University of Chicago
Phil333, A01-lecture notes 6
Evans on introspection
Evans, Varieties of Reference
Two selections from Evans: the first lays out a requirement on conceptual capacities that he thinks holds quite generally; the second traces out the implications of that requirement for thinking about the self.
As we shall see, we may understand Evans as elaborating Strawson’s claim that although no criteria of identity for the self are applied in introspection, introspective beliefs still have links with such criteria.
1. The generality constraint
A few naïve comments on the principle, ignoring many complications:
2. Forming beliefs about one’s own beliefs
In the second selection, Evans focuses on introspective beliefs about mental states, and uses the generality constraint to draw conclusions that we can see as reinforcing the argument we discussed last week from Strawson. Let’s see how this works.
Evans discusses two kinds of introspective beliefs: beliefs about one’s beliefs, and beliefs about one’s perceptions. His discussion of the second is, unfortunately from our perspective, infused with his complicated and somewhat confusing theory of what he calls a non-conceptual informational system that underlies all of our perceptions. I will not have time to discuss it.
First, on what he says about beliefs about beliefs. I will fill in some steps in his line of thought that he does not himself make explicit.
How do we arrive at beliefs about what we believe? The answer is simple: we answer the question about whether we believe that p by answering the question whether p. In arriving at an answer to the latter question, we thereby arrive at an answer to the first question.
E.g., suppose you are asked whether Powell is a good secretary of state. How do you set about answering that question? Then suppose you are asked whether you think Powell is a good secretary of state. How about the one? Well, you set about answering it in exactly the same way that you set about answering the first question.
Introspective beliefs about one’s beliefs are thus governed by a very simple principle:
Something like this has come to be called the transparency of belief. See the book by our own David Finkelstein.
In our earlier example, it might have taken some work to get into a position to assert that p. That is, if what substitutes for “p” is “Powell is a good secretary of state,” you might need to go through some deliberation first. If that deliberation arrives at a particular conclusion, say that Powell is not a good secretary of state, then you are also at that point in a position to assert that you believe that Powell is not a good secretary of state. Alternatively, if you can’t decide whether Powell is a good secretary of state, then you can’t assert either that you believe that he is, or that you believe that he isn’t.
Some cases don’t require deliberation, but rather observation. You’re not in a position to assert that there’s an eraser in this lectern until you’ve looked. Once you have and see that there is one, you are in a position to assert both that there is an eraser on the lectern and that you believe that there is.
In other cases, you are already in a position to answer the question whether p, no deliberation or observation needed. You can assert right now that the sky is blue. And for just that reason, you can assert now that you believe that the sky is blue.
This phenomenon explains why beliefs of the form, “I believe that p” exhibit immunity to error through misidentification. There aren’t two steps here: first determining whether someone believes that p and then determining whether it’s you who believes it. There’s just one step—determining whether p. This automatically yields an answer to the question whether you believe that p. The one belief piggybacks on the other. And so, as Evans puts it, even the most determined skeptic can’t get a knife in here—can’t, that is, raise a question about whether it’s you or someone else who believes that p.
Since no question of the form “You or someone else?” is raised by the question whether Powell is a good secretary of state—you are simply not any part of the topic here—so then, given principle Evan’s principle about beliefs about beliefs, no such question is raised by the question whether you believe that Powell is a good secretary of state.
The fact that you attend to the same considerations in answering both questions motivates Evans’ important remark that introspecting one’s beliefs involves no “inward glance”.
There are very tempting metaphors in ordinary speech applied to introspection that do involve the idea of inward observation. Introspection is often envisioned as, as it were, directing our mind’s eye to an array of objects arrayed in “inner space”. Evans’ point is that, at least in the case of beliefs, this imagery is extremely misleading.
Putting yourself in a position to assert that you believe that Powell is a good secretary of state is no more a matter of looking inward than is putting yourself in a position to assert, simply, that Powell is a good secretary of state. In both cases, you look to the part of the world that that belief is about—in this case, to Powell and his doings—not to anything inside you. Thus, coming to know what you believe is not a matter of looking inward but of looking outward, at the world.
3. The role of the generality constraint in beliefs about one’s own beliefs
But now we have a puzzle. If I arrive at the belief that p and that I believe that p in exactly the same way, by exactly the same procedure, how can I tell the difference between them?
For all Evans’ principle tells you, your believing that Powell is a good secretary of state could amount to the same thing as its being the case that Powell is a good secretary of state.
But of course they don’t. Your believing that Powell is a good secretary of state and his actually being a good secretary of state are two completely different things. But since we arrive at beliefs about these two matters in precisely the same way, how do we tell them apart?
Well, according to Evans, the Generality Constraint points us in the direction of an answer.
This is simply an instance of the generality constraint.
And, according to Evans, it explains why there is no danger of your confusing the state of affairs of p with your believing that p, even though you arrive at beliefs about both of those in the same way.
Consider the question whether Bob believes that Powell is a good secretary of state. How do you arrive at an answer to that? Well, assuming you’re not Bob, you don’t arrive at it in the same way that you arrive at an answer to the question whether Powell is in fact a good secretary of state. Evans’ principle about introspective beliefs about beliefs doesn’t apply here.
So how do you answer the question? Well, by asking him, or otherwise observing his behavior. If you ask him and have reason to think his answer is sincere and seriously meant, then you’re in a position to answer the question whether Bob believes that Powell is a good secretary of state.
Now the generality constraint requires you to think of your own introspective belief that, as you would express it, “I believe that Powell is a good secretary of state.” as a state of affairs of the same kind as Bob’s believing that Powell is such. And since it’s clear, from your perspective, how Bob’s believing that is different from it’s being so (as partly shown by the different ways in which you go about establishing the two states of affairs), it’s also clear to you how your believing that is different from its being so (even though in this case you verify the two states of affairs in the same way).
The point again is this. It’s true that you apply the same procedure to determine whether p as to determine whether you believe that p. But, in accordance with the generality constraint, you must understand your believing that p as an instance of the exact same kind as some person x’s believing that p.
This involves, among other things, realizing that someone else could determine whether you believe that p only by applying the same procedure as you applied in determining whether Bob believes that p.
Thus you must think of yourself as just the same kind of entity as Bob, that is, as a physical creature whose behavior is relevant to the determination of what he or she believes.
See the passage in Evans on p. 226.
3. The connection to Strawson
It should be clear how one might regard this as a development of Strawson’s view of introspection the concept of the self.
Strawson’s question was how, given that Descartes is right that introspection doesn’t involve application of criteria of identity for the self, we can avoid the incoherent Cartesian conclusion that the concept of the self doesn’t involve any criteria of identity. Strawson’s answer was that my concept of myself isn’t built up wholly from what happens in introspection: it also involves the idea of myself as a human being, a physical object, that both I and other people can have a different, non-introspective perspective on.
Evans is in effect elaborating this answer. Even though there’s no need for me to identify myself in forming beliefs about what I believe—even though all I need to do is to attend to and reflect upon the world around me—I recognize, in accordance with the generality constraint, that my believing something is a circumstances of the same kind as someone else’s believing something. It is this connection that enables my introspective beliefs about my own beliefs to involve a genuine concept of the self, in spite of the fact that I do not deploy any criteria of such a concept in forming those beliefs.