Filters and Reliable Cognitive Faculties
August 26, 2008 — 16:09

Author: Michael Almeida  Category: Uncategorized  Comments: 6

O. Mirza has lately defended the claim in (C), indeed it is central to his overall argument for a viable EAAN.
C. Naturalists that accept the Probability Thesis have good reason to doubt or deny that the operation of the process of natural selection that resulted in the creation of human cognitive faculties involved a filter of unreliable faculties.
The Probability Thesis (PT) states the following.
PT. Either P(R/N&E) is low or P(R/N&E) is inscrutable.
The conclusion in (C) is supposed to follow from (A) and (B) for anyone who accepts (PT). But the argument seems mistaken.
A. If P(R/N&E) is low, then the evolutionary process responsible for creating human cognitive faculties did not involve a filter of unreliable cognitive faculties.
Let K stand for the sentential operator ‘The naturalist is capable of rationally accepting that’, and (B) states the following,
B. If P(R/N&E) is inscrutable, then ~K(the evolutionary process responsible for creating human cognitive faculties involved a filter of unreliable faculties).
It follows from (A) and (B), and the Probability Thesis, by disjunctive dilemma that,
D. Either the evolutionary process responsible for creating human cognitive faculties did not involve a filter of unreliable cognitive faculties or ~K (the evolutionary process responsible for creating human cognitive faculties involved a filter of unreliable faculties).
And we are told that if we have good reason to accept (D), then if we accept (PT), then we have good reason to accept (C).


But how does (D) support (C)? Suppose the antecedent of (B) is true and the antecedent of (A) is false. This is consistent with both (A) and (B) being true. We simply add that we also know that (E) is true.
E. ~K(the evolutionary process responsible for creating human cognitive faculties involved a filter of unreliable faculties).
But (E) just says that The naturalist is not capable of rationally accepting that the evolutionary process responsible for creating human cognitive faculties involved a filter of unreliable faculties.
So, does the naturalist have any reason to believe (C)? Does he have any reason to doubt or deny that the operation of the process of natural selection that resulted in the creation of human cognitive faculties involved a filter of unreliable faculties?
I can’t see why. If the antecedent of (B) is true, then we know that P(R/N&E) is inscrutable. And I’m willing to agree that (E) follows. But of course (E’) also follows,
E’. ~K(the evolutionary process responsible for creating human cognitive faculties did not involve a filter of unreliable faculties).
(E’) just states that The naturalist is not capable of rationally accepting that the evolutionary process responsible for creating human cognitive faculties did not involve a filter of unreliable faculties.
Given the inscrutability of P(R/N&E), the naturalist has no idea whether or not the evolutionary process responsible for creating human cognitive faculties involved a filter of unreliable faculties. How could that fact put him in an epistemic position to either doubt or deny that the operation of the process of natural selection that resulted in the creation of human cognitive faculties involved a filter of unreliable faculties? He has no epistemic basis to doubt or deny that, just as he has no epistemic basis to affirm or assert that. So it looks to me like you cannot get good reasons to accept (C) from good reasons to accept (D).
See Omar Mirza, ‘A user’s guide to the evolutionary argument against naturalism’ Philosophical Studies (forthcoming) p. 9 ff.

Comments:
  • Erik Meade

    See Omar Mirza, ‘A user’s guide to the evolutionary argument against naturalism’ Philosophical Studies (forthcoming) p. 9 ff.
    I would like to see the article, but seeing as how it is forthcoming…
    Is (C) above a quote from Mirza?

    August 27, 2008 — 17:26
  • Mike Almeida

    There’s no problem in seeing the article. Forthcoming articles are available at Philosophical Studies online. Yes, (C) is a quote. The problematic reasoning is begins on p. 9 and continues for a few pages.

    August 27, 2008 — 17:38
  • Clayton Littlejohn

    Hey Mike,
    If I follow, then I think this is right. This depends on what ‘doubt’ amounts to, I suppose. As you use it, proper doubting needs a basis. Maybe you think that doubting p implies there is at least a weak reason to think or suspect ~p? Someone (maybe Mizra?) might use ‘doubt’ slightly differently, saying that we can properly doubt whatever we have no positive basis for affirming or accepting.
    I could see how Mizra’s argument might work given that understanding of ‘doubt’ (given that understanding of ‘doubt’, it would seem (D) supports (C)), but then the problem seems to be that the plausible epistemic principles needed to run the EEAN use ‘doubt’ in your sense anyway. (If you are an externalist, you can form beliefs on the basis of processes that you lack positive reason to think are reliable (i.e., free of doubt in the strong sense), so long as you lack reason to think they are untrustworthy (i.e., having a justified belief produced by the process is compatible with doubt in the weak sense)). So, it’s a moot point.

    August 30, 2008 — 11:06
  • Mike Almeida

    Someone (maybe Mizra?) might use ‘doubt’ slightly differently, saying that we can properly doubt whatever we have no positive basis for affirming or accepting.
    Right, it comes down to whether he can introduce a sense of ‘doubt’ that will do the epistemic work. So, he might want to conflate the following:
    1. I doubt that p is true.
    2. I have no idea what the probability is that p is true.
    Given that (2) and (1) express the same proposition, the inference he offers guarantees nothing stronger than C’.
    C’. Naturalists that accept the Probability Thesis have good reason to believe that they haven’t any idea what the probability is that the operation of the process of natural selection that resulted in the creation of human cognitive faculties involved a filter of unreliable faculties.
    Does that provide an undercutting (rationality)defeater for the belief R that our cognitive faculties are reliable? I doubt it. Why would it be irrational for me to assert that (i) I believe my cognitive faculties are reliable and (ii) I have no idea what the chances are that the process of natural selection that resulted in the creation of my cognitive faculties includes a filter for unreliable faculties? I can’t see why that would be irrational.
    Counterexample: (i’) I believe I won the lottery and (ii’) I have no idea what the chances are that would have resulted in my having won the lottery. I can have reasonably have the belief in (i’) and concede (ii’). Similarly, I can reasonably have the belief that my cognitive faculties are reliable (I get those reasons the same place everyone else does) and concede that I have no idea what the chances are that the process of natural selection that resulted in the creation of my cognitive faculties includes a filter for unreliable faculties.

    August 30, 2008 — 15:11
  • Clayton Littlejohn

    Does that provide an undercutting (rationality)defeater for the belief R that our cognitive faculties are reliable? I doubt it.
    Right, and by that you meant to say that you have reason to suspect that it’s not true. In other words, that you really doubt it. 😉

    August 30, 2008 — 16:16
  • Mike Almeida

    True. Also–intended or not–a pretty shrewd allusion to the meta-doubts that make EAAN so complicated.

    August 30, 2008 — 19:32