Rationality is permissibility

Many philosophers seem to think that – even if the notions of a belief’s being “justified” or “rational” are indeed normative notions, as is widely held to be the case – to say that a belief is “justified” is “rational” is to say something stronger than merely that the belief is permissible.

This is a mistake. It is easy to prove that if the notions of a belief’s being “justified” or “rational” are normative at all, then the permissibility of a belief is sufficient for the belief’s being justified or rational. Continue reading

2015 Tennessee Value & Agency (TVA) Conference: Knowledge & Agency

2015 Tennessee Value and Agency (TVA) Conference

Knowledge and Agency

September 4 & 5, 2015

1210 McClung Tower, University of Tennessee




9-9.30: Breakfast (provided on site)

9.30-11: Sharon Mason (Indiana University), “Externalism for Doxastic Agents?”

11-12.30: Reza Hadisi (University of Illinois-Chicago), “Doxastic Voluntarism as Epistemic (But Not Practical) Agency”

12.30-1.30: Lunch (provided on site)

1.30-3: Suzy Killmister (University of Connecticut), “How Does Ignorance Affect Autonomy?”

3-4.30: Samuel Murray (University of Notre Dame), “Awareness and Vigilance”

4.30-6: Keynote #1 — John Schwenkler (Florida State University)

6-6.30: Reception (on site)



9-9.30: Breakfast (provided on site)

9.30-11: John Hurst (Ohio State University), “Believing You’ll Act as Intended”

11-12.30: Gregory Antill (UCLA), “Belief, Intention, and Deliberation”

12.30-1.30: Lunch (provided on site)

1.30-3: Jeremy Fix (Harvard University), “Intellectual Isolation”

3-4.30: Jennifer Frey (University of South Carolina), “Agency, Practical Knowledge, and the Good”

4.30-6: Keynote #2 — Candace Vogler (University of Chicago)

6-6.30: Reception (on site)


All lectures are free and open to the public.

For further information, contact EJ Coffman: ecoffma1@utk.edu


Truth-insensitive epistemology: radical or commonsense?

Many philosophers endorse a truth-insensitivity hypothesis: certain core, philosophically important evaluative properties of a belief are insensitive to whether it is true. For example, if two possible agents believe the same proposition for the same reason, then either both are justified or neither is. This does not change if it turns out that only one of the two agents has a true belief. Epitomizing this line of thought are thought experiments about radically deceived “brains in vats.”

Proponents claim that the truth-insensitivity hypothesis is extremely intuitive and appealing pre-theoretically — we have an “overpowering inclination” to think that it’s true (Richard Fumerton). To deny the truth-insensitivity hypothesis has been labelled “extraordinary” and “dissident” (Earl Conee). However, other philosophers claim that exactly the opposite is true: the truth-insensitivity hypothesis itself is counterintuitive and violates commonsense. The appeal of truth-insensitive epistemology, they claim, is limited to narrow circles within “the professional philosophical community” (Jonathan Sutton).

In a paper forthcoming in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, I investigated which side of this debate is correct. Proponents of the truth-insensitivity hypothesis illustrate their view’s plausibility with pairs of thought experiments. These pairs include mundane cases and fanciful “brain-in-a-vat” scenarios. I tested both sorts of cases.

Across three experiments (N = 1262), the results were absolutely clear: Continue reading

The Inside/Outside Distinction and Epistemic Intuitions

Psychologists sometimes distinguish between two ways of getting evidence about a particular object. One way is to actually be in some kind of contact with the object itself, either by perceiving it directly or by observing something that has been caused by it (inside view). A second way is to learn certain facts about a more general category of which this object is a member (outside view).

Clearly, these two ways of getting evidence could turn out to be similar with regard to their reliability and with regard to the extent to which they allow a person to rule out alternative possibilities. Still, it seems that people have the intuition that these two kinds of evidence are deeply different from an epistemic point of view. That is, people feel that actually perceiving or examining an object is deeply different somehow from just making inferences about the object from more general information about a category.

Psychologist Ori Friedman and philosopher John Turri have a new paper in which they apply this distinction to questions about people’s epistemic intuitions and arrive at some very intriguing results.

Continue reading

Contextualism and Skepticism — draft of chapter

link pdf

Does the contextualist seek to dissolve disputes over skepticism? And does she use a “perfectly general strategy” for doing so? Is she not interested in, or not addressing, the traditional topic of whether we really know things, instead addressing how the word “know” should be used? Is she engaged in philosophy of language instead of epistemology? Is she addressing the more important types of skeptic? And what are those? Are key aspects of her position inexpressible, by her own lights? Is she subject to a “factivity problem”? These and other questions are answered in this draft of my 4th chapter of the book I’ve been working on. Please let me know if there are other pressing worries I don’t address, or if there’s some problem with some of my answers.
For my part, I’ll be happy if I just never again have to hear anything like “The contextualist only answers the high standards skeptic.”
Oh, I forgot: :)

I suppose one question I don’t explicitly address here is whether I construe myself as
doing “ordinary language philosophy.” I’m not sure what that would be, or if I’m doing
it, but at and around the top of p. 24, I am explaining/defending one aspect of my
approach that I suppose could be construed as a way that I have at least partly taken
some “linguistic turn.”

Edinburgh 5th Annual Graduate Epistemology Conference

Registration for the University of Edinburgh 5th Annual Graduate Epistemology Conference is now open (27th-28th May 2015). Our keynote speakers this year will be Elizabeth Fricker (Oxford) and Jennifer Nagel (Toronto). Attendance is free and includes lunch and refreshments on both days. There will also be an optional conference dinner for an additional £20.

Please register online here in order to help us make appropriate catering arrangements.

Further details can be found on the conference webpage.

This conference is generously sponsored by the Eidyn Research Centre, the University of Edinburgh, the Scots Philosophical Association, the Mind Association and the Analysis Trust, and is supported by the Edinburgh Women in Philosophy Group.

The 10th CSSiP on “Imagining, Knowing, Doing”

will take place in Cologne, September 28 through October 2, 2015. Our special guest in this year’s anniversary edition will be Timothy Williamson (Oxford University). Williamson is widely regarded as one of the greatest living philosophers. Over the last few decades, he has massively reshaped central parts of philosophy in general and epistemology in particular. Williamson defends a number of strikingly unorthodox ideas: that knowledge plays a fundamental role in epistemology and action (i.e., knowledge-first epistemology), that thought-experimentation and other armchair methods are not based on rational intuition or conceptual competence but on our empirically shaped imagination, or that justification and epistemic norms must be understood in a radically externalist way. The Summer School will focus on these and other Williamsonian themes in epistemology. It mainly aims at professional philosophers and graduate students.

Attendance is free, but limited to 50 participants – to be selected on the basis of motivation and qualification. Online application is possible through May 15. Please add a short letter that sketches your academic background and main motivation for participating in the Summer School. If you are interested in giving a brief presentation (approx. 20 minutes) related to Williamson’s work, please also send an abstract of no more than 1,000 words. We will inform you about the success of your application soon after the deadline.

Apply via email to:

For more information, please visit the website:

Winners of the Young Epistemologist Prize 2015

The winners of the Young Epistemologist Prize 2015 are:

Jason Konek (University of Bristol) for his paper “Epistemic Conservativity and Imprecise Credence”

Clayton Littlejohn (Kings College London) for his paper “Stop Making Sense? On a Puzzle About Rationality”

The papers will be presented at the Rutgers Epistemology Conference, May 8 & 9 and will be published in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research.

Webpage: http://www.philosophy.rutgers.edu/faculty-174/761-program