Interview by Richard Marshall
'That the book is called Analytic Islamic Philosophy is a political statement. I am re-appropriating, and owning, the slur that it is to be called an ‘analytic’ so-and so. I have found scholarship in Islamic philosophy to have hitherto been overly geared towards philology and textual exegesis. The gatekeepers to that sub-discipline have made it the case that one has to get into, and show the credentials of being capable of grasping, the minutiae of issues concerning translations, for example, in order to be allowed to have a voice. I think this is partly responsible then for the exclusion of Islamic philosophy from the curriculum in modern UK and US philosophy departments – philosophers, qua philosophers, are deemed not to be allowed to say anything about it.'
'... the evidentialist view about what constitutes correct belief made salient the following question: why did God send down a Prophesy? There seems to be no unique epistemic purpose to Prophesy if all that’s in the Koran are simply true propositions, that might have been discovered by doing science or philosophy. I think then the central aim of Falsafa is to answer this last question. As I say, it resembles the ‘faith vs reason’ question, though is subtly different, and in fact a slightly more sophisticated problematic (in fact more similar to modern problems in epistemology about testimony and the role of experts).'
'I take intuitions to be the sorts of things that underscore mathematical and a priori knowledge (so often used in analytic metaphysics): how we can come to know these things from the armchair to me remains a complete mystery, as difficult to solve as the famous hard problem of consciousness.'
'According to Evidentialism one ought to believe something just in case one has good evidence for it. As such, evidence itself is normative, and this therefore seems to commit one to a kind of realism about normative properties. Anti-evidentialists will often think instead that such properties look mysterious, and that it’s really some will that brings normative properties into the world (either God’s will perhaps, or our human wills).'
'My take is that the project of understanding epistemic justification should be seen as a branch of the ethics of belief and to be distinct from the project of defining knowledge.'
Anthony Booth is a philosopher interested in applied philosophy, epistemic normativity, epistemology, ethics, ethics of belief, Gettier cases, Islamic epistemology and philosophy of mind. Here he discusses the analytic/continental divide in philosophy, Islamic philosophy, the relationship between Greek philosophy and Islamic philosophy, the Falsafa, Al-Farabi and ‘moderate evidentialism’, Avicenna, Al-Ghazali, Averroes, Islamic philosophy and politics, intuitions, Wittgenstein, when we should believe something, and epistemic justification.
3:16: What made you become a philosopher?
Anthony Booth: I was a really rebellious teenager and was getting into all sort of trouble in my final years at school when a kindly history teacher (Margaret Ainscough) took me under her wing. She identified the sorts of questions I was asking in class as irrelevant to what we were studying (e.g. whether Cardinal Wolsey was a pragmatic opportunist) but as ‘philosophical’. She helped me pursue my interests by taking me to the few relevant lectures of the York Philosophical Society, giving me things to read, and indulging me in long discussions. Margaret had an extremely powerful intellect, and was exceptionally kindly, but nonetheless had a complete, almost physical, allergy and aversion to philosophy. I have since continually experienced a similar aversion in my professional life, particularly when in the company of historians of various stripes. I really don’t understand where that animosity comes from, but it’s often so deep that I wonder whether it’s somehow innate for some people. I guess I just wasn’t born with such an allergy! At the time, Margaret would often try to see if I would intellectually engage with subjects that she thought were more worthwhile, like anthropology or sociology, and finally persuaded me to apply to study philosophy as a joint honours subject with psychology at university. Once I was at university I was excited and surprised to meet people that actually had a deep love of, and respect for, philosophy, and I was hooked! I was conversely alienated by the manner in which my psychology teachers kept denigrating psychoanalysis (to first years, as if to cultishly brain-wash them), and by the machismo of acting as if the subject was like a ‘hard’ science. So I dropped psychology after my first year. In so doing, I more consciously and wilfully started to identify myself as a ‘philosopher’. Incidentally, I’ve since also become much more sympathetic to psychology as a discipline – they’re doing amazing work!
