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Ideas of Fred Dretske, by Text

[American, b.1932, Professor at Stanford University and the University of Wisconsin.]

1970 Epistemic Operators
p.14 You have knowledge if you can rule out all the relevant alternatives to what you believe
     Full Idea: The 'Relevant Alternatives' theory of knowledge said the main ingredient that must be added to true belief to make knowledge is that one be in a position to rule out all the relevant alternatives to what one believes.
     From: report of Fred Dretske (Epistemic Operators [1970]) by Keith DeRose - Intro: Responding to Skepticism 6
     A reaction: Dretske and Nozick are associated with this strategy. There will obviously be a problem in defining 'relevant'. Otherwise it sounds quite close to Plato's suggestion that we need true belief with 'logos'.
1997 Naturalizing the Mind
1.3 p.9 A mouse hearing a piano played does not believe it, because it lacks concepts and understanding
     Full Idea: A mouse can see and hear a piano being played, but believing is something else; it requires the concept of a piano, and understanding. Mice who hear pianos being played do not believe pianos are being played.
     From: Fred Dretske (Naturalizing the Mind [1997], 1.3)
     A reaction: Are we to say that when a mouse hears a piano it has no beliefs at all? Might not a belief involve images, so that a mouse calls up appropriate images from previous experiences, which are in a grey area on the edge of belief?
1.6 p.38 Representations are in the head, but their content is not, as stories don't exist in their books
     Full Idea: Representations are in the head, but their content is not; in this sense, the mind isn't in the head any more than stories (i.e. story contents) are in books.
     From: Fred Dretske (Naturalizing the Mind [1997], 1.6)
     A reaction: This is the final consequence of Putnam's idea that meanings ain't in the head. Intentionality is an extraordinary bridge between the brain and the external world. The ontology of stories, and musical compositions, is one philosophy's deepest problems.
2 p.40 In a representational theory of mind, introspection is displaced perception
     Full Idea: On a representational theory of the mind, introspection becomes an instance of displaced perception - knowledge of internal (mental) facts via an awareness of external (physical) objects.
     From: Fred Dretske (Naturalizing the Mind [1997], 2)
     A reaction: This sounds close to a behaviourist (e.g. Ryle) account of introspection, via observing one's own behaviour. The word 'displaced' is an easy one, concealing a multitude of questions.
2 p.40 A representational theory of the mind is an externalist theory of the mind
     Full Idea: A representational theory of the mind is an externalist theory of the mind.
     From: Fred Dretske (Naturalizing the Mind [1997], 2)
     A reaction: Presumably brain events bring the world into the mind, so the world must be mentioned in explaining the mind. Maybe 'externalism' sounds grand, but is stating the boringly obvious. Explanations of mind need no mention of external particulars.
2 p.41 Introspection does not involve looking inwards
     Full Idea: The 'problem' of introspection evaporates once one understands that it is not a process in which one looks inward.
     From: Fred Dretske (Naturalizing the Mind [1997], 2)
     A reaction: I take it that when we introspect we look at the contents of thoughts, which are representations of the external world, on the whole. But surely only the connections of those contents with memories can be seen inwardly?
2.3 p.53 Belief is the power of metarepresentation
     Full Idea: Belief is the power of metarepresentation.
     From: Fred Dretske (Naturalizing the Mind [1997], 2.3)
     A reaction: Hm. I have always defined belief as 'commitment to truth', and this definition leaves out both parts. Where is the commitment? If hope is another metarepresentation, how does it differ from belief? I imagine things, not believing them to be true.
2.4 p.62 Introspection is the same as the experience one is introspecting
     Full Idea: Introspection has no phenomenology or, if it does, it always has the same phenomenology as the experience one is introspecting.
     From: Fred Dretske (Naturalizing the Mind [1997], 2.4)
     A reaction: There is a difference between looking at a tree, and being aware of yourself looking at a tree. You can be faintly depressed, and then become aware that you are faintly depressed. He is nearly right.
3.2 p.73 Qualia are just the properties objects are represented as having
     Full Idea: The Representational Thesis of mind identifies the qualities of experience - qualia - with the properties objects are represented as having.
     From: Fred Dretske (Naturalizing the Mind [1997], 3.2)
     A reaction: This seems to challenge the distinction between primary and secondary qualities, of which I am very fond. Is 'looks beautiful' a property of an object? Is the feeling of anger a property of an object? Qualia are properties of brains?
