Brian Matthew Kessler
4 December 1997
Steup characterizes the deontological (duty-based) approach to justified belief as follows:
(D1) S is justified in believing p if and only if (I) S believes p and (ii) S does not have an epistemic duty to refrain from believing p.
He might have made the link between justification and duty even stronger. Consider this:
(D1*) S is justified in believing p if and only if (I) S believes p (ii) S has an epistemic duty to believe p.
To understand the difference between (D1) and (D1*) consider an analogy in which "justified in believing" is replaced by "family justified in doing" and "epistemic duty" is replaced by "family duty". So we end up with
(F1) S is family justified in doing x if and only if (I) S does x and (II) S does not have a family duty to refrain from doing x.
(F1*) S is family justified in doing x if and only if (I) S does x and (II) S has a family duty to do x.
According to F1 you are family justified in doing something when you do it and there was no family duty not to do it. A good example would be attending an MSU class since most of the time you would have no family duty to refrain from going to class. However, according to (F1*) you are family justified in doing something when and only when you actually have a family duty to do it. So, would going to class be something you are family justified in doing? It would be much harder to say since now we need to know much more about the class and about your family situation. In general, a requirement to do something is much stronger and more complex than the lack of a requirement to refrain from doing the same thing.
Consider the following controversial proposition discussed in class.
(S) The Long Island police officers were justified in shooting the young man pointing the replica gun at them.
Discuss how many of your beliefs in connection with (S) would be classified as justified by (D1*)? How many would be classed as justified by (D1)? Outline in some detail the educational and research steps you would need to take in order to have beliefs on (S) which are (D1) justified.
This question is very problematic. First, I should like to note that I have a major problem with this concept of "epistemic duty". I do not perceive beliefs are concious choices we can make or unmake (like flipping a light switch on or off) by mere wishful thinking. If we have no control over what we believe, speaking of our "epistemic duty" does not make any sense since you can have no control over the failure or success of this duty.
Secondly, putting aside man's lack of control over his beliefs, if a man is a rational creatures, his beliefs will naturally be based upon his evidence, and thus, his "epistemic duty" is fulfilled without either the spur of it's assignment nor any willfull assistence by the man's Self. Conversely, when and/or if a man is not a rational creatures, he may accept irrational evidence or fail to accept any concept of an epistemic duty and then this is a duty placed on one incapable of fulfilling it -- an unfair and unrealistic expectation. How can we call this a duty when one will either succeed or fail as by their circumstance and not as by their effort? But if we are to call it a duty, we must admit an "epistemic duty" is nothing but a "duty" to "believe what you will believe and not believe what you will not believe".
Next, I am not quite sure how to untangle what seems ultimately a double negative in any way such that (D1) will be necessarily different than (D1*). Consider (D1) (ii): "S does not have an epistemic duty to refrain from believing p." How is "to refrain from believing p" different from "to not believe p", if we accept that we have no control over our beliefs? Thus, (D1)(ii) is synonymous with "S does not have an epistemic duty to not believe p." But this is a double negative, which should cancel out to give us "S does have [or, more simply has] an epistemic duty to believe p." which is the same as (D1*).
Let us plug my assessment of "epistemic duty" into (D1) and (D1*). We get:
(D2) S if justified in believing p if and only if (I) S believes p and (ii) S does not have a belief to not believe [i.e., to refrain from believing] p.
(D2*) S if justified in believing p if and only if (I) S believes p and (ii) S has a belief to believe p.
Again, the double negative in (D2) leaves it meaning nothing other than (D2*). But look how absurd this is. If S has a belief to believe p, how often should it happen that he shall then disregard this belief and not believe p? Or how often will someone believe p in spite of possessing a simultaneous belief not to believe p? Thus, (D2) and (D2*) can both be translated to:
(D3) S if justified in believing p if and only if S believes p.
If this is true, then we must conclude all beliefs are justified merely by being possessed. In fact, I would argue that this is necessarily so, even if some justification is extremely weak -- can a belief just spring out of the nowhere? And if it did, could this not likely be interpreted as "Divine Revelation" and therefore justified from that subjective standpoint? On the other hand, not all beliefs are equal in their convictions nor in their justification, and one could speak sensibly of how much justification any belief must have before one may act upon it -- either at all, or in any particular manner.
All that being said as a prelude, it seems to me as if all beliefs in connection with (S), if justified at all, are necessary justified by both (D1) and (D1*) since there is no difference between the two. My beliefs on the matter are these:
The police officer has the following duties:
(A1) The duty to protect the community for whom he has been hired.
(A2) The duty to protect himself in any life threatening situation (he can not continue to serve well while dead and as a member of his community (A1) is should reflect on itself.)
(A3) The duty to respect every situation as if it is exactly as it appears to be unless he has solid evidence to believe it might not be (a split secondof hesitation may be the difference between life and death).
(A4) The duty to believe that any gun he sees is potentially a lethal weapon, unless he has reason to take it for a fraud (a logic extention of (A3)).
(A5) The duty to shoot anyone who points a gun threateningly at anyone without testing the authenticity the fire power of the perceived weapon (as of (A1) through (A4).
