Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

To contact me about organizing, email me at rpwolff750@gmail.com




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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

AN IDLE QUESTION

Like many other seventy-six year olds, I experience what we graciously call "senior moments." This morning, for example, while working with a graduate student research assistant on the materials for the eleventh edition of my textbook, ABOUT PHILOSOPHY, I could not call up the name of the well known literary critic Stanley Fish. Since she had an IPad with her, I told her to Google "student plagiarism moral issue" [I had recently read an Op Ed piece by him on the subject] and up he came. Now, if I had worked on it by myself for a while, I probably would have remembered his name. So I would, using traditional notions, be said to "know" that the name of the person whose Op Ed I read is Stanley Fish. But if I can conjure that name instantly using Google, can I not also be said to know it? Indeed, why can I not be said to know everything that I can find, and recognize when I find it, on the Internet? Ah, you say, but that piece of information is not in your mind. But my mind is not a physical body with a spatial circumference. Can I not be said to know the propositions that follow from premises I know by rules of inference that I also know? Why not? I do not now know the product of 763 and 419, but I know that I can calculate it by following the rules of multiplication.

All of this arose in the context of thinking about writing a little end-of-chapter Contemporary Application on student plagiarism and the use of the Internet.

6 comments:

Mike said...

That's interesting, though on that analysis of knowledge it'll turn out that many people are equally knowledgeable, which strikes me as pretty counter-intuitive. In any case, there seems to be a conceptual difference between my knowing, say, my own name versus my knowing the circumference of Jupiter (which I'd have to look up). Perhaps the key difference is that the former kind of knowledge assumes that knowing that X requires believing that X, whereas the latter kind of knowledge does not.

Adam said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Adam said...

You'll be interested in this article maybe: Andy Clark & David J. Chalmers (1998). The Extended Mind. Analysis 58 (1):7-19. It's available online: http://cogprints.org/320/

J.Vlasits said...

Also, a lot of work has been done recently by Eric Schwitzgebel on the subject of "in-between" believing. He tries to account for it using a dispositional account for belief along the lines of Ryle's "Concept of Mind". I think he makes an interesting case against the representationalist accounts against in-between believing, but I'm not sure that I'm willing to sign on to a dispositional account.

This is related to your worry because you might think that your knowledge of Stanley Fish is of this in-between variety. For example, you have no trouble when reading an article of his connecting it back with previous knowledge, but when prompted out of the blue, it seems like you stumbled a bit. This is not merely a senior moment--it is a deep fact about how our memory works.

Realistic Spirit said...

Dear Professor Wolff,

Here's, if you haven't yet had the opportunity to see it, an excellent anthology on Fitch's paradox and its consequences:
http://books.google.com/books?id=fyVE7ggK5WMC&pg=PA76&dq=fitch's+paradox&hl=en&ei=e5RhTMO5AcL-8Aa60dzsCQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=book-thumbnail&resnum=1&ved=0CCcQ6wEwAA#v=onepage&q=fitch's%20paradox&f=false

And -- for good measure -- here's the Stanford Encyclopedia entry, by Brogaard and Salerno:
http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/fitch-paradox/

All best!

tom said...

Almost a textbook case of extended cognition, as Adam mentioned above (Clark has a recent book on this called Supersizing the Mind). As I see it, the key condition is that you would recognise the information when you saw it (and I'm not sure this would apply to knowing the product of those two numbers in the same way). The computer just helped you to access your knowledge quicker (reducing cognitive costs). If you had an 'internal' mnemonic to do the same trick, we'd have no problem calling it part of your mind. There's a functional parity, so your interaction with it is thereby part of your cognitive system of retrieving beliefs.