The proto-reliabilist hypothesis

In contemporary Anglo-American epistemology, it is very widely assumed that knowledge must be reliably produced. On this view, knowledge must be produced by abilities (processes, faculties, powers, etc.) that “will or would yield mostly true beliefs,” as William Alston put it. Call this consensus view “knowledge reliabilism.”

One thing I’ve always been surprised by is how little explicit, direct argumentation there is for knowledge reliabilism in the literature. An old paper by Goldman contains a weak explanatory argument, which gets cited sometimes. Aside from that, the main consideration offered in support of knowledge reliabilism is that it’s just commonsense. For instance, Edward Craig claims that reliabilism “matches our everyday practice with the concept of knowledge as actually found,” that it is “a good fit to the intuitive extension of ‘know’.” And Ernest Sosa claims that reliabilism is the theoretical “correlate” of “commonsense” epistemology. Call this “the proto-reliabilist hypothesis” about folk epistemology.

The proto-reliabilist hypothesis makes at least a couple straightforward predictions. First, people will tend to deny knowledge in cases of unreliably formed belief. Second, clear and explicit differences in reliability should produce large differences in people’s willingness to attribute knowledge. These predictions can be tested with some very simple experiments. Below I briefly describe one I ran. Continue reading

7th Annual Northwestern/Notre Dame (NU/ND) Graduate Epistemology Conference: Evanston, IL, April 22-23


7th Annual Northwestern/Notre Dame (NU/ND) Graduate Epistemology Conference

April 22-23, 2016
Northwestern University, Evanston, IL
Keynote Speaker: Selim Berker (Harvard)

Submissions deadline: February 1

Submission guidelines: We welcome submissions in the field of epistemology, broadly construed. Papers may be on any topic in epistemology, and we especially encourage
the submission of papers in sub-fields or on topics that have received less attention in mainstream epistemology in the past 60 years. Examples of such sub-fields and topics are: feminist epistemology, epistemology of race and gender, social epistemology, and so-called normative epistemology. Papers should be no more than 4000 words (approx. 13 pages), excluding notes. Papers should be prepared for blind review: include detachable cover page with paper’s title, abstract, author’s name, mailing address, email, phone number, school affiliation, and word count; please omit any self-identifying remarks within the body of the paper. Papers should be emailed as an attached PDF to the conference organizers at

Horowitz Wins Sanders Prize

Just saw this on Facebook. Fantastic news, and well-deserved congratulations to Sophie!

Congratulations to Sophie Horowitz, Assistant Professor at Rice University, for winning the 2015 Sanders Prize in Epistemology. Sophie’s paper, “Accuracy and Educated Guesses,” will be published in Oxford Studies in Epistemology.

Credences, unlike full beliefs, can’t be true or false. So what makes credences more or less accurate? I offer a new answer to this question: credences are accurate insofar as they license true educated guesses, and less accurate insofar as they license false educated guesses. I argue that this account can be used to justify certain coherence constraints on rational credence, and has other advantages over rival accounts of accuracy.

CFP: 6th Annual Edinburgh Graduate Epistemology Conference

Call For Papers

Sixth Annual Edinburgh Graduate Epistemology Conference

The 6th Annual Edinburgh Graduate Epistemology Conference will take place 6th-7th June 2016 at the University of Edinburgh. This year’s keynote speakers will be Carrie Ichikawa Jenkins (British Columbia) and Alan Millar (Stirling). All graduate presentations will have respondents from faculty members at Edinburgh or a neighbouring university.

We invite graduate students to submit essays within any area of epistemology (broadly construed). Essays should be under 4000 words, and should be anonymised for blind review.

We would really like the conference to be representative of the graduate community and so we strongly encourage submissions from anyone working on epistemology who is a member of an under-represented group.

We will be happy to help arrange free childcare for any attendees who would find it helpful. Please feel free to get in touch to discuss this, or any accessibility requirements you may have.

The deadline for submissions is 16th February, 2016, 00:00 GMT. For more information, including details of how to submit, please visit our conference page:

This conference is generously sponsored by the Eidyn Research Centre, the University of Edinburgh, and is supported by the Edinburgh Women in Philosophy Group.

