A Quickie on the KK Principle
I’m now in London, bumming around until I head off to Beirut on the 9th. If there’s anyone out there in London who wants to meet up with me in the meantime, feel free to email me, or communicate by some other means. On that note, I’m also now on twitter, for anyone who hasn’t already spotted me. This is a very quick post in response to Catarina Dulith Novaes’ post on the KK principle (here), because I couldn’t seem to post a comment on it. It’s thus pretty short (by my standards).
I won’t recapitulate Catarina’s post in any detail, as it’s a very short post itself, but the suggestion she makes is that the problem of whether the KK principle (i.e., if someone knows p, then they know that they know p) is true is amenable to empirical resolution to some extent, on the basis of research into metacognition. She also suggests that Kantian approaches to epistemology are incompatible with such analyses, the implication being that this is another reason why they don’t cut the mustard. I’m an unabashed Kantian on these matters. I take the widespread hostility to transcendental approaches to cognition to stem largely from the assumption that they place illegitimate constraints upon, or are downright incompatible with, empirical approaches. However, even Kant is fairly explicit that transcendental psychology is supposed to be a complement to empirical psychology, rather than a substitute for it. Whether or not Kant’s account of it is correct is another matter (though I increasingly suspect that it is less silly than it is often portrayed to be), rather, the issue is whether there are such things as legitimate constraints upon empirical approaches to cognition.
Unsurprisingly, my answer to this is a resounding yes. The reason for this is that one needs to define what knowledge (or cognition) is in a priori terms before one can deal with the specifics of the mechanisms that produce it, lest one localise it to some particular mechanisms (e.g., homo sapien brain structure, neurological structure as such, etc.). This feeds into debates I have been having with both David Roden (e.g., here) and Levi Bryant (e.g., here) for a while now. Just as I think that we must distinguish between metaphysics and the critique of metaphysics (see my ETR), I think that we must distinguish betweenepistemology and the critique of epistemology. This is to say that we can naturalise epistemology in part, but that the condition for this naturalisation is that there is a part of epistemology which cannot be so naturalised. In essence, a moderate Kantianism is not only possible, but necessary, because one can only work out the balance between a priori epistemological considerations and a posteriori ones on an a priori basis. If one rejects that there are anything but a posteriori considerations, then one ultimately has to sever the connection between epistemology, logic, and semantics, which is tantamount to simply changing the subject.
Given all this, I’m going to attempt to take a moderate Kantian approach to Catarina’s suggestion regarding the KK principle. Really, I’m just going to extrapolate the consequences of the Brandomian/Sellarsian position that I endorse. This gives us good a priori reasons to think that the KK principle doesn’t hold, but it also gives a good explanation of why people might think it does, as well as letting us see why there might be a posteriori reasons to think it holds in limited cases.
I think that Brandom’s analysis of knowledge as a hybrid deontic status is pretty much on the money. To repeat the basic elements for those who aren’t aware of it, he thinks that the externalist dimension of knowledge is provided by the perspectival difference between the one who ascribes knowledge and the one to whom it is ascribed. So, for A to know p from the perspective of B is for B to ascribe commitment to p to A (Belief), entitlement to p to A (Justification), and to undertake commitment to p themselves (Truth). His analysis is thus a fairly classical justified true belief (JTB) account reinterpreted in deontic scorekeeping terms, with a few tweaks here and there.
Setting aside pre-emptive defenses against the standard objections to Brandom’s model (e.g., ‘What about objectivity?’, ‘What about cognitive science?’, ‘This leads to a idealised subject, spinning in the void!’, etc.), this lets us see that KK doesn’t hold from the perspective of the ascriber, insofar as they can ascribe entitlement to p to A, without thereby ascribing a scorekeeping commitment to A that they are so entitled. To repeat that, we can hold that someone believes p and is justified in believing p even when they themselves do not think they are justified. However, because the difference between commitment to p and commitment to Kp is, from one’s own perspective, entirely constituted by whether one takes oneself to be entitled to p, if one does take oneself to be entitled then one automatically takes oneself to know. This means that it is only in the fairly odd situation in which one takes someone to be entitled to p, and takes them not to take themselves to be entitled to p (or, in Gettier cases, takes them not to be entitled to their self-entitlement ascription), that KK breaks down.
This fits neatly into Brandom’s appropriation of Sellars’ version of reliabilism, wherein epistemic expertise is to be understood in terms of the reliability of the causal mechanisms that produce commitments (understood in terms of both abstract idealisations and concrete realisations), be they straightforward perceptual mechanisms, practical coping mechanisms, or computational heuristics. This underwrites defeasible inferences from a commitment (or judgment) being produced by a mechanism to its truth, and thus enables individuals to justify their non-inferentially acquired commitments, be they produced by their own mechanisms, or by the mechanisms of others (i.e., deference). These inferences can be understood either in terms of brute statistics (treating the mechanism as a black box), in terms of specific defeasors that undermine them (dealing with the internal structure of the mechanism), or some combination of the two, but are in each case assessed from the perspective of the scorekeeper. The important point is that questions about whether these inferences are good ones are thus susceptible to empirical evidence.
It is thus at this level that questions to do with metacognition are really to be addressed, insofar as we might locate certain cognitive mechanisms that have interesting kinds of reflexivity. This seems to largely be the case with simple perceptual capacities involving our basic sensory modalities (e.g., sight, sound, taste, touch, etc.). On the one hand, the perceptual mechanisms that produce observational commitments tend also to produce scorekeeping commitments to the effect that those commitments are entitled (thus licensing ascription of the latter), and these latter commitments tend to be given a high psychological weighting in respect to others (i.e., we are less likely to give them up in cases where they conflict with other commitments). On the other, it is possible to make an empirical case that when we (or perhaps certain specific individuals) take themselves to be entitled to certain observational commitments, that they tend to be entitled in this way, or, that these reflexive mechanisms are themselves reliable (statistically and/or structurally). Precisely which mechanisms are reflexive, to what extent they are reflexive, and whether this reflexivity is warranted are thus all a posteriori questions, even if what reflexivity is is not. This demonstrates how Sellars provides us with the tools to connect Kantian critical epistemology with Quinean naturalised epistemology.
I’m sure more could be said on this specific epistemological issue, and there’s much more I want to say about the transcendental/empirical divide, but this will have to do for now.