Sunday, December 19, 2010

Reliablism and the Value of Justification: The Angel's Offer

A major objection to reliablism about justification is that it doesn't explain why we value having knowledge of a given proposition more than mere dogmatic true belief. For, believing a true proposition via a method that's reliable is just more likely to lead you to believe other true propositions; there's no obvious sense in which your relationship to true beliefs formed by reliable methods is thereby intrinsically any better or more valuable than you relation to mere true beliefs. If we don't like a particular cup of good expresso any better for it being the product of a machine that reliably makes good expresso, why should we like a particular state of believing a truth any better from the fact that it was produced by processes that reliably lead to believing the truth?

But maybe we DON'T value having the special relation we do to justified true beliefs over and above it's tendency to promote having stable true beliefs. Consider this thought experiment:

An angel convinces you that he knows the true laws of physics and maybe also that it can do super-tasks and thereby knows certain statements of number theory which cannot be proved from axioms which you currently accept. The angel offers to make it the case that you find these true principles feel obvious to you - the way that you now feel about 'I exist' or '2+2=4'. He will wipe your memory of this conversation so that you will not be able justify these feelings to yourself by appeal to the reliable way you got them - but of course you won't feel the need to justify them to yourself since they will just feel obvious and you will be inclined to immediately accept them. [Suppose also, if it matters, the angel will do the same to everyone in your community, that community members prefer to go along with whatever choice you make, that the angel is already going to blur your memories of not finding these claims obvious in the past etc.]
Would you accept the offer?

I personally would definitely take the offer. And I think many people would share this preference. If there were something intrinsically valuable about knowing verses merely dogmatically assuming a necessary truth, then this would be a strong reason not to take the angels offer. But if Plato is right (as thinking about the example tempts me to think that he is) to say that the only bad thing about dogmatically assuming truths rather than knowing them is that dogmatic assumptions don't stay tied down, then the angel's offer to make you and everyone else in your community find these truths indubitable fixes that problem - and you should take him up on his offer.

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