The Dart Board Case

From Sophie Horowitz’s paper “Epistemic Akrasia,” which we are talking about in our epistemology reading group today. Here’s the case:

“You have a large, blank dartboard. When you throw a dart at the board, it
can only land at grid points, which are spaced one inch apart along the horizontal and vertical axes. … Although you are pretty good at picking out where the dart has landed, you are rationally highly confident that your discrimination is not perfect: in particular, you are confident that when you judge where the dart has landed, you might mistake its position for one of the points an inch away (i.e. directly above, below, to the left, or to the right). You are also confident that, wherever the dart lands, you will know that it has not landed at any point farther away than one of those four. You throw a dart, and it lands on a point somewhere close to the middle of the board.” (p. 19)

So, it sounds to me as if this is the situation: it kinda looks like it hit in the center, but you can’t be sure. Horowitz then reports Williamson’s assessment of the case (we suppose the grid for the board is 1-5 along both axes (so it kinda looks like it landed at <3,3>)):

“So let’s suppose that when the dart lands at <3,3>, you should be highly confident in the proposition that it landed at either <3,2>, <2,3>, <3,3>, <4,3>, or <3,4>–so, you can rationally rule out every point except for those five. … Williamson agrees with this verdict, and supposes further that your credence should be equally distributed over <3,2>, <2,3>, <3,3>, <4,3>, and <3,4>. So, for each of those five points, you should have .2 credence that the dart landed at that point.” (p. 20)

This strikes me as exactly wrong. As I read the case, my guess as to where the dart landed is that it landed at <3,3>, but I can’t be sure. I might easily mistake its position for an adjacent one. But then I’m not egalitarian with respect to the 5 possible positions. I don’t make guesses without some evidential substance to support them as opposed to alternative hypotheses, so when I guess that it landed at <3,3>, that means that the look in question supports a greater degree of confidence in that hypothesis than the others. It may also mean that my probability for that hypothesis is greater than .5. In any case, I’m more confident in one of them than in the others, and this confidence is based on the indefinite look in question (and, we may suppose, rationally so).

Of course, we can change the case so that my powers of discrimination are indeterminate between the five regions, but then I also won’t be able to use my powers of discrimination to rule out areas out side of the five in question, since I’m no more confident that the dart landed in the center of the 5-region territory than at the edge.

In short, I don’t see how the case is supposed to get the Williamsonian indifference between the 5 regions, compatible with one’s perception putting one in a position to rule out all other regions on the board.

Conference “Science versus Common Sense?”

February 25-27, 2016,
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

This conference seeks to address the nature, limits, and value of common sense, especially in relation and possibly in contrast to science and scientific knowledge.
It is often claimed that science debunks common sense: much of our naive physics, chemistry, and biology has been replaced by superior scientifically informed accounts of physical, chemical, and biological phenomena. In recent years, various bits of our commonsensical self-understanding as free, rational, moral, and self-knowing beings has also come under attack from science. Various kinds of scientific debunking arguments are flourishing.
At the same time, it seems obvious that we cannot do without common sense. Arguably, science and the scientific method itself was built on, and continues to depend on, common sense and common sense still plays an important role as a touchstone in much philosophical theorizing.
All of this raises questions about the nature of common sense, its relation to science and philosophy, and its tenability in the face of various kinds of attacks from science and philosophy.

Key questions include:
· What is common sense? A source of knowledge, a fixed body of knowledge, an approach to knowledge, or something else?
· What is the nature of scientific knowledge? How does it differ from commonsensical knowledge?
· How are common sense and science related? Is science best thought of as ‘the long arm’ of common sense or are they more discontinuous? To what extent does science gives us reason to become skeptical about common sense (e.g., through debunking arguments)?
· How are common sense and philosophy related? What role ought common sense to play in philosophy? Are there philosophical reasons to distrust common sense?
· What are suitable epistemological pictures / models to think about the relations between science, common sense, and philosophy?

Keynote Speakers
· Russ Shafer-Landau (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill)
· Katia Vavova (Mount Holyoke College)
· Duncan Pritchard (University of Edinburgh)
· Noah Lemos (College of William & Mary)

Deadline Abstract & Notification
· Send an abstract of at most 500 words to Irma Verlaan by December 5, 2015:
· Notifications of acceptance will be sent by December 10, 2015.

