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: 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.

Epistemology Brownbag: Nevin Climenhaga

Date: Tuesday, September 25th, 2018

Time: 12:30-2:00 PM

Location: Kresge 3438

Title: (Epistemic) Probabilities are Degrees of Support, not Degrees of (Rational) Belief


 I argue that when we use ‘probability’ language in epistemic contexts – e.g., when we ask how probable some hypothesis is, given the evidence available to us – we are talking about degrees of support, rather than degrees of belief. The probability of A given B is the (mind-independent) degree to which B supports A, not the degree to which someone with B as their evidence believes A, or the degree to which someone would or should believe A if they had B as their evidence. My central argument is that degrees of support can correctly model good reasoning in cases of old evidence where degrees of belief cannot. I consider ways to revise orthodox degree-of-belief Bayesianism in order to account for this kind of case, and argue that such revisions end up unable to account for reasoning about probabilities conditional on evidence that it is impossible not to possess.