Inferential Justification

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Inferential Justification

Gilbert Harman The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 73, No. 17, Seventy-Third Annual Meeting American Philosophical Associat

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Inferential Justification Gilbert Harman The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 73, No. 17, Seventy-Third Annual Meeting American Philosophical Association, Eastern Division. (Oct. 7, 1976), pp. 570-571. Stable URL: The Journal of Philosophy is currently published by Journal of Philosophy, Inc..

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UMERTON wants to defend the empiricist idea that beliefs about perceived objects are inferentially justified on the basis of propositions describing experience. H e wants in particular to defend this idea against the objection raised by Quinton and others that in normal cases of perception one does not consciously attend to or think about one's experience but attends to and thinks about the objects perceived. Fumerton offers two defenses against Quinton's objection. But one of these would allow perceptual beliefs to be inferentially justified on the basis of propositions about experience even though one had no beliefs about one's experience, so long as the propositions about one's experience confirm one's perceptual beliefs and one has those beliefs because of having the experience. This is highly implausible. I t would, for example, allow us to count the belief that one has a headache as an inferentially justified belief simply because the headache causes the belief. Fumerton's other defense is more plausible. H e meets Quinton's objection head on by pointing out that one can have beliefs about something without consciously attending to it. Fumerton makes the point in a misleading way, however, when he distinguishes occurrent beliefs from dispositional beliefs; for he mixes u p two different distinctions: that between beliefs of which one is consciously aware and other beliefs of which one is not consciously aware, and that between what one explicitly believes and what is only implicit in what one explicitly believes. I n replying to Quinton, Fumerton needs to say that normal cases of perception involve explicit beliefs about experience of which one is not consciously aware. These beliefs must be neither occurrent nor merely dispositional. Finally, let me comment on Fumerton's suggestion that, when S infers P from E, S believes P partly because S believes that E confirms P. I suspect that the truth is the other way round: S can suppose that E confirms P only because S finds himself able to infer P from E. How can S decide whether E confirms P? I n other words, how can S decide whether P can be justifiably inferred from E? I t might be said that S invokes certain self-evident principles of inference, e.g., a principle relating perceptual experiences and perceived objects. +Abstract of a paper to be presented in an APA symposium on Inferential Justification and Empiricism, December 30, 1976, commenting on R. A. Fumerton's paper, this JOURNAL, this issue, 557-569.

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But I doubt that anyone either consciously or unconsciously accepts principles of inference, be they self-evident or not. I t may be objected that there are well-known deductive principles of inference that we appeal to when we make deductive inferences. But it is a mistake to suppose that there is such a thing as a deductive inference. T h e principles in question are principles of implication, not of inference. They do not tell us what we can justifiably infer. Modzls ponens is not the principle that we may justifiably infer Q if we believe P and also believe if P then Q for perhaps we should stop believing P instead. A self-contradiction logically implies anything; but logic does not tell us that, if our beliefs are logically inconsistent, we may justifiably infer anything at all. Logic is not directly a theory of inference. If S cannot appeal to principles of inference, how can S decide whether P can be justifiably inferred from E? Well, suppose S finds himself inferring P. If there is no reason to suspect that he is being irrational in this case, S has some reason to think that P can be justifiably inferred from his antecedent beliefs. I n other instances, S imagines himself in someone else's position, with that other person's antecedent beliefs: if S then imagines himself easily making a particular inference, that is some reason to think the inference is justified. When S infers P from E, S may believe that E confirms P; but the belief depends on the fact that S makes the inference. T h e inference does not depend on the belief. GILBERT HARMAN

Princeton University



N this paper I make a proposal about the meaning of physical statements. Given the implications of the proposal, it deserves a hearing. If this proposal is correct, the current abandonment of traditional empiricism is not justified by two considerations that motivate it. T h e empiricism I have in mind contends that knowledge of physical reality is based just on a person's present and re-

* To be presented in an APA symposium of the same title, December 29, 1976. Fred Feldman will comment; see this JOURNAL, this issue, 585-587. Criticisms of earlier drafts presented at Wayne State, Ohio State, and Indiana Universities have been helpful. Roderick Firth, Romane Clark, and Larry Powers have provided useful comments. I thank the National Endowment for the Humanities for support.