Books in progress
I am finalizing a book for Oxford University Press. 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 (and beyond). The book mainly consists of material published in the following papers below:
“Perspectives and Good Dispositions”, “Dispositional Evaluations and Defeat”, “Coherence as Competence“, “Enkrasia or Evidentialism? Learning to Love Mismatch”, “Guidance, epistemic filters, and non-accidental ought-doing”, and “Virtuous Failure and Victims of Deceit”.
I am also editing the Routledge Handbook of the Philosophy of Evidence together with Clayton Littlejohn.
”Evidence Is Not Seemings”, forthcoming in Contemporary Debates in Epistemology (Blake Roeber, Matthias Steup, John Turri, and Ernest Sosa eds.).
“Perspectives and Good Dispositions”, forthcomingin Philosophy and Phenomenological Research
I begin with various cases that have been used to motivate the need for a more “subjective” kind of evaluation, and accompanying norms, in both the practical and theoretical domains. I outline a broad paradigm for thinking about such evaluations, which I call perspectivist. According to this paradigm, what one ought to do and believe is fixed by one’s perspective, which is a kind of representation of the world (e.g. the propositions constituting one’s evidence). My purpose is to sketch and defend an alternative framework. I first sketch how what I call dispositional evaluations work, and the kinds of evaluative norms they give rise to (roughly: ‘Manifest good dispositions!’). I then argue that my view has several advantages: it can avoid a range of problems faced by perspectivist views, and it provides a unified picture of (evaluative) norms governing actions, choices, and beliefs. A broader theme that emerges is that a perspectivist focus on issues of epistemic access, or on what is present to an agent’s mind, may prevent us from seeing the full range of options available: too often both sides of various disputes (e.g. internalists and externalists) have been locked in what is essentially a perspectivist framework. Penultimate Draft
“The Cake Theory of Credit”, with Jaakko Hirvelä, forthcoming in a Philosophical Topics symposium on Ernest Sosa’s book Epistemic Explanations.
The notion of credit plays a central role in virtue epistemology and in the literature on
moral worth. While virtue epistemologists and ethicists have devoted a significant amount of work to
provide an account of creditable success, a unified theory of credit applicable to both epistemology and
ethics, as well as a discussion of the general form it should take, are largely missing from the literature.
Our goal is to lay out a theory of credit that seems to underlie much of the discussion in virtue
epistemology, which we dub the Cake Theory. We argue that given the goals that virtue epistemologists
and ethicists who discuss moral worth have, this theory is problematic, for it makes credit depend on
the wrong facts. Penultimate Draft
“Refuting two dilemmas for Infallibilism”, with Giada Frantantonio, forthcoming in a Philosophical Studies symposium on Jessica Brown's book Fallibilism: Evidence and Knowledge.
According to a version of Infallibilism, if one knows that p, then one’s evidence for p entails p. In her Fallibilism: Evidence and Knowledge, Jessica Brown has recently developed two arguments against Infalliblism, which can both be presented in the form of a dilemma. According to the first dilemma, the infallibilist can avoid scepticism only if she endorses the claim that if one knows that p then p is part of one’s evidence for p. But this seems to come at the cost of making infelicitous claims. According to the second dilemma, the infallibilist cannot make sense of the phenomenon of defeat unless she rejects closure. In this paper, we argue that the infallibilist has the conceptual tools to resist both dilemmas. Penultimate Draft
“Coherence as Competence”, forthcoming in Episteme.
Being incoherent is often viewed as a paradigm kind of irrationality. Numerous authors attempt to explain the distinct-seeming failure of incoherence by positing a set of requirements of structural rationality. I argue that the notion of coherence that structural requirements are meant to capture is very slippery, and that intuitive judgments – in particular, a charge of a distinct, blatant kind of irrationality – are very imperfectly correlated with respecting the canon of structural requirements. I outline an alternative strategy for explaining our patterns of normative disapproval, one appealing to feasible dispositions to conform to substantive, non-structural norms. A wide range of paradigmatic cases of incoherence, I will argue, involve manifesting problematic dispositions, dispositions that manifest across a range of cases as blatant-seeming normative failures. Open Access
“The Rationality of Epistemic Akrasia”, with Yoaav Isaacs and John Hawthorne, forthcoming in Philosophical Perspectives.
“Not So Phenomenal!”, with John Hawthorne, The Philosophical Review 130.1: 1–43, 2021.
Our main aims in this paper is to discuss and criticise the core thesis of a position that has become known as phenomenal conservatism. According to this thesis, its seeming to one that p provides enough justification for a belief in p to be prima facie justified (a thesis we label Standard Phenomenal Conservatism). This thesis captures the special kind of epistemic import that seemings are claimed to have. To get clearer on this thesis, we embed it, first, in a probabilistic framework in which updating on new evidence happens by Bayesian conditionalization, and second, a framework in which updating happens by Jeffrey conditionalization. We spell out problems for both views, and then generalize some of these to non-probabilistic frameworks. The main theme of our discussion is that the epistemic import of a seeming (or experience) should depend on its content in a plethora of ways that phenomenal conservatism is insensitive to. Open Access
“Dispositional Evaluations and Defeat”, in Brown, Jessica and Simion, Mona (eds.), Reasons, Justification and Defeat, Oxford University Press, pp. 93-115, 2021.
