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Essays on Skepticism About Epistemic Reason

Willenken, Timothy (2011) Essays on Skepticism About Epistemic Reason. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Most of us believe that induction and perception have some normative status that counter-induction and crystal gazing lack: the former are correct, but the latter are not. How are such beliefs about rationality justified? My dissertation examines two skeptical arguments that contend the answer is: they're not. The first skeptical worry centers on circularity. The only defense I can give for the claim that induction will mostly lead me to true beliefs will invoke induction - it will point out that induction has been reliable in the past and thus conclude (via inductive inference) that induction will be reliable in the future. Much the same applies to perception: I can give a story about why I expect it to be reliable, but only by citing perceptual beliefs. These defenses seem worryingly circular. Non-skeptical responses to this puzzle fall into two camps: Mooreans embrace the circular defenses of perception and induction; rationalists say that justification to believe that perception and induction are reliable is apriori. I defend Moorean responses to skepticism: the most plausible accounts of why the aforementioned reasoning is viciously circular fail. In addition, I argue that rationalism—while perhaps true—is insufficient to deflect the skeptical worry. It turns out that even rationalists need to embrace Moorean circular reasoning. The second skeptical worry focuses on the etiology of our faculties of reason. There is some causal story about why I am inclined to engage in certain patterns of normative reasoning: roughly, evolution by natural selection. Selection pressures favored norms that helped our ancestors find food and show off to potential mates. A puzzle arises because correctness does not appear well-positioned to provide an adaptive edge. The correct ways of reasoning about normative matters might have aided survival, but only as a fortuitous side effect - so getting it right would be a fluke. I show that this puzzle yields a serious skeptical worry. We ought to doubt that we are trustworthy normative reasoners unless there is an explanatory connection between the normative facts and our faculties for normative reasoning.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairSetiya, Kierankis23@pitt.eduKIS23
Committee MemberGupta, Anilagupta@pitt.eduAGUPTA
Committee MemberDorr,
Committee MemberMcDowell, Johnjmcdowel@pitt.eduJMCDOWEL
Date: 30 September 2011
Date Type: Completion
Defense Date: 11 April 2011
Approval Date: 30 September 2011
Submission Date: 2 August 2011
Access Restriction: 5 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 5 years.
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Philosophy
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Bayesianism; circularity; dogmatism; epistemology; metaethics; Mooreanism; moral epistemology; skepticism
Other ID:, etd-08022011-191107
Date Deposited: 10 Nov 2011 19:56
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 13:47


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