on this page

Or send us an email

Application form

Pathways programs

Letters to my students

How-to-do-it guide

Essay archive

Ask a philosopher

Pathways e-journal

Features page

Downloads page

Pathways portal

Pathways to Philosophy

Geoffrey Klempner CV
G Klempner

International Society for Philosophers
ISFP site

PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS electronic journal


P H I L O S O P H Y   P A T H W A Y S                   ISSN 2043-0728

Issue number 164
29th July 2011


I. 'Does the Snake Really Exist in the Rope? An Exposition of the
Advaita Vada's view on Error' by Arup Jyoti Sarma

II. 'Borderline cases and Epistemic Possibilities' by Zoltan Vecsey

III. 'Just-if-ication: A Discussion of Scientific Reasoning' by Raam



The theme of this issue of Philosophy Pathways could be broadly
described as Epistemology, or the Theory of Knowledge. However, each
of the three articles connects its epistemological theme with another
equally foundational area in philosophy.

Arup Jyoti Sarma examines Samkara's theory of error in the context of
the metaphysical theory of 'Advaita' ('non-duality'). In Western
philosophy, the theory which most closely resembles the Advaita is
the Absolute Idealism espoused by F.H. Bradley in Appearance and
Reality (1893). As in Bradley, the notion of individual 'things' --
or in a subtly different way the notion of individual 'selves' -- is
an illusion generated by the process of discursive thought. Yet, as
the realist critics of Sankara argued, what is the point of calling
this an 'illusion' if we never get to see the way things really are?
Or as J.L. Austin famously quipped, 'There's the bit where you say it
and the bit where you take it back.'

Zoltan Vecsey focuses on Timothy Williamson's theory -- highly
controversial when it first appeared -- that the vagueness in a
statement like, 'this is a heap of sand' or 'that man is bald' is
merely a form of ignorance. According to Williamson, there is always
a truth of the matter in borderline cases even though we can never
access that truth. Williamson's case is based on the admittedly
urgent need to save logic, in the face of the threat of paradox. Yet
as Vecsey argues there comes a point when talk of 'truth' becomes
merely otiose. What can it mean to state 'there IS a truth', when no
means exist to express or access that truth?

Raam Gokhale, in his second dialogue published in the e-journal,
offers a useful exposition of the debate in the philosophy of science
between proponents of the view that scientific laws express
regularities, and proponents of the view that they state necessary
connections, a question which David Hume first examined in his
Treatise of Human Nature. How can we ever know of the existence of
necessary connections in nature, when all we can ever experience or
describe are regularities, or 'lawlike' generalizations?  Near the
end, Raam Gokhale offers a solution to Nelson Goodman's 'New Riddle
of Induction'.

Geoffrey Klempner




In this article, I have made an attempt to discuss critically
Advaitavada's Theory of Error. The Advaita as a distinct
philosophical tradition owes its origin mainly to the celebrated
writings of Samkara (788-820 AD). There are of course, other
scholars, such as Gaudapada, Suresvara, Padmapada, to name a few
beside Samkara. But Samkara has extensively dealt with the theory of
error, which is commonly as Anirvacaniya khyativada. This article
strict its limit mainly to the writings of Samkara, and some of the
criticisms associated with this theory.


Any discussion of error in the context of Indian philosophy cannot be
said to be comprehensive unless one takes deep into the Advaita Vada's
account of error (khyati). In fact, it is Advaita alone, which is
found to have given plenty of importance to the discussion of error
for the construction of its own philosophical positions. Maya, the
popular expression for error has been so elaborately analysed and
discussed in the entire Advaita literature that the whole system is
called by many as Maya Vada.[1]

The Advaita as a distinct philosophical tradition owes its origin
mainly to the celebrated writings of Samkara (788-820 AD). Samkara
not only mentions the topic of error in his different works but
devotes a full chapter on error which is added ab extra to his famous
commentary on Brahma Sutra. Samkara emphasises that any enquiry into
the knowledge of Brahman must necessarily be pre-supposed by a clear
analysis of the concept of error, which he regards as Adhyasa or
superimposition. Samkara's definition of adhyasa, 'Smrtirupah paratra
purvadrstababhasah,' has been usually translated as 'the apparent
presentation, in the form of remembrance to consciousness of
something previously observed, in some other thing.'[2] According to
T.M.P. Mahadevan,

     Superimposition is erroneous cognition (mithya-jnana),
     illusory appearance (avabhasa): It is the cognition of
     'that' in what is not-that.' The stock examples are the
     rope-snake and the nacre-silver. Snake is not rope; and yet
     a piece of rope is mistaken for a snake. Nacre is not
     silver; and yet the one who sees a shining object which is
     nacre lying on the sea-shore and imagines it to be silver,
     picks it up out of greed. These are cases of delusion,
The Advaita Vedanta School advocates the theory of Anirvacaniya
khyati of error. The term anirvacaniya is used by Samkara in several
places in the Vedanta Sutras.[4] This school holds that the object of
illusion is neither real (sat) nor unreal (asat) nor both real and
unreal (sadasat). It is different from both existence and
non-existence (sadasadvilaksana). It is not existent or real because
it is sublated or contradicted. The error is immediately rectified,
when we get true knowledge of the object, for example, when we truly
know that it is shell and not silver. Thus, the knowledge of silver
vanishes when the knowledge of shell arrives. This sublating
experience shows that the object of illusion is not existent or real.
Had it been existent or real, it would not have been sublated and
contradicted. Moreover, it is also not unreal or non-existent because
it appears in experience. And what is totally non-existent, nothing,
like a barren woman's son can never appear in experience to anyone.
The immediately perceived presence of the illusory object can never
be dismissed as a void or nullity. Again, it cannot be said to be
both real and unreal because it is a contradiction in terms to speak
of a thing as both real and unreal. Therefore, the silver in illusion
is really indeterminable as real or unreal. It means that the object
of illusion cannot be logically defined as real or unreal.

