Organizers: Mikael Janvid and Levi Spectre

9.20   Welcome
9.30  1 Levi Spectre (Open University of Israel/Stockholm)
“Compartmentalized Knowledge”
10.30   Break
10.45 2 Martin Smith (Edinburgh)
“The Logic of Epistemic Justification”
11.50 3 Maria Lasonen-Aarnio (Michigan)
“Virtuous Failure and Unvirtuous Success”
12.50   Lunch
14.20 4 Emma Gordon & Adam Carter (Edinburgh)
“Understanding and Factivity”
15.20   Break
15.35 5 Amia Srinivasan (UCL)
Radical Externalism
16.40 6 Baron Reed (Northwestern)
“Skepticism as a Way of Life”



Compartmentalized Knowledge

Our thinking is often compartmentalized. We are able to walk and talk, in one compartment we attend to where we are and where we are going while another part of us is focused on a conversation.
David Lewis used this fact in an attempt to avoid an inflation of knowledge in his epistemology. A compartmentalized subject, he suggested, could know the truth of two propositions and yet fail to know their (trivial) logical consequence when they are known in different compartments.
In evaluating this suggestion I will show that Lewis’s epistemology is more anti-skeptical than usually supposed, but also, that compartmentalized knowledge has interesting general features. For instance, that a compartmentalized subject will find it significantly harder to know that she does not know a proposition’s truth than to know she does.

The Logic of Epistemic Justification

Theories of epistemic justification are commonly assessed by exploring their predictions about particular hypothetical cases – predictions as to whether justification is present or absent in this or that case.  With a few exceptions, it is much less common for theories of epistemic justification to be assessed by exploring their predictions about logical principles.  The exceptions are a handful of ‘closure’ principles, which have received a lot of attention in epistemology, and which certain theories of justification are known to invalidate.  But these closure principles are only a small sample of the logical principles that we might consider.  In this paper, I will outline some further logical principles that justification might be thought to satisfy.  While my main aim is just to put these principles forward and make a case for each of them, I will draw some (tentative) conclusions about the viability of certain theories of justification.

Virtuous Failure and Unvirtuous Success 

Consider success in the epistemic domain: one has knowledge or true belief, or at least belief that is proportioned to the evidence. How does such success relate to dispositions or virtues that are, in general, conducive to success? In normal, paradigm cases we succeed largely due to our own competence or success-conducive virtue. But for just about any kind of success, there are cases of virtuous failure. For instance, no matter how diligently we reason and weight our evidence, the evidence may be misleading, pointing us in the direction of a falsehood. I argue that looking closely at cases of virtuous failure allows providing an underpinning for seemingly internalist evaluations within an otherwise externalist epistemology. For instance, it allows answering the new evil demon problem. I also point to reasons for thinking that even when it comes to success like knowledge or belief that is proportioned to the evidence, there are cases of unvirtuous success – cases, for instance, in which a subject knows, despite failing to practice dispositions that are more generally conducive to knowledge. 

Understanding and Factivity

Our aim is to develop and defend an account of the factivity of objectual understanding, viz., the kind of understanding one attains when one understands a subject matter or body of information. For example: to what extent does understanding organic chemistry require the possession of true beliefs about organic chemistry? According to one prominent strand of thinking (e.g. Zagzebski (2001); Elgin (2009; cf. Elgin 1996; 2004) understanding demands very little by way of the possession of true beliefs. The opposite extreme insists that understanding a subject matter is incompatible with the possession of false beliefs about the subject matter. We shall defend, in contrast with these extremes, a moderate account of the factivity of objectual understanding, which takes as a starting point Kvanvig’s (2003) distinction between central and peripheral beliefs with respect to a subject matter or body of information; the basis of the moderate factivity account is that understanding a subject matter Φ requires true central Φ-beliefs but is compatible with false peripheral Φ-beliefs.

While a moderate account avoids certain objections which face either extreme proposal, it faces its own problems—in the form of outstanding issues which have yet to be satisfactorily addressed. For example, (i) just how are central beliefs to be distinguished from peripheral beliefs, vis-à-vis some body of information? (ii) Might false central beliefs ever be compatible with understanding, and if so under what conditions? (iii) To what extent should the factivity constraint on understanding be supplemented with a further epistemic condition—viz., can the relevant true central propositions be merely (truly) believed, or must they be justifiably believed, or known? (iv) How is a moderate factivity account to explain putative cases of understanding of false theories (e.g. Phlogiston theory)? Our defence of a moderate account of the factivity of objectual understanding engages with each of these issues.

Radical Externalism

By ‘radical externalism’ I mean a certain hard-nosed perspective on epistemic justification: that the satisfaction of some condition that is not always open to introspection (e.g. reliability, safety) is both necessary and sufficient for justification. But such an epistemology is also radical in a more interesting sense – namely, that it is has radical political implications. This will come as a surprise to many internalists, who tend to see their view of epistemic justification – as something within everyone’s grasp, regardless of the contribution of the external world – as holding the ethical high-ground over externalism, which in turn is often suspected of embodying a reactionary elitism according to which only a privileged elite get to know. But in its insistence that what we are justified in believing is radically shaped by the contingencies of where we find ourselves in the world, externalism opens up a radical alternative to the tacit liberalism of epistemic internalism.

Skepticism as a Way of Life

It is by now well known that ancient Pyrrhonism was intended to be a way of life rather than a doctrine. Various objections to Pyrrhonism as a way of life have been raised—that it is psychologically impossible and that it makes life grind to a halt. While there are answers to those objections, I’ll argue that there are aspects of Pyrrhonism that make it nonetheless an unappealing way of life and unsuitable in modern circumstances. One crucial change from ancient times is that the Greek skeptics found themselves puzzled by disagreement, while modern philosophers have been worried by doubt. This helps to explain why skepticism is now seen as a challenge to be overcome rather than as a possible way of life. I’ll argue, however, that a deeper understanding of the nature of doubt and its relation to knowledge will allow us to move past the current stalemate between skeptical and anti-skeptical arguments, recover a more accurate history of epistemology, and identify the best sort of epistemic lives available to us.

For further information contact workshop organizer Attendance is free of charge, but please contact the organizer if you wish to attend.