I have been pondering about the following puzzle that I came across in Peacocke’s Being Known. Here is the puzzle.
The Cautious man accepts all the steps in a proof; grant that it is imaginatively obscure how he might come to revise that assessment; grant that there is every reason to believe that whenever the proof is reproduced in a satisfying way, it will lead to the same outcome; but dispute that there is anything in all that which justifies him in claiming to have apprehended any essential connection between basis, process and outcome—in claiming, indeed, of any statement in the vicinity that it ‘cannot but’ be true. (Wright’s formulation of the problem from Wittgenstein on the Foundations of Mathematics, p.455)
Is the Cautious man (henceforth CM) coherent in his attitudes?
The point of the story is that if the answer to the above stated question is ‘yes’, then modal discourse is not a fact stating discourse. For, if there were modal facts that determine CM’s attitudes then he would be incoherent in his attitudes.
Peacocke takes a route of showing that his account of metaphysics and epistemology of necessity can meet the challenge posed by the CM without postulating obscure faculties that have access to necessity or retreating to emprico-conventional epistemology of a priori truths.
I want to point to a different strategy that one could deploy in dealing with the CM problem. The idea is to point to an unexamined assumption upon which the CM example relies. If we can successfully challenge that assumption, we can say not that CM is incoherent but rather that the example is incoherent and rests on a false assumption.
In order to understand and evaluate whether CM is coherent in his attitudes it may be helpful to compare him with an ordinary cognizer who is cautious. Typically caution is called for when a thinker has a reason to think that she may be in error (for example, one may think that she doesn’t have enough evidence or that her evidence is potentially misleading). As a consequence of such suspicion, a thinker typically withholds the judgment though she may report that her psychological state is such that she feels pretty sure that what seems to her thus-and-so is thus-and-so.
For example, when seeing somebody from a distance who looks like a friend of mine, I am cautions to conclude that that is my friend. I am not really in the best position to make such an inference given my evidence. For, for all I know it could be somebody who just looks like the friend or it could be a robot disguised as my friend, or the circumstances are such that it may be very likely that I am in error because of some background information that I am aware of.
Now, CM, as described in the above stated puzzle, acts as if his intuition that the premises are true and that they entail the conclusion may be poor evidence. CM, as described, acts as if he has not enough evidence to believe that the conclusion of the argument must be true when based on the insight that the premises are true and that they entail the conclusion.
The only source of CM’s worries seems to be reliability of the process by which he gets to the conclusion, which is what we typically worry about in the case of perceptual seemings. But is it right to say that CM is like somebody who is seeing things from a distance, and that having an intellectual intuition is just like having a perceptual seeming? Further, is it right to say that intellectual insight resembles perceptual seemings in this way and that the epistemic role of intuitions is the same as the epistemic role of perceptual seemings—namely, that they are both evidence?
There are two important assumptions that the example relies on that one may have a reason do disagree with on the grounds that intuitions are unlike perceptual seemings for two crucial reasons: intuitions do not produce new knowledge and their epistemic role is not that of evidence for their contents or what can be inferred from them.
– Ivana Simic