Michael Blome-Tillmann

McGill Philosophy ~ Cambridge Philosophy

Future Directions in Epistemology: Formal, Informal, Applied

BARSEA Workshop in Epistemology -- Abstracts

February 25-26, 2017

Workshop Home / Call for papers
Programme (pdf)


Rae Langton: Informative Presupposition as Back-door Testimony
Informative presupposition is used in speech acts of back-door testimony. ‘Even George could win’ presupposes and testifies that George is an unpromising candidate. Moreover, presuppositions about credibility, standards for knowledge, and stakes for topics of knowledge, affect knowledge gain and knowledge ascription, with implications for the enactment of social norms and hierarchies. Presupposition accommodation can build knowledge, ignorance and error: so if a knowledge-norm applies to assertion, it applies equally to any sort of back-door testimony.

Timothy Williamson: Evidence about One’s Own Evidence
If the principle “Evidence of evidence is evidence” holds at all, it should hold of one’s own present evidence about one’s own present evidence. I will consider natural renderings of the principle in that setting, and argue that they require implausible conditions on one’s self-knowledge.

Contributed Papers

Alexander Dinges: Anti-intellectualism, Egocentrism, & Bank Case Intuitions
Salience-sensitivity is a form of anti-intellectualism that says the following: whether a true belief amounts to knowledge depends on which error-possibilities are salient to the believer. I will investigate whether salience-sensitivity can be motivated by appeal to bank case intuitions. Some experimental philosophers argue that it can’t for the simple reason that the intuitions in question don’t exist. Good attempts have been made at answering this challenge. But there is a more general problem. Even if we grant bank case intuitions, so-called third-person bank cases threaten to sever the connection between bank case intuitions and salience-sensitivity. I will argue that salience-sensitivists can overcome this worry if they appeal to egocentric bias, a general tendency to project our own mental states onto others. I will al-so suggest that a similar strategy is unavailable to stakes-sensitivists, who hold that whether a true belief amounts to knowledge depends on what is at stake for the believer.

Jie Gao & Davide Fassio: The Rational Threshold View and the problem of statistical evidence
According to the Rational Threshold View, a rational agent believes p if and only if her credence in p is equal to or greater than a certain threshold. One of the most serious challenges for this view is what may be called the problem of statistical evidence: statistical evidence is often not sufficient to make rational an outright belief, no matter how probable the target proposition is given such evidence. This indicates that rational belief is not as sensitive to statistical evidence as rational credence is. The aim of this paper is twofold. First, we argue that, in addition to playing a decisive role in rationalizing outright belief, non-statistical evidence also plays a preponderant role in rationalizing credence. We show intuitive cases supporting this claim. Moreover, on the basis of such cases, we suggest a possible account of how different types of evidence should interact to determine rational credence in different contexts. Roughly, our suggestion is that, when both statistical and non-statistical evidence are present in a context, non-statistical evidence should receive a heavier weight than statistical evidence in determining rational credence. Second, based on this account, we argue that modified versions of the Rational Threshold View can avoid the problem of statistical evidence. We conclude suggesting a possible explanation of the varying sensitivity to different types of evi-dence for belief and credence based on the respective aims of these attitudes.

Alex Jackson: Useful Knowledge Ascriptions
I’ll talk about how practical stakes affect people’s knowledge ascriptions, such as in the ‘bank case’ discussed by DeRose and Stanley. First I’ll summarize some related work in psychology, describing the situation-dependence of people’s evaluative judgements and their full beliefs. (e.g. Ledgerwood, 2014, “Evaluations in Their Social Context”.) Inspired by these empirical theories, I’ll suggest a psychological hypothesis about how people ascribe knowledge. The hypothesis is a good educated guess. It also predicts the findings of experimental philosophy in the area. But it predicts that people do not ascribe knowledge as demanded by any of the standard philosophical views (classical invariantism, interest-relative invariantism, contextualism). In my view, our metaphysical/semantic view should legitimize ordinary knowledge ascriptions. A bold approach is called for.

Mihaela Popa-Wyatt: How Words Cause Harm
How is it that words cause harm? Speech that oppresses doesn't just describe an oppressed state, but it helps to create it. In this talk I will sketch the beginnings of a game theoretic account of oppressive speech I am working on. The main ingredients are the classic elements of game theory. In oppressive speech the key to understanding the game is the balance of power, and how it can be manipulated. I will argue that the special nature of conversational games allows speakers to make utterances that manipulate the rules of the game. I'll give some examples from an account of slurs.

Thomas Raleigh: Agnosticism Requires Belief
A good account of the agnostic attitude of Suspending Judgement should explain how it can be rendered more or less rational/justified according to the state of one’s evidence. I argue that the attitude of suspending judgement whether p constitutively involves having a belief – specifically, a belief about one’s evidence for p. I show that an account of suspending that treats it as a sui generis attitude, wholly distinct from belief, struggles to account for how suspension of judgement can be rendered more or less rational (or irrational) by one’s evidence. I show how my preferred belief-based account, in contrast, neatly accounts for this and other features of suspending and so neatly accounts for why an agnostic has a genuine neutral opinion concerning the question whether p, as opposed to simply having no opinion.

