Two New Articles on Formal Epistemology

An entry on Formal Epistemology by Vincent F. Hendricks and Jeffrey Helzner is now available at Oxford Bibliographies Online. The entry is an online guide to the essential literature in subjects related to formal epistemology, such as epistemic logic, probability theory, belief revision, decision theory, interactive epistemology and formal learning theory.


Formal epistemology is a fairly recent field of study in philosophy dating back to the end of the 20th century. This is not to say that formal epistemological studies have not been conducted prior to the late 1990s, but rather that the term introduced to cover the philosophical enterprise was coined around this time. Formal epistemology denotes the formal study of crucial concepts in general or mainstream epistemology, including knowledge, belief and belief-change, certainty, rationality, reasoning, decision, justification, learning, agent interaction, and information processing. The formal tools may be drawn from a wide variety of areas, including logic, probability theory, game theory, decision theory, formal learning theory, and distributed computing, and is thus not simply a purely philosophical province. Its practitioners include philosophers, computer scientists, social scientists, cognitive psychologists, theoretical economists, mathematicians, and theoretical linguists

A draft of my Formal Epistemology entry, to appear in The Continuum Companion to Epistemology, is in the PhilSci-Archive.


Narrowly construed, formal epistemology is a methodological approach to traditional analytic epistemology. According to this view, the aim of formal epistemology is to harness the power of formal methods to bring rigor and clarity to philosophical analysis. Yet, in broader terms, formal epistemology is not merely a methodological tool for epistemologists, but a discipline in its own right. On this programmatic view, formal epistemology is an interdisciplinary research program that covers work by philosophers, mathematicians, computer scientists, statisticians, psychologists, operations researchers, and economists who aim to give mathematical and sometimes computational representations of, along with sound strategies for reasoning about, knowledge, belief, judgment and decision making. This essay presents a two-pronged argument for formal epistemology. The first part addresses the general question of why anyone should bother with formal methods by illustrating, through a historical example, the role that formal models can play in inquiry. The second part describes two specific examples of recent work within formal epistemology, one that addresses a longstanding issue within traditional epistemology—namely, what to make of coherentist justification—and another addressing a fallacy of probabilistic reasoning which has implications across a wide range of disciplines, and thereby making a case for a broader, programmatic view. Finally, we close with a methodological proposal for epistemology, one that incorporates formal, experimental, and traditional approaches into one program.

[Originally posted at Choice and Inference]

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