January 15, 2007

Clayton Littlejohn on Lotteries and Assertion

Clayton Littlejohn has a very interesting post up on lotteries, assertion, and belief, including some criticisms of my paper "Must We Know What We Say?" (Penultimatish version; Philosophical Review link if you have access.)

Clayton says:

Itís one of the vices of Weinerís treatment of the lottery that it tells us what we should think about the assertion that (1) ["Your lottery ticket didn't win"-mw] is true, but not the belief that (1) is true. So far as I can tell, he thinks there is nothing wrong with believing (1) [indeed I don't--mw], but those who think that there is something wrong with believing (1) will be disappointed by the partial solution to the lottery.

He goes on to present a problem for me given that there's nothing wrong with (1), and to present an argument for the impermissibility of believing on purely probabilistic grounds, and an account of what belief is.

My scattered thoughts are in comments there. [UPDATE: Well, not AOTW, but they will when he approves my comment.] Basically, I'm skeptical that the way to account for the norms of assertion is to think about categorical belief, because I think that the accounts of categorical belief on offer aren't messy enough. Do I categorically believe what I predict to be true? On the stricter accounts of categorical belief (including Clayton's I think), I don't; which makes belief too strong as a norm of assertion. On weaker accounts of categorical belief, I may, but then some of things I believe will be things I shouldn't assert.

Posted by Matt Weiner at January 15, 2007 10:23 PM

I think that my comments function isn't properly working. I can't leave comments either.

The question you raise concerning categorical belief and assertion is interesting, I'll have to give it more thought (esp. given the weightiness of what I take my concluding thoughts to amount to).

I'm wondering what you make of the skeptical troll case. The character description is one I took from our conversation in Austin and it seems that if you have a situation in which A and B know they have the same evidence, A believes p (not wrongly because she knows p) but B fails to believe p because obstinate. Under these conditions, A's assertion of p could have a point. Such an assertion affirms that the evidence already available is sufficient.

That's why I thought that the Gricean has trouble if they hold both that the belief is fine but the assertion is not. If the belief is fine, the assertion has a purpose: to indicate that the belief is fine given the evidence already available. If the belief shouldn't be held, however, it seems we get the unassertability but by appeal to the sincerity principle (and the assumption that you shouldn't assert what shouldn't be believed).

I'm not sure what to think about predictions. I suspect that they aren't beliefs (owing to some considerations about surprises I don't think you'll find convincing), but I also suspect that we can say that assertion requires (categorical) belief either by saying that predictions and assertions are different speech acts or by saying that the belief typically expressed by a prediction isn't the categorical belief. These are conjectures, not beliefs.

Posted by: Clayton at January 16, 2007 01:45 PM

My comment didn't get caught for moderation? Snf.

My view on the skeptical troll case is that it's basically a case where the assertion is pointful because the troll needs reminding of what is asserted. As can be seen by the fact that he doesn't believe it. Of course we don't expect the reminder to take, but there are lots of assertions that we don't expect to take.

More later, but I must attend to some pasta.

Posted by: Matt Weiner at January 16, 2007 06:21 PM