Research

BOOK PROJECT

I am writing a book for Oxford University Press, tentatively titled Competent Failure, Incompetent Success. The book brings together views I have defended in various papers on issues like defeat, higher-order evidence, the new evil demon problem, and epistemic akrasia. The aim of the book is to explicitly formulate the framework tying these views together, and to apply it to a range of current problems in epistemology.

 

PAPERS

“Enkrasia or Evidentialism?”, forthcoming in Philosophical Studies

Abstract: I formulate a resilient paradox about epistemic rationality, discuss and reject various solutions, and sketch a way out. The paradox exemplifies a tension between a wide range of views of epistemic justification, on the one hand, and enkratic requirements on rationality, on the other. According to the enkratic requirements, certain mismatched doxastic states are irrational, such as believing p, while believing that it is irrational for one to believe p. I focus on an evidentialist view of justification on which a doxastic state regarding a proposition p is epistemically rational or justified just in case it tracks the degree to which one’s evidence supports p. If it is possible to have certain kinds of misleading evidence (as I argue it is), then evidentialism and the enkratic requirements come into conflict. Yet, both have been defended as platitudinous. After discussing and rejecting three solutions, I sketch an account that rejects the enkratic requirements, while nevertheless explaining our sense that epistemic akrasia is a distinct kind of failure. Central to the account is distinguishing between two evaluative perspectives, one having to do with the relevant kind of success (proportioning one’s doxastic states to the evidence), the other having to do with manifesting good dispositions. The problem with akratic subjects, I argue, is that they manifest dispositions to fail to correctly respond to a special class of  conclusive and conspicuous. PDF

 

“Higher-Order Defeat and Evincibility”, forthcoming in Higher-Order Evidence: New Essays (Skipper& Steglich-Petersen eds.) Oxford University Press

Abstract: One of the ambitions of the past decades of epistemology has been to accommodate the view that ‘higher-order evidence’ that a belief one holds is rationally flawed has a systematic kind of defeating force with respect to that belief. Such a view is committed to two claims. First, it is possible to acquire misleading evidence about the normative status of one’s doxastic states: even if one’s belief is perfectly rational, one might acquire deeply misleading evidence that it is irrational. Second, such evidence has defeating force with respect to the belief, zapping its rational status. My aim is to do two things. First, I outline a view I call normative evincibility, according to which one always has a kind of epistemic access – access that can come in different strengths – to the normative status of one’s doxastic states (intentions, actions, etc.). I show how commitment to higher-order defeat in effect incurs a commitment to a form of normative evincibility. Second, I argue that the idea that it is possible to acquire misleading evidence about the normative status of one’s doxastic states is in tension with evincibility. Hence, there is a deep tension inherent in views committed to a systematic phenomenon of defeat by higher-order evidence. PDF

 

“Contextualism and Closure”, forthcoming in Jonathan Ichikawa ed., Routledge Handbook of Epistemic Contextualism

Abstract: I discuss to what extent contextualism provides special resources for solving closure-related paradoxes.

 

 “Virtuous Failure and Victims of Deceit”, forthcoming in Julien Dutant and Fabian Dorsch, eds., The New Evil Demon, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Abstract: My starting point is a distinction between epistemic success (true belief, knowledge, or even belief proportioned to the evidence) on the one hand, and success-conducive disposition or virtue, on the other. Paying close attention to such success-conducive dispositions can, I argue, provide a foundation for and explanation of a wide range of seemingly internalist judgments in epistemology.  In particular, I want to suggest that epistemologists’ judgments about justification tend to track the exemplification of knowledge-conducive virtue. This provides a way of accommodating judgments that seem to show the need for an internalist notion within an externalist epistemology. It also provides a way of giving a theory justification in terms of knowledge. I this paper I focus on the new evil demon problem. Considering victims of systematic deceit who lack true beliefs and knowledge about their surrounding world provides one of the strongest arguments for an internalist notion of justification: externalists such as reliabilists, it has been urged, cannot provide an account on which victims of systematic deceit can have justified beliefs. I argue that the beliefs of such victims of deceit are an example of virtuous failure, for they have and practice dispositions to attain epistemic success such as true belief and knowledge. Nevertheless, these subjects lack true belief and knowledge, since the actions of the evil deceiver mask these dispositions from manifesting themselves.

 

“’I’m Onto Something! Learning About the World By Learning What I think About It”, forthcoming in Analytic Philosophy; winner of the 2014 Sanders Prize in Philosophy of Mind

Abstract: There has been a lot of discussion about whether a subject has a special sort of access to her own mental states, different in important ways from her access to the states of others. But assuming that subjects can genuinely find out about their own minds, is the kind of import of acquiring self-knowledge different in some interesting, principled way from the import of finding out about the mental states of others? Consider, in particular, the import of finding out about the doxastic states of others who share your evidence. It has been a very popular view of late that evidence about the opinions of others can provide both evidence about one’s evidence, and evidence about first-order matters that the evidence bears on. So, for instance, learning that a friend who shares my evidence is very confident that p can give me evidence that my evidence supports p, and evidence that p is true. But assuming that my own states are not perfectly luminous to me, could learning what I think about a matter have the same kind of evidential import? For instance, could learning that I am confident that p give me more evidence about whether p? It is very tempting to think that evidence about my own doxastic states is inert in a way that evidence about the states of others is not. I argue that this is wrong: there is no principled difference between the evidential import of these two kinds of evidence. Asking what I think about a matter can be a perfectly legitimate way of gaining more evidence about it. PDF

 

“New Rational Reflection and Internalism about Rationality“, Oxford Studies in Epistemology 5, pp. 145-179. 2015.