The whole of Samkara's philosophy may be summed up as follows: (1)
the Brahman of the Upanisad is the only reality. According to him,
the reality or the essence of a thing is that which persists through
all its states.[5] And as such, anything which is changeable and
perishable becomes virtually unreal. If the self is ultimately real,
the necessary conclusion is that all else is mere illusion or
maya.[6] (2) The world is unreal and it is an illusory appearance;
Brahman itself under the limitations which form part of that illusory
universe and (3) the individual soul (Jiva) is non-different from
Brahman, the one without a second, which the scripture defines as
Existence-Consciousness-Bliss. The non-duality of Brahman, the
non-reality of the world, and the non-difference of the soul from
Brahman -- these constitute the teachings of Advaita.[7]

The distinction between this dual relationship of Brahman with the
world and with the individual soul or jiva must be clarified in order
to avoid confusion. The confusion arises because the manner in which
Samkara identifies the universe with Brahman is different from the
manner in which he identifies the jiva with Brahman.[8] This
confusion is due to two diversities of views -- the diversity
displayed by the various objects of the universe and the diversity
displayed by the various individual subjects, who are also part and
parcel of this universe. The manner in which the diversity of the
objects of the universe is negated is somewhat different from the
manner in which the diversity of the individual subjects is negated,
although the two negations are not unrelated. According to Arvind
Sharma, 'The issue might appear as one of only dry intellectual
interest, when presented in this way. It is, however, also loaded
with deep philosophical significance, or is at least often viewed in
that perspective.'[9]

Samkara's resolution on this issue can be presented as follows:

     Samkara recognises... that there are two streams of thought
     in which the Upanisads; but he thinks that one of them, viz.
     that which affirms the reality of diversity, is only a
     concession to empirical modes of thought. All diversity
     being thus only conditionally true, the only teaching of
     the Upanisads, according to him, is that of unity. Since,
     however, there can be no unity apart from variety, he does
     not describe his teaching as monism but only as
     'non-dualism' (advaita). Strictly speaking, it is therefore
     wrong to say, as it is now too common to do, that Samkara
     teaches bare unity. If he did, his Absolute would be 'pure
     nothing'. But as Vacaspati says, he only denies the many
     but does not affirm the one.[10]
The question then naturally arises, if truth is one, why arises this
many, which we experience through the senses? Truth can not
contradict experience. Therefore, Samkara has to explain this
apparent contradiction between truth and our everyday experience. He
says that this plurality is an illusion (Maya). It has no reality,
for it disappears when the knowledge of the true nature of Brahman is
realized. It is just like seeing a snake in a rope in the dark. This
wrong perception is brought about by ignorance (Avidya), which is
beginning less (anadi). It is the ignorance which is the cause of all
this duality, Brahman being mistaken for the world. On account of this
ignorance, the individual soul (jiva) identifies itself with its
adjuncts (upadhis) that is, the body, the senses etc., which are only
superimposed on it. This identification makes the soul think that it
is the doer, enjoyer etc., though the truth is that it is none of
these and thereby it comes under the influence of birth, death,
happiness , misery etc. It becomes bound down to this world
(samsara). In the case of the relationship between Brahman and
individual self, however, 'the jiva is not false or illusory as the
world.'[11] According to Arvind Sharma, 'It is Brahman itself
appearing through media or limiting adjuncts (Updhi), but these
limitations which are really of its empirical adjuncts, appear
transferred to it.'[12]

When Samkara says that the world is false, he does not mean that it
is absolutely nothing, but that our experience is liable to be
stultified by means of knowledge of things as they are. The world has
a relative existence; it is true for the time being, but disappears
when true knowledge dawns. It is not real from the absolute
standpoint. Maya or ignorance is not a real entity. We can neither
say that it exists, nor that it does not exist. It is a mystery,
which is beyond our understanding. It is unspeakable (anirvacaniya).
As maya is not real, it cannot be related to Brahman, the ultimate
reality in any way, for any relation between truth and falsehood is
impossible. The relation is only apparent, and therefore Brahman is
not affected by this illusion, which is superimposed (adhyasa) upon
it. Even as the rope is not affected by the snake, that is assumed to
exist in it.

Therefore, the only way to liberate from this earthly existence
(samsara) is to get rid of this wrong notion through the real
knowledge of Brahman. Just as in the case of the rope and the snake,
it is the knowledge of the rope alone that removes the illusion of
the snake, so also it is the knowledge of Brahman alone that brings
about the cessation of this relative existence (samsara). Knowledge
of Brahman being thus the only way of liberation, an inquiry into
Brahman through the study of the Brahma-sutra is absolutely necessary.

Samkara's explanation of the world as an illusion has given his
philosophy the name of Mayavada or Anirvacniya khyativada. It is also
known as Vivartavada. Vivartavada is a doctrine of the apparent
modification of Brahman into this phenomenal world, as opposed to
Parinama vada or the doctrine of the actual modification of Brahman
into the phenomenal mode of existence, as held by some other schools
of Vedanta like the Visistadvaita of Ramanuja.[13]

If the world phenomena are a case of superimposition like the snake
in a rope, then the question naturally arises to our mind -- what is
superimposed upon what? Is the world superimposed upon Brahman? Or,
is the Brahman superimposed upon the world? In the latter case, the
world, which is the substratum, like the rope in the example would be
a reality. If it is in the former case, the world superimposed upon
Brahman, then it is not possible, because, Brahman is not an object,
which can be perceived by the senses like the rope. A thing becomes
an object when it is limited by space, time and causation. Since,
Brahman is unlimited, it is beyond these, and therefore, Brahman
cannot be an object of perception. As such, Brahman cannot be the
substratum of a superimposition. However, it should be noted that
while the world may be a superimposition on Brahman, the statement
cannot be reversed and Brahman cannot be considered a superimposition
on the world. The impossibility of such mutual superimposition in
relation to the Brahman and the world and its plausibility in
relation to the jiva and the world are two facts which stand out in
sharp contrast.[14]

Mutual superimposition involves superimposing, for instance, the
features of antahkarana on the atman and of the atman on antahkarana.
Thereby the antahkarana which is not spiritual in nature appears
conscious and the atman, although infinite in nature, appears limited
to the antahkarana. When the reality Brahman is realized in one's own
experience, what is denied is not jiva as a spiritual entity, but
only certain aspects of it, such as its finitude and its separateness
from other selves.

Neither can Brahman be both subject and object of the thinking
process, for one and the same being cannot both be the agent and the
object of its activity at the same time. An object is that on which
is concentrated the activity of the agent and hence it must be
different from the agent. Again, if Brahman is manifested by some
other knowledge and thus becomes an object, it ceases to be
self-luminous and becomes limited, and therefore, the scripture will
not accept it. Furthermore, in all cases of superimposition, there is
an antecedent real knowledge of the object which is superimposed, as
of the snake in the example. Therefore, to superimpose the world on
Brahman, a real knowledge of the world is necessary, and this would
make the world a reality, with the result that the cessation of the
world phenomena would be an impossibility and liberation would be
impossible. Thus, in whatever way we may try to establish the theory
of superimposition, we are failed to establish it.

However, Samkara says that it is natural on the part of man, because
of ignorance, not to distinguish between the two entities (the
subject and the object), which are quite contradictory, and to
superimpose the one on the other, and their attributes as well, and
thereby mixing up the real and the unreal to use such phrases as
'That is I' or 'This is Mine'. The self again is not altogether a
non-object, for it is the object of the notion of the ego. The self
again, is not altogether entirely avoiding our grasp. Though the
inner self is not an object and is also without parts, yet due to
ignorance, which is unspeakable and without a beginning, attributes
like mind, body, senses etc., which are products of ignorance are
superimposed on the self. Because of this superimposition, the
inner-self behaves as if it is an agent, enjoyer, possessor of parts.
But in reality, it is none of these. The real self can never be an
object of knowledge. Self-consciousness is possible only with respect
to a self already qualified by these adjuncts (Upadhis).

