April 29, 2004

Close to the Hedge

Recently I posted on the oddity of hedged knowledge ascriptions, such as "If P is true, then S knows that P," when the ascriber knows what evidence S has and when the ascriber is not willing to assert outright that S knows that P. This raised some problems for subject-sensitive invariantism, which predicts that sometimes it should be natural to assert these hedges (see the previous post for the details).

I should record this, though: There's an anonyblogger concerning whose identity I have some evidence that seems reasonably strong to me, but that is somewhat indirect. I have thought to myself, "X is Y." I have also thought, "If X is Y, then I know it."

I wouldn't be quite willing to say outright that X is Y--even if I were willing to talk about X's identity at all (which I'm not, X has a perfect right to remain anonymous). Yet if X were publicly unmasked as Y, I would say "I knew that X was Y all along--on these grounds."

So here I am tempted to hedge, even though I know what my evidence is (but you don't). Perhaps it's because I'm not quite willing to say outright that I know, but I have some evidence which under some circumstances would be useful for knowledge.

Note that on a "practical environment" view of knowledge (as endorsed by Hawthorne if you put a gun to his head in Knowledge and Lotteries), the question of whether I know that X is Y is moot--no matter how strong my evidence is, I'm not going to do anything about it. But there is a practical question that would arise if X's identity were revealed; I would want to rub it in that I was right all along. Hmm.

(BTW, I need to come up with some better titles for these posts. The last one was based on the sequel to Bridget Jones, and I haven't even read the first one--well, not more than the first fifty pages--and this one is based on one of the most embarrassing enthusiasms I had when I was young and dumb. Suggestions?)

Posted by Matt Weiner at April 29, 2004 07:18 PM