest Studies in Philosophy, 5, 53–73.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Brössel, P., Eder, A.-M. A., & Huber, F. (2013). Evidential support and instrumental rationality. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 87, 279–300.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Eder, A.-M. A. (2015). A study on the foundations of theories of epistemically rational belief and some applications. (Unpublished Manuscript).

  4. Feldman, R., & Conee, E. (1985). Evidentialism. Philosophical Studies, 48, 15–34.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Field, H. (2009). What is the normative role of logic. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 83, 251–268.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Foley, R. (1992). The epistemology of belief and the epistemology of degrees of belief. American Philosophical Quarterly, 29, 111–124.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Goldman, A. (1980). The internalist conception of justification. Midwest Studies in Philosophy, 5, 27–51.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Harman, G. (2002). Internal critique: A logic is not a theory of reasoning and a theory of reasoning is not a logic. In D. M. Gabbay, et al. (Eds.), Handbook of the logic of argument and inference: The turn towards the practical (Vol. 1, pp. 171–186). Amsterdam: Elsevier.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Hintikka, J. (1962). Knowledge and belief: An introduction to the logic of the two notions. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Kelly, T. (2003). Epistemic rationality as instrumental rationality: A critique. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 66, 612–640.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Kelly, T. (2007). Evidence and normativity: Reply to Leite. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 75, 465–474.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Kelly, T. (2014). Evidence can be permissive. In M. Steup, J. Turri, & E. Sosa (Eds.), Contemporary debates in epistemology (pp. 298–312). Hoboken: Wiley.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Kroedel, T. (2012). The lottery paradox, epistemic justification and permissibility. Analysis, 72, 57–60.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Kroedel, T. (2013a). The permissibility solution of the lottery paradox—Reply to Littlejohn. Logos and Episteme, 4, 103–111.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Kroedel, T. (2013b). Why epistemic permissions don’t agglomerate—Another reply to Littlejohn. Logos and Episteme, 4, 451–455.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Kyburg, H. E. (1961). Probability and the logic of rational belief. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Leitgeb, H. (2014). The review paradox: On the diachronic costs of not closing rational belief under conjunction. Noûs, 48, 781–793.

  18. Levi, I. (1967). Gambling with the Truth: An essay on induction and the aims of science. Cambridge: MIT Press.

  19. Littlejohn, C. (2012). Lotteries, probabilities, and permissions. Logos and Episteme, 3, 509–514.

  20. Littlejohn, C. (2013). Don’t know, don’t believe: Reply to Kroedel. Logos and Episteme, 4, 231–238.

  21. Makinson, D. C. (1965). Paradox of the preface. Analysis, 25, 205–207.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Moretti, L. (2014). The dogmatist, Moore’s proof and transmission failure. Analysis, 74, 382–389.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Nelson, M. (2010). We have no positive epistemic duties. Mind, 119, 83–102.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Pollock, J. (1987). Epistemic norms. Synthese, 71, 61–95.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Poston, T. (2008). Internalism and externalism in epistemology. In J. Fieser & B. Dowden (Eds.), Internet encylopedia of philosophy. http://www.iep.utm.edu/int-ext/

  26. Spohn, W. (2012). The laws of belief: Ranking theory and its philosophical applications. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  27. Steup, M. (2000). Doxastic voluntarism and epistemic deontology. Acta Analytica, 15, 25–56.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Steup, M. (2012). Epistemology. In E. N. Zalta (Ed.), The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy (Winter 2012 Edition). http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2012/entries/epistemology/

  29. van Fraassen, B. (1985). Empiricism in the philosophy of science. In P. M. Churchland & C. A. Hooker (Eds.), Images of science: Essays on realism and empiricism, with a Reply from Bas C. van Fraassen (pp. 245–308). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  30. van Fraassen, B. (2000). The false hopes of traditional epistemology. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 60, 253–280.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. White, R. (2005). Epistemic permissiveness. Philosophical Perspective, 19, 445–459.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. White, R. (2014). Evidence cannot be permissive. In M. Steup, J. Turri, & E. Sosa (Eds.), Contemporary debates in epistemology (pp. 312–323). Hoboken: Wiley.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

Thanks to Peter Brössel, Thomas Kroedel, Hannes Leitgeb, Wolfgang Spohn, Raphael van Riel, and Ben Young for insightful suggestions and comments on previous versions of this paper. I am also grateful to three anonymous referees for providing very helpful remarks. My research was funded by the Volkswagenstiftung (Dilthey Program) through the research project A Study in Explanatory Power at the University of Duisburg-Essen as well as by a fellowship (Stipendium nach dem Landesgraduiertenförderungsgesetz) sponsored by the State of Baden-Württemberg (Germany).

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Anna-Maria Asunta Eder.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Eder, AM.A. No Match Point for the Permissibility Account. Erkenn 80, 657–673 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10670-014-9709-7

Download citation

Keywords

  • Strong Reason
  • Rational Belief
  • Epistemic Justification
  • Ticket Lottery
  • Total Evidence