This sounds like arguing in a circle, for to establish
superimposition, we have to accept the self to be an object and the
self can be an object only through the superimposition of adjuncts;
but actually it is not so. It is a case like the seed and the tree.
The seed gives rise to tree, which again produces the seed, the cause
of the future tree and so on. Therefore, in this series of illusions
without a beginning, the self, which is the substratum of the present
superimposition, is an object on account of a past superimposition and
that one has for its substratum the self, which has become an object
of a still earlier superimposition, and so on ad infinitum. The
pure-self without limiting adjuncts is never the substratum of a
superimposition. It is the difference in the limiting adjuncts that
makes it possible for the self to be at the same time an agent and
the object of action.

Superimposition again is due to ignorance (avidya), and hence it can
be removed only by right knowledge. Samkara admits the reality of an
intuitional consciousness (anubhava), where the distinction of the
subject and object are superseded and the truth of the supreme self
is realized. It is the ineffable experience beyond thought and
speech, which transforms our whole life and yields the centrality of
a divine presence. It is the state of consciousness, which is induced
when the individual strips himself of all finite conditions, indulging
his intelligence. It is saksatkara or direct perception, which is
manifested when the ignorance (avidya) is destroyed and the
individual knows that the Atman and the Jiva are one. It is also
called perfect knowledge (samyogjnana) or perfect intuition
(samyogdarsana). While samyagjnana insists on the reflective
preparation necessary for it, samyagdarsana points to the immediacy
of intuition, where the ultimate reality is the object of direct
apprehension (iksana) as well as meditation (dhyana).

However, the realist schools of the Nyaya and the Bhatta Mimamsa
refute the Advaita view. The Advaitin holds that object of illusion
is indefinable. The object of illusion is neither real, nor unreal
nor both. A snake is perceived in illusion and later on, it is
sublated. An object, which is perceived and sublated cannot be
definable. The Nyaya School urges that the Anirvacaniyakhyati cannot
explain the sublation. They pointed out that the silver exists
somewhere else but is sublated here and now when we realize that
'this is not silver'. It is not the knowledge of the silver, which is
sublated here. On the other hand, it is the silver itself. If the
knowledge of silver, too is sublated then the knower and the fruit of
knowledge, too would have to be taken as non-existent, the sublating
cognition will be without any basis. As a result, nothing will be
sublated. Therefore, only what is obtained through is sublated.

The Advaitin holds that the illusion is indefinable, because it is
neither real nor unreal. The illusory snake is neither absolutely
real nor absolutely unreal because it is perceived for the time being
and is sublated later on. But this cannot provide sufficient ground
for the illusion to be inexplicable. Even if this theory is accepted,
the inexplicability remains as it is. That which is different from the
absolutely real, for example, hare's horn, cannot be perceived and
that which is different from the absolutely unreal, example, the
self, cannot be sublated. Hence, the illusory snake, which is
different from absolutely real and the absolutely unreal, can neither
be perceived nor sublated. Whereas, it is actually perceived and
sublated. Moreover, the theory of Anirvacaniyakhyati is not different
from Anyathakyati. The assumption of an inexplicable silver in
illusion implies that one thing appears as another. If this illusory
object is inexplicable, there is no illusion at all.


Dasgupta, S.N., (1933), Indian Idealism (London: Cambridge University

Hiriyanna, M., (1949), The Essentials of Indian Philosophy (London:
George Allen and Unwin).

Kar, Bijayananda, (1978), The Theories of Error in Indian Philosophy:
An Analytical Study (New Delhi: Ajanta Publications).

Mahadevan, T.M.P., (1971), Outlines of Hinduism (Bombay: Chetana

Mahadevan, T.M.P., (1985), Superimposition in Advaita Vedanta (New
Delhi: Sterling Publishers Pvt. Limited).

Samkaracarya, (1962), Vedanta Sutras, translated by G. Thibaut
(Banaras: Motilal Banarsidass Publication).

Sharma, Arvind, (2006), Sea-shell as Silver (New Delhi: D.K.
Printworld (p) Ltd.)

Sharma, Arvind, (2007), Advaita Vedanta: An Introduction (New Delhi:
Motilal Banarsidass).


1. Kar, Bijayananda, (1978), The Theories of Error in Indian
Philosophy: An Analytical Study (New Delhi: Ajanta Publications),

2. Samkaracarya, (1962), Vedanta Sutras, translated by G. Thibaut
(Banaras: Motilal Banarsidass Publication), p.4.

3. Mahadevan, T.M.P., (1985), Superimposition in Advaita Vedanta (New
Delhi: Sterling Publishers Pvt. Limited), p. 1.

4. Samkaracarya, (1962), Vedanta Sutras, op. cit., Vol. XXXIV,

5. Ibid, II.I.II.

6. Dasgupta, S.N., (1933), Indian Idealism (London: Cambridge
University Press), p.163.

7. Slokardhena pravaksyami
   Yadukatam granthakotibhih
   Brahma satyam jaganmithya
   Jivo brahmaiva naparah

(Mahadevan, T.M.P., (1971), Outlines of Hinduism (Bombay: Chetana
Limited), p.141.)

8. Sharma, Arvind, (2006), Sea-shell as Silver (New Delhi: D.K.
Printworld (p) Ltd.), p.5.

9. Ibid.

10. Hiriyanna, M., (1949), The Essentials of Indian Philosophy
(London: George Allen and Unwin), p.154.

11. Ibid, p.157.

12. Sharma, Arvind, (2006), Sea-shell as Silver, op. cit., p.7.

13. Hiriyanna, M., (1949), The Essentials of Indian Philosophy, op.
cit., pp.159-60.

14. Sharma, Arvind, (2006), Sea-shell as Silver, op. cit., pp. 13-14.

Dr. Arup Jyoti Sarma
Assistant Professor
Department of Philosophy
Tripura University

(c) Arup Jyoti Sarma 2011

E-mail: aj_p@tripurauniv.in



 1. Williamson's View of Vagueness

Vagueness, as Timothy Williamson (1994, 2007) conceives it, is an
epistemic phenomenon that can be characterized in terms of absence of
knowledge. The phrase 'absence of knowledge' means something stronger
than mere lack of epistemically relevant information: it means the
in-principle unknowability of the semantic boundaries of vague
predicates. According to Williamson's theory, there is a sharp
boundary between the extension and anti-extension of vague
predicates, but because of our conceptual limitations we are unable
to figure out the exact location of this boundary. If F is vague,
then some objects may be classified as clear cases of F, some objects
may be classified as clear cases of not-F, and there are also
intermediate cases where our classificatory capacities turn out to be
insufficient. This is tantamount to saying that vague predicates give
rise to epistemic borderline cases.

