Wednesday, 6 January 2021

Life on the edge: a response to Schultheis' challenge to epistemic permissivism about credences

In their 2018 paper, 'Living on the Edge', Ginger Schultheis issues a powerful challenge to epistemic permissivism about credences, the view that there are bodies of evidence in response to which there are a number of different credence functions it would be rational to adopt. The heart of the argument is the claim that a certain sort of situation is impossible. Schultheis thinks that all motivations for permissivism must render situations of this sort possible. Therefore, permissivism must be false, or at least these motivations for it must be wrong.

Monday, 4 January 2021

Using a generalized Hurwicz criterion to pick your priors

Over the summer, I got interested in the problem of the priors again. Which credence functions is it rational to adopt at the beginning of your epistemic life? Which credence functions is it rational to have before you gather any evidence? Which credence functions provide rationally permissible responses to the empty body of evidence? As is my wont, I sought to answer this in the framework of epistemic utility theory. That is, I took the rational credence functions to be those declared rational when the appropriate norm of decision theory is applied to the decision problem in which the available acts are all the possible credence functions, and where the epistemic utility of a credence function is measured by a strictly proper measure. I considered a number of possible decision rules that might govern us in this evidence-free situation: Maximin, the Principle of Indifference, and the Hurwicz criterion. And I concluded in favour of a generalized version of the Hurwicz criterion, which I axiomatised. I also described which credence functions that decision rule would render rational in the case in which there are just three possible worlds between which we divide our credences. In this post, I'd like to generalize the results from that treatment to the case in which there any finite number of possible worlds.

Friday, 1 January 2021

How permissive is rationality? Horowitz's value question for moderate permissivism

Rationality is good; irrationality is bad. Most epistemologists would agree with this rather unnuanced take, regardless of their view of what exactly constitutes rationality and its complement. Granted this, a good test of a thesis in epistemology is whether it can explain why these two claims are true. Can it answer the value question: Why is rationality valuable and irrationality not? And indeed Sophie Horowitz gives an extremely illuminating appraisal of different degrees of epistemic permissivism and impermissivism by asking of each what answer it might give. Her conclusion is that the extreme permissivist -- played in her paper by the extreme subjective Bayesian, who thinks that satisfying Probabilism and being certain of your evidence is necessary and sufficient for rationality -- can give a satisfying answer to this question, or, at least, an answer that is satisfying from their own point of view. And the extreme impermissivist -- played here by the objective Bayesian, who thinks that rationality requires something like the maximum entropy distribution relative to your evidence -- can do so too. But, Horowitz argues, the moderate permissivist -- played by the moderate Bayesian, who thinks rationality imposes requirements more stringent than merely Probabilism, but who does not think they're stringent enough to pick out a unique credence function -- cannot. In this post, I'd like to raise some problems for Horowitz's assessment, and try to offer my own answer to the value question on behalf of the moderate Bayesian. (Full disclosure: If I'm honest, I think I lean towards extreme permissivism, but I'd like to show that moderate permissivism can defend itself against Horowitz's objection.)