About this topic
Summary Defeat in epistemology focuses on the idea that one's justification or evidence or reasons for believing, and thus one's knowledge, may be defeated in some way by "defeaters." Views diverge over what defeaters are (whether they are mental states, or propositions, or facts, or some combination thereof). Views also diverge over how defeat works (e.g. whether they are what Pollock called "undercutting" or "rebutting," or whether defeaters attack one's reasons, one's evidence, or simply whether one knows or is justified in believing).  The debate over defeat extends to issues surrounding the rationality of belief that p in the face of higher-order belief or evidence concerning whether one's belief (or credence) in p is reliable or rational; to the conditions, if any, under which one may be dogmatic toward information one regards as misleading; and to formal epistemology's interest in capturing how one's credence ought to change given incoming evidence.
Key works The contemporary discussion originates with Chisholm 1966 and Pollock 1986 (Ch. 3) / Pollock 1987; for "defeasibility" theories of knowledge, see Klein 1976. For discussion of defeaters as mental states, see Bergmann 2005 and Bergmann 2006, Ch. 6. For a "normative defeaters" view on which defeaters may be propositions one ought to believe, see Goldberg 2016, Goldberg 2017, and Benton 2016. For two ways of characterizing defeat, see Kvanvig 2007. For discussion of higher-order evidence and its bearing on rational belief, see Horowitz 2014Lasonen‐Aarnio 2014, and Schoenfield 2015; for related matters in the epistemology of disagreement, see Christensen & Lackey 2013. For work casting doubt on the viability of knowledge defeat, see Lasonen-Aarnio 2010 and Baker-Hytch & Benton 2015
Introductions Grundmann 2011
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  1. Defeasibility Modified.Terrence F. Ackerman - 1974 - Philosophical Studies 26 (5-6):431 - 435.
  2. The Problem of Respecting Higher-Order Doubt.David J. Alexander - 2013 - Philosophers' Imprint 13.
    This paper argues that higher-order doubt generates an epistemic dilemma. One has a higher-order doubt with regards to P insofar as one justifiably withholds belief as to what attitude towards P is justified. That is, one justifiably withholds belief as to whether one is justified in believing, disbelieving, or withholding belief in P. Using the resources provided by Richard Feldman’s recent discussion of how to respect one’s evidence, I argue that if one has a higher-order doubt with regards to P, (...)
  3. Hume, Defeat, and Miracle Reports.Charity Anderson - 2018 - In Matthew A. Benton, John Hawthorne & Dani Rabinowitz (eds.), Knowledge, Belief, and God: New Insights in Religious Epistemology. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 13-28.
    This chapter investigates the rationality of failing to believe miracle reports. Hume famously argued that it is irrational to believe that a miracle has occurred on the basis of testimony alone. While certain aspects of Hume's argument have received extensive discussion, other features of his argument have been largely overlooked. After offering a reconstruction of Hume's argument, I argue that epistemic defeat plays a central role in the argument, and I explore the aptness of as well as some limitations to (...)
  4. Knowledge and Defeasibility.David Annis - 1973 - Philosophical Studies 24 (3):199 - 203.
  5. Skepticism About a Priori Justification: Self-Evidence, Defeasibility.Robert Audi - 2004 - In John Greco (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Skepticism. Oxford University Press. pp. 149.
  6. Foundationalism, Epistemic Dependence, and Defeasibility.Robert Audi - 1983 - Synthese 55 (1):119 - 139.
    This paper is an examination of modest foundationalism in relation to some important criteria of epistemic dependence. The paper distinguishes between causal and epistemic dependence and indicates how each might be related to reasons. Four kinds of reasons are also distinguished: reasons to believe, reasons one has for believing, reasons for which one believes, and reasons why one believes. In the light of all these distinctions, epistemic dependence is contrasted with defeasibility, and it is argued that modest foundationalism is not (...)
  7. Testimony Amidst Diversity.Max Baker-Hytch - 2018 - In Matthew A. Benton, John Hawthorne & Dani Rabinowitz (eds.), Knowledge, Belief, and God: New Insights in Religious Epistemology. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 183-202.