Bernhard Salow: Evidence of Evidence
A familiar slogan in epistemology, articulated by Feldman (2007), is that “evidence of evidence is evidence”: if I receive evidence that the scientific community has received new evidence for the existence of the Higgs Boson, then, even if I don’t myself have access to this new evidence, I thereby have more reason to believe in the Higgs Boson. If correct, this idea promises to explain a variety of phenomena, such as why we should factor in the opinions of others or our future selves (that they believe p is evidence that their evidence supports p, hence evidence for p), or why it’s pointless to try avoiding evidence that supports things we don’t want to believe (if we have evidence that there is such evidence, we already have evidence for the things we don’t want to believe).

Recently, however, the slogan has generated more confusion than illumination; for, as Fitelson (2012) observes, the flat-footed ways of making it precise leaves it open to simple counterexamples. This paper attempts to do better. Section 1 distinguishes two problems we face in precisifying the slogan, and offers solutions to both. Section 2 shows that the resulting precisification can be derived from a probabilistic theory of evidence, provided that we take certain controversial positions regarding the epistemology of “higher-order” evidence. It also argues that doubts one might have about these positions are also reasons to reject the intuitive slogan itself. This shows that my proposal is indeed the right way to precisify the slogan. The connection to higher-order evidence also reveals that two readings of the slogan differ in how controversial they ought to be.

Johanna Schnurr: Doxastic Normativism: The Argument from Dispositions to Believe
I evaluate doxastic normativism, the thesis that belief is intrinsically normative, by discussing a specific argument for it that I ultimately reject: the argument from dispositions to believe, which has been advanced by Zangwill, Wedgwood, and Nolfi. I begin by laying out general reasons to be weary of doxastic normativism, before summarising the argument from dispositions as formulated by Wedgwood. I then go on to critically consider two of its premises in detail. The first of these is that rational dispositions are normative. I argue that this premise is based on some implausible background assumptions about the way dispositions to believe interact with defeaters. The second premise I consider is that the dispositions essential to the capacity for belief are rational dispositions. I reject this premise as well. I then go on to consider one of the implausible consequences of accepting the two premises from the argument from dispositions in conjunction. This, I argue, gives us reason to reject at least one of the two. I finish on an observation that the apparent initial plausibility of the argument from dispositions might be due to its premises invoking two distinct notions of rationality.

H. Orri Stefansson: A Challenge for Comparativism
This paper discusses a challenge for Comparativists about belief, who hold that numerical degree of belief (e.g. subjective probability) is a useful fiction, unlike comparative belief, which they regard as real. The challenge consists in making sense of claims like “I am twice as confident in A as in B” in terms of comparative beliefs only. After showing that at least some Comparativists can meet this challenge, I discuss implications for Zynda’s (2000) and Stefansson’s (2017) defenses of Comparativism.

David Thorstad: The Permissivist Triangle
What does epistemic permissivism have to do with evidentialism and precise Bayesianism? I argue: a great deal. Permissivism is exactly the claim precise Bayesians need to address leading counterexamples to their normative view. Reconciling Permissivism with evidentialism yields a new insight about evidential support. Motivating this insight yields a new model of the relationship between evidence and rational belief. This model reveals the normative conflict between precise and imprecise Bayesians as an underlying conflict about the manner in which evidence governs rational belief.

Verena Wagner: Against Doxastic Freedom
In this talk, I will discuss recent approaches that aim at making sense of the notion of "doxastic freedom". Like Harry Frankfurt's famous drug addict is supposed to explain the requirement of a special sort of compatibilist free will in addition to freedom of action, the fact that there are delusional believers seems to create the need for a special sort of freedom that concerns our doxastic states. The so called "doxastic compatibilists" (e.g. C. McHugh, M. Steup) claim that if there is an acceptable version of compatibilist free will in the practical debate, then there also is a version of compatibilist free belief that has to be accepted on the same grounds. Though agreeing to this conditional and being a compatibilist myself, I will challenge the idea of compatibilist doxastic freedom by illustrating the consequences of such an approach for other propositional mental states. As it turns out, compatibilist free will has to be rejected on the same grounds as compatibilist free belief has to be.

Natalia Waights Hickman: Novelty, Skill, and Knowledge How
Stanley and Williamson (2016) have recently argued that skill is a disposition to know, in particular, “to be skilled at the action type of f-ing is to be disposed to form knowledge appropriate for guiding tokens of f-ing.” (Stanley and Williamson 2016, p.3). This paper is a critical response to this new proposal, from the perspective of someone sympathetic to Stanley and Williamson’s intellectualism about knowledge how. There are problems of two kinds that I will draw attention to. The first is, so to speak, internal: it concerns relations between the new paper on skill and Stanley and Williamson’s earlier work on knowledge how, in particular relating to the so-called ‘novelty objection’ to intellectualism. The second kind of problem is independent, it concerns Stanley and Williamson’s account of skill in its own right, and is laid out with somewhat more sympathy to the anti-intellectualist.

The general thrust of what follows is that one can’t have one’s cake and eat it. On the one hand, I argue that Stanley and Williamson’s recent reply to the novelty objection—which is central to the motivation of their view of skill—undermines Stanley’s (2011) earlier attempt to defuse it, and leaves their intellectualist view of standing knowledge how vulnerable to the novelty objection. On the other hand, I will argue that Stanley and Williamson’s equation of skill with a disposition to know is vulnerable to just the same kinds of counterexamples as the anti-intellectualists equation of knowledge how to f with the ability to f, namely (counter) examples in which the agent has all the knowledge pertaining how to f on some occasion, and yet is not able to f (a fortiori, not be able to f skilfully). These cases indicate that knowledge alone is not sufficient for skill in f-ing, even if it is necessary—a familiar anti-intellectualist claim.