See online papers below.
The goal of my work as a philosopher is to defend the idea that the purpose of epistemology is to offer normative guidance to the individual knower.
This is sometimes identified as the "traditional" approach to epistemology—identified as such in contrast to the newer "naturalized" approach that seeks only to account for the origins of our beliefs as a scientific observer would (a view I critiqued in my dissertation). But when it emerged in the Enlightenment, the guidance conception of epistemology was revolutionary insofar as it called on individuals to sweep aside the dogmas of the past and adopt a first-handed approach to knowing. I defend what might be termed a "neo-Enlightenment" epistemology, retaining the elements essential to the guidance conception, but omitting the errors I take to have undercut the goals of Enlightenment epistemology.
Essential to Descartes' and Locke's epistemologies, for instance, were each of the following theses: foundationalism, the view that the justification of our beliefs depends on basic unjustified justifiers; internalism, the view that one's beliefs are justified by facts of which one is consciously aware and therefore to which one is accountable; evidentialism, the view that beliefs formed on a basis other than the known relevant evidence are unjustified; and voluntarism, the view that the inquirer can responsibly craft his or her own beliefs in such manner as to be subject to evaluation. I have now written papers defending each of these components of the neo-Enlightenment approach, and I have more in development.
My defense of foundationalism, recently published in Synthese (2011), works by distinguishing foundationalism as such from the view as it was defended by early modern and 20th century empiricists. Their assumptions obscured how the senses could give data sufficiently rich to inform the foundations of knowledge, and failed to convey how concepts could package non-conceptual sensory data in a way cognitively relevant to the justification of beliefs. I argue that a direct realist account of perception, according to which we are directly aware of objects in the world rather than intermediate mental objects, describes perception as a rich form of awareness suitable to serve as an unjustified justifier. Anti-foundationalists assume that our conceptual life is not cognitively informed by the senses because concepts cannot be abstracted from the data of experience. I argue that it is precisely direct realism about perception (which anti-foundationalists like Sellars and McDowell otherwise embrace) which allows for a defense of abstractionism and furnishes a new, previously underappreciated case for foundationalism.
A guidance-oriented account of epistemology also needs to embrace and defend internalism, because our mental states can be meaningfully evaluated as justified or not only when they result from our knowing what we are doing. Critics of internalism say that knowers have insufficient conscious access to the justifiers of our beliefs, and contend that the guidance conception of epistemology is flawed. In "Internalism Empowered" (Acta Analytica, 2012), I argue that if direct realism is true, we have more access than externalists think. Not only do we have awareness of objects in the external world, but from lessons learned about perception, we can understand how memory constitutes genuine awareness of the past. Accepting this point opens up a battery of justifiers previously thought to be inaccessible on internalist premises, because it helps us to see justification as the act of a responsible agent who endures over time.
Like many internalists I see our awareness of evidence as what justifies our beliefs. In "A Positive Evidentialist Account of Epistemic Possibility," I argue that the usual evidentialist norm, which is usually thought of as governing only belief, should also be seen as covering the mere consideration of propositions as well. Requiring evidence for the mere possibility that a proposition is true not only helps to explain and justify our investigative practices but helps supply a powerful response to skepticism.
Especially critical to the guidance conception of epistemology and its notion of epistemic responsibility is an affirmation of the knowing agent's power to guide his or her beliefs by choice. To defend doxastic voluntarism, my work has recently expanded from epistemology to action theory. Here the work of my friend Gregory Salmieri was an inspiration: he first argued for a version of voluntarism involving a de re notion of belief choice, according to which one can choose beliefs without full knowledge of their propositional contents. We co-authored a paper ("How We Choose Our Beliefs"), recently published in Philosophia) arguing that by choosing to engage in an act of inquiry, one therein chooses to believe. In "The Elusiveness of Doxastic Compatibilism", forthcoming in American Philosophical Quarterly, I argue that to make sense of epistemic responsibility, we cannot reduce our understanding of the voluntariness of our beliefs to mere reasons-responsiveness. There must be a robust alternate possibility we face in our cognition, and "Frankfurt cases" suggesting otherwise have been misinterpreted.
In "Incompatibilism Refocused," a work in progress, several central themes of my work in epistemology and philosophy of action come together. I clarify the nature of this fundamental alternative in terms of a choice to raise or lower one's level of rational attention, an alternative that I argue has to be wholly up to the agent if we are to maintain an internalist view of justification. Here foundationalism's basic beliefs, the unmoved movers of cognition, can be seen as inheriting this quality as manifestations of a free rational agent. Reason and freedom are intimately linked.
