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The Dogmatists and Wright on Moore’s “Proof”

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Suppose one has a visual experience as of having hands, and then reasons as follows: (MOORE) (1) I have hands, (2) If I have hands an external world exists; (3) An external world exists. Suppose one’s visual experience gives one defeasible perceptual warrant, or justification, to believe (1) – that is, one’s experience makes it epistemically appropriate to believe (1). And suppose one comes to believe (1) on the basis of this visual experience. The conditional premise (2) is knowable a priori. And (3) can be established by modus ponens inference. If one reasons thus, say one’s engaged in (MOORE)-reasoning. What, if anything, is wrong with (MOORE)-reasoning? I consider two prominent responses to this question – the dogmatists’ and Crispin Wright’s. Each finds fault in (MOORE)-reasoning, but on different grounds. I argue Wright’s response faces a problem which is standardly only taken to be faced by dogmatists.

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23. fn1 1 This experience can be – indeed often for Wright it is – taken to feature as a premise. If it is so taken we will construe the transition from having this experience to coming to believe one has hands as (inductively) inferential. This is relevant to Wright’s – but not the dogmatists’ – focus on the claimabilityof warrant. I think this potential disconnect can be safely bracketed here.
24. fn2 2 This conditional need not – indeed for Wright it does not – feature as a premise.
25. fn3 3 Wright (2003, 57) has a similar sufficient condition for non-transmission. My ensuing claims go through, mutatis mutandis, operating with Wright’s condition for non-transmission.
26. fn4 4 Further understanding of why, for Wright, (WC)is exceptionless while (β) has exceptions must await introduction of Wright’s notion of entitlement(see 1.2 infra). Endorsement of (WC), coupled with rejection of a closure principle specifically for evidential justification, is relevant to Wright’s response to the leachingproblem (see 2.2 infra) – the problem providing the stimulus for my claims to come.
27. fn5 5 Other candidate dogmatists are Burge (1993, 2003), Davies (2004, 2009), Peacocke (2003), and Pollock (1986). As a positive matter, dogmatists take the warrant one gets for (1) on the basis of one’s visual experience to be immediate– that is, it does not rest on antecedent warrant for any other propositions.
28. fn6 6 The thesis preceding the semi-colon and the thesis following it are both-waysindependent. Indeed, Pryor himself only explicitly commitsto what precedes the semi-colon – the notion of negative entitlement is Davies’s (2004). At this point in the paper no particular substantive notion of entitlement itselfis yet operative (cf. 1.2 infrawhere Wright’s notion is introduced). I characterise negative entitlement as the conjunction of these two theses, but this is merely stipulative. Moreover, one might endorse the thesis preceding the semi-colon while maintaining one in fact hasantecedent warrant for (3) – see Silins (2007).
29. fn7 7 Again, the thesis preceding the semi-colon and the thesis following it are both-waysindependent. I characterise positive entitlement as the conjunction of these two theses, but this is merely stipulative.
30. fn8 8 Cf. Cohen (1999), 76: “[W]e can allow that it is non-evidentially rational to deny that I am a brain-in-a-vat []…Let us also suppose that I can not come to know I have a hand simply on the basis of my empirical evidence (its seeming like I have a hand)…Still we can say that my empirical evidence, in conjunction with the non-evidential rationality of denying I am a brain-in-a-vat [] issufficient for me to know I have a hand.” And cf. also White (2006), 552–3: “Suppose…we…insist that in order to gain perceptual justification for believing that P, we must have independent justification for believing that we are not victims of a visual illusion that P. We could nevertheless insist that we have a kind of default justification for assuming the general reliability of our perceptual faculties… [J]ustification for ruling out skeptical alternatives…is available a priori by default.” Cohen’s notion of non-evidential rationality, in particular, bears clear similarities to Wright’s notion of non-evidential warrant (see 1.2 infra).
31. fn9 9 I thus highlight Wright’s Humean, rather than Cartesian, pattern of sceptical argument.
32. fn10 10 Wright, following Wittgenstein, also refers to cornerstones as “hinge propositions,” but I bracket this as talk of propositions is not easy to square with non-truth-evaluability. Finally, for an interesting view that Wright’s and Wittgenstein’s conceptions of hinge propositions come apart, see Pritchard (2005), 204–5.
33. fn11 11 Pryor (2004, 355–6) ignores this aspect of Wright’s epistemology “to keep our discussion manageable.” Unfortunately, without more, manageability is here achieved at the cost of distortion.
34. fn12 12 My footnote: Davies adds elsewhere: “[A] fuller treatment of the project of settling the question would have to allow for the case where I begin by supposing that it is as likely as not that Q is false” (2009, 369). So principledor mandated agnosticism(see Wright 2007) about Q – in which one assigns a credence of 0.5 to both Q and its negation – is a form of suppositional doubt about Q.
35. fn13 13 Pryor (2004, forthcoming) suggests the problem with (MOORE)-reasoning is not epistemic, but rather dialectical.
36. fn14 14 Wright and Wittgenstein differ here, in that for the latter, but not the former, doubt about cornerstones is not meaningful(and hence is not rationally possible). For Wright, doubts about cornerstones aremeaningful (and can be responded to by showing that they rest on a mistaken conception of warrant for cornerstones). But for such doubts to be meaningful is not yet for them to be rationally possible. More on this later, in section 3.