  8. Defeatism Defeated.Max Baker-Hytch & Matthew A. Benton - 2015 - Philosophical Perspectives 29 (1):40-66.
    Many epistemologists are enamored with a defeat condition on knowledge. In this paper we present some implementation problems for defeatism, understood along either internalist or externalist lines. We then propose that one who accepts a knowledge norm of belief, according to which one ought to believe only what one knows, can explain away much of the motivation for defeatism. This is an important result, because on the one hand it respects the plausibility of the intuitions about defeat shared by many (...)
  9. Lotteries And Contexts.Peter Baumann - 2004 - Erkenntnis 61 (2-3):415-428.
    There are many ordinary propositions we think we know. Almost every ordinary proposition entails some "lottery proposition" which we think we do not know but to which we assign a high probability of being true (for instance: “I will never be a multi-millionaire” entails “I will not win this lottery”). How is this possible - given that some closure principle is true? This problem, also known as “the Lottery puzzle”, has recently provoked a lot of discussion. In this paper I (...)
  10. Process Reliabilism's Troubles with Defeat.B. Beddor - 2015 - Philosophical Quarterly 65 (259):145-159.
    One attractive feature of process reliabilism is its reductive potential: it promises to explain justification in entirely non-epistemic terms. In this paper, I argue that the phenomenon of epistemic defeat poses a serious challenge for process reliabilism’s reductive ambitions. The standard process reliabilist analysis of defeat is the ‘Alternative Reliable Process Account’ (ARP). According to ARP, whether S’s belief is defeated depends on whether S has certain reliable processes available to her which, if they had been used, would have resulted (...)
  11. Developmental Process Reliabilism: On Justification, Defeat, and Evidence.Matthew S. Bedke - 2010 - Erkenntnis 73 (1):1 - 17.
    Here I present and defend an etiological theory of objective, doxastic justification, and related theories of defeat and evidence. The theory is intended to solve a problem for reliabilist epistemologies— the problem of identifying relevant environments for assessing a process's reliability. It is also intended to go some way to accommodating, neutralizing, or explaining away many internalist-friendly elements in our epistemic thinking.
  12. Naturalism Defeated?: Essays on Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism.James K. Beilby (ed.) - 2002 - Cornell University Press.
    In this, the first book to address the ongoing debate, Plantinga presents his influential thesis and responds to critiques by distinguished philosophers from a ...
  13. Unreckoned Misleading Truths and Lehrer's Theory of Undefeated Justification.John W. Bender - 1992 - Journal of Philosophical Research 17:465-481.
    According to Keith Lehrer’s coherence theory, knowledge is true acceptance whose justification is undefeated by a falsehood. It has recently become clear that Lehrer’s handling of important Gettier-inspired problems depends upon his position that only falsehoods accepted by the subject can act as defeaters of knowledge. I argue against this and present an example in which an unreckoned truth---one neither believed nor believed to be false by the subject---defeats knowledge. I trace the negative implications of this matter for the coherence (...)
  14. Knowledge and Evidence You Should Have Had.Matthew A. Benton - 2016 - Episteme 13 (4):471-479.
    Epistemologists focus primarily on cases of knowledge, belief, or credence where the evidence which one possesses, or on which one is relying, plays a fundamental role in the epistemic or normative status of one's doxastic state. Recent work in epistemology goes beyond the evidence one possesses to consider the relevance for such statuses of evidence which one does not possess, particularly when there is a sense in which one should have had some evidence. I focus here on Sanford Goldberg's approach (...)
  15. Justification Without Awareness: A Defense of Epistemic Externalism.Michael Bergmann - 2006 - Oxford University Press.
    Virtually all philosophers agree that for a belief to be epistemically justified, it must satisfy certain conditions. Perhaps it must be supported by evidence. Or perhaps it must be reliably formed. Or perhaps there are some other "good-making" features it must have. But does a belief's justification also require some sort of awareness of its good-making features? The answer to this question has been hotly contested in contemporary epistemology, creating a deep divide among its practitioners. Internalists, who tend to focus (...)
