Epistemologists spend a great deal of time thinking about how we should respond to our evidence. They spend far less time thinking about the ways that evidence can be acquired in the first place. This is an unfortunate oversight. Some ways of acquiring evidence are better than others. Many normative epistemologies struggle to accommodate this fact. In this article I develop one that can and does. I identify a phenomenon – epistemic feedback loops – in which evidence acquisition has gone awry, with the result that even beliefs based on the evidence are irrational. Examples include evidence acquired under the influence of confirmation bias and evidence acquired under the influence of cognitively penetrated experiences caused by implicit bias. I then develop a theoretical framework which enables us to understand why beliefs that are the outputs of epistemic feedback loops are irrational. Finally, I argue that many popular approaches to epistemic normativity may need to be abandoned on the grounds that they cannot comfortably explain feedback loops. The scope of this last claim is broad: it includes almost all existing theories of justified/rational belief and of the epistemology of cognitive penetration.
Epistemologists often appeal to the idea that a normative theory must provide useful, usable, guidance to argue for one normative epistemology over another. I argue that this is a mistake. Guidance considerations have no role to play in theory choice in epistemology. I show how this has implications for debates about the possibility and scope of epistemic dilemmas, the legitimacy of idealisation in Bayesian Epistemology, Uniqueness vs. Permissivism, sharp vs. mushy credences, and internalism vs. externalism.
Epistemic Dilemmas Defended
Essays on Epistemic Dilemmas. Oxford University Press. Forthcoming (pdf) (audio)
Daniel Greco argues that there cannot be epistemic dilemmas. I show how his argument, and the theory of epistemic dilemmas that it depends on, goes wrong in multiple ways. I then look in detail at a would-be epistemic dilemma and argue that no non-dilemmic approach to it can be made to work. Along the way, there is discussion of octopuses, lobsters, and other ‘inscrutable cognizers’; the relationship between evaluative and prescriptive norms; a failed attempt to steal a Brueghel; epistemic and moral blame and residue; an unbearable guy who thinks he’s God’s gift to women; excuses; stupid games involving hats; radical permissivism; how I’ll never be able to afford to buy a house in Hampstead; and many other exciting topics.
Who’s Afraid of Epistemic Dilemmas?
Epistemic Dilemmas: New Arguments, New Angles. Routledge. Forthcoming (pdf)
For the forthcoming Routledge volume Epistemic Dilemmas: New Arguments, New Angles, edited by Scott Stapleford, Mattias Steup, and Kevin McCain. I consider a number of reasons one might think we should only accept epistemic dilemmas in our normative epistemology as a last resort and argue that none of them is compelling.
Evidence and Bias
Routledge Handbook of the Philosophy of Evidence. Forthcoming (pdf)
For the forthcoming Routledge Handbook of the Philosophy of Evidence, edited by Maria Lasonen-Aarnio and Clayton Littlejohn. I argue that Evidentialism should be rejected because it cannot account for the fact that beliefs that are the result of unconscious biases such as confirmation bias, hindsight bias, and implicit bias are irrational
Disagreement, Dogmatism, and the Bounds of Philosophy
International Journal of Philosophical Studies 2019 (link) (pdf1) (pdf2)
For a symposium on Edouard Machery’s book ‘Philosophy Within Its Proper Bounds’. Machery is skeptical of the ambitions of philosophers. Knowledge of most metaphysical necessities of philosophical interest, he argues, is out of our reach. I argue that in order to establish this conclusion, Machery must rely on the very philosophical methods that he thinks we must reject. If so, his argument is self-undermining, and philosophical theorising can continue unbound. (Machery’s reply).
I argue that there can be epistemic dilemmas: situations in which one faces conflicting epistemic requirements with the result that whatever one does, one is doomed to do wrong from the epistemic point of view. Accepting this view, I argue, may enable us to solve several epistemological puzzles.
Knowledgeable Assertion in the Image of Knowledgeable Belief
I describe two ways of thinking about what constitutes a knowledgeable assertion – the ‘orthodox view’ and the ‘isomorphic view’. I argue that we should discard the orthodox view and replace it with the isomorphic view; the latter is more natural and has greater theoretical utility than the former.
When are you epistemically permitted to believe that P? I argue that the answer is: when it is epistemically rational for you to do so. More broadly, I argue that when it comes to the ‘coarse–grained’ doxastic attitudes of belief, suspension, and disbelief, it is permissible for you to take one of these attitudes to P if it is rational for you to do so. Rationality is the norm of belief, and of coarse–grained doxastic attitude formation in general.
Luminosity Failure, Normative Guidance, and the Principle ‘Ought-Implies-Can’
It is widely thought that moral obligations are necessarily guidance giving. This supposed fact has been put to service in defence of the ‘ought-implies-can’ principle according to which one cannot be morally obligated to do the impossible, since impossible-to-satisfy obligations would not give guidance. It is argued here that the supposed fact is no such thing; moral obligations are not necessarily guiding giving, and so the ‘guidance argument’ for ought-implies-can fails. This is the result of no non-trivial condition being ‘luminous’.
Guidance, Obligations, And Ability: A Close Look at the Action-Guidance Argument for Ought-Implies-Can
It is often argued that the requirement that moral obligations be ‘action guiding’ motivates the claim that one can be obligated to ϕ only if one can ϕ. I argue that even on its most plausible interpretation, this argument fails, since the reasoning behind it leads to the absurd conclusion that one is permitted to ϕ if one cannot ϕ.
Recently it has been increasingly popular to argue that knowledge is the norm of belief. I present an argument against this view. The argument trades on the epistemic situation of the subject in the bad case. Notably, unlike with other superficially similar arguments against knowledge norms, knowledge normers preferred strategy of appealing to the distinction between permissibility and excusability cannot help them to rebut this argument.
Williamson (2000) appeals to considerations about when it is natural to say that a hypothesis is consistent with one’s evidence in order to motivate the claim that all and only knowledge is evidence. It is argued here that the relevant considerations do not support this claim, and in fact conflict with it.
Is Knowledge The Ability To φ For The Reason That P?
Hyman (1999, 2006) argues that knowledge is best conceived as a kind of ability: S knows that p iff S can φ for the reason that p. Hyman motivates this thesis by appealing to Gettier cases. I argue that it is counterexampled by a certain kind of Gettier case where the fact that p is a cause of the subject’s belief that p. One can φ for the reason that p even if one does not know that p. So knowledge is not best conceived as an ability of this kind