Seemings as sui generis

Abstract

The epistemic value of seemings is increasingly debated. Such debates are hindered, however, by a lack of consensus about the nature of seemings. There are four prominent conceptions in the literature, and the plausibility of principles such as phenomenal conservatism, which assign a prominent epistemic role to seemings, varies greatly from one conception to another. It is therefore crucial that we identify the correct conception of seemings. I argue that seemings are best understood as sui generis mental states with propositional content and a distinct phenomenal character. Rival conceptions are shown to succumb to numerous difficulties.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    It should be noted that my strategy does not commit one to the position that intuitions are good evidence in general or that philosophy generally proceeds on the basis of intuition. I’m only making an assumption about the particular matter at hand.

  2. 2.

    In such a case, we might say either that many different kinds of states can count as seemings or that there are no such things as seemings, only a variety of different states by virtue of which something seems true. The difference is, I think, merely terminological.

  3. 3.

    Tucker cites early Lycan (1988) and Swinburne (2001) as proponents of the Belief View. It is also worth including in this camp those who think of intuitions as beliefs since intuitions are often taken to be one kind of seeming. These include Devitt (2006), Goldman and Pust (1998), Gopnik and Schwitzgebel (1998), Kornblith (1998), Lewis (1983), and Ludwig (2007) among others. Chudnoff notes that conceiving of intuitions as beliefs (or inclinations to believe) is especially prominent among those who focus on the experimental data concerning intuitions. See, for example, some of the essays in French and Wettstein (2007) and Knobe and Nichols (2008).

  4. 4.

    Tucker points to Rogers and Matheson (2011), Sosa (1998, 2007), and once again Swinburne (2001) as proponents of this view. Taylor (2015) defends this view though may not endorse it. We should also include those, like Earlenbaugh and Molyneux (2009) and (perhaps) Williamson (2004, 2007) who think that intuitions are inclinations to believe.

  5. 5.

    Tucker tags Bealer (2000), Chudnoff (2011), Cullison (2010), Huemer (2001, 2007), Lycan (2013), Pryor (2000), Skene (2013), and Tucker (2010) as proponents of this view. I would add Bedke (2008), Bengson (2010), Bergmann (2013a, b), Koksvik (2011), Markie (2013), McGrath (2013), and Pust (2000). Bealer (2000), Bergmann (2013a, b), Cullison (2010, 2013), Huemer (2001, 2007, 2013b), Pryor (2000), and Skene (2013) all specifically designate seemings as propositional attitudes. Other proponents of the experience view refer to seemings more generally, as experiences or representational mental states. Byerly (2012, pp. 774–775) makes an interesting case that propositional attitudes are not experiences. If his argument works, I am prepared to deny that seemings are propositional attitudes. My main claim is just that seemings are sui generis mental states with propositional content and a distinct phenomenal character.

  6. 6.

    The view in Conee (2013) seems to be present all the way back in Conee (2004), but it was not discussed in debates about seemings until recently.

  7. 7.

    See, e.g., Hanna (2011), Huemer (2001), Tooley (2013).

  8. 8.

    Among those who raise this objection are Bealer (2000), Bergmann (2013b), Cullison (2010), Chudnoff (2011), Huemer (2001, 2007), Koksvik (2011), and Tucker (2013).

  9. 9.

    The Naïve Comprehension axiom is another standard example that could be used here.

  10. 10.

    Gage (2014, p. 30) suggests that what still seems true is only that one line appears longer, not that one line is longer. This may be true of some, but to others it remains true that one line seems longer than the other. At the very least, it certainly seems possible that there be intuitions for something we know to be false, in which case one could have a seeming that p whilst not believing that p.

  11. 11.

    See Koksvik (2011, p. 44ff) for more discussion on these matters.

  12. 12.

    Lyons (2009, chapter 3, section 2) offers a more detailed account of how this is possible.

  13. 13.

    I should add, by way of parting, that Lyon’s insight about the possibility of a token seeming being identical to a belief is perfectly compatible with the Experience View, which says only that the kind seemings is sui generis and distinct from the kind beliefs.

  14. 14.

    McCain (2012, p. 48) questions whether we can even have evidence for seemings like we can have evidence for beliefs.

  15. 15.

    Huemer (2001, pp. 97–98) argues that seemings can be justified or unjustified. C.f. McGrath (2013) on quasi-inferential seemings. See Huemer (2013a) for more differences between beliefs and seemings.

  16. 16.

    This argument is usually given against identifying seemings with inclinations to believe, but it applies mutatis mutandis to beliefs. See Sect. 3.

  17. 17.