One of the primary challenges of epistemicism is to provide an
explanation of why we are doomed to ignorance in the borderline area.
Williamson's proposed explanation consists of two parts:

The first part elaborates and defends a reliabilist thesis according
to which a belief constitutes knowledge only if it is reliable in an
appropriate way (see e.g. Williamson 1994, 226-230; 1997, 926-27).
The idea, succinctly stated, is that beliefs may be considered
reliable when statements based on them express knowledge in all
sufficiently similar cases. What counts as sufficiently similar is
supposed to vary across contexts and believing agents.

The second part formulates a supervenience principle about the
meaning of vague predicates. The principle states that (i) the
extension of vague predicates supervenes on the overall use of those
predicates in such a way that a small change in our use of a
particular vague F would induce a small change in the extension of
that F, and that (ii) we do not have appropriate conceptual resources
to detect such small changes (cf. Williamson 1994, 231; 1997, 948).

The reliability thesis and the supervenience principle can be taken
as being intended, jointly, to entail the unknowability of the
boundary between the extension and anti-extension of vague Fs.
Borderline cases should then be thought of as incompatible with
knowledge. But as Williamson points out, our irremediable ignorance
does not prevent us from making true judgements about objects that
are neither clearly Fs nor clearly not-Fs (see e.g. Williamson 2003,
709). So conceived, borderline cases appear to be compatible with
true judgements. I argue below that Williamson's view on the
epistemic status of borderline cases is incorrect.

 2. An Argument against the Existence of True Judgements about
Borderline Cases

The crucial point in Williamson's explanatory model can be best
brought out by an example. Suppose that, in accordance with the sharp
boundary hypothesis, a borderline bald man with 3,831 hairs on his
head belongs to the extension of 'bald' and a borderline bald man
with 3,832 hairs on his head belongs to the anti-extension of
'bald'.[1] So someone whose beliefs are consistent with this
supposition may judge truly that a man with 3,831 hairs on his head
is bald. But the statement 'A man with 3,831 hairs on his head is
bald', though unquestionably true, does not express knowledge since
the belief on which it rests is not reliable enough. Had things been
very slightly different in our overall use of 'bald', then though we
had the same belief it might not have produced the same statement.
For instance, if our overall use had been slightly shifted in such a
way that a man with 3,831 hairs on his head would already belong to
the anti-extension of 'bald', then the statement 'A man with 3,831
hairs on his head is bald' would have been false. Such shifts in use
are so small that they must remain undetectable to us. We are not
able to track all the relevant factors that might influence the use
of a certain predicate. But then we cannot detect shifts in truth
value either: no one can ascertain whether the borderline statement
'A man with 3,831 hairs on his head is bald' expresses a true or a
false proposition. The final consequence, obtained by semantic
descent, is that it cannot be known whether a man with 3,831 hairs on
his head is bald or not bald.

As has already been recognised, the epistemicists' explanatory model
incorporates a number of hidden assumptions concerning the existence
of sharply bounded extensions. It has been pointed out, for instance,
that the linkage between our non-linguistic beliefs and the extensions
of vague predicates is not quite as simple as the epistemicists' model
assumes (see Ray 2004). It is also often remarked that the
epistemicist accepts without further proof that the externalist
semantics of predication is the correct one (see e.g. Schiffer 1999;
Wright 2003). Instead of reconsidering the sustainability of these
assumptions one by one, I will try to pinpoint a hitherto overlooked
difficulty in Williamson's argument.

The difficulty begins with the non-triviality of the first
supposition outlined above. Let n and n+1 be the numbers of hairs
between which the sharp boundary for 'bald' is supposed to lie. Then,
according to Williamson, one may judge truly that a man with n hairs
on his head is bald. And similarly, one may judge truly that a man
with n+1 hairs on his head is not bald. But given that having n or
n+1 hairs are both borderline cases of baldness, one can make
judgements like these only by mere luck or happy accident. Neither
the agent who makes the judgement, nor the epistemicist who
investigates the agent's act, nor anyone else with normal human
abilities seems to be in a position to come to know that the
judgement is in fact true. This kind of ignorance is irremediable and

If this is so, we may presume that the possibility of making true
judgements about borderline cases remains doubtful even under lucky
circumstances. For consider an agent who judges truly by sheer luck
that a man with n hairs on his head is bald.[2] At first sight, the
conditions for obtaining such a judgement seem to be coherently
conceivable. Under closer inspection, however, the coherence of the
conceived situation becomes dubious. The problem arises from the fact
that in order to establish that the judgement based on the lucky guess
is true, we should already know that someone who has n hairs on his
head belongs to the extension of bald. But this is something we
obviously cannot know. An important consequence is the following.
Where there are no competent agents who are, at least in principle,
able to determine the epistemic status of certain judgements, there
is little point in using the truth predicate. Thus, to say that a
particular judgement is true in the borderline area seems to be a
mere verbal manoeuvre without any theoretical weight.

The difficulty increases when we recall that Williamson explained the
unknowability of the sharp boundary for 'bald' with recourse to the
basic epistemic difference between true judgements and knowledge.
True judgements about borderline cases were declared not to be
reliable enough to constitute knowledge. Of course, we may judge
truly that a man with n (or n+1) hairs on his head is neither clearly
bald nor clearly not bald. To do so would require no more than
recognizing the presence of intermediate statuses between clear cases
of baldness and clear cases of not-baldness. Moreover, without the
truthfulness of such judgements we would not be able at all to think
of someone as borderline bald. This does not entail, however, that a
man who has n hairs on his head may be judged truly to be bald, or
that a man who has n+1 hairs on his head may be judged truly to be
not bald.[3] It is hard to imagine how we could have any chance of
validating or disproving judgements of this latter sort. Even if all
the relevant non-semantic facts about baldness were available, and
all the semantic facts about 'bald' known, our epistemic situation
would hardly be improved.

But if there are good reasons to deny that we can make true
judgements about borderline cases, then it could no longer be
plausibly maintained that the unknowability of sharp boundaries
results from lack of reliability. In this respect, it does not much
matter that our overall use of 'bald' might have been slightly
different from what it actually is. What is of primary importance is
the defectiveness of our judging situation concerning borderline
cases: contrary to Williamson's model, borderline cases must be
thought of as incompatible with true judgements. Thus, once we see
that the proposed distinction between true judgements and knowledge
proves to be pointless in the borderline area, it becomes reasonable
to think that Williamson's reliability thesis is also incorrect.

