Poston on Epistemic Conservatism

Ted is defending conservatism against the charge that it is abhorrent. Gricean mechanisms come up again, responding to Christensen’s claim that you can’t defend a belief by pointing out that you believe it. Ted claims that such a response could be true even though unassertible because it violates the cooperative principle and also by the relevance condition.

One perhaps ought to worry that the Christensen objection need not be put in the rhetorical context of responding to a challenge to a belief. That’s a typical worry with discussions of skepticism: there is the rhetorical context of answering the skeptic, and there is the more relevant philosophical context of evaluating the arguments for skepticism. So if we abstract from the rhetorical context, it isn’t clear how to appeal to Gricean mechanisms to respond to the argument involved in Christensen’s objection. The argument, I take it, arises from the question of whether there is adequate justification for a given belief. An account of that justification might cite factors x1…xn, and suppose that account also says that x1…xn provides quite a bit of justification for the claim in question, but falling short of the threshold needed for the claim to be propositionally justified. Then the account notes that this is OK, because the belief itself generates the additional needed element to boost the proposition above the threshold. It looks like the Christensen objection needs an answer here as well as in the rhetorical context.

Maybe the distinction between propositional and doxastic justification can help with an answer, since even if belief isn’t relevant to propositional justification it might be relevant to doxastic justification. I don’t quite see how such a story would go, but maybe…


Poston on Epistemic Conservatism — 3 Comments

  1. Hi Jon,

    I think the thing for the conservative to say here is not that belief can increase the degree to which a proposition is justified for a subject but that belief can lower the standards required for belief to be justified. So, a proposition can be justified for a believer to a degree sufficient for (outright) justified belief even if it isn’t justified for a non-believer to a degree sufficient for (outright) justified belief, and even if the proposition is justified to the same degree for both subjects. Put a different way, if you believe a proposition, it need not be as justified for you in order for your belief to be justified.

    Doxastic encroachment.

  2. Interesting, Jeremy, hadn’t thought of that. You encroacher dudes love to find it everywhere!

    It looks like such a view is subject to a variant worry: if I didn’t believe this claim, I (epistemically) shouldn’t believe it. Right?

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