Burge, T. (1996): Our entitlement to self-knowledge

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Burge’s argument for entitlement (101-2)

Burge is interested in making a kind of “transcendental” argument concerning the conditions necessary for “critical reasoning.” What is critical reasoning?

Critical reasoning is reasoning that involves an ability to recognize and effectively employ reasonable criticism or support for reasons and reasoning. It is reasoning guided by an appreciation, use, and assessment of reasons and reasoning as such. As a critical reasoner, one not only reasons. One recognizes reasons as reasons. One evaluates, checks, weighs, criticizes, supplements one’s reasons and reasoning. Clearly, this requires a second-order ability to think about thought contents or propositions, and rational relations among them. (98)

The capacity for critical reasoning is, Burge claims, necessary for possession of a “fully-formed” first-person concept, as well as for possession of concepts of the propositional attitudes (though perhaps not for the attitudes themselves, see note 3, p.¬†98).

my line of thought will be this. To be capable of critical reasoning, and to be subject to certain rational norms necessarily associated with such reasoning, some mental acts and states must be knowledgeably reviewable. The specific character of this reviewability requires that it be associated with an epistemic entitlement that is distinctive…There must be a non-contingent, rational relation, of a sort to be explained, between relevant first-person judgments and their subject matter or truth. (98)

Critical reasoning requires, according to Burge, both thinking of one’s thoughts (it is thus reflective), and being “normally knowledgeable” (100) in that it presupposes that one is normally successful.

being knowledgeable must be the normal situation when one reflects on one’s reasons in the course of carrying out reasonable inquiry or deliberation (101)

Burge’s argument moves in three steps. First, he aims to show that we have an entitlement to reflective judgments. Second, he claims that crtiical reasoning requires not only an entitlement but that one also (typically) know’s one thoughts, etc. Third, Burge aims to show that the knowledge must be non-observational in nature.

Entitlement to reflective judgment (101-2)

Entitlement to judgments concerning one’s attitudes or inferences is necessary for being subject to rational norms governing one’s reasoning (e.g.¬†checking, weighing, overturning, or confirming reasons).

Burge isn’t fully explicit about his argument here – he just repeats himself in different ways. But the argument seems to hinge around the idea that if one were not default warranted (in this case, entitled) to such modes of reasoning in critical reflection, then there is no way in which one could be so warranted. For attainment of any such warrant would seem to require reflection on whether one should change one’s attitudes in the light of one’s reasons, which is to say that it would require the very activity whose warrant is in question. Compare Burge’s statement:

If reflection provided no reason-endorsed judgments aboutthe attitudes, the rational connection between the attitudes reflected upon and the reflection would be broken. So reasons could not apply to how the attitudes should be changed, suspended, or confirmed on the basis of reasoning depending on such reflection. But critical reasoning just is reasoning in which norms of reason apply to how attitudes should be affected partly on the basis of reasoning that derives from judgments about one’s attitudes. So one must have an epistemic entitlement to one’s judgments about one’s attitudes. (101-2)

So, given the assumption that we are subject to rational norms (which may be a big assumption), such that we ought to reason in particular ways, we must be entitled to reason in those ways. In other words, Burge is making an argument that relies on the “ought implies can” principle.

Self-knowledge (102-3)

Burge denies that our entitlement in critical reasoning could be in principle separate from the truth-preserving nature of such reasoning, and thus from the claim that such reasoning normally results in knowledge.

critical reason requires rational integration of one’s higher-order evaluations with one’s first-order, object-oriented reasoning. The former must be reason-guided and reason-guiding. And they must cement the rational coherence between the two levels. If the two came radically apart, or were only accidentally connected, critical reasoning would not occur. (103)

Another way Burge puts the point is that critical reflection cannot admit of “brute error,” where this is understood as “an error that indicates no rational failure and no malfunction in the mistaken individual” (103). Brute error may, however, occur in perception without loss of rationality. This is in contrast to critical reasoning, where brute errors “normally seem to involve some malfunction or rational deficiency” (104).

Non-observational self-knowledge (104-14)

negative points

Burge makes two initial negative points:

  1. Self-observation does not account for cogito-like thought, i.e. self-verifying thought (105)
  2. There is no distinctive cognitive phenomenology, so there is nothing plausibly sensory with respect to the apprehension of one’s thoughts and attitudes (105)

the fundamental claim of the observation model

Burge then states what he takes to be fundamental to the self-observation model.

The model need not claim any phenomenological presentation in self-knowledge, though waiving such a claim weakens the analogy to observation. The fundamental claim is that one’s epistemic warrant for self-knowledge always rests partly on the existence of a pattern of veridical, but brute, contingent, non-rational relations-which are plausibly always causal relations-between the subject matter (the attitudes under review) and the judgments aboutthe attitudes. (105)

the positive argument

If the self-observation model were correct then brute error would be possible with respect to all self-knowledge. But this is incompatible with being a critical reasoner.

the general application model is incompatible with the function of knowledge of one’s own attitudes in critical reasoning. The main idea is that such application would entail a dissociation between cognitive review and the thoughts reviewed that is incompatible with norms of epistemic reasonability that are basic to all critical inquiry, including empirical, mathematical, philosophical, and practical inquiry. (108)

The reviewing of reasons that is integral to critical reasoning includes the review and the reviewed attitudes in a single point of view. The simple observational model treats the review and the system being reviewed as dissociated in a way incompatible with the norms of critical reasoning. It makes the reviewed system an object of investigation, but not part of the investigation’s point of view. So the model fails to account for the norms of critical reasoning. (110-11)

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