Thursday, 23 July 2015

Deliberation, Interpretation, and Confabulation (2)

This is a report on the second day of the Deliberation, Interpretation, and Confabulation Workshop held at the Abraham Kuyper Centre for Science and Religion at the VU University in Amsterdam in June 2015 (for a report of the first day, please go here).


The first talk was by Christoph Michel (University of Stuttgart) on the transition from deliberation to evaluation. Michel is interested in developing a theory of self-ascription of attitudes. Knowing one's own attitudes does not imply a full or deep understanding of one's own behaviour and does not come with powerful predictive capacities. Self-knowledge can be gained by self-interpretation (without privilege) and deliberation (with privilege). Some also think that we can gain self-knowledge by introspection.

A position on how to achieve self-knowledge depends on what we take attitudes to be: if they are conscious/neuronal states, then they can be scanned; if they are functional/dispositional states, then they can only be known by interpretation in virtue of their systematic relations with other states and behaviour; if they are resolutions, then they can be known by deliberation.

Carruthers argues that self-ascription of attitudes comes via self-interpretation: there is no introspection or privileged access. But this view would be supported by parallel success and accuracy rates between self- and other-attributions (and this is not clearly the case). Also, this model does not explain adaptive metacognitive control of judgement and decision, and ignores the possibility of deliberation as a source of self-knowledge. Moran focuses on authorship instead, and sees it as a relationship between the person as rationally responsible deliberator and her own attitudes. Epistemic access to mental items is not central, but commitment is. But attitudes are not always rational resolutions and do not generally involve an act of commitment.

Michel proposed a new account aiming to avoid the objections that can be raised to Carruthers and Moran. His account is based on transparency. Transparency has been criticised for applying only to new beliefs. But for Michel transparency is a widely applicable cognitive strategy that is beneficial to agents. This involves evaluation, meta-representation, and attitude representation. Evaluation can be explained in terms of the capacity we have to navigate complex environments and it is the process by which we attribute value to intentional objects.

Evaluation is not an action, is context-sensitive, and is not subject to rationality constraints. Meta-representation is full self-understanding, and implies the recognition that we are epistemic agents distinct from the world who can get things wrong. Via a general attitude theory ("if I believe that p, then I hold p as true"), we get to attitude representation and knowledge that we believe (by transparency). Attitude representation shapes attitudes by making them accessible to rational regulation.

René van Woudenberg (VU University of Amsterdam) provided a brief commentary on Michel's paper asking about the status of the model. Is it a description of what we do, a suggestion about what we should do, or just one way to acquire self-knowledge among many?


The second talk was by Lena Ljucovic (University of Potsdam), pictured above. She asked whether we can have transparent self-knowledge of emotions. Ljucovic started with an example where a woman is asked by her life partner whether she loves him. Instead of giving a yes or no answer, the woman lists evidence for her loving her partner, but this does not seem to satisfy him. This is the starting point for an examination of how we know about our emotions. Can we just infer emotions from behaviour or can we also use transparency to know how we feel?

Ljucovic argued that we can have transparent knowledge of emotions, whether we think that emotions are like judgements or perceptions. The transparency of emotions is due to the fact that our affectively perceiving an object of concern is our having the emotion in question. In anger we experience someone as having offended us.

Leon de Bruin (Radboud University Nijmegen) offered a commentary on Ljucovic's paper focusing on the difference among beliefs, emotions and perceptions, and on the importance of different accounts of emotions for Ljucovic's project.

The last talk of the day and of the workshop was by Pamela Hieronymi (UCLA), pictured below, who discussed agency as embodied. The problem of free will emerges from models we have about the nature of control and the nature of responsibility. We need to revise the notions of control and responsibility so that they can fit together better. Believing is an action that is neither fully active nor fully passive. You can only believe what you take to be true, and so believing seems passive with respect to intentional action. At the same time, believing is not fully passive as what we believe does depend on us to some extent. We don't just experience beliefs as we experience pain. When we ask "Why do you believe that the butler did it?", we are asking for some reasons to support the belief.


We can control something in the ordinary sense when we impose our will on something. This is the 'represent-and-cause' notion of control. If this is the only notion of control then we have trouble understanding what happens when we consider those activities by which we exercise control. Are they something we have control over? Doesn't this lead to a regress? We need another notion of control. This is the control we have over our answers to questions. Our answers are our own but we do not enjoy the ordinary sense of control over them. We change our minds, we don't just experience those changes.

Attitudes embody our answers to certain questions. Believing p embodies settling the question whether p. Settling a question is an activity. Isn't believing a dispositional state? Beliefs are activities that can be made sense of in dispositional ways. To better understand this notion of activity we need to turn to responsibility. We are responsible for a variety of things, including our actions, the state of our apartment, the behaviour of our dog. When we act intentionally, we can be asked why we acted that way. This is what we call answerability. We can explain responsibility in the same way, via answer-settling.

Believing is active not in the sense that it is voluntary but in the sense that it is something for which we are answerable. Why are we committed to the things that we believe? Not because we settled the question long ago, or because we can revise our beliefs or renew our commitment to the things that we believe when we reconsider the question, but simply because beliefs are the kinds of things we are answerable for.

I learnt a lot from the talks at this workshop and Naomi Kloosterboer did a wonderful job when she organised the event and prepared the programme, making space for the work of very talented graduate students as well as that of experts.

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