  16. Defeaters and Higher-Level Requirements.Michael Bergmann - 2005 - Philosophical Quarterly 55 (220):419–436.
    Internalists tend to impose on justification higher-level requirements, according to which a belief is justified only if the subject has a higher-level belief (i.e., a belief about the epistemic credentials of a belief). I offer an error theory that explains the appeal of this requirement: analytically, a belief is not justified if we have a defeater for it, but contingently, it is often the case that to avoid having defeaters, our beliefs must satisfy a higher-level requirement. I respond to the (...)
  17. Deontology and Defeat.Michael Bergmann - 2000 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 60 (1):87-102.
    It is currently fashionable to hold that deontology induces internalism. That is, those who think that epistemic justification is essentially a matter of duty fulfillment are thought to have a good reason for accepting internalism in epistemology. I shall argue that no deontological conception of epistemic justification provides a good reason for endorsing internalism. My main contention is that a requirement having to do with epistemic defeat---a requirement that many externalists impose on knowledge---guarantees the only sorts of deontological justification that (...)
  18. Internalism, Externalism and the No-Defeater Condition.Michael Bergmann - 1997 - Synthese 110 (3):399-417.
    Despite various attempts to rectify matters, the internalism-externalism (I-E) debate in epistemology remains mired in serious confusion. I present a new account of this debate, one which fits well with entrenched views on the I-E distinction and illuminates the fundamental disagreements at the heart of the debate. Roughly speaking, the I-E debate is over whether or not certain of the necessary conditions of positive epistemic status are internal. But what is the sense of internal here? And of which conditions of (...)
  19. Introduction.Claudia Blöser, Mikael Janvid, Hannes Ole Matthiessen & Marcus Willaschek - 2013 - Grazer Philosophische Studien 87 (1):1-8.
  20. Concerning the Defeasibility of Legal Rules.Leonard G. Boonin - 1966 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 26 (3):371-378.
  21. On Synchronic Dogmatism.Rodrigo Borges - 2015 - Synthese 192 (11):3677-3693.
    Saul Kripke argued that the requirement that knowledge eliminate all possibilities of error leads to dogmatism . According to this view, the dogmatism puzzle arises because of a requirement on knowledge that is too strong. The paper argues that dogmatism can be avoided even if we hold on to the strong requirement on knowledge. I show how the argument for dogmatism can be blocked and I argue that the only other approach to the puzzle in the literature is mistaken.
  22. Justification and Misleading Defeaters.James Cargile - 1955 - Analysis 55 (3):216 - 220.
  23. Sosa on Knowledge, Judgment and Guessing.J. Adam Carter - 2018 - Synthese:1-20.
    In Chapter 3 of Judgment and Agency, Ernest Sosa (2015) explicates the concept of a fully apt performance. In the course of doing so, he draws from illustrative examples of practical performances and applies lessons drawn to the case of cognitive performances, and in particular, to the cog- nitive performance of judging. Sosa's examples in the practical sphere are rich and instructive. But there is, I will argue, an interesting disanalogy between the practical and cognitive examples he relies on. Ultimately, (...)
  24. Meta-Epistemic Defeat.J. Adam Carter - 2018 - Synthese 195 (7):2877-2896.
    An account of meta-epistemic defeaters—distinct from traditional epistemic defeaters—is motivated and defended, drawing from case studies involving epistemic error-theory and epistemic relativism. Mechanisms of traditional epistemic defeat and meta-epistemic defeat are compared and contrasted, and some new puzzles are introduced.
  25. Group Knowledge and Epistemic Defeat.J. Adam Carter - 2015 - Ergo: An Open Access Journal of Philosophy 2.
    If individual knowledge and justification can be vanquished by epistemic defeaters, then the same should go for group knowledge. Lackey (2014) has recently argued that one especially strong conception of group knowledge defended by Bird (2010) is incapable of preserving how it is that (group) knowledge is ever subject to ordinary mechanisms of epistemic defeat. Lackey takes it that her objections do not also apply to a more moderate articulation of group knowledge--one that is embraced widely in collective epistemology--and which (...)
  26. The Defeasibility of Knowledge-How.J. Adam Carter & Jesús Navarro - 2017 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research (3):662-685.