It should be clear that of late my work on these four pillars of neo-Enlightenment epistemology has begun to coalesce. I am fascinated by the internal connections among the doctrines, and how the view that emerges is to be applied to other problems in philosophy-and beyond. Other research I've conducted applies this outlook to the philosophy of perception, the epistemology of testimony, and the philosophy of science. An undergraduate textbook on logic I am authoring, currently in draft form, also bears the marks of my overall project, aimed as it is at providing students with practical advice about their everyday thinking. I encourage you to sample samples of all of the above on my web site, www.benbayer.com.
Learn about my logic textbook.
Read my dissertation.
Download my research statement as a PDF
"The Elusiveness of Doxastic Compatibilism"
(American Philosophical Quarterly), 52(3), July 2015
(FINAL REVISIONS, February 16, 2015) (DOC) (PDF)
This paper evaluates recent proposals for compatibilism about doxastic freedom, and attempts to refine them by applying Fischer and Ravizza’s moderate reasons-responsiveness compatibilism to doxastic freedom. I argue, however, that even this refined version of doxastic compatibilism is subject to challenging counter-examples and is more difficult to support than traditional compatibilism about freedom of action. In particular, it is much more difficult to identify convincing examples of the sort Frankfurt proposed to challenge the idea that responsibility requires alternative possibilities.
"How We Choose Our Beliefs," as second author, with Gregory Salmieri (Boston University),
(Philosophia, 42(1), March 2014)
(FINAL REVISIONS, July 13, 2013) (DOC) (PDF)
Recent years have seen increasing attacks on the "deontological" conception (or as we call it, the guidance conception) of epistemic justification, the view that epistemology offers advice to knowers in forming beliefs responsibly. Critics challenge an important presupposition of the guidance conception: doxastic voluntarism, the view that we choose our beliefs. We assume that epistemic guidance is indispensable, and seek to answer objections to doxastic voluntarism, most prominently William Alston's. We contend that Alston falsely assumes that choice of belief requires the assent to a specific propositional content. We argue that beliefs can be chosen under descriptions which do not specify their propositional content,but instead specify the mental actions by which they are formed and maintained. We argue that these actions partially constitute the beliefs and that it is in virtue of resulting from and being partially constituted by such actions that the beliefs are subject to epistemic appraisal.
"Keeping up Appearances: Reflections on the Debate over Perceptual Infallibilism,"
in Gotthelf and Lennox (Eds.), Concepts and Their Role in Knowledge: Reflections on Objectivist Epistemology, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2013
In their contributions to the present volume, Onkar Ghate and Gregory Salmieri (drawing on ideas from Ayn Rand) challenge the traditional distinction between veridical and non-veridical perception and allege that all perception is veridical. In their commentary on Ghate and Salmieri, Pierre Le Morvan and Bill Brewer defend the traditional idea that some perception is non-veridical. The present essay defends Ghate and Salmieri and supports a form of perceptual infallibilism. This is accomplished by showing how the content of illusory perception can and must be characterized in a way that does not mismatch the facts. Second, infallibilism is defended against the charge that extraordinary perceptual responses to ordinary facts (such as hearing colors) would have to count as non-veridical.
"Internalism Empowered: How to Bolster a Theory of Justification with a New Theory of Awareness"
(Acta Analytica, 27(4), December 2012)
(FINAL REVISIONS, December 22, 2011 (DOC) (PDF)
The debate in the philosophy of perception between direct realists and representationalists should influence the debate in epistemology between internalists and externalists about justification. If direct realists are correct, there are more consciously accessible justifiers for internalists to exploit than externalists think. Internalists can retain their distinctive internalist identity while accepting this widened conception of internalistic justification: even if they welcome the possibility of cognitive access to external facts, their position is still quite distinct from the typical externalist position. To demonstrate this, Alvin Goldman's critique of internalism is shown to ignore important lessons from the case for direct realism about perception, in particular by unjustifiably assuming that internalism entails that only facts simultaneous with the justification of a belief can justify the belief. Goldman's definition of a "justifier" is also inconsistent with the overall guidance conception of epistemology he takes for granted in his critique of internalism.
"A Role for Abstractionism in a Direct Realist Foundationalism"
(Synthese, 180(3), June 2011)
(FINAL REVISIONS, November 23, 2009) (DOC) (PDF)
Both traditional and naturalistic epistemologists have long assumed that the examination of human psychology has no relevance to the goal of traditional epistemology, that of providing first-person guidance in determining the truth. Without slipping into naturalism, I apply insight about the psychology of human perception and concept-formation to a very traditional epistemological project: the foundationalist approach to the epistemic regress problem. I argue that direct realism about perception can help solve the regress problem and support a foundationalist account of justification, but only if it is supplemented by an abstractionist theory of concept-formation, the view that it is possible to abstract concepts directly from the empirically given. Critics of direct realist solutions like Laurence BonJour are correct that an account of direct perception by itself does not provide an adequate account of justification. However a direct realist account of perception can inform the needed theory of concept-formation, and leading critics of abstractionism like McDowell and Sellars, direct realists about perception themselves, fail to appreciate the ways in which their own views about perception help fill gaps in earlier accounts of abstractionism. Recognizing this undercuts both their objections to abstractionism and (therefore) their objections to foundationalism, as well.