Organizing committee
René van Woudenberg
Jeroen de Ridder
Rik Peels
Irma Verlaan

The workshop is part of the research program Science Beyond Scientism (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam). The organizers gratefully acknowledge the support of the Templeton World Charity Foundation.

Proposals Requested for Faith Project Summer Seminar

Everyone with an interest in the nature, value, and virtue of faith is invited to apply to the 2016 Faith Project Summer Seminar. The seminar will be held in either Columbia or St. Louis, MO, from June 27th to July 21st, 2016. Participants will receive $4000, as well as a generous stipend for travel, food, and board. Guest lecturers: Linda Zagzebski, Ed Wierenga, and Sandy Goldberg.

For more information and instructions on how to apply, see:

Deadline for Application:  December 1, 2015

Announcement of Award Winners:  January 10, 2016

Session on “Belief and Reasoning” at the Minds Online Conference

This month at the Brains blog we are hosting an online conference in the philosophy of mind, and this week’s session on Belief and Reasoning is likely to be of interest to the audience at Certain Doubts. The papers are:

Ram’s paper, which offers a new account of the basing relation, is the most epistemology-heavy, but everything here should be of interest to anyone working on belief, reasoning, evidence, etc. The discussion on these papers is open through Friday, September 18. Please, join in!

What do you want to do with that? Answers from philosophers outside the academy

What do you want to do with that?
Call for Participation
October 23-24, 2015
Munich Center for Mathematical Philosophy, LMU Munich

Philosophers are everywhere—-in private industry, nonprofit organizations, government, the arts, and even universities. It should come as no surprise to find philosophers thriving throughout all corners of society. What is surprising, and what this conference is conceived to respond to, is the degree to which philosophers inside the academy remain isolated from those outside of it.

This two-day conference brings together a distinguished group of philosophers who know of life inside and outside the academy, and who will share their insights and experiences navigating the transitions from one realm to another; which insights and experiences translate well, and which do not; and what habits and best practices the broader community of philosophers can and should adopt to create opportunities for philosophers at all stages of their careers, but especially for philosophy undergraduate and graduate students.

Keynote Speakers:

  • Jeffrey HelznerEliciting Expert Knowledge When Time is Scarce, the Stakes are High, Scalability is a Concern, and the Distributions are Skewed
  • Andreas EdmüllerThe World of Business Needs Philosophy!
  • Rebekka Reinhard ‘What are You Living for?’ On How to be a Free-Lance Philosopher
  • Zachary Ernst Barriers to Exit: Real and Imaginary

Each lecture will be filmed and made available on the MCMP iTunes video archive. In addition, each speaker will lead a workshop to allow for one-on-one discussions that draw on their experiences in starting a consulting business, joining a fast growing startup, managing a public profile and mass media engagements, and leading interdisciplinary research and development teams within a corporate environment.

Stephan Hartmann
Gregory Wheeler

Summer Seminar on Understanding

Fordham University, New York City
June 20-21, 2016

Fordham University will host a two-day seminar on human understanding in Manhattan. Seven invited speakers will lead the seminar and discuss their work on understanding with 16 graduate students and junior faculty (no more than 10 years past the PhD).

We are holding open applications for these 16 spots. Accepted seminar participants will receive a $600 honorarium plus travel, daily meals, and accommodation.

Seminar themes include: the nature of understanding, varieties of understanding (e.g., moral, scientific, aesthetic, etc.), the value of understanding, early cognitive development, empathy and its relationship to understanding, the relationship between understanding and knowledge, verstehen and understanding in the social sciences, understanding and testimony, and other topics. Faculty guests include: Gordon Graham, Allan Hazlett, Alison Hills, Michael Strevens, Tania Lombrozo, and Deena Weisberg.

In addition to attending the two-day seminar, successful applicants are expected to attend our Capstone Conference in the three days immediately following the seminar (June 22-24, 2016). Capstone speakers include distinguished philosophers and psychologists such as Elizabeth Camp, Susan Carey, Richard Foley, Alison Gopnik, Jennifer Gosetti, Frank Keil, Ernest Sosa, and Linda Zagzebski.

For information on how to apply, please visit the website:

Direct all questions to Michael Hannon:

The seminar is made possible by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation.