Manual Evidentialism: Essays in Epistemology

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Earl Conee and Richard Feldman.​ This is the view that whether a person is epistemically justified in believing a proposition is determined entirely by the person's evidence.​ According to evidentialism, epistemic evaluations are distinct from moral and prudential evaluations of.
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This way of understanding the degree of support required in order for one to be justified in believing p is absolute, or we might say non-contextual.

The degree required is the same across all possible cases. By contrast, Stewart Cohen presents a contextualist version of evidentialism. Evidentialism is, therefore, consistent with both contextualist theories of justification and non-contextualist theories of justification. A further, more central epistemological issue regarding support has to do with the structure of justification.

Each theory may be incorporated into evidentialism by understanding them as providing an account of the proper nature of epistemic support. Since foundationalism is far more dominant than the other theories, in what follows I will present one way of developing evidentialism with regard to it. According to foundationalism, a belief is justified if and only if: either it is a foundational belief or it is supported by beliefs which either are themselves foundational beliefs or are ultimately supported by foundational beliefs.

From the previous section, we have seen that it is only the evidence one has that is relevant to determining whether a belief is justified.

Evidentialism | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Of all of this, foundationalism implies that only that evidence which is non-doxastic, foundational, or ultimately supported by a foundational belief is capable of supporting or conferring positive justificatory status on a belief. Non-doxastic evidential states may include appearance states, direct apprehensions, rational intuitions, and seemings-to-be-true. For the foundationalist, some such evidential states are crucial as only they can justify the foundational beliefs. Assuming this framework, we can proceed as follows.

In order to determine whether one is justified in believing that p, first isolate the portion of the evidence that is non-doxastic, foundational, or ultimately supported by a foundational belief. Only this is capable of justifying a proposition. Next, if the proposition under consideration is believed, subtract that belief and anything else whose support essentially depends on or traces back to that belief. This last modification is intended to accommodate the foundationalist thesis that only the more basic can justify the less basic.

See, for example, the discussion in section 3e. Note that I have had to add a prima facie qualification here. An unjustified belief may be able to defeat the positive justification one has for believing p, but such unjustified beliefs have so far been excluded from consideration. In such a case, we may want to say that one would not be justified in believing p.

The aim in this section is to provide a sampling of objections that have been raised against evidentialist theories of justification. The aim is not to respond to these objections on behalf of the evidentialist nor to evaluate their strength.


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While the following are not objections to all possible versions of evidentialism, together they illustrate the difficulty in formulating a complete and adequate evidentialist theory. The chief difficulty for the evidentialist is to develop the theory in a way that avoids all such objections and does so in an independently motivated and principled way. We can distinguish between two sorts of cases here. According to the first sort, though one once had good evidence for believing, one has since forgotten it. Nevertheless, one may continue to believe justifiably, even without coming to possess any additional evidence.

Evidentialism appears unable to account for this. According to the second sort of case, when one originally came to believe p, one had no evidence to support believing p. Perhaps one originally came to believe p for very bad reasons. Suppose, though, that one has since forgotten why it is that one originally formed the belief and also has forgotten all of the evidence one had against it.

The relevant beliefs in both cases appear to be on an evidential par: neither belief seems to be supported by adequate evidence. The objection is that there, nevertheless, is a justificatory difference between the two cases, and evidentialism is unable to account for this.


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  7. This, however, is only of help when combined with an explanation for the justification of memory beliefs in general and memory beliefs involving forgotten evidence in particular. Here evidentialists can appeal to the notion of evidence and to what sorts of states or properties are properly classified as evidential. On this account, in the first case one is justified in believing p because one does have evidence that supports believing p. As I have developed the notion of support above, part of it is given by some theory of probability.

    A body of evidence, e, supports believing some proposition p only if e makes p probable. If we suppose for simplicity that all of the beliefs that constitute e are themselves justified, we can say that e supports believing p if and only if e makes p probable. If this is so, the resulting evidentialist thesis is false. Alvin Goldman, for example, has argued that the possession of reasons that make p probable, all things considered, is not sufficient for p to be justified Epistemology and Cognition , The crux of the case he considers is as follows.

    Suppose that while investigating a crime a detective has come to know a set of facts. These facts do establish that it is overwhelmingly likely that Jones has committed the crime, but it is only an extremely complex statistical argument that shows this. Perhaps the detective is utterly unable to understand how the evidence he has gathered supports this proposition. In such a case, it seems wrong to say that the detective is justified in believing the proposition, since he does not even have available to him a way of reasoning from the evidence to the conclusion that Jones did it.

    He has no idea how the evidence makes the proposition that Jones did it likely. Thus, the evidentialist thesis, so understood, is false.

