Memorable Passages from “Lila”

By the incomparable Marilynne Robinson. The first of several, but here is an interesting modal ambiguity I hadn’t noticed before:

“The door might have opened, and a woman might have called after them, Where are you going with that child? and then, after a minute, closed the door again, as if she had done all decency required.”

Essay Competition Winners

Associated with Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion are two prize competitions: The Sanders Prize in Philosophy of Religion (SPPR) and the OSPR Graduate Student Essay Prize (GSEP).

The winning entries for 2014 are:

SPPR Winner: Ross Inman, St. Louis University, “Omnipresence and the Location of the Immaterial”

GSEP: Dustin Crummett, University of Notre Dame, “Sufferer-Centered Requirements on Theodicy and All Things Considered Harms”

Congratulations to both on these well-deserved recognitions!

CFP: FEW at Wash U

Call for Papers: Formal Epistemology Workshop 2015

May 20-22, 2015 (Wednesday to Friday)
Washington University in St. Louis

Keynote speakers:
Tom Kelly (Princeton), Jeff Horty (University of Maryland, College Park)

The Formal Epistemology Workshop will be held in connection with the 2015 meeting of the St. Louis Annual Conference on Reasons and Rationality (SLACRR), which will take place immediately before, from May 17-19, 2015.

There will be conference sessions all day on May 20 & 21, and in the morning on May 22.

Contributors are invited to send full papers (suitable for presenting as a 40 minute talk) to by Friday, January 16, 2015. Papers should be accompanied by abstracts of up to 300 words. Identifying information about the author(s) including obvious self-citations) should be removed from the body of the paper, but the name (and any other relevant information) should be included in the text of the e-mail.

Submissions should be prepared for anonymous review. Initial evaluation will be done anonymously. The final program will be selected with an eye towards maintaining diversity, so graduate students, people outside the tenure track, women, and members of underrepresented minorities are particularly encouraged to submit papers. Submitting the same paper to both FEW and SLACRR is permitted (though the organizers will coordinate the paper selection in order to ensure that the same paper doesn’t get presented at both conferences).

Final selection of the contributed talks will be made by March 31, 2015.

There will be childcare available for conference participants who bring their children. It will be provided on site by a local certified childcare provider.

Organizers: Kenny Easwaran (Texas A&M), Julia Staffel (Washington University in St. Louis), Mike Titelbaum (UW Madison)

Conference webpage:

Epistemic closure and folk epistemology

Consider this case:

When Maxwell arrives at work in the morning, he always parks in one of two spots: C8 or D8. Half the time he parks in C8, and half the time he parks in D8. Today Maxwell parked in C8. It’s lunchtime at work. Maxwell and his assistant are up in the archives room searching for a particular document. Maxwell says, “I might have left the document in my car.” The assistant asks, “Mr. Maxwell, is your car parked in space C8? It’s not unheard of for cars to be stolen.” Maxwell thinks carefully for a moment and then responds, “No, my car has not been stolen. It is parked in C8.”

Which of the following options best describes Maxwell?

  1. He knows that his car is parked in C8. And he knows that his car has not been stolen.
  2. He does not know that his car is parked in C8. But he does know that his car has not been stolen.
  3. He knows that his car is parked in C8. But he does not know that his car has not been stolen.
  4. He does not know that his car is parked in C8. And he does not know that his car has not been stolen.

The epistemic closure principle says, roughly, that if one knows that P, and one knows that if P then Q, and one infers Q, then one knows Q. Some philosophers, most notably Robert Nozick and Fred Dretske, reject the closure principle. However, many epistemologists have claimed that rejecting closure is extremely counterintuitive and radically revisionary. Related to these claims, philosophers have also claimed that conjunctive assertions suggesting a violation of closure are “abominable” and “repugnant.”

So if conventional wisdom in epistemology is correct, then when people consider the question about Maxwell above, the intuitively best answer will not be option 3. Instead, option 3 should seem absurd.

However, as reported in a paper forthcoming in Philosophers’ Imprint, when I tested this case, it turned out that option 3 was viewed as the best option: nearly two-thirds of participants selected it.

best option


We see a similar pattern if we just ask people whether (A) Maxwell knows that his car is parked in the lot, and (B) Maxwell knows that his car has not been stolen. Roughly 80% of people agree with A, while only about 35% of people agree with B.

In light of these results, it seems that closure-denying conjunctions don’t actually strike people as absurd. Moreover, it is highly doubtful that rejecting the epistemic closure principle actually is revisionary.


8th Annual Midwest Epistemology Workshop

October 17-18, 2014; Ann Arbor, MI; Location: Assembly Hall, Rackham Building

On October 17-18 the University of Michigan Philosophy Department will be hosting the 8th Annual Midwest Epistemology Workshop. The featured speakers will be Deborah Tollefsen, Memphis; Chris Pincock, Ohio State; Ishani Maitra, Michigan; John Bengson, Wisconsin; Eileen Nutting, Kansas; Susanna Rinard, Missouri-KC/Harvard; Jeremy Fantl, Calgary; and the keynote speaker David Christensen, Brown. (See the full schedule below the fold.)

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Reminder: 8/31 Deadline for 2 Prizes in Philosophy of Religion

The sidebar has an ad for the Sanders Prize for scholars 15 years or less from their PhD. The same competition includes a separate prize for graduate students. The Sanders Prize pays $10,000 and the grad student prize $3000. Yes, it is possible for one entry to win both.

Deadline: August 31, 2014. (Entries sent to me as an email attachment; pdf documents, please.)

Workshop: Epistemic Consequentialism

November 21, 2014
London School of Economics

Clayton Littlejohn (KCL)
Jennifer Carr (Leeds)
Richard Pettigrew (Bristol)
Hilary Greaves (Oxford)
Jeffrey Dunn (DePauw)
Kristoffer Ahlstrom-Vij (Kent)

Time and place:
10:00 to 17:45 in LAK 2.06 (second floor) in the Lakatos building. A workshop schedule will be posted closer to date.

Registration is free, but please e-mail Jeffrey Dunn ( if you plan to attend. Limited funding may be available to defer travel and lodging costs for graduate students who would like to attend the workshop. If interested, please send a short statement of interest and CV to Jeffrey Dunn.

The workshop is made possible by a grant from the British Academy and the Leverhulme Trust, and supported by the Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science at LSE, University of Kent, and DePauw University.

CFP for November 13-16 Conference on the Nature of Faith

Announcing a call for papers for a conference at the Chase Plaza Hotel in St. Louis, MO, November 13-16, 2014. Those selected will have expenses paid for the conference. Titles and abstracts are required at this point to be considered, though full drafts would be helpful as well. Send material to

The conference is made possible by funding from the Templeton Religion Trust, Baylor University, and Western Washington University.