Subjects who retain their beliefs in the face of higher-order evidence that those very beliefs are outputs of flawed cognitive processes are at least very often criticisable. Many think that this is because such higher-order evidence defeats various epistemic statuses such as justification and knowledge, but it is notoriously difficult to give an account of such defeat. This paper outlines an alternative explanation, stemming from some of my earlier work, for why subjects are criticisable for retaining beliefs in the face of paradigm kinds of putatively defeating higher-order evidence: they manifest dispositions that are bad relative to a range of candidate epistemic successes such as true belief and knowledge. In particular, giving up belief in response to higher-order evidence only when that evidence is not misleading would require subjects to have dispositions that discriminate between cases in which their original cognitive processes is fine, and cases in which they merely seemed to be fine. But, I argue, such dispositions are not normally humanly feasible. I show that retaining belief in putative cases of defeat by higher-order evidence is problematic irrespective of whether veritism or some form of gnosticism is true. In the end I contrast my account of dispositional evaluations with similar-sounding ideas that have been put forth in the literature, such as consequentialist views that focus on instrumental means to success. Open Access
“Guidance and Epistemic Filtering”, Acta Philosophica Fennica 96, 2020.
“Virtuous Failure and Victims of Deceit”, forthcoming in Julien Dutant and Fabian Dorsch, eds., The New Evil Demon, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
“Enkrasia or Evidentialism? Learning to Love Mismatch”, Philosophical Studies 177(3): 597-632, 2020.
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, 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 epistemic failure. Central to the account is distinguishing between two evaluative perspectives, one having to do with the relevant kind of success, 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 reasons. Open Access
“Guidance, epistemic filters, and non-accidental ought-doing”, Philosophical Issues 29.1: 172-183, 2019
“Higher-Order Defeat and Evincibility”, in M. Skipper and A. Steglich-Petersen (eds), Higher-Order Evidence: New Essays, Oxford University Press, 2019.
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. Open Access
“Contextualism and Closure”, Jonathan Ichikawa ed., Routledge Handbook of Epistemic Contextualism, 2017.
Epistemic contextualism in itself does not entail any stance on closure, but most contextualists have been friendly to both some form of closure of knowledge and closure of justification. This chapter describes the well-known skeptical paradox that contextualists have devoted most efforts to solving. It discusses the problem of risk accrual, both as it applies to a multi-and single-premise form of closure, concluding with a discussion of a defeat-related problem. The standard formulations of closure would not do for the purposes of the contextualist: even if single-premise closure (SPC) and multi-premise closure (MPC) are true in the context, the contextualist wants them to be true in all contexts. Even those who deny that one can know that one’s ticket will lose the lottery in advance of hearing the result of the draw and just based on the odds will face a similar, though perhaps slightly less poignant, problem when it comes to MPC. Book Chapter
’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
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. Open Access
“New Rational Reflection and Internalism about Rationality”, Oxford Studies in Epistemology 5, pp. 145-179, 2015.
Numerous authors have defended the rough idea that it is irrational to fail to conform to one’s judgments about what it would be rational to do, or what doxastic states it would be rational to be in. This chapter examines rational reflection principles as an attempt to implement this idea in contexts of uncertainty about what credence distributions are rational. After outlining some problems with Old Rational Reflection, the chapter 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. A more general problem is that rational reflection principles seem doomed to take seriously certain kinds of uncertainty about what is rational, but not others. Book Chapter
“Higher-order evidence and the limits of defeat”, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. 88.2: 314-345, 2014.
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 – for instance, a process brought about by a reason-distorting drug. 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. Penultimate Draft
“The Dogmatism Puzzle”, Australasian Journal of Philosophy, Vol 92.3: 417-432, 2014.
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. Penultimate Draft
“Disagreement and evidential attenuation”, Nous, 47.4: 767-794, 2013.
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. Penultimate Draft
“Unreasonable knowledge”, Philosophical Perspectives, Vol. 24, 2010.
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. Penultimate Draft
“Is there a viable account of well-founded belief?”, Erkenntnis, Vol. 72, No. 2, 2010.
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. Penultimate Draft
“Knowledge and Objective Chance”, with John Hawthorne, in Williamson On Knowledge, P. Greenough & D. Pritchard (eds.), Oxford University Press, 2009.
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. Open Access
“Why the externalist is better off without free logic: a reply to McKinsey”, Dialectica, Vol. 62, No. 4, pp. 535-540, 2008.
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. Penultimate Draft
“Singe premise deduction and risk”, Philosophical Studies, Vol. 141, No. 2, pp. 157-173, 2008.
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. Open Access
“Review of Epistemic Luck”, European Journal of Analytic Philosophy, 2007, Vol. 3, No. 1.
“Externalism and A Priori Knowledge of the World”, Dialectica, Vol. 60, No. 4, 2006, pp. 433-445.
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. Penultimate Draft