In section 1, I develop epistemic communism, my view of the function of epistemically evaluative terms such as ‘rational’. The function is to support the coordination of our belief-forming rules, which in turn supports the reliable acquisition of beliefs through testimony. This view is motivated by the existence of valid inferences that we hesitate to call rational. I defend the view against the worry that it fails to account for a function of evaluations within first-personal deliberation. In the rest of (...) the paper, I then argue, on the basis of epistemic communism, for a view about rationality itself. I set up the argument in section 2 by saying what a theory of rational deduction is supposed to do. I claim that such a theory would provide a necessary, sufficient, and explanatorily unifying condition for being a rational rule for inferring deductive consequences. I argue in section 3 that, given epistemic communism and the conventionality that it entails, there is no such theory. Nothing explains why certain rules for deductive reasoning are rational. (shrink)
True beliefs and truth-preserving inferences are, in some sense, good beliefs and good inferences. When an inference is valid though, it is not merely truth-preserving, but truth-preserving in all cases. This motivates my question: I consider a Modus Ponens inference, and I ask what its validity in particular contributes to the explanation of why the inference is, in any sense, a good inference. I consider the question under three different definitions of ‘case’, and hence of ‘validity’: the orthodox definition given (...) in terms of interpretations or models, a metaphysical definition given in terms of possible worlds, and a substitutional definition defended by Quine. I argue that the orthodox notion is poorly suited to explain what's good about a Modus Ponens inference. I argue that there is something good that is explained by a certain kind of truth across possible worlds, but the explanation is not provided by metaphysical validity in particular; nothing of value is explained by truth across all possible worlds. Finally, I argue that the substitutional notion of validity allows us to correctly explain what is good about a valid inference. (shrink)
Rationalism, my target, says that in order to have perceptual knowledge, such as that your hand is making a fist, you must “antecedently” (or “independently”) know that skeptical scenarios don’t obtain, such as the skeptical scenario that you are in the Matrix. I motivate the specific form of Rationalism shared by, among others, White (Philos Stud 131:525–557, 2006) and Wright (Proc Aristot Soc Suppl Vol 78:167–212, 2004), which credits us with warrant to believe (or “accept”, in Wright’s terms) that our (...) senses are reliably veridical, where that warrant is one we enjoy by default, that is, without relying on any evidence or engaging in any positive argument. The problem with this form of Rationalism is that, even if you have default knowledge that your senses are reliable, this is not adequate to rule out every kind of skeptical scenario. The problem is created by one-off skeptical scenarios, scenarios that involve a highly reliable perceiver who, by a pure fluke, has a one-off, non-veridical experience. I claim you cannot infer that your present perceptual experience is veridical just on the basis of knowledge of your general reliability. More generally, if you infer that the present F is G, just on the basis of your knowledge that most Fs are Gs, this is what I call statistical inference, and, as I argue, statistical inference by itself does not generate knowledge. I defend this view of statistical inference against objections, including the objection that radical skepticism about our ordinary inductive knowledge will follow unless statistical inference generates knowledge. (shrink)
In this paper, I explore a question about deductive reasoning: why am I in a position to immediately infer some deductive consequences of what I know, but not others? I show why the question cannot be answered in the most natural ways of answering it, in particular in Descartes’s way of answering it. I then go on to introduce a new approach to answering the question, an approach inspired by Hume’s view of inductive reasoning.
This paper begins by raising a puzzle about what function our use of the word ‘rational’ could serve. To solve the puzzle, I introduce a view I call Epistemic Communism: we use epistemic evaluations to promote coordination among our basic belief-forming rules, and the function of this is to make the acquisition of knowledge by testimony more efficient.
What accounts for how we know that certain rules of reasoning, such as reasoning by Modus Ponens, are valid? If our knowledge of validity must be based on some reasoning, then we seem to be committed to the legitimacy of rule-circular arguments for validity. This paper raises a new difficulty for the rule-circular account of our knowledge of validity. The source of the problem is that, contrary to traditional wisdom, a universal generalization cannot be inferred just on the basis of (...) reasoning about an arbitrary object. I argue in favor of a more sophisticated constraint on reasoning by universal generalization, one which undermines a rule-circular account of our knowledge of validity. (shrink)