 3. Borderlineness and Knowledge

Does all of this mean that the epistemic status of borderline cases
is incompatible both with true judgements and knowledge? Yes, and no.
If we agree with the traditional epistemological approach and construe
knowledge as a factive concept, then the incompatibility becomes
evident (cf. Williamson 2000: 95). Suppose, in accordance with the
alleged factivity of knowledge, that if we are in a position to know
a statement about a man who has a particular number of hairs on his
head, then the statement in question is true. Suppose also that
excluded middle and bivalence holds even in the borderline area. Then
it is either true that a man with n hairs on his head is bald or true
that he is not bald. But it is a robust phenomenon of human knowledge
that such things are not knowable. In this sense, we are ignorant of a
truth. Borderline cases must be seen, thus, as incompatible with

As an alternative, we may advocate a somewhat more liberal approach
to knowledge. According to the alternative view, it is epistemically
possible for us to know that a man with n hairs on his head is bald,
and it is also epistemically possible for us to know that he is not
bald. We are not thereby involved in a truth value contradiction, for
the epistemic possibility that a man with n hairs on his head might be
known to be bald (or not bald) does not imply that it is in fact true
that he is bald (not bald). The existence of these possibilities
reflects only how things might turn out to be in the borderline area
(cf. Chalmers 2010).[4]

This can provide an interesting new perspective for the analysis of
the knowability of borderline statements. In the possibilist approach
at hand, we are not conceptually or a priori prevented from making
knowable statements about borderline cases.[5] Quite the contrary,
there seems to be nothing wrong in forming beliefs which aim to
express our cognitive relation to borderlineness. Given that some of
our vagueness-related beliefs might turn out to be true, it is not
irrational or epistemically irresponsible to think that we have the
right to claim knowledge even in borderline cases. We might call this
phenomenon weak epistemic entitlement, since the statements that
result from these belief-forming processes do not require
full-blooded factual justification. In such circumstances, it is
sufficient for us to be convinced that the resulting statements are
not in direct conflict with what we already know about clear cases.
Two considerations follow. First, our knowledge in clear cases
remains unexceptionally factual. But when we make statements about
borderline cases, the constraints on factuality are weakened:
borderline statements do not serve to describe the world, they
express cognitive relations rather than facts.[6] Second, conflicting
statements -- for example, 'a is F and a is not-F' -- lead unavoidably
to epistemic contradictions in clear cases. In the borderline area,
however, such conflicts become rationally acceptable.

Now back to our example. If it is not excluded by any existing piece
of knowledge that a man with n hairs on his head is bald, then we are
weakly entitled to say that he is known to be bald; and similarly for
not bald. Thus, we may conclude that in this more liberal sense, and
in this sense alone, the epistemic status of borderline cases is
compatible with knowledge.


Chalmers, D. 2010. The Nature of Epistemic Space. Forthcoming in
Andy, E.; Weatherson,
B. (eds.) Epistemic Modality. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Ray, G. 2004. Williamson's Master Argument on Vagueness. Synthese
138: 175-206

Schiffer, S. 1999. The Epistemic Theory of Vagueness. Philosophical
Perspectives 13: 481-

Yalcin, S. 2007. Epistemic Modals. Mind 116: 983-1026

Williamson, T. 1994. Vagueness. London: Routledge

Williamson, T. 1997. Reply to Commentators. Philosophy and
Phenomenological Research
57: 945-953

Williamson, T. 2000. Knowledge and its Limits. Oxford: Oxford
University Press

Williamson, T. 2003. Vagueness in Reality. In Loux, M.; Zimmerman, D.
(eds.) The Oxford
Handbook of Metaphysics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 690-715

Williamson, T. 2007. Knowledge within the Margin for Error. Mind 116:

Wright, C. 2003. Rosenkranz on Quandary, Vagueness and Intuitionism.
Mind 112: 465-474


1. In order for the example to work we should also suppose that
'hairs' and 'head' can be used precisely and thus do not give rise to
further complications.

2. It is important to note that in the present context 'luck' should
not be interpreted as 'epistemic luck'. From an epistemic point of
view, these are different expressions. While the latter functions
usually as a potential indicator of knowledge, the former is neutral
in that respect.

3. Or, to put it more generally, if x is recognized as having an
intermediate status between being F and not-F, then x may be judged
truly to be a borderline case of F. But it does not follow from this
that we can judge truly that x is F or that x is not-F.

4. I do not want to suggest that to refer to the idea of epistemic
possibility is entirely unproblematic in the theory of vagueness. But
I think one key feature of the idea can be invoked here without any
need of deeper justification. It may simply be contended that in
using the notion of 'epistemic possibility' we do not aim to extend
our analysis to include counterfactual circumstances or possible
worlds. Because epistemic possibilities concern only the way things
might actually be, we should not directly deal with the additional
issues of metaphysical modality.

5. Note that though some parts of the the epistemicists' explanatory
model is invalidated by the possibilist approach, neither excluded
middle nor the principle of bivalence need be given up.

6. In this regard, the present view has a certain affinity with Seth
Yalcin's non-factive theory of epistemic modals (see Yalcin 2007).

(c) Zoltan Vecsey 2011

E-mail: vecseyz@freemail.hu



     'If knowledge is my God, doubt would be my religion.'
     - Kedar Joshi
     'Everything should be made as simple as possible but no
     simpler.' - Einstein
Scene: Kedar's flat in Pune, India.

 Players: Ram, an older philosopher, and Kedar, a younger


 Ram: So when we left off the other day, you wanted to talk about

 Kedar: Yeah, I was intrigued by your comment that justification being
more technical is a more promising concept to investigate
philosophically than knowledge.

 Ram: That's right. But before plunging into the epistemological sense
of justification, I think we should consider one other sense of it as
it may shed light on the sense we want to investigate.

 Kedar: What other sense did you have in mind?

 Ram: We give justifications for our beliefs but we also give
justifications for our actions. Justification has an ethical sense as
well as an epistemological one.

 Kedar: Interesting. It must be because decisions are made in both
cases, a verdict handed down whether it's to believe a proposition or
perform an action. And decisions, verdicts are the hallmarks of
justice, hence just-ification.

 Ram: I would even say just-if-ication, since it consists of giving
just ifs or reasons in support of our beliefs or actions.

 Kedar: Now I think you're taking etymology too far.

 Ram: Yeah, I guess I was being punny rather than funny. Philosophers
are disposed to make bad puns.

 Kedar: And sweeping generalizations.

 Ram: Anyway, you're right. Justice is probably the etymological root
of justification in epistemology as it is more obviously in ethics,
though there's an important difference: ignoring three-valued logic,
beliefs are either true or false. Actions on the other hand are
three-valued, being good, bad, or as indifferent as scratching an
itch. That's why we don't demand justifications for every action as
we do for beliefs.

 Kedar: This is interesting but you suggested the parallel with ethics
could shed light on the epistemological sense of justification?