"Quine's Pragmatic Solution to Skeptical Doubts" (formerly "Quine's Acquiescence in Skepticism")
(The International Journal of Philosophical Studies, 18(10), May 2010)
(FINAL REVISIONS, July 6, 2009) (DOC) (PDF)
I examine a series of criticisms that have been leveled against Quine's naturalized epistemology, regarding its response to the problem of skepticism. Barry Stroud and Michael Williams, assuming that Quine wishes to refute skepticism, argue that Quine not only fails to undertake this refutation, but is also committed to theses (such as the inscrutability of reference and the underdetermination of theory by evidence) which imply versions of skepticism of their own. In Quine's defense, Roger Gibson argues that Quine can succeed in showing skeptical doubts to be incoherent. But I contend that both parties of this dispute wrongly assume that Quine wishes to defeat the skeptic in a traditional way. Instead, Quine is happy to "acquiesce" in skepticism about a certain kind of justification. No logical justification of our scientific beliefs is possible on his view. But Quine thinks pragmatic justification is possible, and acknowledging that this is his view this leads to the resolution of a number of interpretive quandaries.
"How Not to Refute Quine: Evaluating Kim's Alternatives to Naturalized Epistemology"
(Southern Journal of Philosophy, 45(4), December 2007)
(August 6, 2007) (DOC) (PDF)
This paper offers an interpretation of Quine's naturalized epistemology through the lens of Jaegwon Kim's influential critique of the same. Kim argues that Quine forces a false choice between traditional deductivist foundationalism and naturalized epistemology, and contends that there are viable alternative epistemological projects. However it is urged that Quine would reject these alternatives by reference to the same fundamental principles (underdetermination, indeterminacy of translation, extensionalism) that led him to reject traditional epistemology and propose naturalism as an alternative. Given this interpretation of Quine, it is essential that a successful critic of naturalism also critique Quine's aforementioned principles. The divide between naturalist and non-naturalist epistemology turns out to be defined by the divide between more fundamental naturalist and non-naturalist approaches to semantics.
"A Positive Evidentialist Account of Epistemic Possibility"
(MAJOR REVISIONS, October 17th, 2016) (DOC) (PDF)
In spite of an evolving contemporary debate over the concept of “epistemic possibility,” nearly every philosopher assumes that the concept is equivalent to a mere absence of epistemic impossibility, that a proposition is epistemically possible as long as it is not inconsistent with some relevant body of knowledge. I suggest that we challenge this deeply entrenched assumption. I assemble an array of data that singles out the distinctive meaning and function of the attitude of taking propositions as epistemically possible, and suggest that this data is best explained by a positive evidentialist conception of epistemic possibility. On this conception, a proposition is epistemically possible to a subject if and only if the subject has cognitive access to evidence that specifically supports that proposition.
"Belief Ownership without Authorship: Agent Reliabilism’s Unlucky Gambit against Reflective Luck"
(September 1st, 2014) (DOC) (PDF)
This paper examines a persuasive attempt to defend reliabilist theories of justification against the influential “reflective luck” objections popularized by Laurence BonJour and Keith Lehrer. In a series of papers, John Greco and Daniel Breyer have argued that an agent reliabilist version of externalism has the resources to explain why subjects who are the lucky beneficiaries of reliable processes such as clairvoyance and implanted devices do not count as justified after all. They claim a necessary condition of the “subjective” aspect of agent-reliable justification is the subject’s ownership of the belief, and that subjects in these reflective luck cases do not own their beliefs in the relevant way. This paper considers an additional example of reflective luck described by Jennifer Duke-Yonge that seems to run afoul of the agent reliabilist strategy, and shows how it can be further developed in response to Daniel Breyer's recent criticisms of Duke-Yonge.
"Incompatibilism Refocused: the Case from the Phenomenology of Rational Agency "
(August 5th, 2013) (DOC) (PDF)
Libertarian incompatibilists are known to argue for their conception of freedom of the will by appealing to introspective awareness of their own agency. However in attempting to articulate how such awareness provides evidence of the ability to do otherwise, these libertarians sometimes suggest that paradigmatically free decisions are "close-call" decisions made as a result of "torn" deliberation. In this paper I argue that libertarians have misidentified the appropriate paradigm cases of free decision, and I recommend refocusing the debate away from our experience of practical decision-making to our experience of choices made in the process of cognitive management—i.e., our introspective awareness of our rational agency. Having sketched this alternative account of the phenomenology of agency, I conclude by examining the compatibilist account of agentive experience offered by Terry Horgan, and suggest it is not the best explanation of all of the relevant evidence about how we experience and make judgments about our freedom.
