posted by January 31 at 15:45 PMon
FACT: David Nixon, the banjo player in “Awesome,” is a doctor. Of philosophy. (He’s standing at the back in the middle of this picture. And yes, he’s single.) Dr. Nixon’s dissertation was called Perceptual Knowledge: Explorations and Extensions of the Sellarsian Framework. Take it away, Dr. Nixon: “Roughly, it was an articulation and defense of a novel theory of perceptual justification—a theory of what it is that makes it epistemologically reasonable (reasonable from the perspective of wanting true beliefs that are likely to count as KNOWLEDGE) to believe the things you find yourself believing thanks to your sense organs.”
Got that? A further explanation is after the jump.
[This has been an “Awesome” Fact of the Day. Tomorrow night. Chop Suey. With Dan Savage, Neal Pollack, and Sean Nelson. 7 pm doors, 8 pm show. No analytic philosophy whatsoever. Single boys and girls. Free.]
Dr. Nixon continues: "For example, you look outside your window and you find yourself with the belief that There is a big bright US BANK sign on the corner of Broadway and John. It is reasonable to believe this. The belief is justified. But notice that it's not justified in the same way as, say, a scientific belief is justified. Some scientist will believe that E=MC2, and that belief will be justified because there's this coherent theory that makes sense of the data and the theory's predictions are borne out, etc. But when I ask you what makes you justified in believing that there is a big US BANK sign outside your window, you don't have much to say, other than, Um... well LOOK at it. It's right there. Which is really just repeating the very belief whose justification is in question, so it doesn't really explain anything. According to my view (which is called Perceptual Responsibilism), a perceptual belief is justified to the extent to which the person whose belief it is is an epistemically responsible steward of his perceptual dispositions. In other words: You have this perceptual disposition to believe that there is a dog in front of you whenever you're in front of a dog and your eyes are open in good light, etc. You got this disposition as part of your initial language training. So you can thank mom for it's initial existence. But at some point you take over and are responsible for keeping this disposition accurate. You see, it's possible that the disposition is not 100% accurate. You might sometimes mistake coyotes or hyenas for dogs. And it's up to you to correct this disposition whenever you find such mistakes, so that in the future it'll be more accurate. That way, when you find yourself with the belief that there is a dog in front of you, we can say, It's reasonable for him to believe it, because he's the kind of guy that would make sure his spontaneous 'that's a dog' beliefs are accurate. (If 'dog' is too easy of a concept to wield to imagine someone correcting their perecptual dispositions, imagine someone learning to visually identify paintings by Manet or aurally identify music as trance or house or alt-country.) My work partially drew on the ideas of a guy named Wilfrid Sellars. He died in 1989, but did most of his outstanding work in the 50's, 60's and 70's."