3:16: One of your great interests is Islamic philosophy and you begin your most recent book by explaining why you find the so-called analytic/continental divide in philosophy a bad thing whilst calling yourself analytic. So first, can you explain why you don’t think the divide justified philosophically yet you use one term of the divide to describe your own approach which on the face of it not only endorses the divide but picks a side?
AB: Given the various historical ‘turns’ that ‘analytic’ philosophy has been through (such that it is now completely kosher and apparently not contradictory to talk about ‘analytic metaphysics’)I don’t think there’s anything left to the term ‘analytic’ than denoting adherence to the following very board norm: make your work understandable to others, via the use of accepted conventions for writing, such that its results can be assessed. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who is seriously working on a topic or a figure that is paradigmatically considered to be ‘continental’ (e.g. Sartre or Heidegger) who would reject that norm. They may abide by slightly different conventions for writing – they may put greater emphasis on historical scholarship, or to close reading – but they follow the conventions in order to be understood by peers and such that their work may fairly be assessed as scholarship. A hell of a lot of people working on Heidegger, for example, work really hard to try to understand him, to make him intelligible to themselves. And because they are forced to do this with the tool of language, the effort is also de facto one geared at making his thought intelligible to others. And note that the norm above does not prescind doing professional work on the ‘ineffable’, either. Since it’s (a) unclear given the meaning of the word ‘ineffable’ that poetry and the like, and not argumentative discourse, is best at capturing it. That is, given that the ineffable is meant to go beyond thought and language. (b) That good poets are not themselves subject to the norm above.
There is a small handful of ‘purists’ within contemporary continental philosophy who do explicitly reject this norm (and a small handful of anglo-american philosophers who unfairly characterise them as spokespeople for the whole of continental philosophy). I can see how it might be pragmatically rational (opportunist?) for them to do so: it expediates the formation of cliques, and so obviates exposure to critical analysis, and, much more charitably, may insulate them from some of the big sociological problems affecting the philosophical mainstream – problems to do with sexism, and racism, for example. But I think that, sociologically speaking, it is not at all obvious that that they are immune from all these problems and I think we’re better off working together to tackle them. Further, to reject the norm in question is in my mind to effectively reject the wish to communicate with others. I can sometimes appreciate the sentiment, but, all things considered, I find it excessively anti-social.
So to that extent I do pick a winning side. But, given how I’ve just defined its central characteristic, it’s rather a pyrrhic victory for analytic philosophy. It would have re-invented itself almost to the point of extinction (if it’s defined by its opposite other). I think the capacity for such re-invention, and subsuming of other traditions, is a good thing in a tradition (I think Tim Williamson has said something similar). But it may leave some fearing that analytic philosophy is colonising other traditions in a domineering way. Hence why being an ‘analytic Nietzschean’ is often used as a slur. However, I feel the fear is misplaced, given how broad the ‘analytic’ norm is, and that there being such a thing as an ‘analytic Nietzschean’ is a testament to the norm’s breadth. As such I think the existence of such labels, and their no longer carrying a very obvious sense of paradox, marks the first steps towards completely abandoning the analytic-continental distinction, and symptomatic of a friendlier, more open minded, less patriarchal and less racist overall discipline.
That the book is called Analytic Islamic Philosophy is a political statement. I am re-appropriating, and owning, the slur that it is to be called an ‘analytic’ so-and so. I have found scholarship in Islamic philosophy to have hitherto been overly geared towards philology and textual exegesis. The gatekeepers to that sub-discipline have made it the case that one has to get into, and show the credentials of being capable of grasping, the minutiae of issues concerning translations, for example, in order to be allowed to have a voice. I think this is partly responsible then for the exclusion of Islamic philosophy from the curriculum in modern UK and US philosophy departments – philosophers, qua philosophers, are deemed not to be allowed to say anything about it. They are only allowed to speak about it quahistorians or philologists. More importantly this attitude tacitly attributes to Islamic philosophy the idea that it contains nothing philosophicallyworthwhile. That it is merely an item of curious exotica, to be explored over a port at an oriental studies event. I’m afraid I find that attitude rather a racist one, and the term ‘analytic’ is meant to denote a departure from it. My aim is to show respect to Islamic philosophy by treating it as something that can inform and transform my own tradition. ‘Analytic’ here then also denotes a methodological commitment in the history of philosophy – the giving of maximum hermeneutical priority to the principle of charity and of philosophical engagement with texts over poring over textual and historical details. That’s not to say that the latter aims are not valuable and necessary ones, just that the former trump them. I think the same about the values of empirical adequacy and explanatory power with respect to scientific theories.