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    The appeal to probability and statistics here is not essential to this sort of objection, so it would be a mistake to focus solely on this feature of the case in attempting to respond. Richard Feldman has presented an example which is supposed to demonstrate exactly this point.

    New Essays on Evidentialism

    Feldman asks us to consider a logic student who is just learning to identify valid arguments. She has learned a set of rules by which one can distinguish between valid arguments and invalid arguments, but she has not yet become proficient at applying them to particular argument forms. She looks at an exercise in her text that asks her to determine whether some argument forms are valid.

    She looks at one problem and comes to believe that it is, indeed, a valid argument. As the argument is valid, she believes exactly as her evidence entails she should believe, but she is presently unable to see how it is that the rules show the argument is, indeed, valid. Despite her evidence necessitating the proposition that the argument is valid, it seems she is not justified in believing it.

    Various responses are available to the evidentialist. One may here appeal to the distinction between propositional justification and doxastic justification in an effort to motivate the claim that the detective is justified in believing that Jones did it and the student is justified in believing that the argument is valid.

    When combined with a fully developed and well-motivated theory of evidential support, this may provide a response to these examples.

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    Note, however, that this reply depends crucially on being able to hold that the logic student is justified in believing p but not justifiably believing p. This is a tenuous position, at least for standard accounts of the basing relation—i. The reply to the objection that appeals to the distinction between propositional and doxastic justification demands, therefore, that one also provide a satisfactory account of the basing relation, and none have so far been formulated. An alternative response to these examples is simply to accept their lesson. Evidentialism allows for such possibilities.

    The view that justification is, in some substantive way, a deontological concept motivates the following three objections. According to a deontological conception of epistemic justification, one has an intellectual duty , requirement , or obligation to believe justifiably. Deontologists commonly hold that people are rightly praised for believing or blamed for failing to believe in accordance with this duty or obligation.

    Many believe that this deontological conception of epistemic justification entails that one ought to believe a proposition only if one can believe it. Put differently, one might think that one has to be able to believe p in order for one to be justified in believing p. This second statement of the issue is more perspicuous, as I here set aside issues regarding doxastic voluntarism.

    Some propositions are too complicated and complex for a given person to entertain given his or her actual abilities, and other propositions are too complex for humans to even possibly entertain. It seems wrong to say that one is justified in believing that these extremely complex propositions are true. EVI , however, appears to imply that one can be justified in believing such extremely complex propositions, especially given the theories of evidence and evidential support sketched in section 2d. If, however, EVI does have this consequence, then one might conclude that evidentialism is false.

    The argument here has two main premises.

    Evidentialism

    The first premise is that EVI entails that one can be justified in believing a proposition that it is impossible for one to entertain. The second premise is that if this first premise is true, then EVI is false. Because evidentialism neither rules out nor entails the motivating deontological conception of epistemic justification, evidentialists can plausibly deny either premise. Standard accounts of evidentialism deny the first premise. Evidential support is, in this sense, restricted.

    Whether or not such evidentialist theories are acceptable depends crucially on whether evidentialism is able to accommodate this restriction in a principled way. Here evidentialists can appeal to meta-epistemological considerations regarding the nature of epistemic justification, as well as to intuitions about a sufficiently varied set of cases.

    For instance, the deontological conception of justification itself can motivate and help explain a companion deontological conception of evidential support. In this way, one can formulate a version of evidentialism that clearly does not have the consequence that one can be justified in believing a proposition that one cannot entertain.

    By contrast, an evidentialist who rejects a deontological conception of justification may accept that one can be justified in believing propositions too complex even to consider and as a result may reject the second premise of the argument.

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    Believing in Accordance with the Evidence

    Again, the theory of evidentialism itself allows this. This second response to the argument would need to be strengthened by considerations against the motivating deontological conception of epistemic justification, but considering these in this entry would take us too far astray. The crucial point to emphasize here is that evidentialism neither rules out nor entails this conception of epistemic justification, so both responses are consistent with the theory.

    Some argue that the justification of a belief depends, at least in part, on the inquiry that led to the belief. Two ways this can get fleshed out are as follows. Here, we focus primarily on the latter. When developing evidentialism in his introductory textbook, Epistemology , Richard Feldman presents the following example.

    A professor and his wife are going to the movies to see Star Wars, Episode Knowing that movies usually show at the same time each day, he believes that it is showing today at as well.

    What is EVIDENTIALISM? What does EVIDENTALISM mean? EVIDENTALISM meaning, definition & explanation

    When they get to the theater, they discover that the movie started at When they complain at the box office about the change, they are told that the correct time was listed in the newspaper today. The professor has good evidence to believe that the movie starts at , but the claim is that he is not justified in believing this because he should have and could have very easily gathered defeating evidence. Evidentialism is a theory about the present justificatory status of propositions and beliefs for subjects.

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