Philosophical Studies

, Volume 176, Issue 5, pp 1225–1245 | Cite as

The trouble with having standards



The uniqueness thesis states that for any body of evidence and any proposition, there is at most one rational doxastic attitude that an epistemic agent can take toward that proposition. Permissivism is the denial of uniqueness. Perhaps the most popular form of permissivism is what I call the Epistemic Standard View (ESV), since it relies on the concept of epistemic standards. Roughly speaking, epistemic standards encode particular ways of responding to any possible body of evidence. Since different epistemic standards may rationalize different doxastic states on the same body of evidence, this view gives us a form of permissivism if different agents can have different epistemic standards. Defenders of the ESV, however, have not paid sufficient attention to what it means to have a particular epistemic standard. I argue that any theory of epistemic standard possession must satisfy two criteria to adequately address the broader needs of the ESV. The first criterion is the normative criterion: a theory of standard-possession should explain why agents are rationally required to form beliefs in accordance with their own (rational) epistemic standard, rather than any other (rational) standard. The second criterion is the applicability criterion: a theory of standard-possession should rule that agents have the epistemic standards we intuitively think they have. I then argue that no extant theories of standard-possession can satisfy both these criteria. I conclude by diagnosing why these criteria are so hard to jointly satisfy. Defenders of the ESV are thus left with a serious obstacle to forming a complete and plausible version of their view.


Epistemology Rationality Justification Permissivism Uniqueness Disagreement Epistemic standards Bayesianism 



This paper has benefited tremendously from discussions and comments from many people, including an anonymous reviewer at Philosophical Studies, Christopher Meacham, Adam Pautz, Bradford Saad, Joshua Schechter, and participants of the 2016 Dissertation Workshop at Brown University. More specifically, I would like to thank the anonymous reviewer for pushing me to strenghen my arguments about idealized disposotions in the beginning of Sect. 6.2, and Christopher Meacham for a discussion that resulted in Sect. 7 (and the analogy to decision theory in particular). Finally, I would like to give a Special thanks to David Christensen.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyKansas State UniversityManhattanUSA

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