    Reductive intellectualists (e.g., Stanley & Williamson 2001; Stanley 2011a; 2011b; Brogaard 2008; 2009; 2011) hold that knowledge-how is a kind of knowledge-that. If this thesis is correct, then we should expect the defeasibility conditions for knowledge-how and knowledge-that to be uniform—viz., that the mechanisms of epistemic defeat which undermine propositional knowledge will be equally capable of imperilling knowledge-how. The goal of this paper is twofold: first, against intellectualism, we will show that knowledge-how is in fact resilient to being undermined by (...)
  27. Pollock and Sturgeon on Defeaters.Albert Casullo - 2018 - Synthese 195 (7):2897-2906.
    Scott Sturgeon has recently challenged Pollock’s account of undercutting defeaters. The challenge involves three primary contentions: the account is both too strong and too weak, undercutting defeaters exercise their power to defeat only in conjunction with higher-order beliefs about the basis of the lower-order beliefs whose justification they target, and since rebutting defeaters exercise their power to defeat in isolation, rebutting and undercutting defeaters work in fundamentally different ways. My goal is to reject each of these contentions. I maintain that (...)
  28. Defeat Reconsidered.Jake Chandler - 2013 - Analysis 73 (1):49-51.
    It appears to have gone unnoticed in the literature that Pollock's widely endorsed analysis of evidential defeat entails a remarkably strong symmetry principle, according to which, for any three propositions D, E and H, if both E and D provide a reason to believe H, then D is a defeater for E's support for H if and only if, in turn, E is a defeater for D's support for H. After illustrating the counterintuitiveness of this constraint, a simple, more suitable, (...)
  29. Theory of Knowledge.Roderick M. Chisholm - 1966 - Englewood Cliffs, N.J., Prentice-Hall.
  30. Debunking and Dispensability.Justin Clarke-Doane - 2016 - In Uri D. Leibowitz & Neil Sinclair (eds.), Explanation in Ethics and Mathematics: Debunking and Dispensability. Oxford University Press.
    In his précis of a recent book, Richard Joyce writes, “My contention…is that…any epistemological benefit-of-the-doubt that might have been extended to moral beliefs…will be neutralized by the availability of an empirically confirmed moral genealogy that nowhere…presupposes their truth.” Such reasoning – falling under the heading “Genealogical Debunking Arguments” – is now commonplace. But how might “the availability of an empirically confirmed moral genealogy that nowhere… presupposes” the truth of our moral beliefs “neutralize” whatever “epistemological benefit-of-the-doubt that might have been extended (...)
  31. Justification and Explanation in Mathematics and Morality.Justin Clarke-Doane - 2015 - In Russ Shafer-Landau (ed.), Oxford Studies in Metaethics: Volume 1. Oxford University Press.
    In an influential book, Gilbert Harman writes, "In explaining the observations that support a physical theory, scientists typically appeal to mathematical principles. On the other hand, one never seems to need to appeal in this way to moral principles [1977, 9 – 10]." What is the epistemological relevance of this contrast, if genuine? In this article, I argue that ethicists and philosophers of mathematics have misunderstood it. They have confused what I will call the justificatory challenge for realism about an (...)
  32. Rational Epistemic Akrasia.Allen Coates - 2012 - American Philosophical Quarterly 49 (2):113-24.
    Epistemic akrasia arises when one holds a belief even though one judges it to be irrational or unjustified. While there is some debate about whether epistemic akrasia is possible, this paper will assume for the sake of argument that it is in order to consider whether it can be rational. The paper will show that it can. More precisely, cases can arise in which both the belief one judges to be irrational and one’s judgment of it are epistemically rational in (...)
  33. Defeasibility and Background Beliefs.Stewart Cohen - 1981 - Philosophical Studies 39 (3):263 - 273.
  34. Epistemic Akrasia and Epistemic Reasons.Marc-Kevin Daoust - forthcoming - Episteme:1-21.
    It seems that epistemically rational agents should avoid incoherent combinations of beliefs and should respond correctly to their epistemic reasons. However, some situations seem to indicate that such requirements cannot be simultaneously satisfied. In such contexts, assuming that there is no unsolvable dilemma of epistemic rationality, either (i) it could be rational that one’s higher-order attitudes do not align with one’s first-order attitudes or (ii) requirements such as responding correctly to epistemic reasons that agents have are not genuine rationality requirements. (...)
