MEW 10 Abstracts

Billy Dunaway

Title: “Realism, Meta-semantics, and Risk” (Full Paper) (Handout)

Abstract: This paper explores the prospects for an epistemological argument against realism. The central notion in this argument is “meta-semantic risk”. The idea behind meta-semantic risk is that one can fail to know a proposition when one’s belief is at risk of being false: nearby possibility of errors can destroy knowledge. And sometimes the sources of this risk are meta-semantic: the items in public language that one uses to form relevant beliefs can change their meanings, without one knowing that a shift has happened. The risk of such shifts has the potential to destroy knowledge.

Realism about a domain, I will assume, is the view that the domain is metaphysically very fundamental. I will argue that meta-semantic risk is particularly threatening for some domains we are realists about: beliefs about not-very-fundamental domains are not under widespread threat from meta-semantic risk. Moreover realism about some fundamental domains such as physics can escape the worry. But some domains for which realism is a candidate view are threatened by meta-semantic risk. My focus will be on realism about normativity, which cannot avoid meta-semantic risks in the same ways as physics. I sketch an argument that many of our true normative beliefs can (perhaps contingently) fail to be knowledge owing to meta-seamtnic risk. So if normative realism is true, we might have less normative knowledge than we might expect. But I will also argue that widespread skepticism about normativity does not follow. So a decisive epistemological argument against normative realism will not be able to utilize the notion of meta-semantic risk.


Brian Kim

Decision Theory, Pragmatic Encroachment, and Gettier Cases (Full Paper) (Handout)

Abstract In recent years, some epistemologists have argued that practical factors can make the differ- ence between knowledge and mere true belief. While proponents of this pragmatic thesis have proposed necessary and sufficient conditions for knowledge, it is striking that they have failed to address Gettier cases. As a result, the proposed analyses of knowledge are either lacking or susceptible to counterexam- ples. Furthermore, I show that Gettier cases pose two problems that are specific to pragmatic accounts of knowledge. By addressing these problems through the development of a decision-theoretic account of knowledge, we can gain insight into what pragmatists think knowledge is. The result is a unique lack of deliberative skill explanation of why we lack knowledge in Gettier cases.


Avery Archer

Title: “Do or Do Not, There is No Withholding: An argument Against the Existence of Practical Withholding” (Full Paper) (Handout)

Abstract: There are three doxastic attitudes one may take towards some proposition, P:  one may believe P, disbelieve P, or withhold P.  Let us call the practical analogue of a doxastic attitude a praxistic attitude.  I defend the claim that there are only two praxistic attitudes one may take towards doing X: intending to do X (which corresponds with believing P) and intending not to do X (which corresponds with disbelieving P).  In short, there is no practical analogue to the doxastic attitude of withholding P.  Call this the nonexistence thesis.  This paper unpacks, clarifies, and defends the nonexistence thesis and shows how it undermines the assumption that belief and intention are governed by structurally similar consistency norms.


Paul Boghossian

Title:  “Reasoning and Reasons” (Handout)

Abstract:  I will continue some recent explorations of the nature of reasoning and of its relation to reasons for belief.


Carrie Swanson (Handout)

‘Ancient epistemology: nothing new under the Sun?’


Dana Tulodziecki

Going beyond truth and empirical adequacy: expanding the notion of epistemic success in philosophy of science


One of the central epistemological questions in philosophy of science is the question of whether and under what circumstances we are justified in believing our scientific theories to be approximately true.  This question is usually discussed as part of the scientific realism debate, with realists endorsing the view that we are justified in believing in our theories’ approximate truth, while anti-realists hold that we are only justified in believing in their empirical adequacy.  One of the most prominent anti-realist arguments for this position is the pessimistic meta-induction: highly successful, yet wildly false theories are typical of the history of science and, therefore, we have no reason to think that our current theories are doing any better than their predecessors.  Scientific realists have responded to this by focusing on specific elements that are retained through theory-change and argued that it is this kind of theoretical continuity among theories that justifies us in believing that at least some of their parts are approximately true.

In this talk I will argue, using a case study from the history of science, that the extant realist responses to the pessimistic meta-induction fail.  I will show, however, that this failure does not translate into support for anti-realism, and that, as a result, both realist and anti-realist positions are inadequate.  I conclude by suggesting that the root of this mutual inadequacy is not the fact that neither realists nor anti-realists can account for specific cases, but the fact that they rely on too limited a notion of epistemic success.


David Sosa

Title: Standard Bearers (Full Paper) (Handout)

Abstract: The problem of moral luck reveals a deep tension in our normative commitments. These commitments respond to very different motivations, each independently reasonable. The tension recurs in epistemology, expressing itself as a clash between internalist and externalist conceptions of epistemic status. An attractive resolution appreciates a distinction between the sorts of thing that can bear normative status, and orders our normative commitments accordingly.


Margaret Atherton

A Place for History and Everything in its Place.


Imogen Dickie (Handout)

Title ‘Epistemology and the Theory of Reference’

Abstract: I shall motivate a framework according to which the two topics in the title have much more to do with one another than is normally supposed, and develop some applications