- Knowledge Without Citable Reasons
I want to thank Paul Lieberman, Nancy Nyquist Potter, and Marilyn Nissim-Sabat for their very thoughtful and stimulating commentaries on my paper (Lieberman 2007; Potter 2007; Nissim-Sabat 2007). Each offers an interesting and distinct challenge to my work and I am happy for the opportunity to reply to the insights they bring to it. In this short response, I focus on what I take to be the most serious objections from each commentator, with the hopes of both clearing up some ambiguities and loose ends present in my paper as well as elaborating some of my ideas in more detail.
Lieberman's commentary (2007) is succinct and does a nice job of drawing out the clinical relevance of the main argument of my paper by making explicit an implicit idea that lies behind externalist theories of knowledge. According to externalism, if a subject S forms a belief that p using a reliable method, defined roughly as one that tends to produce more true beliefs than false ones, then so long as p is true we can say that S knows that p. This is the case even if the subject does not see herself as forming p reliably, even if, in other words, she is super blindsighted. It is this point that distinguishes externalism from traditional internalist theories of knowledge as justified true belief. On the externalist account, a subject can know that p even if she cannot provide any reasons for her belief that p. But, as Lieberman suggests, lacking cognitive access to the reasons for one's beliefs does not imply that there are no reasons to be had. Indeed, if the causal process that led a subject to adopt p is a reliable one, such that p is true for S non-accidentally, then that alone counts as a reason in support of S's belief that p. And this is true even if S cannot see that reason for herself. Not all causes for belief can count equally as reasons for belief, but reliable causes can.
This insight into some of the thinking that lies behind externalism allows us to make the important distinction between knowledge without reasons and knowledge without citable reasons, which in turn, as Lieberman notes, opens a conceptual door for clinicians and therapists to unearth the reasons their patients have for their beliefs but lack access to. And this, as Lieberman claims, "is the clinical stake in the philosophical issue" (2007, 23). The trauma survivor is not an automaton; there are reasons for her beliefs, qua survivor, that are operating at some unconscious level and can thus be established "externally," for instance, by the careful observation of her therapist.
In my paper, I use the case of survivors of sexual violence to illustrate that the phenomenon of super blindsightedness is not rare, but rather commonplace. Lieberman agrees with this conclusion, but thinks that the premises I use to get there are too strong. He might be right. In discussing competing theories of trauma, my intent was to show that only a naïve interpretation of trauma would posit the traumatic memory as something [End Page 25] that is readily accessible to a trauma survivor, and to prove this point I use the language of repression and dissociation. I meant to support the theoretical plausibility of some form of psychological blocking; I did not mean to take a stand on the issue of repressed memories (and the correlated problem of recovered memories that has fuelled the "memory wars"); the evidence here is underdetermined and the matter is, in any case, best left to the experts, which I am not.1 But we do not need to go this far to prove that super blindsightedness is an everyday phenomenon. As Lieberman argues, even if the repression of trauma is rare, trauma is certainly not, and it effects the beliefs of traumatized individuals in ways that they often do not fully understand. This fact alone is enough to support my conclusion about the prevalence of super blindsightedness while remaining neutral with respect to the precise nature of psychological blocking.
My argument in favor of externalist...