    Above, Lyons (2009, 2013) argues that a token representation, R, can simultaneously possess the properties of being a seeming and of being a belief, in which case the seeming and the belief are the same state. Would this prevent that seeming from even partially explaining why we have that belief? I don’t think so. To explain why we have this belief, we must explain how R came to possess the property of being a belief, and R’s property of being a seeming could play an explanatory role in how R came to possess the new property of being a belief. A quarterback’s pass can gain the property of being a touchdown pass partially by virtue of possessing other properties such as having a certain velocity, initial direction, flight pattern, etc. Similarly, R can gain the property of being a belief partially in virtue of possessing the property of being a seeming. (Furthermore, I do not think there is any problem with a seeming justifying or serving as a reason for belief in cases where the same token representation is both a seeming and a belief, contra Lyons (2013, p. 24). Just as an action’s having the property of, say, bringing about a lot of pleasure can, in conjunction with other things, bring it about that this action is morally justified, so R’s having the property of being a seeming can bring it about both that R has the property of being a belief and that R has the property of being a justified belief).

  18. 18.

    I would classify Earlenbaugh and Molyneux as proponents of the Inclination View, though they only claim that intuitions (rather than seemings more generally) are inclinations to believe.

  19. 19.

    See also Sosa (2007, pp. 49–50), on prima facie versus resultant attractions.

  20. 20.

    Chudnoff (2011) is explicit about this.

  21. 21.

    Chudnoff (2011, pp. 632–634) also stresses that Earlenbaugh and Molyneux need an error theory for their response to be plausible.

  22. 22.

    This basic argument is employed in Huemer (2007) and Cullison (2010).

  23. 23.

    Notice that Taylor’s response applies mutatis mutandis to the parallel argument against the Belief View. The same is true of my response to Taylor.

  24. 24.

    Taylor (2015, pp. 17–20). See Chisholm (1957) on the comparative use of “seems”. See also Huemer (2013b, section 1.3) for an argument that there is no need to distinguish multiple usages of “seems” or “appears” as Chisholm does.

  25. 25.

    Even proponents of the inclination view admit this (see Taylor 2015, p. 2).

  26. 26.

    See Bergmann (2013a, p. 156), Cullison (2010, pp. 264–265), Huemer (2007, p. 31), and Tolhurst (1998, pp. 297–298).

  27. 27.

    There may be other senses in which these faculties are not designed to secure true beliefs. If so, they are not obvious and require explanation. The result would be that we would not really have explained what it is for an inclination to be truth-directed. We just would have shifted the discussion to faculties designed to secure true belief. Without an answer to this new question, we have only moved the wrinkled, not removed it.

  28. 28.

    Perhaps our mental states do not cause our inclinations but stand in some other explanatory relation to them: e.g. in the way that reasons are sometimes thought to non-causally explain choices. I’ll talk about the “causes” of our inclinations rather than their “psychological explanations” for convenience.

  29. 29.

    Or, perhaps, the apparent truth of propositions that apparently support the proposition one is inclined to believe.

  30. 30.

    Though the view is hinted at in Conee’s earlier work. See Conee (2004, p. 15). To be clear, Conee (2013, p. 54) suggests but stops short of endorsing this conception of seemings. Nonetheless, the Taking-Evidence View is being treated as a major theory about the nature of seemings and so deserves our attention here.

  31. 31.

    See Huemer (2013b, pp. 335–336) for more discussion on this point.

  32. 32.

    I do not intend to enter into controversies surrounding norms of assertion. Most will agree with this statement or something comparable (e.g. I also need to know that I am in M before appropriately asserting “I am in M”).

  33. 33.

    See, for example, Huemer’s plausible counterexample in Huemer (2013b, p. 335).

  34. 34.

    Cullison (2013, pp. 34–35).

  35. 35.

    Cullison (2013, pp. 35–36) discusses this point in more detail.

  36. 36.

    At least, it is familiar to a great many of us. Those who mention forcefulness (or something comparable to it) and, thus, indicate some introspective familiarity with it, include Audi (2013), Bealer (2000), Bedke (2008), Bengson (2010), Bergmann (2013b), Chudnoff (2011), Heck (2000), Huemer (2001), Koksvik (2011), Markie (2013), McCain (2014), McGrath (2013), Plantinga (1993), Pryor (2000), Pust (2000), Skene (2013), Tolhurst (1998), and Tucker (2010). Arguably, Augustine, Descartes, Locke, and a great many others could be in this list as well.

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Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Jonathan Kvanvig for detailed feedback throughout the entire writing process.

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Correspondence to Blake McAllister.

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McAllister, B. Seemings as sui generis. Synthese 195, 3079–3096 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11229-017-1360-9

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Keywords

  • Seemings
  • Appearances
  • Intuitions
  • Phenomenal conservatism
  • Dogmatism