  35. Higher-Order Defeat is Object-Independent.Joshua DiPaolo - forthcoming - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly.
    Higher-order defeat occurs when one loses justification for one's beliefs as a result of receiving evidence that those beliefs resulted from a cognitive malfunction. Several philosophers have identified features of higher-order defeat that distinguish it from familiar types of defeat. If higher-order defeat has these features, they are data an account of rational belief must capture. In this article, I identify a new distinguishing feature of higher-order defeat, and I argue that on its own, and in conjunction with the other (...)
  36. Lost Knowledge.Fred Dretske & Palle Yourgrau - 1983 - Journal of Philosophy 80 (6):356-367.
  37. I Can’T Believe I’M Stupid.Andy Egan & Adam Elga - 2005 - Philosophical Perspectives 19 (1):77–93.
    It is bad news to find out that one's cognitive or perceptual faculties are defective. Furthermore, it’s not always transparent how one ought to revise one's beliefs in light of such news. Two sorts of news should be distinguished. On the one hand, there is news that a faculty is unreliable -- that it doesn't track the truth particularly well. On the other hand, there is news that a faculty is anti-reliable -- that it tends to go positively wrong. These (...)
  38. On Overrating Oneself... And Knowing It.Adam Elga - 2005 - Philosophical Studies 123 (1-2):115-124.
    When it comes to evaluating our own abilities and prospects, most people are subject to a distorting bias. We think that we are better – friendlier, more well-liked, better leaders, and better drivers – than we really are. Once we learn about this bias, we should ratchet down our self-evaluations to correct for it. But we don’t. That leaves us with an uncomfortable tension in our beliefs: we knowingly allow our beliefs to differ from the ones that we think are (...)
  39. Chapter 19. Misleading Defeaters.Richard Foley - 2012 - In When is True Belief Knowledge? Princeton University Press. pp. 95-98.
  40. Risk, Doubt, and Transmission.Rachel Elizabeth Fraser - 2016 - Philosophical Studies 173 (10):2803-2821.
    Despite their substantial appeal, closure principles have fallen on hard times. Both anti-luck conditions on knowledge and the defeasibility of knowledge look to be in tension with natural ways of articulating single-premise closure principles. The project of this paper is to show that plausible theses in the epistemology of testimony face problems structurally identical to those faced by closure principles. First I show how Lasonen-Aarnio’s claim that there is a tension between single premise closure and anti-luck constraints on knowledge can (...)
  41. Preservationism in the Epistemology of Memory.Matthew Frise - 2017 - Philosophical Quarterly 67 (268).
    Preservationism states that memory preserves the justification of the beliefs it preserves. More precisely: if S formed a justified belief that p at t1 and retains in memory a belief that p until t2, then S's belief that p is prima facie justified via memory at t2. Preservationism is an unchallenged orthodoxy in the epistemology of memory. Advocates include Sven Bernecker, Tyler Burge, Alvin Goldman, Gilbert Harman, Michael Huemer, Matthew McGrath, and Thomas Senor. I develop three dilemmas for it, in (...)
  42. Norman and Truetemp Revisited Reliabilistically: A Proper Functionalist Defeat Account of Clairvoyance.Harmen Ghijsen - 2016 - Episteme 13 (1):89-110.
    The cases of Norman the Clairvoyant and Mr. Truetemp form classic counterexamples to the process reliabilist's claim that reliability is sufficient for prima facie justification. I discuss several ways in which contemporary reliabilists have tried to deal with these counterexamples, and argue that they are all unsuccessful. Instead, I propose that the most promising route lies with an appeal to a specific kind of higher-order defeat that is best cashed out in terms of properly functioning monitoring mechanisms.
  43. The Puzzle of Perceptual Justification: Conscious Experience, Higher-Order Beliefs, and Reliable Processes.Harmen Ghijsen - 2016 - Switzerland: Springer.
