Perspective and Epistemic State Ascriptions

Abstract

This article explores whether perspective taking has an impact on the ascription of epistemic states. To do so, a new method is introduced which incites participants to imagine themselves in the position of the protagonist of a short vignette and to judge from her perspective. In a series of experiments (total N=1980), perspective proves to have a significant impact on belief ascriptions, but not on knowledge ascriptions. For belief, perspective is further found to moderate the epistemic side-effect effect significantly. It is hypothesized that the surprising findings are driven by the special epistemic authority we enjoy in assessing our own belief states, which does not extend to the assessment of our own knowledge states.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    For the similarities and differences of guilty mind ascriptions in moral judgment and criminal jurisprudence, cf. Duff (1989) and Moore (2011).

  2. 2.

    The effect has been widely replicated (Knobe 2003a, b, 2004b; Mele and Cushman 2007). It holds across cultures (Knobe and Burra 2006) and ages (Leslie et al. 2006), and is just as robust for professional lawyers and judges as for laymen (Kneer and Bourgeois-Gironde 2017a, forthcoming, 2017b). For a brief overview, see Feltz (2007) as well as Cova (2016). Cova and Naar (2012) report an asymmetry in intentionality ascriptions without relying on side-effect scenarios.

  3. 3.

    Whether the side-effects in Knobe’s scenarios should indeed be understood as knowingly incurred is by now a topic of controversy, because a similar asymmetry arises in epistemic state ascriptions for the same scenarios (cf. Beebe and Buckwalter 2010; Beebe and Jensen 2012). More on this below.

  4. 4.

    Only a few are quoted here, though Alfano and colleagues defend similar heuristics for desiring p, being in favour of p, advocating p and other attitudes that have been shown to be susceptible to the Knobe effect.

  5. 5.

    The content of the various doxastic heuristics does not require belief as a necessary condition for the target mental states. A strong, yet defeasible relationship holding for ordinary cases is sufficient. The agents, of course, need not to be explicitly aware of the heuristics.

  6. 6.

    What constitutes responsible priming is a matter of extensive debate. Suffice it to say for now that in the experiments below the topic is addressed in detail. As will be shown, providing participants in the observer conditions with a third-person POVAP analogue does not alter the results.

  7. 7.

    Beebe (2013), cf. also Sverdlik (2004).

  8. 8.

    Colaço, Kneer, Alexander & Machery, On second thought: A refutation of the reflection defense (ms.) employ a number of manipulations used in social psychology and experimental economics to increase deliberation. In a series of five experiments testing classic philosophical thought-experiments, not a single manipulation had a significant impact on judgment. Similarly, studies by Schwitzgebel and Cushman (2012, 2015) find that the judgments of laymen and trained philosophers, with their penchant for careful and extensive deliberation, manifest very little difference. For further discussion of reflective judgment, cf. Alexander and Weinberg (2007), Weinberg et al. (2012).

  9. 9.

    Note that blame ascriptions differed significantly across conditions for all three scenarios, which suggests that the normative differences were indeed salient to the participants. There was no significant difference for blame ascriptions across perspectives, which blocks a defence of Alfano et al.’s account according to which the actor perspective reduces the salience of norm-violation (cf. for instance, Robinson et al. 2015) .

  10. 10.

    Cf. Malle et al. (2007).

  11. 11.

    The term actor/observer asymmetry should be used with care, as it was originally intended to refer to the difference in explanation types regarding the behaviour of oneself v. others (cf. Jones and Nisbett 1971), rather than perspective effects broadly conceived.

  12. 12.

    In fact, our results are broadly consistent with such an unorthodox view of epistemology: For half of the four conditions of the sales experiment, and all of the four conditions of the chairman and movies experiments, mean knowledge ascriptions significantly exceed mean belief ascriptions.

  13. 13.

    For an interesting discussion of the results of Myers-Schulz and Schwitzgebel, see Rose and Schaffer (2013) and Buckwalter et al. (2015).

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Acknowledgements

Thanks to Mark Alfano, James Beebe, Wesley Buckwalter, Quassim Cassam, Florian Cova, Simon Cullen, Stefanie Kneer, Edouard Machery, Barry Maguire, Blake Myers-Schulz, Obioma Ofoego, Brian Robinson, David Rose, John Turri and three anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments. I am particularly grateful to Joshua Knobe and Brent Strickland for very helpful feedback.

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Kneer, M. Perspective and Epistemic State Ascriptions. Rev.Phil.Psych. 9, 313–341 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13164-017-0361-4

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