3:16: So can you sketch for us the salient aspects of Islamic reason that you think show that Islamic philosophy is more than just something of historical interest but directly congruent with philosophy as generally understood, despite Russell’s assessment?
AB: I think the most salient point to make here is that, unlike Russell, I don’t think there really is anything that is Islamic reason. I think there are a number of philosophical thinkers who do or have considered themselves to be Islamic. Some of these think that their philosophies are inexorably tied to Islam and some do not. And one finds a huge spectrum of philosophies adhered to by them: from the ultra rationalist, to the anti-evidentialist, from compatiblist accounts of free will to quietist mysticism. At the risk of sounding trite: Islamic philosophers are good philosophers who reason like the rest of humanity, and have correlatively have come up with theories and anti-theories that much resemble what other historical traditions have come up with. What’s interesting to me is the difference that one finds in the detail of the particular versions of these theories, as I think that opens up the space of the possibility of making progress as to how we understand the world.
3:16: And how does the Greek legacy – in particular particular aspects and works from Plato and Aristotle – feed into Islamic thinking?
AB: I think it very explicitly feeds into the work of Falsafa (philosophy) – a word that is ‘Arabised’ from the Greek philosophia,of course, rather than directly translated using the Arabic word for wisdom (hikma) – whose exponents very much define themselves as bringing it into dialogue and showing it to be compatible with Islam. It’s an open question though that the Islamic theologians who preceded the advent of Falsafa were also, much more tacitly, influenced by such works.
What I think the Falasifa (Philosophers) were most interested in from Greek philosophy was the Neoplatonist cosmology that explained the origins of the world in way that seemed congruent with Islam; and a way of reading both the Platonic and Aristotelian epistemology that gave room for both reason and religion, in a way that had political implications.
3:16: The Falsafa is a crucial period for Islamic philosophy isn’t it? So who are the key figures and what are the key foundational aspects of this?
AB: Yes, I think ‘Falsafa’ denotes what can be considered a ‘classical’ or what Peter Adamson has called a ‘formative’ movement in Islamic Philosophy. The key, and most famous, thinkers of this early movement were al-Kindi, al-Farabi, Avicenna and Averroes. These thinkers explicitly consider themselves as Peripatetic – as Aristotelian – but also bring a lot of Neo Platonist thought into their systems (they laboured under the miss-apprehension that certain Neo Platonist works had been written by Aristotle, and so often took the works of Plato and Aristotle to be a seamless whole). Al-Ghazali wrote a very famous critique of this movement The Incoherence of the Philosophers – so it’s probably not correct to label him a Falaysuf– but he’s certainly a philosopher, and a very important thinker in the period where Falsafa was extant.
I think the central problematic was something like what came to be known as the faith vs. reason issue. I know that became somewhat of an obsession later in Europe – and some have thought it to be a uniquely European obsession – but I think it has its roots in the central problematic behind Falsafa. The period when Falsafa first came into existence was during the Abbassid Caliphate, when a kind of ‘rational’ theology (Mu’tazilite theology) was very much dominant. In my view theologians in this school were often advocated of a position I call Evidentialism – that the correctness conditions of belief its truth conditions. So that one ought to believe things just in case they are true and thus that what gives you an obligation to believe that there is no God but God, for instance, is that it is true that there is no God but God. I think this was really radical, and it came with a particular metaphysics of belief where belief is considered to be a private, occurrent mental state. This had hugely significant implications for how to try apostates in Islamic Law (that ultimately this was a matter for God to determine in the afterlife). And it enabled the first Falasifa to argue for the study of Greek philosophy – if what is in the Koran is true, and what is in Greek philosophy is true, then the two must be in complete harmony, such that it was actually un-Islamic to fail to study Greek philosophy. But the evidentialist view about what constitutes correct belief made salient the following question: why did God send down a Prophesy? There seems to be no unique epistemic purpose to Prophesy if all that’s in the Koran are simply true propositions, that might have been discovered by doing science or philosophy. I think then the central aim of Falsafa is to answer this last question. As I say, it resembles the ‘faith vs reason’ question, though is subtly different, and in fact a slightly more sophisticated problematic (in fact more similar to modern problems in epistemology about testimony and the role of experts).