Abstract: It is often maintained that there are interesting, systematic connections between a subject’s perspective on what it is rational for her to do and what it is in fact rational for her to do. For instance, epistemologists often deem as irrational certain kinds of mismatch between a subject’s doxastic states and her judgments about what doxastic states it is epistemically rational for her to be in. Rational reflection principles are often put forth as an attempt to implement such ideas in contexts of uncertainty about what credences or degrees of belief are rational. After outlining some problems with Old Rational Reflection, this paper discusses what seems like a well-motivated fix, New Rational Reflection. It is argued that an intuitive way of trying to motivate the principle fails, and that it faces counterexamples. To say the least, the principle imposes substantial and controversial constraints on the kinds of epistemic situations it is possible to be in. The paper also discusses a more general problem with any attempt to formulate a rational reflection principle, which is that such principles take seriously certain kinds of uncertainty about what is rational, but not others. PDF

 

Higher-order evidence and the limits of defeatPhilosophy and Phenomenological Research. 88.2: 314-345, 2014.

Abstract: Recent authors have drawn attention to a new kind of defeating evidence commonly referred to as higher-order evidence. Such evidence works by inducing doubts that one’s doxastic state is the result of a flawed process, such as a process brought about by a cognitive malfunction. I argue that accommodating defeat by higher-order evidence requires a two-tiered theory of justification, and that the phenomenon gives rise to a puzzle. The puzzle is that at least in some situations involving higher-order defeaters, the correct epistemic rules issue conflicting recommendations: for instance, a subject ought to believe p, but she ought also to suspend judgment in p. I discuss three responses. The first resists the puzzle by arguing that there is only one correct epistemic rule, an Über-rule. The second accepts that there are genuine epistemic dilemmas. The third appeals to a hierarchy or ordering of correct epistemic rules. I spell out problems for all of these responses. I conclude that the right lesson to draw from the puzzle is that a state can be epistemically rational or justified even if one has what looks to be strong evidence to think that it is not. As such, the considerations put forth constitute a non question-begging argument for a kind of externalism. PDF

 

Disagreement and evidential attenuation, Nous, 47.4: 767-794, 2013.

Abstract: What sort of doxastic response is rational to learning that one disagrees with an epistemic peer who has evaluated the same evidence? I argue that even weak general recommendations run the risk of being incompatible with a pair of real epistemic phenomena, what I call evidential attenuation and evidential amplification. I focus on a popular and intuitive view of disagreement, the equal weight view. I take it to state that in cases of peer disagreement, a subject ought to end up equally confident that her own opinion is correct as that the opinion of her peer is. I say why we should regard the equal weight view as a synchronic constraint on (prior) credence functions. I then spell out a trilemma for the view: it violates what are intuitively correct updates (also leading to violations of conditionalisation), it poses implausible restrictions on prior credence functions, or it is non-substantive. The sorts of reasons why the equal weight view fails apply to other views as well: there is no blanket answer to the question of how a subject should adjust her opinions in cases of peer disagreement. PDF

 

“The Dogmatism Puzzle”, Australasian Journal of Philosophy, Vol 92.3: 417-432, 2014.

Abstract: According to the Dogmatism Puzzle, knowledge breeds dogmatism: if a subject knows a proposition h, then she is justified in disregarding any future evidence against h, for she knows that such evidence is misleading. The standard, widely accepted solution to the puzzle appeals to the defeasibility of knowledge. I argue that the defeat solution leaves intact a residual dogmatist puzzle. Solving this puzzle requires proponents of defeat to deny a plausible principle that the original puzzle relies on called Entitlement, a principle stating roughly that knowing that a piece of evidence is misleading entitles one to disregard it. The plausibility of Entitlement should cast doubt not only on the defeat solution, but on an assumption that has often been taken for granted: the falsity of the dogmatist conclusion of the original puzzle. I conclude that we face a dilemma between giving up Entitlement and living with dogmatism.

 

Unreasonable knowledgePhilosophical Perspectives, 2010.

