Academic Philosophy

Works of academic philosophy, written for journals and book chapters.

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Testimonial Epistemic Rights in Online Spaces

According to many theories of testimony, acts of testimony confer certain epistemic rights upon recipients, e.g., the right for the recipient to complain or otherwise hold the testifier responsible should the content of that testimony turn out to be false, and the right to “pass the epistemic buck”, such that the recipient can redirect relevant challenges they may encounter back to the testifier. While these discussions do not explicitly exclude testimonial acts that occur online, they do not sp
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Trusting scientific experts in an online world

A perennial problem in social epistemology is the problem of expert testimony, specifically expert testimony regarding scientific issues: for example, while it is important for me to know information pertaining to anthropogenic climate change, vaccine safety, Covid-19, etc., I may lack the scientific background required to determine whether the information I come across is, in fact, true. Without being able to evaluate the science itself, then, I need to find trustworthy expert testifiers to lis

Christine Ladd-Franklin on the nature and unity of the proposition

ABSTRACT Although in recent years Christine Ladd-Franklin has received recognition for her contributions to logic and psychology, her role in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century philosophy, as well as her relationship with American pragmatism, has yet to be fully appreciated. My goal here is to attempt to better understand Ladd-Franklin’s place in the pragmatist tradition by drawing attention to her work on the nature and unity of the proposition. The question concerning the unity of th

Pragmatic Encroachment and Political Ignorance

Take pragmatic encroachment to be the view that whether one knows that p is determined at least in part by the practical consequences surrounding the truth of p. This view represents a significant departure from the purist orthodoxy, which holds that only truth-relevant factors determine whether one knows. In this chapter I consider some consequences of accepting pragmatic encroachment when applied to problems of political knowledge and political ignorance: first, that there will be cases in whi

Beyond politics: additional factors underlying skepticism of a COVID-19 vaccine

Even before it had been developed there had already been skepticism among the general public concerning a vaccine for COVID-19. What are the factors that drive this skepticism? While much has been said about how political differences are at play, in this article I draw attention to two additional factors that have not received as much attention: witnessing the fallibility of the scientific process play out in real time, and a perceived breakdown of the distinction between experts and non-experts

Group Epistemology and Structural Factors in Online Group Polarization

There have been many discussions recently from philosophers, cognitive scientists, and psychologists about group polarization, particularly with regards to political issues and scientific issues that have become markers of social identity, such as anthropogenic climate change and vaccine hesitancy. Online and social media environments in particular have received a lot of attention in these discussions, both because of people’s increasing reliance on such environments for receiving and exchanging

Moral Understanding and Cooperative Testimony

It is has been argued that there is a problem with moral testimony: testimony is deferential, and basing judgments and actions on deferentially acquired knowledge prevents them from having moral worth. What morality perhaps requires of us, then, is that we understand why a proposition is true, but this is something that cannot be acquired through testimony. I argue here that testimony can be both deferential as well as cooperative, and that one can acquire moral understanding through cooperative

Group Understanding

While social epistemologists have recently begun addressing questions about whether groups can possess beliefs or knowledge, little has yet been said about whether groups can properly be said to possess understanding. Here I want to make some progress on this question by considering two possible accounts of group understanding, modeled on accounts of group belief and knowledge: a deflationary account, according to which a group understands just in case most or all of its members understand, and

Developing a Model of Groupstrapping: A Response to Baumgaertner and Nguyen

In their responses to my article “Epistemically Pernicious Groups and the Groupstrapping Problem” (Boyd, 2018), Bert Baumgaertner (“Groupstrapping, Boostrapping, and Oops-strapping: A Reply to Boyd”) and C. Thi Nguyen (“Group-strapping, Bubble, or Echo Chamber?”) have raised interesting questions and opened lines of inquiry regarding my discussion of what I hope to be a way to help make sense of how members of groups can continue to hold beliefs that are greatly outweighed by countervailing evid

