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Philosophical Topics

Volume 49, Issue 2, Fall 2021

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1. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 49 > Issue: 2
Jessica Brown Group Excuse from Blameless Ignorance
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We routinely treat groups, such as governments and corporations, as agents with beliefs and aims who are morally responsible for their actions. For instance, we might blame the government for its response to the coronavirus pandemic. If groups are morally responsible agents, then it’s plausible that they can have an excuse for wrongdoing from ignorance in just the way individuals can. For instance, a government might attempt to excuse its performance in the coronavirus pandemic by saying that it didn’t know how infectious the new variant was. In this paper, I assume that groups are morally responsible agents to develop an account of what it is for a group to have an excuse from blameless ignorance.
2. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 49 > Issue: 2
Catherine Z. Elgin Beyond the Information Given: Teaching, Testimony, and the Advancement of Understanding
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Teaching is not testimony. Although both convey information, they have different uptake requirements. Testimony aims to impart information and typically succeeds if the recipient believes that informationon account of having been told by a reliable informant. Teaching aims to equip learners to go beyond the information given—to leverage that information to broaden, deepen, and critique their current understanding of a topic. Teaching fails if the recipients believe the information only because it is what they have been told.
3. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 49 > Issue: 2
Carolina Flores Epistemic Styles
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Epistemic agents interact with evidence in different ways. This can cause trouble for mutual understanding and for our ability to rationally engage with others. Indeed, it can compromise democratic practices of deliberation. This paper explains these differences by appeal to a new notion: epistemic styles. Epistemic styles are ways of interacting with evidence that express unified sets of epistemic values, preferences, goals, and interests. The paper introduces the notion of epistemic styles and develops a systematic account of their nature. It then discusses the implications of epistemic styles for central questions in epistemology, in particular, for issues surrounding rational engagement and for the debate between virtue epistemologists and epistemic situationists.
4. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 49 > Issue: 2
Elizabeth Fricker Can Trust Work Epistemic Magic?
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I develop a thin account of trust as trust-based reliance on an occasion. I argue that this thin notion describes the trust a recipient of testimony has in a speaker when she forms belief on his say-so. This basis for trusting belief in what one is told is also available to those who overhear and correctly understand the teller’s speech act. I contrast my account of trusting testimonial uptake with an alternative account that invokes a thicker notion: reciprocal trust. This involves mutual awareness of their trusting relation between truster and trustee, and so is not available to mere overhearers of an utterance. Reciprocal trust involves norms to be trusting, and to be trustworthy. I explore how these second-personal norms make visible the possibility of an epistemology of testimony that includes second-personal reasons to trust a speaker’s testimony, ones that hold only for the addressee. Crucially, if the account of trust is a non-doxastic one—that is to say, trust does not analytically entail belief in trustworthiness—then this possibility arises without prior rejection of a core canon of mainstream epistemology: that only evidence can serve as grounds for belief. We find that non-doxastic testimonial trust has the potential to work epistemic magic: to enable one to reach justified beliefs that are not reachable except via second-personal trust in what one is told. But this result obtains only if trust is not only analytically possible without belief in trustworthiness, but can be justified by norms of trust when the latter would not be. My own account rejects this thesis, at least in the case of trusting a speaker as regards her utterance. But my analysis makes sense of the idea of second-personal reasons for testimonial belief, as posited by so-called ‘assurance theorists’ of testimony, and allows that debate to proceed further.
5. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 49 > Issue: 2
Sanford C. Goldberg Normative Expectations in Epistemology
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There are all sorts of normative expectations in epistemology—expectations about the epistemic condition of other subjects—that would appear to be relevant to epistemic assessment in ways that do not conform to epistemic standards as traditionally understood. The expectations in question include expectations of inquiries pursued or completed, expectations of certain competences, professional expectations, expectations of having consulted with experts, institutional expectations, moral expectations, expectations of friends, and so forth. My goals in this paper are two. First, I aim to highlight the prevalence of such expectations, and the range of distinct types of circumstance in which they arise. Second, I assess several responses to the allegation that normative epistemic expectations are relevant to epistemic assessment. These range from “explaining away” the appearances to trying to offer one or another positive account of their significance. The former sort of reaction comes at a greater cost than many appear to appreciate, given the prevalence of these expectations and the range of circumstances in which they arise. The latter sort of reaction comes at the cost of having to revise our account of epistemic assessment itself. My own favored view does so in terms of the doctrine of normative defeat; I present my reasons for preferring this view, though I cannot claim in this paper to vindicate it.
6. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 49 > Issue: 2
Alvin Goldman A Different Solution to the Generality Problem for Process Reliabilism
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7. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 49 > Issue: 2
John Greco What Is Social Epistemic Dependence?
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A central theme in social epistemology is that there are important and underappreciated phenomena involving social epistemic dependence—that is, epistemic dependence on other persons and on features of the broader social environment. Epistemologies that are inconsistent with this kind of dependence are labeled “individualist” and epistemologies that accommodate it are labeled “anti-individualist.” But how should the relevant notion of social epistemic dependence be understood? One important criterion for an adequate account is that it plausibly sorts epistemologies into the “individualist” and “anti-individualist” categories. For example, standard reductionism about testimonial justification and knowledge should count as individualist, and many trust theories should count as anti-individualist. This paper argues that several accounts of social epistemic dependence in the literature fail to pass this simple sorting test. An alternative account that does is proposed.
8. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 49 > Issue: 2
Jennifer Lackey Preemption and the Problem of the Predatory Expert
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What kind of reasons for belief are provided by the testimony of experts? In a world where we are often inundated with fake news, misinformation, and conspiracy theories, this question is more pressing than ever. A prominent view in the philosophical literature maintains that the reasons provided by experts are preemptive in that they normatively screen off, or defeat, other relevant reasons. In this paper, I raise problems for this conception of expertise, including a wholly new one that I call the Problem of the Predatory Expert, which targets both original versions of preemption as well as new, modified ones that aim to avoid some of the standard objections.
9. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 49 > Issue: 2
Errol Lord Enriched Perceptual Content and the Limits of Foundationalism
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This paper is about the epistemology of perceptual experiences that have enriched high-level content. Enriched high-level content is content about features other than shape, color, and spatial relations that has a particular etiology. Its etiology runs through states of the agent that process other perceptual content and output sensory content about high-level features. My main contention is that the justification provided by such experiences (for claims about the high-level content) is not foundational justification. This is because the justification provided by such experiences is epistemically dependent on having justification to believe certain claims about the content relevant for enrichment—claims about what I call the corresponding features.
10. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 49 > Issue: 2
Matthew McGrath Epistemic Norms for Waiting (and Suspension)
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Although belief formation is sometimes automatic, there are occasions in which we have the power to put it off, to wait on belief-formation. Waiting in this sense seems assessable by epistemic norms. This paper explores what form such norms might take: the nature and their content. A key question is how these norms relate to epistemic norms on belief-formation: could we have cases in which one ought to believe that p but also ought to wait on forming a belief on whether p? Plausibly not. But if not, how can we explain this impossibility? I suggest that the best resolution is to view the traditional core norms on belief as themselves conditional in a certain sense, one that I think has independent plausibility. The results of this investigation may also tell us something about epistemic norms on suspension, on the assumption, which I defend elsewhere, that suspension is waiting.
11. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 49 > Issue: 2
Carlotta Pavese Reasoning and Presuppositions
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12. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 49 > Issue: 2
Duncan Pritchard Ignorance and Normativity
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In the contemporary epistemological literature, ignorance is normally understood as the absence of an epistemic standing, usually either knowledge or true belief. It is argued here that this way of thinking about ignorance misses a crucial ingredient, which is the normative aspect of ignorance. In particular, to be ignorant is not merely to lack the target epistemic standing, but also entails that this is an epistemic standing that one ought to have. I explore the motivations for this claim, and show how it can help us make sense of a range of cases concerning ignorance that the conventional, non-normative, accounts of ignorance struggle with. I also use this normative conception of ignorance to help elucidate the specific kind of epistemic standing the lack of which is entailed by ignorance.
13. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 49 > Issue: 2
Robert Weston Siscoe Does Being Rational Require Being Ideally Rational? ‘Rational’ as a Relative and an Absolute Term
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A number of formal epistemologists have argued that perfect rationality requires probabilistic coherence, a requirement that they often claim applies only to ideal agents. However, in “Rationality as an Absolute Concept,” Roy Sorensen contends that ‘rational’ is an absolute term. Just as Peter Unger argued that being flat requires that a surface be completely free of bumps and blemishes, Sorensen claims that being rational requires being perfectly rational. When we combine these two views, though, they lead to counterintuitive results. If being rational requires being perfectly rational, and only the probabilistically coherent are perfectly rational, then this indicts all ordinary agents as irrational. In this paper, I will attempt to resolve this conflict by arguing that Sorensen is only partly correct. One important sense of ‘rational’, the sanctioning sense of ‘rational’, is an absolute term, but another important sense of ‘rational’, the sense in which someone can have rational capacities, is not. I will, then, show that this distinction has important consequences for theorizing about ideal rationality, developing an account of the relationship between ordinary and ideal rationality. Because the sanctioning sense of ‘rational’ is absolute, it is rationally required to adopt the most rational attitude available, but which attitude is most rational can change depending on whether we are dealing with ideal agents or people more like ourselves.
14. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 49 > Issue: 2
Tamaz Tokhadze Hybrid Impermissivism and the Diachronic Coordination Problem
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Uniqueness is the view that a body of evidence justifies a unique doxastic attitude toward any given proposition. Contemporary defenses and criticisms of Uniqueness are generally indifferent to whether we formulate the view in terms of the coarse-grained attitude of belief or the fine-grained attitude of credence. This paper articulates and discusses a hybrid view I call Hybrid Impermissivism that endorses Uniqueness about belief but rejects Uniqueness about credence. While Hybrid Impermissivism is an attractive position in several respects, I show that it faces a special problem, the diachronic coordination problem, which has to do with coordinating an agent’s beliefs and credences over time. I argue that the problem is fatal for Hybrid Impermissivism. I also formulate a logically weaker version of Hybrid Impermissivism which avoids the diachronic coordination problem, but under substantive assumptions about rational credence.
15. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 49 > Issue: 2
Timothy Williamson Epistemological Consequences of Frege Puzzles
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Frege puzzles exploit cognitive differences between co-referential terms (such as ‘Hesperus’ and ‘Phosphorus’). Traditionally, they were handled by some version of Frege’s distinction between sense and reference, which avoided disruptive consequences for epistemology. However, the Fregean programme did not live up to its original promise, and was undermined by the development of theories of direct reference; for semantic purposes, its prospects now look dim. In particular, well-known analogues of Frege puzzles concern pairs of uncontentious synonyms; attempts to deal with them by distinguishing idiolects or postulating ‘narrow contents’ or elaborate forms of context-sensitivity are inadequate or semantically implausible. Although ascriptions of knowledge, belief, and other attitudes are ubiquitous in epistemology, epistemologists have not properly come to terms with the surprising consequences of anti-Fregean semantic accounts of attitude ascriptions. In ‘A Puzzle about Belief ’, Saul Kripke shows that natural-seeming disquotational principles for ascribing belief lead to apparently unacceptable consequences, including outright contradictions, in problem cases. Such disquotation principles, I argue, are best regarded not as conceptual connections but just as heuristics in the psychological sense, quick and easy ways of assessing belief ascriptions, usually accurate under normal conditions but far from 100% reliable. I discuss similar heuristics for ascribing knowledge and other attitudes. That the principles have a merely heuristic status need not be pre-theoretically manifest to their users. This view vindicates Kripke’s conclusion that it would be wrong-headed to draw semantic conclusions from Frege puzzles. I discuss the epistemological consequences of an anti-Fregean approach to Frege puzzles, including for Kripke’s cases of the contingent a priori and the necessary a posteriori, but also for evidence, for epistemic modalities, and for epistemic and subjective conceptions of probability. Anna Mahtani’s recent identification of Frege puzzles for the ex ante Pareto Principle as used in welfare economics provides an interesting example. I suggest a model-building methodology as the most promising way of handling at least some of the difficulties. A final issue is the choice between different anti-Fregean approaches to semantics, from very coarse-grained intensional approaches on which sentences express functions from (metaphysically) possible worlds to truth-values to more fine-grained hyperintensional approaches on which sentences express functions from possible or impossible worlds to truth-values or else Russellian structured propositions. Some of the hyperintensional theories violate semantic compositionality. More generally, since our attitude ascriptions rely on heuristics, they should be expected to exhibit some level of error; although hyperintensional approaches may be able slightly to reduce the level of postulated error, they do so at the cost of vastly increased theoretical complexity, and so have weak explanatory power. Methodologically, a simple intensional approach does better.
16. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 49 > Issue: 2
Elise Woodard The Ignorance Norm and Paradoxical Assertions
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Can agents rationally inquire into things that they know? On my view, the answer is yes. Call this view the Compatibility Thesis. One challenge to this thesis is to explain why assertions like “I know that p, but I’m wondering whether p” sound odd, if not Moore-Paradoxical. In response to this challenge, I argue that we can reject one or both premises that give rise to it. First, we can deny that inquiry requires interrogative attitudes. Second, we can deny the ignorance norm, on which agents are not permitted to both know and have interrogative attitudes, such as wondering. I argue that there are compelling reasons to deny the former and reasons to question the latter. Both options pave the way for further work on further inquiry.
17. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 49 > Issue: 2
Crispin Wright Making Exceptions
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Anti-exceptionalism about logic, in its original Quinean incarnation, may be summarized as the thesis that logic is, in effect, simply a deeply entrenched part of empirical-scientific theory. It may thus be taken to involve two principal, distinguishable claims: First, Corroboration—that the epistemic good standing of logical principles is properly earned in the same way as the confirmation of all empirical scientific laws. We are justified in accepting such principles by, and only by, their participation in ongoing successful empirical-scientific theory. Second, Rejection—that, as with empirical-scientific hypotheses, logical principles are one and all in principle open to rational rejection or revision on purely empirical grounds if the system in which they are participant runs into “recalcitrant experience” and such an adjustment promises to smooth out the wrinkles. It is argued that neither claim can be sustained in full generality.
book symposium on ernest sosa’s epistemic explanations
18. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 49 > Issue: 2
Jaako Hirvelä, Maria Lasonen-Aarnio The Cake Theory of Credit
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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 providing 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.
19. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 49 > Issue: 2
Clayton Littlejohn BOOK SYMPOSIUM ON ERNEST SOSA’S EPISTEMIC EXPLANATIONS: Knowledge, Justification, Belief, and Suspension
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In this paper, I want to discuss a problem that arises when we try to understand the connections between justification, knowledge, and suspension. The problem arises because some prima facie plausible claims about knowledge and the justification for judging and suspending are difficult to reconcile with the possibility of a kind of knowledge or apt belief that a thinker cannot aptly judge to be within her reach. I shall argue that if we try (as we should) to accommodate the possibility of this kind of knowledge, we should reject a widely held view about justification. We can correct this mistaken view about the connection between justification and knowledge by connecting justification to a kind of competence, but not the one we might have expected. In the course of this discussion, I shall flag some questions about the explanatory ambitions of the telic virtue-theoretic approach
20. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 49 > Issue: 2
Ram Neta BOOK SYMPOSIUM ON ERNEST SOSA’S EPISTEMIC EXPLANATIONS: Epistemic Explanations and Explaining the Epistemic
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Ernest Sosa’s new monograph, Epistemic Explanations, develops an important new account of epistemic evaluation, epistemic normativity, and the explanatory role of these. The first two sections of the present paper develop an interpretation of Sosa’s metaphysics of the mental states of rational agents as a version of hylomorphism (a view according to which such states can be understood as composed of matter and form). The second half of the paper uses this hylomorphic view to argue that Sosa can account for differences among the various kinds of knowledge by appeal to nothing more than differences among the belief-like attitudes involved in those kinds of knowledge. My argument for this last claim will also challenge Sosa’s own argument for two of the book’s most heterodox epistemological claims, viz., that knowledge can be recognizably insecure, and that knowledge can be based on mere assumptions.