(A6) The duty, unless he has time to take careful aim with a high accuracy weapon, when firing at a man with a gun, to fire at the largest possible target he is presented with (as of (A1) through (A5)).
(A7) The duty, when firing at a man with a gun, to fire multiple shots until he is certain the suspect has been disabled (some bullets might go astray or the suspect may proceed to fire after he has been shot if he has not beem stunned) (as of both (as of (A1) through (A5)).
And thus we may conclude:
(A8) To shoot the young man pointing the replica gun at them in the exact manner that they did, even though it resulted in the death of someone they later learned was not as threatening as he appeared, (as of (A1) through (A7)).
I do percieve potentially conflicting duties:
(B1) The duty to not to use more force than the perceived situation calls for in order to apprehending suspects
(B2) The duty to apprehend in a live state someone who is effectively unarmed, (as of (A1) and (B1)).
(B3) The duty to not fire at someone known to be carrying only a replica gun, (as of (A1), (B1) and (B2)).
(B4) To duty to make a live arrest of the young man despite his wielding a known replica of a gun, (as of (A1) and (B1) through (B3).
However, these only would have conflicted if the police officers had some reason to doubt the authenticity of the weapon, which they had not. Nor could the police officers have learned more before acting, which would not have been possible if the situation was as it appeared to be -- a necessary assumption (as of (A2) through (A4)).
In order to have done these last duties ((B1) through (B4)), the police officers would have had to learn the perceived weapon was harmless (either a replica or unloaded). As this could not have been done without the suspect's cooperation (which he was not giving), no ammount of hypothetical education would have changed this.
In order to remove the justification for outcome, such that the young man might have lived, the police would need to be both issued high accuracy weapons and fully body bulletproof armor so that they should not place themselves (or others) at risk from a prolonged gun fight. Then they must be trained for both speed and accuracy on firing at small moving targets (so they would be able to act quickly and efficently enough under that sort of pressure, again without placing anyone else at risk). Under such conditions, it might occasionally (not necessarily always) become realistic to suggest a police officer should "shoot to wound".
Discuss whether or not life permits us to have entire belief systems of (D1) justified beliefs.
As explained above, if any belief systems are justified, it seems they are necessarily justified by (D1*). As I have also explained above (D1) is ultimately no different. Therefore, either life permits us to have entire belief systems of (D1) justified beliefs or life does not permit us to have entire systems of justified beliefs. As justified belief systems are necessary in order to survive and function, life requires that we have (D1*) justified beliefs -- as (D1*) justified beliefs are also (D1) justified beliefs, life, then not only permits us, but insists that we have (D1) justified beliefs.
Conclude with a comment on the feasibility of achieving Steup's epistemic end (E3):
For every proposition p that matters to me, it is my goal as an intellectual being to believe p if and only if p is true.
Whether Steup's is a feasible goal depends largely upon how it is interpreted. First, when Steup refers to this "goal", does he mean that this is a point which the intellectual being could actually arrive at in a knowing fashion (as in, my goal as a passenger on some aeroplane is to fly to England, and I shall know when I get there)? As we may not be able to know truth except in a relative sense, the first meaning may be an idealistic, but ultimately impossible. Or does Steup actually mean goal in the sense that it should give ourselves direction (as in, while using my compass I headed towards the magnetic north pole, as my goal was to head north, but I had no intention of actually arriving at the north pole). In the second instance, this goal is not only feasible, but often necessary. Believing I can fly would be a dangerous belief if I am on the top of the empire state building but can't be bothered to wait for an elevator! -- Or would it be?
Which brings up the second question. What does Steup mean by "true"? Is he striving for a potentially unknowable and absolute truth, such as does God exist, or what is the actual nature of the connection between my mind and my perceived body? Or simply a relative one, such as the earth orbits the sun, or falling from a great height is likely to terminate our life as we have known it? These examples of absolute truth may be unknowable during the course of either our life or of human existence, and if we have no afterlife and/or there is no other intelligent life in the universe, may remain unknowable forever. On the other hand, the examples of relative truth are in some ways both knowable and necessary to us, so long as we accept this world of "common middle size objects" as having an actual existence beyond our immagination.
Thirdly, what does it mean for something to matter to me? Are we refering to any idle whim, such as "I would enjoy eating some halavah right now? Or are we refering only to serious or important matters, such as "I am almost completely immobilized since my car died"? Or only life threatening issues, such as "Not eatting will result in starvation and kill me"? These are all things that matter to me. I believe them all to be true. Ultimately any could be false. I might get the halavah and decide I'm not in the mood to eat it after all. If I have enough determination, I could walk anywhere I might determine to drive. I may unwittingly be immortal and survive, even if painfully, an eternal duration of starvation. The degree to which I believe any of these matters is likely in some relative degree to affect the course of my life either for better or for worse. Testing the truths of some may prove dangerous or impracticle (such as starving myself or walking long distances). Thus, it might often serve me well simply to accept the beliefs at face value and not either waste my time or endanger myself by testing their truths.
Thus, Steup's goal may be feasible within limitations based upon whether one wishs to reach the goal or merely to orient themselves by it, whether one seeks ultimate truth or whether one seeks merely relative truth, and finally by how one defines "what matters" and how one should go about testing their truths.