2014 Summer Conference in Social Epistemology

One of our grad students has organized a conference in social epistemology that will take place on Notre Dame’s campus, Saturday, August 16th, from 8am until 5pm. The presenters will be Jennifer Lackey (Northwestern), Edward Hinchman (University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee), and Sandford Goldberg (Northwestern). Registration is free and includes lunch. If interested, please complete the registration form below.


Paul Blaschko is the organizer, and you can contact him at paul.blaschko@gmail.com if you have any questions.

What Experimental Philosophers Actually Do: A Quantitative Study

These past few years have seen a surge of metaphilosophical work exploring the implications (or lack thereof) of the empirical studies being conducted in experimental philosophy. Much of this metaphilosophical work is being done by people who are not experimental philosophers themselves but who simply want to address the larger philosophical questions that certain kinds of empirical research can raise. This development is very welcome indeed, and I have gotten a lot out of reading many of these contributions.

However, I do have some misgivings about one aspect of this work. Typically, papers in this tradition start out by (a) briefly describing the sort of empirical research that experimental philosophers do and then proceed to (b) engage in a discussion of the larger philosophical implications of such research. In my experience, the discussion of philosophical implications usually shows a truly impressive degree of clarity and rigor, but the description of the actual research can sometimes be a bit inaccurate. (Thus, there is a real danger that one will end up with a impressively rigorous analysis of the implications of something that experimental philosophers don’t actually do.)

To address this issue, I thought it might be helpful to conduct a quantitative study that explored the question as to what experimental philosophers have actually been doing.

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Limitations on X-Phi?

So here’s an X-Phi investigation I and others interested in logic and its philosophy needn’t care about: use of the term ‘contradictory’. (This thought occurs to me when listening to reporters and commentators on the news, proclaiming that some people’s testimony about various events is “contradictory” or “inconsistent,” by which I taken them to mean not much more than that successive querying by authorities or reporters generates different answers on different occasions.) That is, the study and development of logic has only the remotest connection to ordinary language and thought involving the use of the term ‘contradictory’ and ‘inconsistent,’ remote enough that it would be a matter more of individual psychology than required methodology to guide theory by such X-Phi investigations.

I expect widespread agreement on this point, and it raises an interesting question about when and where X-Phi investigations should matter more. Some, for example, think they matter more in epistemology, especially that part of epistemology constituting the theory of knowledge (shame, shame, shame on those or you who have thought that’s the entirety of the discipline! :-) ). So what’s the difference between logic and epistemology on this point?

More X-Phi on Fake Barn Intuitions

Experimental results in social psychology are plagued by failure to replicate and also by being based on WEIRD samples. In line with the latter concern, Wesley Buckwalter, Stephen Stich, Edouard Machery and Dave Colaco have a recent paper in Episteme, titled ‘Epistemic Intuitions in Fake-Barn Thought Experiments’.

They found that, while participants respond generally in line with the intuition that fake-barn cases are cases of knowledge, older individuals seem to be the exception; the older the participant is, the less likely they think that the subject in the fake-barn style case knows. Here is a visualization of the findings (the Y-axis represents a 0-6 Likert scale anchored at 0 with ‘Doesn’t Know’, and 6 with ‘Knows’ the X- axis represents age in years):

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Note that they did not find a similar trend in the control; it is not the case that older participants were simply less likely to attribute knowledge in general.

Next: attempts to replicate?

In defence of adherence

What more is required of a belief, besides being justified and true (JTB), if the belief is to count as knowledge? In my view, at least two further conditions are required: the belief must meet the conditions of safety and adherence.

Safety is popular these days: it has been defended by many distinguished epistemologists, such as Duncan Pritchard and Timothy Williamson, among others. But adherence – the fourth condition that Robert Nozick imposed on knowledge – has few defenders. Most of the philosophers who have discussed adherence have rejected it. In this post, I defend adherence against its detractors.

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First Issue of Ergo

As a follow-up to an earlier announcement of a new open access journal Ergo, the first issue is now available, appearing at the same time as this post (Tuesday, May 27, 3pm Eastern). It includes four papers plus an editorial with data about submissions and turnaround times. At the same time four blog posts are available, one on each of the four papers in the first issue. The first issue can be found at the journal website.

In addition, commentary on papers in the issue is available on various blogs on each of the papers in the first issue:

Julia Jorati (OSU) on a paper in early modern by Paul Lodge (Oxford)

Anna Mahtani (LSE) on a paper by Michael Caie (Pittsburgh).

Ellen Clark (Oxford) on a paper in philosophy of biology by Christopher Hitchcock (Caltech) and Joel Velasco (Texas Tech).

Thomas Nadelhoffer (Charleston) on a paper in experimental philosophy by John Turri (Waterloo).

Teorema 2014 Essay Prize for Young Scholars

The Spanish Philosophy journal Teorema is pleased to announce an essay competition for young scholars. The winner will receive 1500€, and the essay will be published and acknowledged as winner in the journal.

Topic: Belief Without Evidence

It is a commonly held thought in contemporary epistemology that belief is ruled by evidence; a thought that underlies claims as diverse as that what one generally believes, or what one ought to believe, or what is rational for one to believe, is a matter of the available evidence. As a result, the opposing thought that there is belief not ruled by evidence is neglected. However, according to a minority view exemplified by Ludwig Wittgenstein’s On certainty and Jose Ortega’s Ideas and beliefs, the nature, role and worth of many of our beliefs cannot be traced back to evidence. Has contemporary epistemology overlooked something important here? Should room be made for the notion of belief without evidence within current epistemology? If so, how?
Applicants must be under 35 on the closing date of the competition.
Entries must be in English or Spanish, and not exceed 8000 words in length, notes and references included.
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Where the action is

I heard through the grapevine that Jason Stanley is claiming on Facebook that there is an emerging consensus in the experimental literature. The consensus is that there is a robust stakes-effect on knowledge attributions, and the real debate is whether to explain it in terms of semantic contextualism or interest-relative invariantism. I’m not on Facebook and have no plans to ever be, so apologies to Jason if this is not an accurate portrayal of what he wrote. But since it’s generating enough buzz for me to hear about it second- and third-hand, I figured I’d take to the air here and help to correct any misimpression, even if the misimpression is due to people mischaracterizing Jason’s post.

There is no such consensus. How much is at stake, or how important people judge the situation to be, has an anemic and entirely indirect effect on knowledge attributions. Moreover, the stakes/importance-effect on knowledge attributions is entirely mediated by people’s estimation of whether the proposition in question is true and their estimation of the quality of evidence. Consequently, there is very little if anything for contextualism or interest-relative invariantism to explain.

By contrast, people’s judgment about whether an agent should act on a proposition has a direct and robust effect on knowledge attributions. The effect of actionability on knowledge attributions is as large and direct as the effect of truth and evidence.

In short, a practical factor definitely plays a large role in ordinary knowledge attributions and might even be part of the ordinary concept of knowledge. But that factor is not stakes. It is actionability.

For those that are interested, I’ll be presenting some joint work with Wesley Buckwalter at the CPA in St. Catharines, Ontario later this month, where I’ll walk through the relevant findings from some recent, very large behavioral experiments.

(Cross-posted at the x-phi blog.)