3:16: You link Al-Farabi with what you call ‘moderate evidentialism’ – so what is this evidentialism and how do Plato and Aristotle get in on the action?
AB: So I take evidentialism to be the view that one ought to believe things just in case one has good evidence for the truth of those things. I think that Thomas Aquinas moderated that view by claiming that while that applied to most things, there were some propositions – namely, certain religious propositions about which our evidence perforce had to be neutral – that were exempt. I think al-Farabi and others in the Falsafa movement also moderate evidentialism to get around the issue I mentioned about the epistemic uniqueness of Prophesy, but do so slightly differently. They do so by restricting not the propositions that Evidentialism applies to, but the subjects. In other words, they think that for a certain intellectual elite, evidentialism applies, but for the ordinary person it does not – they can believe on the basis of metaphors and stories.
I think that Aristotle gets in on the action, for al-Farabi, since he seems to have admitted of ways of knowing that are ‘sub-demonstrative’ (less than give you full certainty, but nonetheless give you knowledge). Plato, in that he seemed to make room in his epistemology for allegory, dialectical learning and rhetoric – especially for the intellectual non-elite.
3:16: Avicenna is the next giant figure you discuss, and his thinking turned to necessity and contingency, essence and existence – and of course modality is a key element in contemporary thinking still. So what did Avicenna argue, in particular about the necessity of the world, self consciousness, the active intellect and prophesy. (And what’s the flying man argument?)
AB: Al-Farabi had proposed (what I think was a very exciting and sophisticated) solution to the problem of the epistemic uniqueness of Prophesy problem. To simplify: the Prophet doesn’t have knowledge that is unique to them (that is unavailable to any other human). What makes their epistemic state different is not what they know, so to speak, but how they know: they understand the knowledge they have more so than ordinary humans. They do this via having superior faculty of the imagination that enables them to see how everything they know is connected (this, incidentally, also gives them a unique political role). Avicenna agrees that what marks out the Prophet from ordinary humans is their faculty of imagination. But this for Avicenna makes them have not just better understanding, but esoteric knowledge (knowledge that is available to them only). This is because of the role of the imagination in his epistemology and correlatively because of his necessitism: he advocates for the view that everything that exists, exists necessarily. Avicenna follows the other Falasifa in taking the best kind of knowledge to be the sort of knowledge that is taken passively from the Active Intellect. The Active Intellect was a notion the Falasifa had developed from Aristotle’s De Anima– a sort of intellectual force permeating everything that cannot be destroyed and permanently thinks or carries all the possible intelligibiles (roughly, the a priori truths). It was thought that it was necessary to posit this, since intellectual intuition is structurally like perception, and so needs an agentto generate a move from potentially intellecting something and actually intellecting it (actually being in the state of intuiting that Gettier cases are not cases of Knowledge, for instance).
BUT, thought Avicenna, the human mind needs to prepare itself before it can be acted upon by this agent. It does this via the use of the imagination: for instance, one imagines a house without a roof or a mud hut before one has the eureka moment and sees that the essence of a house is to provide shelter. Thus, Avicenna reasons, the more developed is one’s imagination, the more knowledge one will receive from the Active Intellect (the Active Intellect is for him an Emanation, in Neo-Platonist parlance, from the One). Because the Prophet has a better imagination, the Prophet therefore knows more than the ordinary human – such that there is knowledge in Prophesy that we can only know by consulting that Prophesy. This all makes thought experiments – such as the Flying Man thought experiment - for Avicenna have a very important epistemological role. The Flying man thought experiment, very roughly, is supposed to start to set up the mind such that it knows that our essences are not bound up with our material existences. Avicenna asks us to imagine whether if we were in the modern equivalent of a sensory deprivation tank (where we are born ‘flying’ in mid air as a fully formed adult with no sensory stimulation) whether we would still be self-aware. If we think that we would still be self-aware, then what are we aware of? Since it cannot be our bodies, our selves cannot be essentially material. Self awareness is something that is extremely important to Avicenna. This is because he thinks that it has a special epistemological status, and shows that there is something other than nothing (at least we know that we exist). And because there is something other than nothing we know that there must be something that has existence as an essential property (since, extremely roughly, something must cause there to be something other than nothing, and that something cannot have existence as a contingent property on pain of infinite regress). If the cause of there being something than nothing is something than exists essentially, then everything that has been caused to exist has been done so necessarily. Hence the modality of the world: everything that exists, exists necessarily. It’s all a very neat system!
3:16: Al-Ghazali argued against moderate evidentialism didn’t he – what are his reasons for this and his attack on Falsafa generally? Is he defending a form of Sufi mysticism? Ernest Gellner defended a view that Islam consisted of not one but two forms that oscillated like a pendulum throughout history – stopping only at the end of the nineteenth century when modernity emerged to enable the non-mystical, puritan revolutions to become the sole viable form of Islam in modernity. Is al-Ghazali the philosopher we might turn to to remind us of this alternative to contemporary puritan Islam?
AB: Yes, al-Ghazali wrote that famous work against Falsafa and their moderate evidentialism: The Incoherence of the Philosophers. What I think he’s most against (he mentions this in the famous fatwa right at the end of the work) is the attendant view of moderate evidentialism that religious scripture is constituted of metaphors to aid the understanding of the masses, the intellectual non-elite. There are certain theses held by the Falasifa – like the pre-eternity of the world – that are just false for al-Ghazali, andare contrary to scripture, and thus cannot be taken to be metaphors. Al-Ghazali aims to show that the thesis that the world is pre-eternal (has no beginning) does not stand up to philosophical scrutiny – hence his objection is not merely that it goes against scripture, and hence ‘the incoherence of the philosophers’. Obviously to do this, he’s had to rely on philosophical argument though. So while, yes, he is a Sufi, he’s a kind of moderate Sufi who acknowledges the value of philosophy (when put in its proper place) as well as orthodox theology (also when put in its proper place. So I agree that al-Ghazali is a thinker to turn to for the reasons you mention, but especially because he aims to remind us of the vacuity of that pendulum.
3:16: Averroes defends moderate evidentialism against al-Ghazali. Is he the key figure in Islamic modernism and neo-Islamic evidentialism and what does this modernism consist of?
AB: Yes, I think the issue is whether belief on the basis of sub-demonstrative proof, such as on the basis of metaphors, is really non-epistemic. And, correlatively, whether ‘noble’ lies are really lies. I think Averroes rules in favour of thinking that belief based on metaphors is nonetheless belief held for epistemic reason, and cannot properly contradict belief that is based on full on demonstrative proof. There may be non-epistemic, practical reasons for belief (such as belief in the afterlife) but these cannot contradict belief based on demonstrative proof either, since they are of a different order. Thus, Prophets and philosophers should also believe, for non-epistemic reasons, that there is an afterlife, even if the claim is not backed up by demonstration for them. This is mean to allay al-Ghazali’s charge that people who espouse noble lies are, well, liars, and that its inappropriate thus to say that the Prophet is someone who would engage in such an activity.
Averroes becomes central to the thinking of certain Modernist thinkers, I think, yes. Though I think they take him to be an Evidentialst (what they would call ‘rationalist’) rather than the Moderate Evidentialist I think he is. Modernism was in part a response to Colonialism. It advocated progress for the Muslim world by recovering a past that had been lost. Some of the central figures thought that Colonialism had not merely robbed the Muslim world materially, but also intellectually. That the ‘rationalism’ that had enabled the ‘west’ to flourish had been stolen from them through, say, Aquinas’ appropriation of Averroes, and needed to be recovered. Hence Muhammad ‘Abduh’s (one of the key Modernist thinkers) claim in 1888, on returning from a trip to France, that ‘I went to West and saw Islam but no Muslims; I returned to the East and saw Muslims but no Islam’.