 Ram: I did. Justice is a virtue of reasonableness, whether in the way
people are treated or decisions are made. So we should be reasonable
in the demands we make of justification. If we don't demand
justifications for every action, perhaps we should be less demanding
in assessing epistemic justifications.

 Kedar: I disagree. If the only alternative to good actions were bad
actions, we would demand justifications for every action to avoid bad
ones just the way we demand justifications to avoid false beliefs.
Because beliefs are two-valued, we have the right to demand the
highest standards in the justifications people offer. I for one don't
think we're ever fully justified about anything because we never know
the true underlying reasons that make our beliefs true. This is
certainly the case in our inductively justified beliefs, but even in
the case of deductive reasoning we are not justified because we can
never know either the premises that go into our deductions or know
that our deductive capacities are working properly.

 Ram: Of course, you can be as demanding as you want about
justification. I can even concede that we're never 'fully justified'
in any of our beliefs, whatever that means. But I would point out
that if we're never fully justified, we are often what you might call
partially justified and that is a philosophically interesting
phenomenon -- what characterizes what you'd call partial

 Kedar: Could you give an example of what 'I'd call' partial
justification? I use scare-quotes because I don't think there is any
such thing as partial justification. Only God has full justification
which we can't even approach.

 Ram: Well, the ideal, God's eye justification for believing it's
5:00pm may be that the sun is exactly at a certain position in the
sky given where you are on earth and what date it is. Now looking at
your watch may not be justification enough, but we can approach the
ideal, reasoning on the basis of physics/ cosmology that it's about
5:00pm because the sun is in roughly the right position in the sky.
The philosophically interesting issue is what makes the rough
reasoning in some sense more scientific than simply looking at your
watch which might be wrong, and for that matter what difference in
degree makes the rough reasoning less than it could be.

 Kedar: OK, if you can concede we're never fully justified, I can
concede we're sometimes partially justified. And I have to admit
investigating why some forms of justification rank higher than others
is philosophically interesting. Perhaps we can rank different types of
justifications by considering the hierarchy of the sciences,
investigating why we think there's a hierarchy. For example, physics
is more basic than chemistry, which is more basic than biology, which
is more basic than psychology. The phenomena of the more basic and
more justified sciences constitute the phenomena of the less basic.

 Ram: That's certainly how it's commonly conceived, but in philosophy
we should get at the root of the issue. It's not constitution that
makes some laws more justified. It's which laws are more
truth-preserving. Constitutive phenomena generally permit more
truth-preserving inferences but that needn't always be the case.
Consider Mendel's genetics. Its subject matter is constituted by
chemistry but as far as justification is concerned, Mendel's laws
concerning the distribution of dominant and recessive traits in the
propagation of pea plants permit inferences as truth-preserving as
chemistry's law about the distribution of C12 and C14 atoms in a
carbon compound. That's why they're as reliable in justifications.

 Kedar: Yes, the more truth-preserving the law the more reliable the
justification that uses it. That's why I think only the laws of logic
approach full justification. I say approach because even there we may
be flawed in our deductive capacities.

 Ram: Hold on. I think admitting the possibility that our reasoning
faculties may be flawed is good philosophical humility. But that's
all it is. Nothing interesting can be said further on the subject. So
in exploring different kinds of justification we might as well put the
limitations of our faculties aside.

Now let's turn to logic. I think we shouldn't lose sight of the fact
that laws of logic -- like modus ponens -- are justification schemas
or rules of inference not actual justifications or inferences
themselves. Nobody believes q on the basis of p and p implies q. We
believe genuine propositions not proposition variables That's why I
think it's somewhat confused to say that only the laws of logic are
fully justified.

Still, all forms of reasoning can be put into a deductive format by
putting in implicit premises. That's why axiomatic systems have
provided theorists since Aristotle a good model to study
justification. Being guided by their example, we can say there are
really only three things that can be justified: the theorems, the
axioms and the rules of inference. Within the deductive system, the
theorems are justified by the axioms using the rules of inference.
The axioms and rules of inference are justified by their capacity to
generate the truths that we want to come out as theorems. But we
don't construct deductive systems in a vacuum: they're constructed so
that some statements we independently want to count as theorems come
out as theorems. The independent justification we have for them is
inductive, reasoning from the particular to the general. These
inductive truths may become so compelling that we are willing to
preserve them even at the cost of abandoning cherished axioms and
rules of inference when they come into conflict.

 Kedar: I guess a good example of our reconsidering cherished axioms
and rules of inference is the development of three-valued logic in
response to indeterminacy in quantum mechanics.

 Ram: That's right. Another may be the greater legitimacy
non-Euclidean geometry enjoyed after the discovery that space is
curved. In both cases, alternative deductive systems were given
greater legitimacy by emerging inductive discoveries.

To sum up, there are three kinds of justification: deductive
justification of theorems, justifications of axioms and rules of
inference by considerations of strength and simplicity and inductive

 Kedar: Whew that's quite a summation but I'll be damned if I can
think of any exceptions. Now how do you propose to rank these three
forms of justification?

 Ram: Well, each has something to recommend it. The theorems are the
result of truth-preserving inferences, the axioms have to be believed
because they're the basis of everything else and the inductive truths
are the raison-d'etre of the whole deductive system in the first
place. Given your preference for deductive reasoning, you'd probably
prefer conditional statements like if the axioms are true the
theorems have to be true. I on the other hand think some inductive
truths are the most certain. To make them come out as theorems is the
reason we formulate deductive systems in the first place.

But we don't have to rank them. Our next course should be to
investigate any problems that are associated with each.

 Kedar: I've studied enough philosophy to know the chief problems are
with induction, the method inductive truths are first justified.

 Ram: You're right again. But before we examine the old and new
riddles of induction, we should consider what form inductively
justified truths take. It may give us insight into the type of
justifications that are appropriate for them.

 Kedar: Don't inductively justified truths take the form of
generalizations like, 'All men are mortal'?

 Ram: To consider that, let's examine a simpler, more basic inductive
truth. Suppose you're taking coins out of an urn. You've withdrawn 5
coins and they've all been dimes. As you keep drawing dimes, at some
point it'll become reasonable to assume that if you were to draw
another coin from the urn, it would be a dime. The belief that it
would be a dime would be justified because the set-up is just
sufficiently law-like to support that counterfactual -- though not
all counterfactuals would be supported... for example it's not true
that if I were to drop a penny into the urn it would become a dime.
The question is what happens when you first entertain the proposition
that all the coins in the urn are dimes.

 Kedar: I don't know if this is what you have in mind but what would
happen for me would be that I'd entertain some story about how only
dimes came to be in that urn, like maybe someone is sorting the
change in his pocket... maybe the laws of nature are God sorting the
change in his pockets.

