Epistemology Brownbag: Amy Flowerree

Time/Date/Location: 3:30 PM, July 3rd, Kresge 3438

Title: Against Epistemic Partiality: Character, Values, and Evidence

Abstract: Do practical commitments require that we believe against the evidence? Recently, several philosophers have argued that our practical commitments – such as friendship and promise-making – make a direct difference for what we should believe. I argue that this is misguided. Practical commitments can make a difference indirectly (by giving you different evidence or directing your attention), but they cannot make a difference directly. I give two arguments for this, one from the nature of rationalizing explanation, another from the relationship between value and action. First, it is a general feature of rationalizing explanations that they must stem from an intelligible interpretation of persons and actions. If practical commitments made a direct difference in belief, then we would not be able to engage in rationalizing explanations of ourselves and our intimates. So practical commitments cannot make a direct difference for belief. Second, in order to make actions and persons intelligible, we must interpret them in light of what people value. Knowledge of what someone values is evidence for what they will do and who they are. So viewing someone intelligibly involves taking into account what they value, and this gives us evidence of what they will do and who they are. And this evidence is independent of our practical commitments. As a result, I think it unlikely that a better argument for epistemic partiality will arise.

Epistemology Brownbag: Lauren Abruzzo

Date:  May 29th, 2019

Time/Location: 12:00-1:30; Kresge 3438

Title: The Epistemology of Self-Deception and Queer Identity

Abstract: Self-deception is an epistemic phenomenon where one believes a false belief, ~p, despite having evidence and even cognizing that p is true, because one is motivated to not believe p. Relatedly, repression, as originally theorized by Freud, is a psychological phenomenon where an unpleasant idea fails to reach one’s conscious awareness in order to avoid the discomfort that its surfacing would cause. Now, say that there are examples of repression that constitute self-deception. Say, too, that there are cases in which people in the West/Global North fail to believe that they are queer via this type of self-deception. Under these assumptions, this paper aims to show how the concept of Freudian repression is useful to an analysis of self-deception, using queer cases as illustrative. My first claim is that the theoretical framework of repression solves a central problem in the epistemology of self-deception, as shown by examples of queer repression. My second claim is that queer cases of repression expose the fact that self-deception can be socially significant, both in terms of its behavioral manifestations and underlying causes. This paper, it should be noted, will not be interested in the psychological facets of Freud’s theory, which has largely been refuted in more recent scientific research. Instead, my argument will evaluate how notions of the unconscious, consciousness, and repression are useful for examining the epistemological and social significance of self-deception.

Epistemology Brownbag: Matt Jope

Date: April 16th, 2019

Time/Location: 12:30-2:00 in Kresge 3438

Title: The Good, the Bad and the Controversial: Transmission Failure and the Externalist Challenge
Abstract: Deductive arguments sometimes put one in a position to acquire new knowledge. When this happens, justification is said to transmit from premise to conclusion. Recently however, some epistemologists have discussed interesting ways in which justification can fail to transmit across entailment. One challenge is to account for what exactly is going wrong in such cases. A popular sentiment in the literature is that traditional externalist accounts of justification have difficulty in addressing this challenge. In this paper, I consider what externalists ought to say about the phenomenon of transmission failure. Firstly, I discuss some cases of transmission and transmission failure and place them on a spectrum from very clearly transmissive to very clearly non-transmissive. I then suggest that a minimal desideratum for any theory ought to be that it capture intuitions in the most clear-cut peripheral cases, regardless of what it says about the less clear-cut cases. Next, I discuss one attempt to meet the externalist challenge due to José Zalabardo and show that it faces a variety of problems that preclude it from meeting even the minimal desideratum. Lastly, I argue that externalism in general need not be precluded from meeting the minimal desideratum and end by considering what externalists might say about the more controversial cases.

Epistemology Brownbag: Robert Audi

Date: April 10th, 2019

Time/Location: 12:00-1:30 in Kresge 3438

Title:  Memorial Testimony
Abstract: Philosophers have often spoken of the testimony of the senses. Sense-experience provides us with information, and the forms in which we receive information from it are of multiple kinds. Is the same true of memory? What we remember propositionally is actually the case, and remembered objects and events are parts of the actual history of the world, just as what we see or touch is part of its current history. To be sure, memory, as a “faculty,” may deliver misinformation, as where we have a false memory impression of closing a window. But misinformation may also come from perception, and even where there are non-semantic errors of memory, we might think of memory as in some way attesting to something. What I call memorial testimony comes in both propositional and other forms. Calling it testimony seems appropriate given its similarity to the testimony of the senses and, especially in its propositional forms, to ordinary testimony by people—agential testimony. Memorial testimony is similar to agential testimony in at least four ways: the “testimony” of memory bears information; receiving that information is normally non-inferential; believing, on the basis of memory, a proposition expressing the information is normally justified; and, when a genuine memory belief is true, it is normally a case of remembering and constitutes knowledge. Memory and testimony differ, however, in how they yield justification and knowledge. This paper provides brief accounts of each as sources of knowledge and justification and describes important similarities and essential differences. These differences are not only epistemological but also concern matters of content, semantics, phenomenology, and relations to other sources of knowledge.