3:16: How do you understand Islamic philosophy and politics? Islamic states seem politically illiberal and without civic society. Do politics follow from the philosophy – what’s the relationship between philosophy, politics and religion? And why is a neo-Pyrrhonism relevant here?
AB: I don’t think that any existing Muslim state really puts into practise the ideas of the Falasifa, but I think that understanding the latter nevertheless helps us understand many of the political impulses and ideas in the contemporary Islamic world. In my understanding, the Moderate Evidentialism of the Falasifa has very clear political implications. Perhaps the most important regarding a conception of political legitimacy. A very common thought about political legitimacy today is that a state wields political power legitimately just in case it rules by consent. I think the conception of political legitimacy in Islamic Moderate Evidentialism, however, differs to this – mere consent is not sufficient, what it required is belief. Political power is legitimate just in case it is doing the right thing. Thus people need to know what the right thing is, and hence they need to be educated as best they can be – hence the role of metaphors and religion conceived of as a way of educating the public in that manner. Today, we might conceive of that relationship as that between the experts and their ability to use the media in a way that best educates the public. One of the problems with this kind of view is that it seems to assume a state of epistemic certainty as to certain matters where there really is none (that there can be reasonable disagreement, for instance, is a cornerstone of certain modern liberal thinkers). So here is where think neo-Pyrrhonism is important here because I think one finds in Islamic Philosophy and Islamic thought generally an idea of knowledge that can be graded. Even the word in Arabic for ‘knowledge’ (‘ilm) works differently grammatically from the work ‘knowledge’ in English – where it seems infelicitous to say, for instance, that I sort of know that Casablanca is in Morocco. So because of the underlying epistemology one finds in Islamic Philosophy a kind of perfectionist liberalism (akin to say that of Joseph Raz) but one that is better equipped to deal with some its objections (to do with epistemic certainty as levied by figures such as John Rawls).
3:16: You’re also interested in epistemology: intuitions are one area you’ve discussed. What is the epistemological and ontological standing of intuitions in light of work by Williamson, Sosa and Bealer and of X-Phi? And does analytic metaphysics make intuition based thinking about conceptual analysis?
AB: I personally think this area is the most difficult in all of philosophy, and it’s extremely hard to make any real progress here. Williamson, Sosa, and Bealer are the people who have made the most valiant attempts to do so (as well as Wittgenstein, when we take the area to cover meta-philosophy more generally) but I think we’re far from properly understanding intuitions. I take intuitions to be the sorts of things that underscore mathematical and a priori knowledge (so often used in analytic metaphysics): how we can come to know these things from the armchair to me remains a complete mystery, as difficult to solve as the famous hard problem of consciousness. But it’s correlatively one of the things that makes philosophy so exciting and fascinating!
3:16: You’ve wondered whether trust is a form of belief? Is it? Does Wittgenstein on the mental help you to answer this?
AB: On a neo-Wittgensteinian conception of the mental (which one finds nicely articulated by Robert Stalnaker), one attributes a belief that p to a subject S just in case attributing that belief best explains S’s actions (both ‘internal’ and ‘external’ – though Wittgenstein would hate this last qualification). This is subtly (?) different from behaviourism [I think it’s obviously different, but a recent (famous) reviewer of some of my papers didn’t see it]. My idea is that this sort of view has limitations: it would make mental states like belief look voluntary in a way that they are not. So I think belief resists this Neo-Wittgensteinian treatment, but I don’t think this is reason to abandon this picture of the mental altogether. I think accepting its limitations actually make it a more powerful theory, that can help us get a grip of other mental states that notoriously seem to escape our understanding – for instance, intention and trust. My account of trust then is something like this: it is what belief would be like if a Neo-Wittgensteinian account of the mental could apply to belief. This helps explain why trust seems, paradoxically, to involve features that make it look both that it is a belief and that it is not.