Epistemically Pernicious Groups and the Groupstrapping Problem

Recently, there has been growing concern that increased partisanship in news sources, as well as new ways in which people acquire information, has led to a proliferation of epistemic bubbles and echo chambers: in the former, one tends to acquire information from a limited range of sources, ones that generally support the kinds of beliefs that one already has, while the latter function in the same way, but possess the additional characteristic that certain beliefs are actively reinforced. Here I

Environmental luck and the structure of understanding

Conventional wisdom holds that there is no lucky knowledge: if it is a matter of luck, in some relevant sense, that one's belief that p is true, then one does not know that p. Here I will argue that there is similarly no lucky understanding, at least in the case of one type of luck, namely environmental luck. This argument has three parts. First, we need to determine how we evaluate whether one has understanding, which requires determining what I will call understanding's evaluative obje

Peirce on Intuition, Instinct, and Common Sense (with Diana Heney)

In addition to being a founder of American pragmatism, Charles Sanders Peirce was a scientist and an empiricist. A core aspect of his thoroughgoing empiricism was a mindset that treats all attitudes as revisable. His fallibilism seems to require us to constantly seek out new information, and to not be content holding any beliefs uncritically. At the same time, Peirce often states that common sense has an important role to play in both scientific and vital inquiry, and that there cannot be any “d

Testifying understanding

While it is widely acknowledged that knowledge can be acquired via testimony, it has been argued that understanding cannot. While there is no consensus about what the epistemic relationship of understanding consists in, I argue here that regardless of how understanding is conceived there are kinds of understanding that can be acquired through testimony: easy understanding and easy-s understanding. I address a number of aspects of understanding that might stand in the way of being able to acquire

Rascals, Triflers, and Pragmatists: Developing a Peircean Account of Assertion (with Diana Heney)

While the topic of assertion has recently received a fresh wave of interest from Peirce scholars, to this point no systematic account of Peirce’s view of assertion has been attempted. We think that this is a lacuna that ought to be filled. Doing so will help make better sense of Peirce’s pragmatism; further, what is hidden amongst various fragments is a robust pragmatist theory of assertion with unique characteristics that may have significant contemporary value. Here we aim to uncover this theo

Peirce on Assertion, Speech Acts, and Taking Responsibility

C.S. Peirce held what is nowadays called a “commitment view” of assertion. According to this type of view, assertion is a kind of act that is determined by its “normative effects”: by asserting a proposition one undertakes certain commitments, typically to be able to provide reason to believe what one is asserting, or, in Peirce’s words, one “takes responsibility” for the truth of the proposition one asserts. Despite being an early adopter of the view, if Peirce’s commitment view of assertion is

Pragmatic Encroachment and Epistemically Responsible Action

One prominent argument for pragmatic encroachment (PE) is that PE is entailed by a combination of a principle that states that knowledge warrants proper practical reasoning, and judgments that it is more difficult to reason well when the stakes go up. I argue here that this argument is unsuccessful. One problem is that empirical tests concerning knowledge judgments in high-stakes situations only sometimes exhibit the result predicted by PE. I argue here that those judgments that appear to suppor

Assertion, practical reasoning, and epistemic separabilism

I argue here for a view I call epistemic separabilism , which states that there are two different ways we can be evaluated epistemically when we assert a proposition or treat a proposition as a reason for acting: one in terms of whether we have adhered to or violated the relevant epistemic norm, and another in terms of how epistemically well-positioned we are towards the fact that we have either adhered to or violated said norm. ES has been appealed to most prominently in order to explain why ep

Levi's Challenge and Peirce's Theory/Practice Distinction

Isaac Levi (1980) targets an implicit tension in C.S. Peirce’s epistemology, one that exists between the need to always be open-minded and aware of our propensity to make mistakes so that we do not “block the road of inquiry,” and the need to treat certain beliefs as infallible and to doubt only in a genuine way so that inquiry can proceed in the first place. Attempts at alleviating this tension have typically involved interpreting Peirce as ascribing different normative standards to different a