 Ram: Interesting analogy, especially if in the case of God devising
the laws of nature, you mean 'change' in both senses. Hmm maybe I'm
being punny again... Anyway, a story is essential because it explains
why all the coins in the urn are dimes. Without the story there is at
most the generalization -- that all the coins in the urn are dimes --
which may be only accidentally true. Without the story, there is no
reason to think future draws from the urn will yield dimes and we
have no explanation why the draws to date have all yielded dimes.

 Kedar: But different stories could be given which make the
generalization not accidentally true. So any given story is not

 Ram: You're right. But some story or theory might be thought
essential because it establishes a connection between properties, the
property of being one of the coins in that urn and the property of
being a dime. So inductively justified truths could be said to take
the form of connections between properties, as philosophers like
Dretske and Armstrong have argued, connections that vary in strength
depending on how compelling is the story doing the connecting.
Inductively justified truths are not generalizations of individuals,
on this reading; they are not about individuals but about properties.
All men are mortal not simply because each individual human is mortal
but because being human is connected with being mortal.

 Kedar: Just to play devils advocate, maybe they could be
generalizations -- they just are non-accidental because they play a
part in a larger story, one that contains only other
generalizations... like 'all men are mortal' being subsumed under
'all organisms are mortal'.

 Ram: That's another theory about laws of nature or LON's. Lewis for
example has argued that LON's are elements of systems that optimize
the opposing desiderata of strength and simplicity. As we alluded to
before, the LON's, which serve as premises in our justifications,
should be strong enough to explain the wide variety of phenomena but
simple enough in the sense that they don't assume more than is
necessary. LON's on this view are generalizations that appear in our
best, most optimal true theories.

 Kedar: Doesn't optimizing between strength and simplicity make LON's
too dependent on our subjective preferences? Couldn't LON's be what
we would rightly or wrongly consider suboptimal?

 Ram: That's indeed one of the chief objections to views like Lewis'
which are collectively called the systems view of LON's, the other
being the universals or properties view. The criticism is evident in
our dimes example.

 Kedar: How's that?

 Ram: The story in our dimes example is like the theoretical system.
It gives us a reason to think the generalization that all the coins
in the urn are dimes is non-accidentally true. But before we think of
the story, it's a fact that there is a law-like connection between
drawing dimes and drawing coins from that urn. The fact may be better
explained by a different story -- for example, there could be other
coins in the urn but because someone's vigorously shaken the urn, the
heavier coins are at the bottom. Still whatever the explanation, there
is a connection between our drawing dimes and the setup of that urn;
it's a connection between properties not mere individuals. The story
makes the generalization non-accidentally true by establishing a
connection between the relevant properties, but the connection exists
before the story.

 Kedar: Your modified dime example where there are other coins in the
urn is illuminating. It suggests that the connection between
properties in a LON may be only a probable connection not always a
necessary one.

 Ram: In fact that reminds me of the standard problem with the
properties view: how do we characterize the connective connecting the
properties? Whatever it is, it's capable of connecting individuals
with individuals, individuals with properties and properties with
properties. It also can be a necessary connection or a probabilistic
one. Material implication as used in generalizations, being not so
diffused, is on a sounder footing.

 Kedar: Well as usual you've summarized both views and the problems
with each. Are you going to indicate which one you prefer?

 Ram: As usual you're going to be disappointed because as usual I'm
going to straddle both positions.

Laws of Nature, like the concept of God, has several satisfaction
conditions. We might be willing to consider a being as God if it
possessed the three omni's, or failing that some of the three omni's
or failing that was perfect or failing that had created the world,
etc. The point is it's not like searching for the 'God' particle
where physicists have clear ideas of the particle's properties before
they discover it. LON's and other pre-theoretic concepts like God,
could have one of several 'essential' characteristics. One
characteristic may be that they make connections between universal
properties another may be that they are a part of our most optimum
theories about the world.

 Kedar: What I'm interested in is when these intuitions come into
conflict, which one wins out?

 Ram: Since interest in that kind of conflict is commendable
philosophically, I'll try to oblige. But first let's draw a sharper
distinction between the two camps. Allied with the systems view of
what LON's are is the Regularists' view of what LON's do. If laws are
generalizations then they serve to describe the world.

 Kedar: That seems fairly uncontroversial. What's the view of the
other camp?

 Ram: Well if laws are necessary connections between properties they,
according to the Necessitarians, govern real world phenomena; they
are a necessary feature of the world. So the issue is whether LON's
merely describe the world or do they in some sense govern it as well.

 Kedar: Well, being opposed to any sense of necessity other than
logical necessity, I don't much care for the necessitarians' label.
But I have to say, I think the view that LON's govern phenomena seems
more plausible. After all, even if there were no sentient beings to
describe the world, the LON's would still be there governing it.

 Ram: I'm afraid it's not that simple. They could still be said to
just describe the world even if there were no beings to do the actual
describing. To say they govern the world has to mean something more,
like the phenomena that come under their scope behave the way they do
because the relevant LON's are true.

 Kedar: You know, now that you put it that way, I'm struck by
something odd about the necessitarians' view: statements are made
true by things being a certain way; the necessitarians seem to invert
that, committed as they are to things being a certain way because some
statements are true. Is that odd enough to be damning?

 Ram: Interesting. That cart-before-the-horse argument is indeed one
of the criticisms of the necessitarians view. But I don't find it all
that compelling: necessitarians could always hold that LON's, though
they can be described as any other feature of the world, are states
of affairs not statements. Saying that the law of gravity being true
causes the proverbial apple to fall on Newton's head may be no more
odd than saying that the apple falling on Newton's head being true
makes Newton's head hurt. In both cases you have states of affairs
causing other states of affairs. It's just that in case of the law of
gravity causing the apple to fall you have a state of affairs
connecting properties causing a physical event. Just because the
properties state of affairs can be described by a proposition doesn't
mean that the proposition being true causes the event except in an
elliptical sense.

 Kedar: I think I follow that. But what then is the best case for
highlighting the difference between the two positions?

 Ram: Here's one. Suppose that gravity doesn't follow an inverse
square law, that there is an inverse cube term as well. It just so
happens that there is an inverse cube law of repulsion that in every
case cancels out the inverse cube term in the gravity law. Would we
say that there are two LON's operating in that case or just one?

 Kedar: Being an idealist I would say there are two, though you, being
a pragmatist would probably say there is only one.

 Ram: I don't know if there is an 'ism' for straddling the fence but I
find both views have their merits. I think we'd say there is just one
law of gravity -- the inverse square law -- that describes the
phenomena we observe but if there really are features of the world --
albeit undiscoverable features -- that make there be two opposing
forces... I don't know... I can be brought to say there are two laws
operating in that case.

 Kedar: Are you saying you're confused?