37. fn15 15 Wright’s (2007, sections II & IV) is a general strategy to deal with “justificational triads”resembling (MOORE) whose subject-matter include “other minds, the laws of nature, the future, and the substantial past” (all of which can be “called into (Humean) sceptical doubt”).
38. fn16 16 Cf. Davies (2004, 222–3) who describes such reasoning as epistemic alchemy.
39. fn17 17 See also my third response to Wright at 2.5 infrafor a further concession to Wright.
40. fn18 18 I also leave open pro temwhether “evidential relations themselves are […] so closed” (Wright 2004, 178). There is a complication here. In Wright’s presentationof the leaching problem, he talks of closure under “known” entailment. Then, in his responseto the leaching problem, he puts “known/justifiably believed” in brackets when considering the entailment. Finally, in a footnote (2004, 178 n. 9), he appears to be focusing on a closure principle where the entailment needn’t be known or justifiably believed. Throughout, I focus on the most plausible such principles in which the entailment is known/justifiably-believed (cf. n. 28 infra).
41. fn19 19 See Wright (2004, 205; 2008, 506 n. 3) for inchoate answers not committed to(3)’s non-factuality.
42. fn20 20 It must be conceded that, if Wright holds to various (Wittgensteinian) aspects of the (1985)-view, then he is not open to the MOORE-TRANSMITproblem. But it is far from clear that Wright does now hold to all those aspects of the (1985)-view. (D), then, can be viewed as a minimal claim offered as a starting point for engagement with a Wright-like character who does not hold to all those aspects of the (1985)-view (cf. also (MOORE-EW)and (EW), introduced later at 2.9, for further minimal claims with a similar function).
43. fn21 21 My note: Bach uses the asterisks “to leave it open whether *statements* and *beliefs* in a given area really are true or false and qualify as genuine statements and beliefs.” So it is noteworthy that the asterisks are removed when Bach next uses “statements” and “beliefs,” in the second italicised portion of this passage.
44. fn22 22 On a natural reading, Bach’s point is that utterances of these sentences are not literally true or false, yet these utterances express thoughts or beliefs that are true or false. The sentences, even as uttered on a particular occasion, are not literally true or false because they do not specify something that is crucial for truth evaluation. Yet we use the sentences to express propositions that are true or false, propositions to which we adopt attitudes such as belief or doubt – and to which we adopt these attitudes sometimes with, but sometimes without, justification or warrant. So Bach’s point depends on the distinction between sentences (or utterances thereof), on the one hand, and propositions (or attitudes towards propositions), on the other hand. It seems clear, however – our concession –, that neither Wright’s nor Wittgenstein’s notion of “non-factual” relates to sentences that are neither true nor false being used to express propositions or thoughts that are true or false.
45. fn23 23 Cf. Wright (2004), 176. To allow for non-evidential warrant to believe(3) would complicate things considerably.
46. fn24 24 It cannot be that thesis (γ) is met while thesis (α) is not: (simplifying) if it must be antecedently and independently reasonable to evidentially accept the conclusion, it must be antecedently and independently reasonable to accept the conclusion. And so theses (α) and (γ) are not both-waysindependent.
47. fn25 25 Recall, transmission failure is the result of circularity. There is circularity of inclusive (disjunctive) warrant; but there is no circularity of evidential warrant. There is, I come to show, not first-time inclusive warrant for (3); but there is first-time evidential warrant for (3).
48. fn26 26 (γ*)’s twin transmissionprinciple reads:(δ*) Transmission of evidentialwarrantA valid argument transmits evidential warrant if to have warrant for its premises and then to recognise its validity is to acquire – perhaps for the first time – a warrant (disjunctively-construed) to accept the conclusion.
49. fn27 27 Of course, the number of “premises” may be one: the relevant argument may be single-premise (cf. n. 2 supra).
50. fn28 28 So we here end up opposing Wright’s view that: (MOORE) is a locus for a counterexample to evidentially justified belief being closed under known/justifiably-believed entailment (in part) for the reason that we cannot justifiably believe (3). Consistently with this, we may ultimately wish to join Wright in rejecting this (doxastic) closure principle. We also here end up opposing Wright’s view that (MOORE) is a locus for a counterexample to “evidential relations themselves [being] so closed” (cf. n. 18 supra).
51. fn29 29 If Wright were to adopt the view that cornerstones are no longer to be regarded as non-factual, room for (suppositional) doubt mightopen up. But insofar as cornerstones are still presuppositionalin our various cognitive projects, it’s not clear how such doubt could be explained.
52. fn30 30 These responses are, concededly, only given summary treatment here, and merit more detailed consideration. The claim of this final section is, though, we’ve already noted, tentative and separable.
53. fn31 31 Strictly, to make this claim, the final sentence of Wittgenstein’s must be: There is a second only if there is a first.
54. fn32 32 A (undeveloped) candidate: For the dogmatist, (MOORE)-reasoning provides a route to a wholly new warrant to believe (3). But for Wright it only provides an earned warrant to believe something that one already had an unearned warrant to trust.
55. fn33 33 Thanks to Martin Davies, Ross Ford, Mike Martin, Lee Walters, and José Zalabardo for stimulating discussion, and to a referee for the journal for helpful comments.

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