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Cognitive bias, situationism, and virtue reliabilism

  • Steven BlandEmail author


Mark Alfano claims that the heuristics and biases literature supports inferential cognitive situationism, i.e., the view that most of our inferential beliefs are arrived at and retained by means of unreliable heuristics rather than intellectual virtues. If true, this would present virtue reliabilists with an unpleasant choice: they can either accept inferential skepticism, or modify or abandon reliabilism. Alfano thinks that the latter course of action is most plausible, and several reliabilists seem to agree. I argue that this is not the case. If situationism is true, then inferential non-skepticism is no more plausible than reliabilism. But inferential cognitive situationism is false. The heuristic-based inferences that facilitate successful perception and communication have proven remarkably accurate, and even the psychological research on inductive reasoning does not support Alfano’s situationism. More generally, negative assessments of human reasoning tend to ignore the fact that the research on cognitive biases focuses primarily on the performance of individuals in isolation. Several studies suggest that we reason much more effectively when in critical dialogue with others, which highlights the fact that our epistemic performance depends not only on the inner workings of our cognitive processes, but on the environments in which they operate.


Cognitive bias Virtue epistemology Skepticism Epistemic situationism 



I am grateful to an audience at the University of Glasgow for their discussion of an earlier version of this paper. I owe a special note of thanks to Jon Marsh and two of this journal’s referees for their insightful, detailed, and constructive comments.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyHuron University CollegeLondonCanada

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