Philosophical Perspectives 24 (1):573-615 (2010)

Roger White
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
I believe that Tom is the proud father of a baby boy. Why do I think his child is a boy? A natural answer might be that I remember that his name is ‘Owen’ which is usually a boy’s name. Here I’ve given information that might be part of a causal explanation of my believing that Tom’s baby is a boy. I do have such a memory and it is largely what sustains my conviction. But I haven’t given you just any causally relevant information, I’ve given my grounds for my belief. I’ve given reasons that might justify me in supposing that Tom’s baby is a boy. Less naturally, the question might be taken as a request for a broader causal explanation of my holding this belief. Appropriate answers might cite all manner of facts concerning the evolution of the human race, why I chose to pursue philosophy and hence came to know Tom, the mechanisms of email transmission, the firing of various neurons, the circumstances of concept formation as a result of which I’m able to grasp the thought that Tom’s baby is a boy, and so on. It is an interesting question what distinguishes the narrower set of answers that I first suggested. I won’t pursue that here. I assume you have a good enough sense of the distinction I’m drawing. We might call the narrower set of answers justifying reasons, the kind of reasons I might cite in justifying my belief. Answers of the first sort are clearly relevant to epistemological evaluation. In assessing whether you know p or are rational in believing it to the degree you do, I will naturally want to consider what reasons you have for your belief. In deliberating myself about whether to believe p, in seeking an answer to the question of whether p, I will naturally consider what reasons or grounds I have to suppose that p. But what I want to focus on here is how explanations of the broader sort bear on such questions as whether to believe p. From a third-person perspective we can ask, ‘In assessing the epistemic status of S’s belief that p, what is the relevance of causal information that lies outside of the realm of justifying reasons?’ From the first-person standpoint we can ask ‘In seeking to answer whether p, how should such causal information affect my deliberations?’ At first it might seem that such broader causal information could have little relevance if any. Like any belief my belief that p can be traced back to innumerable causes from far and wide..
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DOI 10.1111/j.1520-8583.2010.00204.x
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References found in this work BETA

Philosophical Explanations.Robert Nozick - 1981 - Harvard University Press.
Knowledge and its Limits.Timothy Williamson - 2000 - Oxford University Press.
A Darwinian Dilemma for Realist Theories of Value.Sharon Street - 2006 - Philosophical Studies 127 (1):109-166.
Epistemology of Disagreement: The Good News.David Christensen - 2007 - Philosophical Review 116 (2):187-217.

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Citations of this work BETA

Debunking Arguments.Daniel Z. Korman - 2019 - Philosophy Compass 14 (12).
No Exception for Belief.Susanna Rinard - 2017 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 94 (1):121-143.

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