Ch.4 n16 p.182 Some activities are performed better without consciousness of them
     Full Idea: Some tasks (playing the piano, speaking foreign languages, playing fast sports) are best performed when the agent is largely unconscious of the details.
     From: Fred Dretske (Naturalizing the Mind [1997], Ch.4 n16)
     A reaction: A significant point, but it supports the evolutionary view, which is that what matters is success, and consciousness will switch on or off, whichever promotes the activity best.
Prol p.-4 All mental facts are representation, which consists of informational functions
     Full Idea: My thesis is that all mental facts are representational facts, and that all representational facts are facts about informational functions.
     From: Fred Dretske (Naturalizing the Mind [1997], Prol)
     A reaction: The first half of the thesis seems a bit difficult to disagree with, but that a fact is 'represented' may not be the essence of that fact. The biggest mystery is the content, not its representation. And everything is 'information' about everything else.
2005 The Case against Closure (and reply)
p.25 p.25 Closure says if you know P, and also know P implies Q, then you must know Q
     Full Idea: Closure is the epistemological principle that if S knows that P is true and knows that P implies Q, then, evidentially speaking, this is enough for S to know that Q is true. Nothing more is needed.
     From: Fred Dretske (The Case against Closure (and reply) [2005], p.25)
     A reaction: [Dretske was the first to raise this issue] It is 'closure' because it applies to every case of Q, which is every implication of P that is known. The issue is whether we really do know all such Qs. Dretske doubts it. See his zebra case.
p.28 p.28 We needn't regret the implications of our regrets; regretting drinking too much implies the past is real
     Full Idea: One doesn't have to regret everything one knows to be implied by what one regrets. Tom regrets drinking three martinis, but doesn't regret what he knows to be implied by this - that he drank 'something', or that the past is real.
     From: Fred Dretske (The Case against Closure (and reply) [2005], p.28)
     A reaction: A nice case of analogy! He's right about regret. Perceptual and inferential knowledge have different grounds. To deny inferential knowledge seems to be a denial that modus ponens can be a justification. But MP gives truth, not knowledge.
p.29 p.29 Reasons for believing P may not transmit to its implication, Q
     Full Idea: Some reasons for believing P do not transmit to things, Q, known to be implied by P.
     From: Fred Dretske (The Case against Closure (and reply) [2005], p.29)
     A reaction: That seems true enough. I see someone limping, but infer that their leg is damaged. The only question is whether I should accept the inference. How can I accept that inference, but then back out of that knowledge?
p.29 p.29 Knowing by visual perception is not the same as knowing by implication
     Full Idea: A way of knowing there are cookies in the jar - visual perception - is not a way of knowing what one knows to be implied by this - that visual appearances are not misleading.
     From: Fred Dretske (The Case against Closure (and reply) [2005], p.29)
     A reaction: Why is the 'way of knowing' relevant? Isn't the only question that of whether implication of a truth is in infallible route to a truth (modus ponens)? If you know THAT it is true, then you must believe it, and implication is top quality justification. No?
p.32 p.32 The only way to preserve our homely truths is to abandon closure
     Full Idea: The only way to preserve knowledge of homely truths, the truths everyone takes themselves to know, is to abandon closure.
     From: Fred Dretske (The Case against Closure (and reply) [2005], p.32)
     A reaction: His point is that knowledge of homely truths seems to imply knowledge of the background facts needed to support them, which he takes to be an unreasonable requirement. I recommend pursuing contextualism, rather than abandoning closure.
p.33 p.33 P may imply Q, but evidence for P doesn't imply evidence for Q, so closure fails
     Full Idea: The evidence that gives me knowledge of P (there are cookies in the jar) can exist without evidence for knowing Q (they are not fake), despite my knowing that P implies Q. So closure fails.
     From: Fred Dretske (The Case against Closure (and reply) [2005], p.33)
     A reaction: His more famous example is the zebra. How can P imply Q if there is no evidence for Q? Maybe 'there are cookies in the jar' does not entail they are not fake, once you disambiguate what is being said?
p.35 p.35 We know past events by memory, but we don't know the past is real (an implication) by memory
     Full Idea: The reality of the past (a 'heavyweight implication') something we know to be implied by things we remember, but it is not itself something we remember.
     From: Fred Dretske (The Case against Closure (and reply) [2005], p.35)
     A reaction: If I begin to doubt that the past is real, then I must necessarily begin to doubt my ordinary memories. This seems to be the modus tollens of knowledge closure. Doesn't that imply that the modus ponens was valid, and closure is correct?