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Ideas of Ernest Sosa, by Text

[American, b.1940, Professor at Brown University, Long Island. Visiting Professor at Rutgers University.]

1980 The Raft and the Pyramid
10 p.146 Vision causes and justifies beliefs; but to some extent the cause is the justification
     Full Idea: Visual experience is recognized as both the cause and the justification of our visual beliefs. But these are not wholly independent. Presumably the justification that something is red derives partly from the fact that it originates in visual experience.
     From: Ernest Sosa (The Raft and the Pyramid [1980], 10)
     A reaction: Yes, but the fact that certain visual experiences originate in dreams is taken as grounds for denying their truth, not affirming it. So why do we distinguish them? I am thinking that only in the 'space of reasons' can a cause become a justification.
11 p.148 If mental states are not propositional, they are logically dumb, and cannot be foundations
     Full Idea: If a mental state is not propositional, then how can it possibly serve as a foundation for belief? How can one infer or justify anything on the basis of a state that, having no propositional content, must be logically dumb?
     From: Ernest Sosa (The Raft and the Pyramid [1980], 11)
     A reaction: This may be the best objection to foundationalism. McDowell tries to argue that conceptual content is inherent in perception, thus giving the beginnings of inbuilt propositional content. But an organism awash with bare experiences knows nothing.
3 p.136 There are very few really obvious truths, and not much can be proved from them
     Full Idea: Radical foundationalism suffers from two weaknesses: there are not so many perfectly obvious truths as Descartes thought; and if we restrict ourselves to what it truly obvious, very little supposed common sense knowledge can be proved.
     From: Ernest Sosa (The Raft and the Pyramid [1980], 3)
     A reaction: It is striking how few examples can ever be found of self-evident a priori truths. However, if there are self-evident truths about direct experience (pace Descartes), that would give us more than enough.
4 p.136 Mental states cannot be foundational if they are not immune to error
     Full Idea: If a mental state provides no guarantee against error, then it cannot serve as a foundation for knowledge.
     From: Ernest Sosa (The Raft and the Pyramid [1980], 4)
     A reaction: That assumes that knowledge entails certainty, which I am sure it should not. On a fallibilist account, a foundation could be incredibly secure, despite a barely imaginable scenario in which it turned out to be false.
6 p.141 A single belief can trail two regresses, one terminating and one not
     Full Idea: A single belief can trail at once regresses of both sorts: one terminating and one not.
     From: Ernest Sosa (The Raft and the Pyramid [1980], 6)
     A reaction: This makes foundationalism possible, while admitting the existence of regresses. It is a good point, and triumphalist anti-foundationalists can't just point out a regress and then smugly troop off to the pub.
9 p.145 The negation of all my beliefs about my current headache would be fully coherent
     Full Idea: If I have a headache, I could have a set of beliefs that I do not have a headache, that I am not in pain, that no one is in pain, and so on. The resulting system of beliefs would cohere as fully as does my actual system of beliefs.
     From: Ernest Sosa (The Raft and the Pyramid [1980], 9)
     A reaction: I think this is a misunderstanding of coherentism. Beliefs are not to be formulated through a process of coherence, but are evaluated that way. A belief that I have headache just arrives; I then see that its denial is incoherent, so I accept it.
1980 Varieties of Causation
1 p.234 What law would explain causation in the case of causing a table to come into existence?
     Full Idea: If I fasten a board onto a tree stump, causing a table to come into existence, ...what law of nature or, even, what quasi-law or law-like principle could possibly play in such a case of generation the role required by nomological accounts?
     From: Ernest Sosa (Varieties of Causation [1980], 1)
     A reaction: A very nice question. The nomological account is at its strongest when rocks fall off walls or magnets attract, but all sorts of other caused events seem too messy or complex or original to fit the story.
2 p.237 Mereological essentialism says an entity must have exactly those parts
     Full Idea: Mereological essentialism says that nothing else could have been the unique entity composed of certain parts except the very thing that is composed of those parts.
     From: Ernest Sosa (Varieties of Causation [1980], 2)
     A reaction: This sounds initially implausible. It means the ship of Theseus ceases to be that ship if you change a single nail of it. Whether we say that seems optional, but if we do, it leads to the collaps of all our normal understanding of identity.
5 p.240 Where is the necessary causation in the three people being tall making everybody tall?
     Full Idea: It is not clear how to analyse the form of necessary causation found in the only three people in the room being tall causing everybody in the room to be tall.
     From: Ernest Sosa (Varieties of Causation [1980], 5)
     A reaction: I would want to challenge this as a case of causation. There are no events or processes involved. It seems that a situation described in one way can also be described in another.
p.242 p.242 The necessitated is not always a result or consequence of the necessitator
     Full Idea: The necessitated is not always a result or consequence of the necessitator. If p-and-q is a fact, then this necessitates that p, but the fact that p need not be a result or consequence of the fact that p-and-q.
     From: Ernest Sosa (Varieties of Causation [1980], p.242)
     A reaction: This is obviously correct, and needs to be borne in mind when considering necessary causation. It is not enough to produce a piece of logic; something in the link from cause to effect must be demonstrated to be necessary.