3:16: Why is the question whether we can believe anything if we will ourselves to important for epistemology and in particular issues regarding the normativity of belief? How do you deal with this issue?
AB: It’s important because on one of the most central understandings of epistemic justification (paradigmatic ‘internalism’), epistemic justification has to do with our meeting our epistemic duties. But that way of thinking about epistemic justification seems to be at odds with the famous principle that ‘ought’ implies ‘can’, and that we have no voluntary control over our beliefs. I get around this by arguing that while we have very little directvoluntary control (we cannot hardly ever engender a beliefjustby intending it) there are things we can do to indirectlybring about belief: performing a Google search for instance, or simply reflecting. Unlike some philosophers working on this issue, I now think our ability to do these things does give us doxastic controland not mere doxastic influence.
3:16: You’ve written a lot about when we ought and ought not to believe things. Can you sketch for us how you go about deciding this – what’s the landscape like and perhaps can you give us a few examples to chew over, such as why you think responsible belief isn’t obligatory?
AB: Very broadly, I think that traditionally speaking there are two sorts of view on the table about the issue of what we ought to believe. One is Evidentialism, whose proponents include people like William Clifford, and, I think, some Mu’tazilite theologians, as well as the Falaysuf al-Kindi. The other is anti-Evidentialism, whose proponents include, I think, people like William James, Nietzsche, Blaise Pascal, Kierkegaard and some Ash’arite theologians such as al-Ghazali. According to Evidentialism one ought to believe something just in case one has good evidence for it. As such, evidence itself is normative, and this therefore seems to commit one to a kind of realism about normative properties. Anti-evidentialists will often think instead that such properties look mysterious, and that it’s really some will that brings normative properties into the world (either God’s will perhaps, or our human wills). Here’s a nice example to illustrate that I take from Beri Marusic: suppose that you’re about to marry someone and you’re about to vow that you will be faithful to your spouse. But suppose that the night before the wedding you’ve come across some good evidence that indicates that most marriages involve some infidelity. What should you believe when you make your vows? Should you believe in line with the evidence? To have the intuition that you should not, that it would somehow be inauthentic to do so, I think is to perhaps start moving in the direction of Anti-Evidentialism. The Anti-evidentialist will think that the case shows that it’s really your will, the fact that you’ve freely chosen to make a vow that is ultimately responsible for any normativity here. Opposing this Evidentialists raise the following sort of case (adapted from Tom Kelly): suppose that you want to watch IT at the cinema, and so have pragmatic reason not to know the ending until you’ve seen the film (it’ll ruin the experience to know the ending). But suppose that you’ve accidentally read a review of the film and are now in possession of good evidence that IT ends up being a giant spider (sorry, spoiler alert!). Surely, claim Evidentialists, we rule, in such cases, that you ought to believe that IT ends up being a giant spider, even where we have very good pragmatic reason not to believe it. And what can explain that except the proposition that evidence is itself normative?
3:16: And another big epistemic issue that troubles philosophers is that of epistemic justification. So how do you approach this issue and is this a different project from an analysis of knowledge. If true would it pose a problem for the likes of Williamson and his knowledge-first theory as well as Gettier approaches?
AB: My take is that the project of understanding epistemic justification should be seen as a branch of the ethics of belief and to be distinct from the project of defining knowledge. I think the former is the interesting project out of the two. I call this idea a ‘divorce’ developing Richard Foley’s suggestion of a ‘trial separation’. I think it helps to solve the Gettier issue (or dissolve it) effectively by submitting to infallibilist intuitions about knowledge. I don’t think the approach need be necessarily in tension with the knowledge-first theory. The approach is compatible with the idea that knowledge is an un-analysable primitive, but incompatible with the idea that notions such as justified belief need to be understood in terms of the concept of knowledge. So it depends on whether as a knowledge-firster, you’re committed to the second thing above.
3:16: And finally for the readers here at 3:16, are there five books you can recommend that will take us further into your philosophical world?
and Euthydemus [I think these ought to be read together]
William Alston Essays in Theory of Knowledge
Avicenna Metaphysics (The Healing)
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
Richard Marshall is biding his time.