    This book provides an accessible and up-to-date discussion of contemporary theories of perceptual justification that each highlight different factors related to perception, i.e., conscious experience, higher-order beliefs, and reliable processes. The book’s discussion starts from the viewpoint that perception is not only one of our fundamental sources of knowledge and justification, but also plays this role for many less sophisticated animals. It proposes a scientifically informed reliabilist theory which can accommodate this fact without denying that some of our epistemic abilities (...)
  44. Should Have Known.Sanford C. Goldberg - 2017 - Synthese 194 (8):2863-2894.
    In this paper I will be arguing that there are cases in which a subject, S, should have known that p, even though, given her state of evidence at the time, she was in no position to know it. My argument for this result will involve making two claims. The uncontroversial claim is this: S should have known that p when another person has, or would have, legitimate expectations regarding S’s epistemic condition, the satisfaction of these expectations would require that (...)
  45. On the Epistemic Significance of Evidence You Should Have Had.Sanford C. Goldberg - 2016 - Episteme 13 (4):449-470.
    Elsewhere I and others have argued that evidence one should have had can bear on the justification of one's belief, in the form of defeating one's justification. In this paper, I am interested in knowing how evidence one should have had (on the one hand) and one's higher-order evidence (on the other) interact in determinations of the justification of belief. In doing so I aim to address two types of scenario that previous discussions have left open. In one type of (...)
  46. Defeasibility and Inferential Particularism.Javier González de Prado Salas - 2017 - International Journal of Philosophical Studies 25 (1):80-98.
    In this paper I argue that defeasible inferences are occasion-sensitive: the inferential connections of a given claim depend on features of the circumstances surrounding the occasion of inference. More specifically, it is an occasion-sensitive matter which possible defeaters have to be considered explicitly by the premises of an inference and which possible defeaters may remain unconsidered, without making the inference enthymematic. As a result, a largely unexplored form of occasion-sensitivity arises in inferentialist theories of content that appeal to defeasible inferences.
  47. Taking a Chance on KK.Jeremy Goodman & Bernhard Salow - 2018 - Philosophical Studies 175 (1):183-196.
    Dorr et al. present a case that poses a challenge for a number of plausible principles about knowledge and objective chance. Implicit in their discussion is an interesting new argument against KK, the principle that anyone who knows p is in a position to know that they know p. We bring out this argument, and investigate possible responses for defenders of KK, establishing new connections between KK and various knowledge-chance principles.
  48. Doubts About Philosophy? The Alleged Challenge From Disagreement.Thomas Grundmann - 2013 - In Tim Henning & David Schweikard (eds.), Knowledge, Virtue, and Action. Essays on Putting Epistemic Virtues to Work. Routledge. pp. 72-98.
    In philosophy, as in many other disciplines and domains, stable disagreement among peers is a widespread and well-known phenomenon. Our intuitions about paradigm cases, e.g. Christensen's Restaurant Case, suggest that in such controversies suspension of judgment is rationally required. This would prima facie suggest a robust suspension of judgment in philosophy. But we are still lacking a deeper theoretical explanation of why and under what conditions suspension is rationally mandatory. In the first part of this paper I will focus on (...)
  49. Defeasibility Theory.Thomas Grundmann - 2011 - In Sven Bernecker & Duncan Pritchard (eds.), The Routledge Companion to Epistemology. Routledge. pp. 156-166.
    This is a survey article about epistemic defeaters: what is defeated, how defeaters work, different kinds of defeaters, indefeasibility and how defeaters fit into epistemic internalism and externalism.
  50. Introspective Self-Knowledge and Reasoning: An Externalist Guide.Thomas Grundmann - 2009 - Erkenntnis 71 (1):89-105.
    According to the received view, externalist grounds or reasons need not be introspectively accessible. Roughly speaking, from an externalist point of view, a belief will be epistemically justified, iff it is based upon facts that make its truth objectively highly likely. This condition can be satisfied, even if the epistemic agent does not have actual or potential awareness of the justifying facts. No inner perspective on the belief-forming mechanism and its truth-ratio is needed for a belief to be justified. In (...)
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