2003 Beyond internal Foundations to external Virtues
6.1 p.99 Much propositional knowledge cannot be formulated, as in recognising a face
     Full Idea: Much of our propositional knowledge is not easily formulable, as when a witness looking at a police lineup may know what the culprit's face looks like.
     From: Ernest Sosa (Beyond internal Foundations to external Virtues [2003], 6.1)
     A reaction: This is actually a very helpful defence of foundationalism, because it shows that we will accept perceptual experiences as knowledge when they are not expressed as explicit propositions. Davidson (Idea 8801), for example, must deal with this difficulty.
6.4 p.111 We can't attain a coherent system by lopping off any beliefs that won't fit
     Full Idea: Coherence involves the logical, explanatory and probabilistic relations among one's beliefs, but it could not do to attain a tightly iterrelated system by lopping off whatever beliefs refuse to fit.
     From: Ernest Sosa (Beyond internal Foundations to external Virtues [2003], 6.4)
     A reaction: This is clearly right, so the coherentist has to distinguish between lopping off a belief because it is inconvenient (fundamentalists rejecting textual contradictions), and lopping it off because it is wrong (chemists rejecting phlogiston).
6.6 p.115 It is acceptable to say a supermarket door 'knows' someone is approaching
     Full Idea: I am quite flexible on epistemic terminology, and am even willing to grant that a supermarket door can 'know' that someone is approaching.
     From: Ernest Sosa (Beyond internal Foundations to external Virtues [2003], 6.6)
     A reaction: I take this amazing admission to be a hallmark of externalism. Sosa must extend this to thermostats. So flowers know the sun has come out. This is knowledge without belief. Could the door ever be 'wrong'?
6.6 p.116 Fully comprehensive beliefs may not be knowledge
     Full Idea: One's beliefs can be comprehensively coherent without amounting to knowledge.
     From: Ernest Sosa (Beyond internal Foundations to external Virtues [2003], 6.6)
     A reaction: Beliefs that are fully foundational or reliably sourced may also fail to be knowledge. I take it that any epistemological theory must be fallibilist (Idea 6898). Rational coherentism will clearly be sensitive to error.
6.7 p.117 In reducing arithmetic to self-evident logic, logicism is in sympathy with rationalism
     Full Idea: In trying to reduce arithmetic to self-evident logical axioms, logicism is in sympathy with rationalism.
     From: Ernest Sosa (Beyond internal Foundations to external Virtues [2003], 6.7)
     A reaction: I have heard Frege called "the greatest of all rationalist philosophers". However, the apparent reduction of arithmetic to analytic truths played into the hands of logical positivists, who could then marginalise arithmetic.
6.7 p.117 Most of our knowledge has insufficient sensory support
     Full Idea: Almost nothing that one knows of history or geography or science has adequate sensory support, present or even recalled.
     From: Ernest Sosa (Beyond internal Foundations to external Virtues [2003], 6.7)
     A reaction: This seems a bit glib, and may be false. The main issue to which this refers is, of course, induction, which (almost by definition) is a supposedly empirical process which goes beyond the empirical evidence.
7.2 p.124 Perception may involve thin indexical concepts, or thicker perceptual concepts
     Full Idea: There is a difference between having just an indexical concept which one can apply to a perceptual characteristic (just saying 'this is thus'), and having a thicker perceptual concept of that characteristic.
     From: Ernest Sosa (Beyond internal Foundations to external Virtues [2003], 7.2)
     A reaction: Both of these, of course, would precede any categorial concepts that enabled one to identify the characteristic or the object. This is a ladder foundationalists must climb if they are to reach the cellar of basic beliefs.
7.3 p.128 Do beliefs only become foundationally justified if we fully attend to features of our experience?
     Full Idea: Are foundationally justified beliefs perhaps those that result from attending to our experience and to features of it or in it?
     From: Ernest Sosa (Beyond internal Foundations to external Virtues [2003], 7.3)
     A reaction: A promising suggestion. I do think our ideas acquire a different epistmological status once we have given them our full attention, though is that merely full consciousness, or full thoughtful evaluation? The latter I take to be what matters. Cf Idea 2414.
7.3 p.128 The phenomenal concept of an eleven-dot pattern does not include the concept of eleven
     Full Idea: You could detect the absence of an eleven-dot pattern without having counted the dots, so your phenomenal concept of that array is not an arithmetical concept, and its content will not yield that its dots do indeed number eleven.
     From: Ernest Sosa (Beyond internal Foundations to external Virtues [2003], 7.3)
     A reaction: Sosa is discussing foundational epistemology, but this draws attention to the gulf that has to be leaped by structuralists. If eleven is not derived from the pattern, where does it come from? Presumably two eleven-dotters are needed, to map them.
7.5 p.134 Some features of a thought are known directly, but others must be inferred
     Full Idea: Some intrinsic features of our thoughts are attributable to them directly, or foundationally, while others are attributable only based on counting or inference.
     From: Ernest Sosa (Beyond internal Foundations to external Virtues [2003], 7.5)
     A reaction: In practice the brain combines the two at a speed which makes the distinction impossible. I'll show you ten dot-patterns: you pick out the sixer. The foundationalist problem is that only those drained of meaning could be foundational.