Abstract: It is common orthodoxy among internalists and externalists alike that knowledge is lost or defeated in situations involving misleading evidence of a suitable kind. But making sense of defeat has seemed to present a particular challenge for those who reject an internalist justification condition on knowledge. My main aim here is to argue that externalists ought to take seriously a view on which knowledge can be retained even in the face of strong seemingly defeating evidence. As an instructive example, I first discuss whether a theory on which knowledge is belief that is safe from error has the resources for accommodating defeat. I argue that beliefs retained in defeat cases need not be unsafe or true in some accidental way. I then discuss externalist strategies for explaining why we have incorrect intuitions about defeat. The notion of an epistemically reasonable subject plays a central role in my theory. Reasonable subjects adopt general strategies that are good for acquiring true belief and knowledge across a wide range of normal cases, but stubbornly retaining belief in the face of new evidence does not reflect such policies. I argue that though the methods employed by subjects who fail to adjust their beliefs in defeat cases may be perfectly good, they are not good methods to adopt, as their adoption is accompanied by bad dispositions. What emerges is a view on which a subject can know despite being unreasonable, and despite failing to manifest dispositions to know across normal cases. Unreasonable subjects are genuinely criticisable, but like almost anything, knowledge can sometimes be achieved in the absence of a good general strategy. PDF

 

“Is there a viable account of well-founded belief?”Erkenntnis, Vol. 72, No. 2, 2010.

Abstract: My starting point is some widely accepted and intuitive ideas about justified, well-founded belief. By drawing on John Pollock’s work, I sketch a formal framework for making these ideas precise. Central to this framework is the notion of an inference graph. An inference graph represents everything that is relevant about a subject for determining which of her beliefs are justified, such as what the subject believes based on what. The strengths of the nodes of the graph represent the degrees of justification of the corresponding beliefs. There are two ways in which degrees of justification can be computed within this framework. I argue that there is not any way of doing the calculations in a broadly probabilistic manner. The only alternative looks to be a thoroughly non-probabilistic way of thinking wedded to the thought that justification is closed under competent deduction. However, I argue that such a view is unable to capture the intuitive notion of justification, for it leads to an uncomfortable dilemma: either a widespread scepticism about justification, or drawing epistemically spurious distinctions between different types of lotteries. This should worry anyone interested in well-founded belief. PDF

 

Knowledge and Objective Chance, with John Hawthorne, in Williamson On Knowledge, P. Greenough & D. Pritchard (eds.), Oxford University Press, 2009.

Abstract: Like Williamson, we are interested in a safety condition on knowledge that ties knowledge to the presence or absence of error in close cases. In this paper we explore the connections between knowledge and objective chance within such a framework. We formulate a sceptical problem that does not rely on closure. The problem relies on a prima facie plausible principle connecting chance and modal closeness that seems to be vindicated by ordinary notions of safety and danger. According to this principle, high-chance propositions are true in close cases. This creates sceptical trouble when we consider numerous subjects each of whom believes a different high-chance proposition, and each of whom seems to be an equally good candidate for knowing the relevant proposition. PDF

 

Single premise deduction and riskPhilosophical Studies, Vol. 141, No. 2, pp. 157-173, 2008.

Abstract: It is tempting to think that multi premise closure creates a special class of paradoxes having to do with the accumulation of risks, and that these paradoxes could be escaped by rejecting the principle, while still retaining single premise closure. I argue that single premise deduction is also susceptible to risks. I show that what I take to be the strongest argument for rejecting multi premise closure is also an argument for rejecting single premise closure. Because of the symmetry between the principles, they come as a package: either both will have to be rejected or both will have to be revised. PDF

 

“Why the externalist is better off without free logic: a reply to McKinsey”Dialectica, Vol. 62, No. 4, pp. 535-540, 2008.

Abstract: McKinsey-style incompatibilist arguments attempt to show that the thesis that subjects have privileged, a priori access to the contents of their thoughts is incompatible with semantic externalism. This incompatibility follows – it is urged – from the fact that these theses jointly entail an absurd conclusion, namely, the possibility of a priori knowledge of the world. In a recent paper I argued that a large and important class of such arguments exemplifies a dialectical failure: if they are valid, the putatively absurd conclusion can be generated without the privileged access premise. Michael McKinsey has responded by arguing that the semantic externalist should adopt a neutral free logic invalidating a principle that my argument essentially relies on. I will say why the semantic commitments of the externalist are in tension with free logic, thereby vindicating my original argument.

 

Externalism and A Priori Knowledge of the WorldDialectica, Vol. 60, No. 4, 2006, pp. 433-445.

Abstract: I look at incompatibilist arguments aimed at showing that the conjunction of the thesis that a subject has privileged, a priori access to the contents of her own thoughts, on the one hand, and of semantic externalism, on the other, lead to a putatively absurd conclusion, namely, a priori knowledge of the external world. I focus on arguments involving a variety of externalism resulting from the singularity or object-dependence of certain terms such as the demonstrative ‘that’. McKinsey argues that incompatibilist arguments employing such externalist theses are at their strongest, and conclusively show that privileged access must be rejected. While I agree on the truth of the relevant externalist theses, I show that all plausible versions of the incompatibilist reductio argument as applied to such theses are fundamentally flawed, for these versions of the argument must make assumptions that lead to putatively absurd knowledge of the external world independently of the thesis of privileged access. PDF

 

OTHER WORK IN PROGRESS

“Not So Phenomenal” (working title, with John Hawthorne)