Hot New Topics in Epistemology

Last year CDers had a discussion about what the most important developments in epistemology over the last quarter century have been. I thought it would be interesting if CDers had a similar discussion that looked more toward the future than toward the recent past of epistemology. So, what do you think are the hottest new topics in epistemology? What topics do you think are emerging as or are on their way to becoming hot topics in epistemology? Are there new debates or ideas whose presence on the contemporary scene is a refreshing change of pace and promises to lead to fruitful research in the future?


Hot New Topics in Epistemology — 10 Comments

  1. James, welcome to the blog, and glad to see your interest in it! I’m pessimistic about people’s willingness to answer, however. I expect that most of us think that the really important stuff is just what we are presently working on. We may not be willing to predict that these issues will become “hot”, partly out of a sane skepticism about our ability to predict the future, but also out of a bit of a love/hate relationship with fads in philosophy. We’ll see if I’m right…

  2. A few thoughts:

    1. The testimony literature will get hotter and more sophisticated.

    2. The epistemology of disagreement is hot and fresh still. This will likely continue, unless the problem is too hard for everyone.

    3. The interaction of more “formal” and “semi-formal” epistemology with traditional epistemology will lead to some progress or to some really big piles of confusion, depending on how well central players from the two groups manage to communicate with one another.

    4. Anyone who has a good idea about “rationality” will become a justifiably famous epistemologist.

    5. Work on the epistemic goal(s) will continue to pick up and people might even generally come to recognize that truth is not even a good candidate for being the epistemic goal (or a central epistemic goal).

    6. The “analysis of knowledge” literature will experience a mini-revival as a new generation that has not yet memorized the Shope book stumbles around with old ideas and occasionally produces a new one.

    And no Jon, this isn’t a list of what I’m working on!

  3. Fritz, you’re alive! And still feisty! (Lest I offend: read the 2nd def. at, not the first) 🙂

    Very nice list, though. I like 6 (though my pessimistic side thinks people might just ignore the issue because it’s so hard…), I’m surprised you think 5 (though you know I agree at least for the most part), and 1-3 are spot on, as my good friend Scott has learned to say since moving to London!

    OK, I’ll list one that is both self-serving but also, I think, correct: value-driven epistemology is going to thrive!

  4. I am inclined to find the issue of epistemic luck vs. responsibility quite a hot NEW issue.
    And there is the hot OLD issue of explaining the most exciting and most problematic kinds of out knowledge, i.e. candidate apriori knowledge (math, logic, “conceptual” truths. Explaining the having and the reliability of such knowledge has been THE epistemological issue for people like Plato, Descartes and Kant. It is now being a bit pushed under the carpet; it is said that we should’n worry too much because epistemology is normative and not descriptive, as if relabeling the issue will help. I hope the issue will become central again soon.

  5. The basing relation has the potential to be hot, if only people could think of some good new ways to explain or illuminate it. I keep coming to points in my own work, or in my students’ projects, where I think “Gee, it sure would help to have a more satisfying account of the basing relation about now.”

    Here’s an example: one promising way to draw an internalism/externalism contrast is to say: X is eligible to be an INTERNAL justifier of your belief iff X is the sort of thing upon which you could BASE that belief. This preserves some of the familiar contrasts: e.g., intuitively, the reliability of your belief is not a candidate basis. But it may end up diverging in some ways from the more familiar definitions of internalism. Still, I think it’d be a fruitful contrast—if only we had some informative, independent story about what can count as a basis…

  6. I can’t make any confident predictions about hot topics, but I have been thinking about the basing relation lately. So I’ll take advantage of the opportunity presented by Jim’s post to test out two ideas…

    (1) S’s belief that p is based on X iff S can know, by reflection alone, that S’s belief that p is caused by X. (So, for S’s belief that p to be based on X, it has to at least be caused by X. But not just any old cause can be the basis — it has to be a cause that S can recognize as such by reflection alone.)

    (2) S’s belief that p is based on X only if S believes — or is at least inclined to believe — that X is a good reason for believing that p. (If S is not even inclined to believe that X is a good reason for believing that p, then, X might cause S to believe that p, but X is not a reason upon which S’s belief is based.)

    (1) and (2) both strike me as promising.


  7. Hi Ram,

    Both proposals do have some appeal. But a worry re (2): I’m inclined to think subjects can have based beliefs even if they lack epistemic concepts and epistemic beliefs. They can respond to reasons without yet being able to think about reasons as reasons. If that intuition is worth respecting, then (2) needs to be weakened somehow.

    A similar worry re (1): I think subjects can respond to reasons without yet having the concept of a cause. It’s not clear to me, for instance, that Homer’s Greeks had either the concept of a cause or the concept of a reason. But I think they had based beliefs. You have a “can” in your formulation of (1), so that might be able to accommodate this. But a lot will depend on how that “can” gets articulated.

    More pressure on that “can”: what if the subjects has background evidence, or mere beliefs, that interfere with their knowing that X caused them to believe P. E.g., they may be skeptics about causation, and so refrain from forming any beliefs to the effect that this caused that. Or, if they do form any such beliefs, the beliefs may fail to count as knowledge due to the incoherence with their skeptical commitments. Yet I’d have thought they could still form based beliefs. Maybe we should say, they’re at least _in a position_ to know by reflection alone that X caused their belief, if only they abandoned their skeptical beliefs. As I said, though, this puts more pressure on how exactly to spell out the “can” in your formulation of (1).

  8. Ram, maybe you can explain idea (1) a bit more. My initial reaction is to think it is not promising. If causation exists, I don’t see how it could ever come to be known by reflection alone what the relata of a given causal relation are. Inferential basing, I assume, would be a good test case, but coming to believe something by inferring it from something else you believe doesn’t strike me as a case where you know, by reflection alone, that the second causes the first. If you reflect, that may be the conclusion you come to, but I don’t see how you could know it by reflection alone. Think of common causes, mere correlations, overdetermination, pseudo-overdetermination, pre-emption, double pre-emption, and all the other landmines that exist whenever we try to ascertain what causes what. I don’t see how reflection alone puts us in a position to know that, e.g., there was no common cause, Freudian or otherwise, at work (nor am I sure that such a common cause would undermine proper basing…). (Note that closure opponents have some wiggle room here that the rest of us don’t…)

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