Epistemic authority: preemption through source sensitive defeat

Synthese 197 (9):4109-4130 (2020)
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Abstract

Modern societies are characterized by a division of epistemic labor between laypeople and epistemic authorities. Authorities are often far more competent than laypeople and can thus, ideally, inform their beliefs. But how should laypeople rationally respond to an authority’s beliefs if they already have beliefs and reasons of their own concerning some subject matter? According to the standard view, the beliefs of epistemic authorities are just further, albeit weighty, pieces of evidence. In contrast, the Preemption View claims that, when one discovers what an authority believes, it is not permissible to rely on any of one’s own reasons concerning the subject matter. The original version of this view, as proposed by Linda Zagzebski, has recently been severely criticized for recommending blind trust and for abandoning even minimal standards for critical thinking. In our paper, we defend a new version of the Preemption View—Defeatist Preemptionism—in a way that differs radically from Zagzebski’s. We argue that our view can be derived from certain widely accepted general epistemic principles. In particular, we claim that preemption can be identified as a special case of source sensitive defeat. Moreover, we argue that Defeatist Preemptionism does not lead to the undesirable consequences that critics ascribe to the Preemption View. The paper thus articulates the foundations and refinements of the Preemption View, such that it adequately captures the phenomenon of epistemic authority and the rational requirements related to it.

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Thomas Grundmann
University of Cologne

References found in this work

Truth and Method.H. G. Gadamer - 1975 - Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 36 (4):487-490.
Reflection and Disagreement.Adam Elga - 2007 - Noûs 41 (3):478–502.
Higher‐Order Evidence and the Limits of Defeat.Maria Lasonen-Aarnio - 2014 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 88 (2):314-345.

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