Epistemology Brownbag: Heather Spradley

Date: April 4th

Time/Location: 10:00-12:00 in Kresge 3438

Title:  Escaping Epistemic Bubbles: An Epistemic Norm Governing Inquiry”
Abstract: In this talk, I intend to argue for the existence of an epistemic norm governing when to open inquiry that is grounded in facts about epistemic communities, in particular their tendency to form epistemic bubbles. In defending this norm, I will discuss an epistemic value I call convergence on true belief. I will also argue that inquiry and belief are compatible, despite initial appearances.

Epistemology Brownbag: Declan Smithies

Date: February 26th

Time/Location: 12:30-2:00 in Kresge 3438

Title: Moral Knowledge by Deduction

Abstract: How is moral knowledge possible? This paper defends the anti-Humean thesis that we can acquire moral knowledge by deduction from wholly non-moral premises. Hume’s Law says that we can never deduce an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’, since it is “altogether inconceivable how this new relation can be a deduction from others, which are entirely different from it” (1740: 3.1.1). This paper explores the prospects for theory of moral knowledge that rejects Hume’s Law.

Epistemology Brownbag: Rik Peels

Date: February 18th

Time/Location: 4:00-5:30 in Kresge 3438

Title: Can Trust be Voluntary?

Abstract: In this paper, I defend an answer to the question whether trust can be voluntary and, if so, how. First, I make the question more precise by qualifying it in various ways and specifying which kind of trust I am talking about. Next, I consider to what extent trust is voluntary if trust, as some philosophers have argued, is a particular kind of belief. This is a minority view among philosophers working on trust, but even if it is correct, it only works if so-called doxastic compatibilism is true—a particular view on what control over our beliefs amounts to. I argue that if that view is correct as well, we would save responsibility for trust or lack of trust, but not the idea that we choose or decide whether or not to trust. After that, I explain what counts in favor of the thesis that trust is voluntary. I show that there are at least two and possibly three different ways in which trust can be under our control: the constitutive element of reliance is often under our control, the constitutive element of resilience to evidence is often under our control, and there are situations in which we know that trusting actually sufficiently raises a person’s trustworthiness so that we can choose to trust.

Epistemology Brownbag: Marc Alspector-Kelly

Date: February 12th, 2019

Time/Location: 12:30-2:00 in Kresge 3438

Title: The Skeptical Closure Argument

Abstract: Suppose that P is a piece of pedestrian knowledge (such as “I have hands”) and that SK is a skeptical hypothesis (such as “I’m a handless brain in a vat”). A much-discussed argument for skepticism—the skeptical closure argument, or SCA—runs as follows:

(1) You don’t know ~SK.

(2) If you don’t know ~SK then you don’t know P.

(3) So you don’t know P.

The skeptic appeals to (a common rendition of) knowledge closure in support of (2): if S knows P, and knows that P implies Q, then S knows Q. But I’ll show that (3) only follows from a much less plausible version of closure and that, if a more plausible version is substituted, the resulting argument threatens very few if any of our ordinary knowledge claims. I’ll then revise the SCA in such a way that it does mobilize a plausible closure principle while still threatening most ordinary knowledge. It turns out, however, that the needed support for the premises of the revised SCA either renders the argument dialectically superfluous or undermines closure itself. The overall result is that there is no plausible argument for skepticism that mobilizes closure. I’ll also indicate why a related skeptical argument—one that appeals to what I call “front-loading”—fares no better.

Epistemology Brownbag: Anubav Vasudevan

Date: Tuesday, November 13th, 2018

Time: 12:30-2:00 PM

Location: Kresge 3438

Title: On the Judy Benjamin Problem
Abstract: One well-known objection to the principle of maximum entropy is the so-called Judy Benjamin problem, first introduced by van Fraassen (1981). The problem turns on the apparently puzzling fact that, on the basis of information relating an event’s conditional probability, the maximum entropy distribution will almost always assign to the event conditionalized on a probability strictly less than that assigned to it by the uniform distribution. In this talk, I will give a brief introduction to the principle of maximum entropy and present an analysis of the Judy Benjamin problem that can help to make sense of this seemingly odd feature of maximum entropy inference. In addition to helping to further our understanding of the true epistemological grounds of the principle of maximum entropy, my analysis will also shed light on its misunderstood relationship to the Laplacean principle of insufficient reason.

Epistemology Brownbag: Jay Carlson

Date: Tuesday, October 9th, 2018

Time: 12:30-2:00 PM

Location: Kresge 3438

Title: Epistemology of disagreement, bias, and political deliberation: the problems for a conciliatory view


In this paper, I will discuss the relevance of epistemology of disagreement to political disagreement. The two major positions in the epistemology of disagreement literature are the steadfast and the conciliationist approaches: while the conciliationist says that disagreement with one’s epistemic equals should compel one to epistemically “split the difference” with those peers, the steadfast approach claims that one can maintain one’s antecedent position even in the face of such peer disagreement. Martin Ebeling (Ebeling 2017) applies a conciliationist approach to democratic deliberations, arguing that deliberative participants ought to pursue full epistemic concliation when disagreeing with their peers on political questions. I argue that this epistemic “splitting the difference” could make participants vulnerable to certain cognitive biases. We might avoid these biases by paying more attention to the deliberative environment in which disagreement takes place.