Concepts of Epistemic Justification
Name of Presenters: Newman & Pat
Date and Length of Presentation 3 December 1997 for 50 minutes
Basic Goal of Presentation To Introduce and Explain the need for "Contextual Relevance"
Brief Outline of Presentation (as actually delivered):
Although they talked too much from and to their papers and the terminology was a bit above the layman at times, this is forgivable since the handout served to offset some of the difficulty in understanding them.
I am inclined to agree that contextual relevance may be important for epistemic justification, as every case must be judged on it's own pros and cons. On the other hand, I am not satisfied that they defined it well. Their presented definition involves to many negatives and is difficult to interpret as a positive. Let us take assume S believes "pigs fly". S has had no previous experience of pigs flying, so S meets criteria (1) since it makes no sense to say this belief is based compulsively on an experience never had. S realizes many people do not believe in flying pigs, so S meets criteria (2). S has nothing to lose by believing in flying pigs, since he has a solid roof over his head and does not have to worry about their droppings, so holding this belief is not at the expense of the context. By the definition I am presented with, it seems S is justified in believing "pigs fly". This justification is without one single positive quality being put forth. To me, this seems an absurd situation.
So the question becomes: how would I better define it? Let us begin by throwing out the
"old" definition, since it puts forward no positive assertions. We shall begin a new:
Contextual Relevance - S is justified in believing p if(1):
(i) S believes p.
(ii) S has necessity to act upon p.
(iii) S has no way to verify p before acting upon p.
While I have used one negative criteria, this criteria is less amiguous and serves us better. Let us try testing S believes "pigs fly" again. The first criteria is met, but S, as explained above, has no necessity to act upon p and has plenty of time to verify p, thus S does not have a justified belief in the view of contextual relevance.
Let us consider the "Suicide-by-Cop" case. S is the Police Officer. p is the belief "a man is walking towards me waving a lethal weapon". (I) The police believe p. (II) The police can not ignore p, or else they or an innocent passer by may be injured or killed. (III) The police may not be able to verify the authenticity of the weapon nor the psychological state nor case history of the man while that man is waving his gun about and needs to be delt with.
These criteria seem much more viable as a definition.
On the other hand, I must find fault with their conclusions in the "suicide-by-cop" case. "Shoot to wound" makes no sense in a real life crisis. You have a fire arm with limited accuracy -- No ammount of training will remove that limition from the weapon. That limition may be increased in accord with several factors: (A) Your lack of skill, (B) Your nervousness, (C) Your distance, (D) The visibility of your target, (E) The smallness of your target, (F) The movement of your target. The police office has a responsibility to disable a threat before either anyone (including himself or an innocent passer-by) gets hurt. The suspect in this case was moving towards them and waving his gun about, thus in order to fire at the suspect, the police would need to anticipate the location in which he, and then any targeted portion of him would be within the time the bullet reachs that distance after being fired. He then must train his gun at that location. The police office isn't a highly trained sniper on a roof time who can take his time to line up his cross-hairs and/or lazer beam. Police officers do not need the added risk of attempting to calculate, perhaps incorrectly, whether their suspect is nothing more than a harmless suicidal welding a replica. The police officer needs to anticipate that he may be as he appears: a dangerous psycotic welding a lethal weapon. When the police officer fires, he needs to know that his shot is going to count. And he needs to allow for error that the bullet can go astray. Three shots aimed at the largest part of the body is not unreasonable from a singular one police officer. As two police officers can't take the time to confer who shall do the shooting or risk that the other might miss, six shots taken at the suspect is not unreasonable.
Newman and Pat suggest training. Training won't give the police officers superior weapons of higher accuracy, so we must now not only give police officers more advanced and time consuming training, we must issue more advanced weapons (and there will still only be limited accuracy to a hand gun -- so we'll need to issue rifles to all officers). Assuming that the police officers can handle this training -- training that should involve how to think critically and calmly in a crisis situation and some psychology -- how much would this training and rearmament cost the tax payer? And is this cost worth it to save a few suicidal people from their desired fate?
Rather than impose costly training and rearmament of dubious usefulness, a more logical way to prevent "suicide-by-cop", a relatively rare occurance in the sceme of things, would be to open government sponsered death clinics so that the terminally oriented can have themselves peacefully removed from society without disrupting a police officer's donut break.
1. I toyed with the idea of preserving "if and only if", instead of simply "if". I decided against it since we have
beliefs which we may never act upon, but they may still be justified. For example, I believe our class has about twenty
students in it. I believe this because I see about 10 people in front of me when I am seated at the table and I believe
myself to have adequate evidence that an about equal amount are behind me. I will likely never have need to act upon
this belief and have ample time to verify this belief. Therefore, either I must say either this belief is unjustified or
contextual relevance is not necessary for justification and is rather only a way in which things may be justified. Return