Appeared-to-Blogly

February 1, 2012

Second-Order Moorean Facts

Filed under: Epistemology,Philosophy — camcintosh @ 4:26 am

Moore famously responded to the skeptics’ modus ponens by shifting the argument to a modus tollens and justifying the move by appealing to a Moorean fact. The classic example is as follows. The skeptic says:

(1) If S does not know that S is not a brain in a vat, S does not know there is
an external world.
(2) S does not know that S is not a brain in a vat.
(3) S does not know there is an external world.

And Moore says in response that

(2*) S knows there is an external world.

is more reasonable to believe than (2), and so concludes

(3*) S knows that S is not a brain in a vat.

More precisely, the Moorean fact in question is:

(4) It is more reasonable to believe (2*) than (2).

Now, suppose a persistent skeptic denies (4) and says:

(5) It is not more reasonable to believe (2*) than (2).

I say the skeptic who denies (4) is a persistent skeptic because (4) is a very modest proposal; definitely more modest than (2*). And typically, more modest proposals are more reasonable to believe than less modest ones. But what happens when the skeptic asserts (5)? Can Moore make another appeal to common sense to once again outmaneuver the skeptic, or does the skeptic’s denial of (4) drag Moore back into the skeptic’s playground?

If the dialectic so far is valid (i.e., no questions are being begged, fallacies being committed, etc), what would prevent Moore from positing second-order Moorean facts? For example, in response to the persistent skeptic, why can’t Moore say

(6) It is more reasonable to believe (4) than (5).

After all, if (4) is more modest than (2*), wouldn’t (6) be more modest than (5), thus even harder to deny than (4)? I guess another way of putting the question is this: does the modesty increase with higher-order Moorean facts?

Objection: What makes (4) more modest than (2*) is the fact that (2*) is about what one knows, whereas (4) is about what is reasonable to believe. But both (4) and (5) are about what is reasonable to believe, so (4) is not more modest than (5).

This is a good reply, but there may be a decent rejoinder. Consider first the definition of a Moorean fact. On the construal above, a Moorean fact is about what is reasonable to believe. But now two things bear saying. First, exactly how is what is known being distinguished from what is reasonable to believe here, such that there are things that are reasonable to believe that are not known while things that are known are reasonable to believe? Second, the canonical definition of a Moorean fact is about what one knows (Cf. David Lewis in “Elusive Knowledge”: “A Moorean Fact [is] one of those things that we know better than we know the premises of any philosophical argument to the contrary.”). Granted, Lewis’ definition is a bit odd in that it requires degrees of knowledge; but what if we understand a Moorean fact as such? Well, it seems clear that the objection under consideration would be sufficiently dealt with. But the question then is whether the dialectic above changes in light of this reworded definition.

Consider second the nature of the persistent skeptic’s response. Actually, the skeptic can deny (4) in two ways. He could say either of the following:

(5) It is not more reasonable to believe (2*) than (2)
(5*) It is more reasonable to believe (2) than (2*)

If the skeptic denies (4) by asserting (5), he apparently is not making a claim about what is reasonable to believe at all; he is denying a claim about what is reasonable to believe, presumably on some grounds more reasonable to believe than (4). What are those grounds? Does the skeptic thus reach a stalemate with Moore over what is more reasonable to believe  by asserting the grounds for (5)?

If the skeptic denies (4) by asserting (5*), then again he must have some grounds independent of skeptical scenarios to support it. His grounds for asserting (5*) must be independent of skeptical scenarios because skeptical scenarios are his grounds for asserting (2). If he appealed to the same grounds, he’d be engaged in circular reasoning. But if he has additional grounds for (5), what are they? And again, are they more reasonable to believe than (4)? Do we reach a stalemate again?

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7 Comments »

  1. (6) = “it is more reasonable to believe that it is more reasonable to believe that…” What does that mean?