 Ram: I'm saying I'm confused beyond all hope. But seriously, I think
the confusion is like admitting humility and boldness, as opposed as
they are, are both virtues. Admitting some features of the world are
undiscoverable is humility but we don't stop with the admitting; we
imagine scenarios of how some things could be undiscoverable and
imagining them is like the beginning of the thought experiment that
could lead to eventually discovering them. The admission is like
humility, the imagining like boldness.

 Kedar: That's profound man. I'm myself almost tempted to straddle the
fence as you say. But not to spoil your poetic moment, wouldn't Hume
have something to say about the view that there are necessary
connections in nature?

 Ram: He certainly would though even there the answer is not
clear-cut. Hume's point that we observe no necessary connections
between events, that all we observe are constant conjunctions,
certainly bears on the issue at hand... though recent exegesis of
Hume tends to support the interpretation that he was making a purely
epistemological point. He allowed there to be necessary connections
between events. His point was simply that we can never have any
evidence for them, that only habit leads us to suppose a billiard
ball struck directly will move in the opposite direction to where it
was struck from.

 Kedar: Yeah I guess Hume being Scottish wouldn't be sympathetic to
there being any 'English' on the ball.

 Ram: It's tempting to make bad puns, huh?

 Kedar: I guess it is. But seriously if we can't ever know there are
necessary connections why should we ever assert them?

 Ram: The same reason that despite the fact that all we have are sense
impressions, we nevertheless assert -- our science asserts -- there
are physical objects. There may be no justification for our belief
beyond the fact that we're just constituted to believe so, but our
constitution has served us well in the past and maybe that's
justification enough. (pause)

Or maybe not... you see, my straddling the fence is at least
consistent. And I'm not just being cagey: beliefs like there are
physical objects and that there is a necessary connection between
causes and effects seem to play some role in how we understand the
world but they don't neatly fit into any of the tripartite division
of justifications we made earlier: They are not deductively justified
as are the theorems of our science, nor are they justified by
considerations of strength and simplicity as are the axioms, nor are
they inductively justified as are the truths we independently want to
come out as theorems.

 Kedar: You were a bit quick. Why couldn't we say they are justified
as axioms based on considerations of strength and simplicity?

 Ram: That's the usual move but the skeptic can always say, 'What
additional theorems are you purchasing with these as axioms?' For
example, the supposition that there are necessary connections between
causes and effects supports no scientific laws as far as I know. Same
with the supposition that there are physical objects. So
considerations of simplicity would seem to demand that we drop these
from our set of axioms.

Though then again -- fence straddling mode -- they do make a virtue
of habit.

 Kedar: OK, you've convinced me: maybe fence-straddling is the best
position on this issue. Let's see if we can make any progress on the
New Riddle of Induction.

 Ram: You won't find me straddling the fence on that one. The new
riddle has been around since the 1950's so maybe, like grue, it too
is past time t when it should be called something else -- like maybe
the 'Solved Riddle of Induction.' (snicker, snicker)

 Kedar: I don't get it. I confess I don't know anything about the new

 Ram: Oh I see. Before I give my solution to the new riddle, I have to
explain it. As Goodman argued, Hume's solution to the problem of
induction leaves open the conditions under which regularities get
habituated. Not all regularities get habituated: for example, while
it's true that the evidence to date has supported the claim that all
emeralds are green, it's also true that the same evidence is
consistent with the claim that all emeralds are grue, where an
emerald is grue if examined before some future time t and found to be
green or otherwise is blue. The riddle is to give criteria under which
the first regularity is supported by the evidence to date but the
second regularity is not.

 Kedar: Can't we disqualify the second hypothesis on the grounds that
it employs a disjunctive predicate and refers to a particular time
instant? Proper scientific predicates shouldn't have such

 Ram: Goodman has a nice response to such an objection. Analogous to
grue, he defines another predicate, bleen such that an object is
bleen if examined before t and found to be blue and green otherwise.
If we adopt grue and bleen as our primitive predicates then green and
blue turn out to have disjunctive definitions which refer to a time
instant. The moral Goodman wants us to draw is that preferring one
set of predicates over the other is purely a matter of practice,
practice conditioned by which predicates have been used successfully
in past projections.

 Kedar: Couldn't we again appeal to our constitutions, saying we're so
constituted as to key-in on green things rather than grue things?

 Ram: That's another response to Goodman's riddle, to point out that
green things are a 'natural kind' for us, that the reason we favor
green is not simply practice which could've just as easily favored
grue. Our physical nature predisposes us to pick out green things
rather than grue things.

But both practice, or entrenchment as Goodman calls it, and the
constitution argument make it a little arbitrary that 'all emeralds
are green' is better supported by the emeralds we've actually seen
than 'all emeralds are grue'. Science should be on a sounder footing.

 Kedar: I presume your solution to Goodman's riddle puts it on a
sounder footing?

 Ram: It does. My argument, which is detailed in a paper called
'Resolution of Grue Using a Support Measure' published in PhilSci
Archive, is essentially as follows: denying 'all emeralds are green'
lowers the likelihood of having found green emeralds more than
denying 'all emeralds are grue' lowers the likelihood of having found
grue emeralds. This is because when we deny all emeralds are grue
we're casting doubt on emeralds after t being blue, which is
consistent with them being green like in our sample. Mathematically
it can be shown that if some evidence is less likely given the denial
of a hypothesis than given the denial of a second hypothesis, then the
evidence supports the first hypothesis more than the second
hypothesis. In other words, the evidence to date supports 'all
emeralds are green' more than it supports 'all emeralds are grue'.

 Kedar: I'll have to check out the PhilSci Archive paper, but it does
sound intriguing. It is refreshing to see you not straddling the
fence on an issue.

 Ram: You could say I saved the best for last since I think we've
covered about all the bases on the topic of justification.

 Kedar: Say, now that we're at the end, what would you make of our
talk, not only this discussion but our philosophical discussions in
general? Good, bad or indifferent as scratching an itch? I fear it's
the last, which may still be a little bad since there is so much
other good things we could be doing.

 Ram: Oh it's not so bad. Philosophy is not just our itch to scratch.
We'll just have to see to it that other people's inquisitive itches
are scratched by our philosophizing as well.


* For other philosophical adventures of this duo, go to
http://slumdogphilosopher.blogspot.com and
http://courtofsanity.blogspot.com and

(c) Raam Gokhale 2011

E-mail: rpgokhale2002@yahoo.com

Philosophy Pathways is the electronic newsletter for the
Pathways to Philosophy distance learning program

To subscribe or cancel your subscription please email your
request to philosophypathways@fastmail.net

The views expressed in this journal do not necessarily
reflect those of the editor. Contributions, suggestions or
comments should be addressed to klempner@fastmail.net

Pathways to Philosophy

Original Newsletter
Home Page
Pathways Home Page