Marie Mcginn – On the Idea of Non-Inferential Knowledge

 

Event Date 10 October 2011
The Chancellor’s Hall
Senate House – University of London

Malet Street
London WC1E 7HU

THE ARISTOTELIAN SOCIETY
Presents

THE 2011 PRESIDENTIAL ADDRESS
By

Professor Marie Mcginn (UEA): On the Idea of Non-Inferential Knowledge

Abstract

In investigating non-inferential knowledge, I’m concerned with statements which, in appropriate circumstances, for example, in response to some relevant enquiry, I am in a position to make ‘straight off’, ‘immediately’, not only in the sense that I do not have to engage in reasoning, but in the sense that there is no prior belief from which what I state could be presented as an inference. The kinds of things we can state in this way include observational judgements, perceptual statements, memory statements, statements about my current bodily posture, statements about my intentions for the future, and so on. All these kinds of statement are distinctive, not only because I am often in a position to make them straight off, or immediately, but also because, made in response to a relevant enquiry, the question, ‘How do you know?’, would not normally arise for them. Not only that, but the question, ‘How do you know?’, would, in normal circumstances, be odd, in the sense that it is very unclear what I should, or could, say in reply to it. The problem that my apparent capacity to state all these kinds of thing straight off, immediately, without any prima facie justification, poses is this: what is the nature of my entitlement to make them? How can a judgement that I make straight off be one to which I am entitled?
The statements I’m concerned with are distinctive in not being grounded in other things which I judge to be the case, so how can they meet the requirement—which it seems they must meet in order to count as manifestations of knowledge, and thus in order for me to be entitled to make them—that they are ones for which I possess a warrant. In this paper, I focus on straight-off observational judgments and on two contrasting approaches to understanding the nature of my entitlement to make them. Both of the approaches are instances of what might be called a non-reductive form of naturalism and they both assume that it belongs to the nature of an entitlement to judge that the subject who judges is aware of his entitlement. However, while the first approach, which I argue against, sets out to provide an account of the nature of the warrant that I have for straight-off observational judgements, the second approach, which I defend, sets out to disconnect the source of my entitlement to make these judgements from the question of possession of a justification, or warrant, for making them. In a final brief section, I consider what light the kind of account of our entitlement to straight-off observational judgements which I develop sheds on the other kinds of judgement I am in a position to make straight off.

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