    Comment by DC — February 7, 2012 @ 1:06 am | Reply

  2. DC,

    Both (4) and (6) are the second-order Moorean facts. They are Moorean facts about Moorean facts. So (4) and (6) are facts about which Moorean facts–facts about what is more reasonable to believe–are more reasonable to believe. Being second-order, they are somewhat difficult to grasp immediately; but a moment’s reflection reveals that they are not beyond our kin. One can think of them as meta-epistemological in nature; i.e., which meta-epistemological statement is more reasonable to believe, where each meta-epistemological statement is about which of two epistemological statements is more reasonable to believe?

    If your question was purely clarificatory, I hope that helps. But I am not in the least worried that (4) and (6) are incoherent or insufficiently intelligible, if your question was meant to state that (I understand philosophers often make statements by asking questions).

    Comment by camcintosh — February 7, 2012 @ 1:45 am | Reply

  3. I think we both agree that

    “If there are 2nd order Moorean facts, then they are meaningful.”

    So, here’s a tollens for you. You say:

    “They exist.” In particular,
    “a moment’s reflection reveals that they are not beyond our ken.”

    I say:

    “They seem meaningless even after an hour of reflection.” Therefore,
    “there are no such things.”

    Comment by DC — February 10, 2012 @ 10:52 pm | Reply

  4. Given that we agree that

    (1) If there are 2nd order Moorean facts, then they are meaningful

    here’s a hypothetical syllogism for you. I think I can show that 1st-order Moorean facts entail 2nd-order Moorean facts. So

    (2) If there are 1st-order Moorean facts, then there are 2nd-order Moorean facts

    which will give you

    (3) If there are 1st order Moorean facts, 2nd-order Moorean facts are meaningful

    Here is my argument. Consider the two propositions:

    (4) The moon is made of rock and dust.
    (5) The moon is made of green cheese.

    Now, I hope you will agree with me that

    (6) It is more reasonable to believe (4) than (5).

    i.e., (6) is a Moorean fact. But if you agree with me here, you will agree with me it is false that

    (7) It is more reasonable to believe (5) than (4).

    But if you agree with me that (7) is false, surely you will agree with me that

    (8) It is more reasonable to believe (6) than (7).

    And (8) is a 2nd–order Moorean fact, and so must be meaningful. QED.

    Comment by camcintosh — February 12, 2012 @ 2:51 am | Reply

  5. I should also hasten to add that the inferences from “They exist” to “they are not beyond our kin” or “They are beyond our kin” to “they do not exist” would be examples of non sequiturs on stilts.

    Comment by camcintosh — February 12, 2012 @ 3:07 am | Reply

  6. Your proof has helped me to understand this issue better. To make sure there are no snags, let (1′) be “2 + 2 = 4,” and (2′) “2 + 2 = 5.” (3′) “It is mrtb [more reasonable to believe] that (1′) rather than (2′),” obviously true, just as (2′) is obviously false. Surely, then, (5′) “It is mrtb something true like (3′) than something false like (2′) or ~(3′)” is true, as well.

    (1′) and (2′) are a priori self-evident propositions. But for (3′), “mrtb” may be cashed out as “we have better evidence for … than for …” For example, it might be rewritten as “We should give our assent to (1′) and withhold it from (2′).” This seems less a priori by a bit but still pretty self-evident. I agree with it and disagree with its opposite. And my agreement is (5′). So, the meaning is straightforward.

    But now we have this: (1′) and (2′) are about arithmetic; (3′) is about human decision-making or belief-forming. By switching the dialog to reasons for (3′) or ~(3′) we seem to have abandoned the original argument. We are no longer talking about BiVs and external world, but about how we ought to evaluate propositions. Does that defeat the purpose?

    Btw, its “beyond our ken,” not “kin.”

    Comment by DC — February 12, 2012 @ 3:38 pm | Reply

    • >>Btw, its “beyond our ken,” not “kin.”<<

      He was talking about my folks and being generous.

      Comment by ck — March 1, 2012 @ 8:07 pm | Reply


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