"Believing at Will and the Will to Believe the Truth"
(MAJOR REVISIONS, August 8, 2013) (DOC) (PDF)
I defend the possibility of a form of doxastic voluntarism, by criticizing an argument advanced recently by Pamela Hieronymi against the possibility of believing at will. Conceiving of believing at will as believing immediately in response to practical reasons, Hieronymi claims that no form of control we exercise over our beliefs measures up to this standard. While there is a form of control Hieronymi thinks we exercise over our beliefs, "evaluative control," she claims it does not give us the power to believe at will because it consists in the consideration of reasons "constitutive" of believing that are not, at the same time, practical reasons. I argue that evaluative control does amount to the ability to believe at will, because there is a practical reason the consideration of which also constitutes some acts of believing: the value of believing the truth. The form of voluntarism I defend is consistent with a robust evidentialism.
"Why Internalists Need an Enriched Theory of Perceptual and Conceptual Awareness
to Escape from Bergmann's Dilemma"
(January 6th, 2013) (DOC) (PDF)
Michael Bergmann (2006) has argued that an internalistic view of justification faces a dilemma. Assuming as internalism does that to have a justified belief, subjects must be aware of the justifiers of the belief and of their relevance to the truth of the belief, Bergmann notes that one is either aware of this relevance conceptually or not. But, says Bergmann, if the required awareness is conceptual, internalism is encumbered with an infinite regress. If it is not-if it is only "weak awareness"—then internalism lacks any dialectical advantage over externalism. In this paper, I explore DePoe's (2012) defense of the dialectical advantage of weak awareness, and show how the case for its ability to account for awareness of the relevance of the justifiers can be improved by supplementation from a direct realist theory of perception and a theory of concept-formation and application informed by that theory of perception.
Older"Nested Testimony, Nested Probability, and a Defense of Testimonial Reductionism"
(UPDATED, September 1, 2011) (DOC) (PDF)
I argue that a counterexample to testimonial reductionism proposed by Jennifer Lackey in Learning from Words (2008) fails to challenge a genuine reductionist view. Lackey purports to identify a case in which a hearer has a positive reason to accept a speaker's testimony, but in which the hearer nonetheless lacks justification for believing it. I argue that the reductionist should not count the case Lackey describes as one in which the hearer has a positive reason. Because it is a case of nested testimony, the claim involved is qualified according to a nested probability claim, which cancels its status as being based on a positive reason.
"Metaethical Problems for Ethical Egoism Reconsidered"
(MAJOR REVISIONS, July 6, 2009) (DOC) (PDF)
Until recently it has been conventional to assume that ethical egoism is "ethical" in name only and that no account that considers one's own interests as the standard of moral obligation could ever count as seriously "ethical." In recent years, however, philosophers have shown increasing appreciation for more sophisticated forms of egoism which attempt to define self-interest in enriched terms, terms which characterize self-interest as a form of human flourishing in both material and psychological dimensions. But philosophers are still skeptical that any conception of self-interest could underpin ethical theory. This paper considers recent arguments by Richard Joyce, who is willing to concede enriched conceptions of self-interest, but who claims that egoism cannot support intuitions about counterfactual conditionals, or paradigmatic traits and uses of moral norms. I argue that ethical egoism can satisfy each of Joyce's requirements for morality, provided that it is taken to involve the very notion of enriched self-interest that Joyce is elsewhere willing to consider. In showing that egoism can count as a moral theory, I show, in effect, that Joyce's arguments for error theory about morality are really arguments for error theory about agent-neutral, non-egoistic morality.
"From Folk Psychology to Folk Epistemology: The Status of Radical Simulation"
(June 6, 2007) (DOC) (PDF)
In this paper I consider one of the leading philosophic-psychological theories of "folk psychology," the simulation theory of Robert Gordon. According to Gordon, we attribute mental states to others not by representing those states or by applying the generalizations of theory, but by imagining ourselves in the position of a target to be interpreted and exploiting our own decision-making skills to make assertions which we then attribute to others as 'beliefs'. I describe a leading objection to Gordon's theoryâ€”the problem of adjustmentâ€”and show how a charitably interpreted Gordon could answer this objection. I conclude, however, that the best case for Gordon's position still runs into a new problem concerning basic folk epistemological knowledge. Identifying this new alternative helps undermine the simplicity of a theory based on simulation-based explanation.
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