White, Christensen, and Feldman have recently endorsed uniqueness, the thesis that given the same total evidence, two rational subjects cannot hold different views. Kelly, Schoenfield, and Meacham argue that White and others have at best only supported the weaker, merely intrapersonal view that, given the total evidence, there are no two views which a single rational agent could take. Here, we give a new argument for uniqueness, an argument with deliberate focus on the interpersonal element of the thesis. Our argument (...) is that the best explanation of the value of promoting rationality is an explanation that entails uniqueness. (shrink)
Whereas Bayesians have proposed norms such as probabilism, which requires immediate and permanent certainty in all logical truths, I propose a framework on which credences, including credences in logical truths, are rational because they are based on reasoning that follows plausible rules for the adoption of credences. I argue that my proposed framework has many virtues. In particular, it resolves the problem of logical omniscience.
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.
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)
A Boltzmann Brain, haphazardly formed through the unlikely but still possible random assembly of physical particles, is a conscious brain having experiences just like an ordinary person. The skeptical possibility of being a Boltzmann Brain is an especially gripping one: scientific evidence suggests our actual universe’s full history may ultimately contain countless short-lived Boltzmann Brains with experiences just like yours or mine. I propose a solution to the skeptical challenge posed by these countless actual Boltzmann Brains. My key idea is (...) roughly this: the skeptical argument that you’re one of the Boltzmann Brains requires you to make a statistical inference, but the Principle of Total Evidence blocks us from making the inference. I discuss how my solution contrasts with a recent suggestion, made by Sean Carroll and David Chalmers, for how to address the skeptical challenge posed by Boltzmann Brains. And I discuss how my solution handles certain relevant concerns about what to do when we have higher-order evidence indicating that our first-order evidence is misleading. (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 looks at three ways of addressing probabilism’s implausible requirement of logical omniscience. The first and most common strategy says it’s okay to require an ideally rational person to be logically omniscient. I argue that this view is indefensible on any interpretation of ‘ideally rational’. The second strategy says probabilism should be formulated not in terms of logically possible worlds but in terms of doxastically possible worlds, ways you think the world might be. I argue that, on the interpretation (...) of this approach that lifts the requirement of certainty in all logical truths, the view becomes vacuous, issuing no requirements on rational believers at all. Finally, I develop and endorse a new solution to the problem. This view proposes dynamic norms for reasoning with credences. The solution is based on an old proposal of Ian Hacking’s that says you’re required to be sensitive to logical facts only when you know they are logical facts. (shrink)
I object to Markos Valaris’s thesis that reasoning requires a belief that your conclusion follows from your premisses. My counter-examples highlight the important but neglected role of suppositional reasoning in the basis of so much of what we know.
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)
David Lewis (1974, 1994/1999) proposed to reduce the facts about mental representation to facts about sensory evidence, dispositions to act, and rationality. Recently, Robert Williams (2020) and Adam Pautz (2021) have taken up and developed Lewis’s project in sophisticated and novel ways. In this paper, we aim to present, clarify, and ultimately object to the core thesis that they all build their own views around. The different sophisticated developments and defenses notwithstanding, we think the core thesis is vulnerable. We pose (...) a dilemma by considering the two sides of a current epistemological controversy over the relation between evidence and rational belief: permissivism vs. uniqueness. As we argue, the prospects for the Lewisian project look dim when either supposition is clearly made. (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)
I critically examine an evolutionary debunking argument against moral realism. The key premise of the argument is that there is no adequate explanation of our moral reliability. I search for the strongest version of the argument; this involves exploring how ‘adequate explanation’ could be understood such that the key premise comes out true. Finally, I give a reductio: in the sense in which there is no adequate explanation of our moral reliability, there is equally no adequate explanation of our inductive (...) reliability. Thus, the argument that would debunk our moral views would also, absurdly, debunk all inductive reasoning. (shrink)
The main question of this paper is: how do we manage to know what our own degrees of belief are? Section 1 briefly reviews and criticizes the traditional functionalist view, a view notably associated with David Lewis and sometimes called the theory-theory. I use this criticism to motivate the approach I want to promote. Section 2, the bulk of the paper, examines and begins to develop the view that we have a special kind of introspective access to our degrees of (...) belief. I give an initial assessment of the view by examining its compatibility with leading theories of introspection. And I identify a challenge for the view, and explain why I'm optimistic that the view can overcome it. (shrink)
I develop a new version of the ordinary language response to skepticism. My version is based on premises about the practical functions served by our epistemic words. I end by exploring how my argument against skepticism is interestingly non-circular and philosophically valuable.
We can make new progress on stalled debates in epistemology if we adopt a new practical approach, an approach concerned with the function served by epistemic evaluations. This paper illustrates how. I apply the practical approach to an important, unsolved problem: the problem of forgotten evidence. Section 1 describes the problem and why it is so challenging. Section 2 outlines and defends a general view about the function of epistemic evaluations. Section 3 then applies that view to solve the problem (...) of forgotten evidence. (shrink)
This paper aims to accessibly present, and then critique, Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber's recent proposals for the evolutionary function of human reasoning. I take a critical look at the main source of experimental evidence that they claim as support for their view, namely the confirmation or “myside” bias in reasoning. I object that Mercier and Sperber did not adequately argue for a claim that their case rests on, namely that it is evolutionarily advantageous for you to get other people (...) to believe whatever you antecedently believe. And I give my own argument that this claim is false. I also critically look at their suggestion that reasoning has a justificatory function, functioning as a kind of reputation management tool. I argue this suggestion does not amount to a plausible evolutionary function. (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)