2018年02月20日

Who Invented the Chicken-Sexer Case in Epistemology?

I recently found that B. J. C. Madison, in his (2017) “Internalism and Externalism” in S. Bernecker & K. Michaelian (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Memory, says that “Epistemologists often refer to the chicken-sexer case, but almost never attribute it to anyone. To the best of my knowledge, the earliest mention of the case is Goldman (1975)” (p. 93), where Goldman (1975) is his (1975) paper“Innate Knowledge,” in S. P. Stich (ed.) Innate Ideas, University of California Press. I myself had the same question a while ago, i.e., who invented the chicken-sexer case in epistemology, and did some research. Here is what I found.

It’s astonishing that although the chicken-sexer case is often mentioned in a paper, textbook, and encyclopedia article on the debate about internalism and externalism about justification, it is not mentioned with reference to the inventor of the case. Actually, I didn't know about Goldman (1975) before reading Madison's paper. Goldman, however, is not the first person to bring about the chicken-sexer case in philosophy. B. Aune, in his (1972) “Remarks on Argument by Chisholm,” Philosophical Studies 23: 327-334, offers a chicken-sexer case as a counterexample to the view he attributes to Chisholm: If S knows that p, then S can justify her belief that p. Interestingly, Aune, when talking about the chicken-sexer case, refers to D. Gasking (1962), “Avowals,” in R. J. Butler (ed.), Analytical Philosophy: First Series. Gasking appeals to a chicken-sexer case and other cases to illustrate how a person learns to discriminate between the right and wrong situation for uttering a sentence of a certain type without ground. In a response paper to Gasking, “Ms. Gasking on Avowals” in the same volume, M. E. Lean interprets Gasking as claiming that in his cases, “these individuals are not able to cite what it is that enables them to make their respective correct ‘judgments’, and thus cannot be said to be inferring from it as an explicit ‘ground’” (p. 175).

Interpreted this way, Gasking’s chiken-sexer case seems to be not far from the chicken-sexer case as it is understood in contemporary epistemology. Indeed, Lean, after carefully checking Gasking’s text, points out that Gasking seems to endorse that the individuals in his cases are justified in making the relevant kind of statements. To cite Lean’s words, “Mr. Gasking would have us say that their statements are justified but not grounded” (p. 175). Lean goes on to attack Gasking’s distinction between ground and justification; Lean argues that the distinction is unclear or even inappropriate especially in the cases of judgements about one’s own mental states, and what’s true for one seems to be true for another as well.

Of course, someone else might have discussed the chicken-sexer case in epistemology before Aune did. Assuming that Gasking, Lean, and Aune are the only candidates, it is difficult to settle who can be credited for inventing the chicken-sexer case. The relevant question here is who invented the chicken-sexer case as a counterexample to internalism about justification. Gaskins does not give it much epistemological weight. He only intends to illustrate how one learns a language, and he derives his point mainly from other cases than the chicken-sexer case. Lean is mainly concerned with the cases of introspective reports; since Lean does not discuss the chicken-sexer case in detail, I'm not quite sure whether Lean concedes that the chicken-sexer is justified or unjustified. Aune only uses the chicken-sexer case as a counterexample to Chisholmian internalism that knowledge entails the ability to justify one’s belief. He claims that the chicken-sexer cannot justify her judgement, but he leaves it open whether the chicken-sexer's inability to justify judgement implies the absence of propositional justification for her. His argument with the chicken-sexer case surely owes much to Gasking (and presumably, Lean).
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