Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

A Deontological Explanation of Accessibilism
by Hatcher, Michael, Ph.D., University of Southern California, 2017, 270; 10268338
Abstract (Summary)

In the 1980s, epistemology faced an impasse between traditional internalist approaches to the justification of belief and new externalist approaches. While internalists like BonJour and Ginet held that justification is fixed by internal factors such as beliefs, experiences, and what is accessible to reflection, externalists like Armstrong, Goldman, and Dretske held that external factors such as reliability and causal relations to the environment also make a difference to justification. By 1988, Goldman suggested we have two independently interesting notions of justification, one amenable to internalist analysis and the other not. Fast forwarding to the present, the gulf between internalists and externalists is even wider. For the many externalists influenced by Williamsonian views, on which knowledge is an unanalyzable mental state in terms of which properties like justification are to be understood, it is doubtful whether there is anything interesting left about which internalism could be true. But internalists still hold that externalism is missing something important.

With my sympathies on the side of internalism, my dissertation seeks to break up this impasse. In a central chapter, I develop a new argument for a kind of internalism about blameworthiness. In other chapters, I address fundamental issues about the nature of belief and its relation to action and practical reasons, the upshot of which is that one can be blameworthy for belief. This upshot makes room for an analysis of justification in terms of blameworthiness. The overall result is a motivation for epistemic internalism which is driven by contemporary action theory and philosophy of mind while being, at the same time, a vindication of an idea arguably traceable at least as far back as Descartes and Locke. This is the idea that justification is internal because it is to be analyzed in terms of blameworthiness.

My central argument for internalism about blameworthiness has the following structure. A person is blameworthy only if she herself exercises control. But control always involves responsiveness to reasons, and the person herself, as opposed to a part of her, responds to reasons only when she is conscious of them. This engagement with a core concern in action theory yields the upshot that blameworthiness is fixed by what one is conscious of at the time. And this means it is fixed by what is internal, in a sense of ‘what is internal’ which I clarify in a preliminary chapter. In another chapter, I develop an account on which belief is an exercise of control. More specifically, I develop a new account on which outright belief is irreducible to credence, an account on which outright belief is grounded in a temporally extended activity of organizing one’s attention. This focus on the nature of belief, a central concern in the philosophy of mind, results in a picture on which outright belief can be as much an exercise of control as paradigmatic actions. And if this is right, we should expect the justification of outright belief to be amenable to analysis in terms of blameworthiness.

Being grounded in activity on my picture, outright belief is responsive to practical reasons in additional to evidential reasons. In a later chapter, I develop an account of the relationship between evidential and practical reasons. I argue that evidential reasons are not in general sufficient to settle the question of whether to believe a proposition outright. Then I develop a proposal about how practical reasons can help settle this question. On this proposal, outright belief is correct if true and incorrect if false, but correctness and incorrectness come in degrees which depend on the practical facts. This allows evidential and practical reasons to work together to yield an expected correctness value of outright belief, as against the alternatives of suspension and denial.

Moreover, as I show in a concluding chapter, I have the resources with which to dispatch a kind of dilemma often traced to Sellars and recently revived by Bergmann. When this kind of dilemma is aimed at my picture, it has the following shape. Either the consciousness of reasons which enables justified belief itself involves belief, or it does not. On the first horn, my picture conflicts with foundationalism, for then it implies justified belief always depends on other beliefs. But on the second horn, on which consciousness of reasons does not involve belief, it becomes hard to see why, on my picture, consciousness of reasons is needed for justification. For, so the thought goes, it is precisely what one believes which determines what it is blameworthy for her to do. The heavy-lifting of prior chapters allows us to dispatch with this dilemma. My version of internalism is about outright belief, not credence. Thus, so long as conscious credences can qualify as consciousness of reasons, and so fix what it is blameworthy for one to do, we can preserve both foundationalism about outright belief and our motivation for internalism. The dilemma is dissolved by the different theoretical roles of credence and outright belief.

As the view that justification is to be analyzed in terms of blameworthiness is a version of deontologism in epistemology, another way to put my dissertation’s upshot is that we can give a deontological explanation of why justification should be fixed by what one is conscious of. And since what one is conscious of qualifies as what is internal according to accessibilist versions of internalism, in particular, it is first and foremost accessibilism which deontologism has promise to explain. In this way, my dissertation develops a deontological explanation of accessibilism.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Wedgwood, Ralph
Commitee: Keating, Gregory, Levin, Janet, Schroeder, Mark, Van Cleve, James
School: University of Southern California
Department: Philosophy
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 78/10(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Epistemology
Keywords: Belief, Blameworthiness, Consciousness, Foundationalism, Internalism, Reasons
Publication Number: 10268338
ISBN: 9781369822335
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