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On Doxastic Justification and Properly Basing One’s Beliefs


According to an orthodox account of the relationship between propositional and doxastic justification, basing one’s belief in P on one’s source of propositional justification to believe P suffices for having a doxastically justified belief. But in an increasingly recognized work Turri (Philos Phenomenol Res 80:312–326, 2010a) argues that this thesis fails and proposes a new view according to which having propositional justification depends on having the ability to acquire doxastic justification. Turri’s novel position has surprisingly far-reaching epistemological consequences, ruling out some common epistemological positions that afford one propositional justification in the absence of an ability to acquire doxastic justification (e.g., common forms of evidentialism, conservatism, and closure principles). In what follows I show Turri’s novel position to be problematic and go on to suggest a more modest revision to orthodoxy. The first section presents the orthodox view of the relationship between propositional and doxastic justification and Turri’s counterexample to it. The second section introduces Turri’s novel view of that relationship and draws out some of its epistemological implications. The third section gives counterexamples to Turri’s proposal. The fourth section defends a modest revision to orthodoxy.

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  1. To simplify matters, let’s understand ‘source of justification’ in such a way that one has such a source only if one actually has all things considered propositional justification. This is misleading insofar as sometimes our sources of justification are only sources of mere prima facie propositional justification owing to the presence of defeating factors. For present purposes we can ignore this complication.

  2. Alston (1989), Feldman (2002, 46), Feldman and Conee (1985), Korcz (2000), Kvanvig (2003), Pollock and Cruz (1999), Neta (2010), and Pryor (2001). It should be noted that some externalists have challenged the necessity of (II), e.g., Goldman (2009). This paper will not address the necessity claim, which I discuss elsewhere. See Silva (2014).

  3. My formulation of (Basis) differs trivially from Turri’s.

  4. Turri (2010a, 315–316).

  5. If you have trouble with this bit, just suppose that both jurors also know that if (P1–P4) are true, then Mansour is guilty. Any respectable closure principle for propositional justification should imply that in such circumstances one would have propositional justification to think Mansour guilty.

  6. To avoid certain problems let us assume that one bases a belief in P on a piece of propositional knowledge that Q (or on a justified belief in Q) by basing a belief in P on a belief in Q which is also known (or justified). There is more to be said about this but they are general issues which would take us afield of present concerns.

  7. For convenience I will leave the “current” qualification suppressed, and I will speak generally of agents having/lacking the “ability” to believe, where this is to be understood as (PJ) indicates: in terms of a thinker currently possessing a way of arriving at a doxastically justified belief.

  8. In the next section we will discuss Turri’s idealized version of (PJ). This too is inconsistent with the epistemic theses to be discussed.

  9. Feldman and Conee (1985) and Dougherty (2011).

  10. More carefully, they are incompatible under the plausible assumption that one can have evidence and lack a means of using it. Examples of this are given in subsequent sections.

  11. This is a coarse-grained characterization of conservatism, and it better represents a more general view that Silins (2007) calls “Rationalism”.

  12. See Cohen (2010), Neta (2010), and White (2006). Cf. Wright (2007).

  13. White (2006), Silins (2007, 115), Neta (2010, 692), and Cohen (2010).

  14. Feldman and Conee (1985, 17–19), Smithies (2011, 278–279), and Christensen (2004, 161–162).

  15. Turri (2010a, 324–325), emphasis mine.

  16. Turri’s (2010a, 324) remarks imply that being a mature member of one’s biological species is the kind relevant for determining whether one has propositional justification. In this way, clause (B) is stated a bit too generally. The counterexamples I give to (PJ*) will not depend on this generality.

  17. Clause (A) is not redundant given (C). One might be in abnormal circumstances and have (possibly abnormal) means to arrive at doxastically justified beliefs. Insofar as one would like to retain the possibility of having propositional justification in such a case, clause (A) should be kept.

  18. We may imagine that quasi-humans’ inability to believe the proposition at issue is a result of evolutionary pressures: not believing the target claim has resulted in behaviors that conduce towards survival in their particular environment. We may also assume that such belief-inhibition occurs quite rarely, there being only very few propositions which quasi-humans are psychologically unable to believe.

  19. ...after acquiring excellent evidence for Mansour’s guilt but prior to believing that Mansour is guilty.

  20. I assume that if one knows that P would be false if they were to believe it (and would retain that knowledge upon believing P), one would not have a doxastically justified belief in P.

  21. Turri (2010a, 321) considers a similar kind of case but his objection is that it involves a sentence that ignores tense and thus trades on an ambiguity. (Q) doesn’t have this defect.

  22. Turri’s case is of one who has propositional justification for thinking eliminativism about propositional attitudes is true, and thus has propositional justification for the following Moorean conjunction: beliefs do not exist, but I don’t believe it.

  23. The last qualification is included to avoid counterexamples where one has multiple bases for their beliefs, some of which are properly based. To be sure an epistemically ideal agent would only properly base his beliefs on adequate reasons, but this needn’t imply that we who are imperfect and who might happen to have multiple bases for a belief fail to have doxastic justification because, say, we have improperly based a belief on one of our, possibly many, justification-affording reasons. Turri (2010a, 317) appears sympathetic to this general thought.

  24. Some epistemologists use the term ‘proper basing’ to refer to those cases where one has based a belief on a source of propositional justification, as opposed to basing a belief on some epistemically irrelevant reason. That is not what is intended by my use of the term.

  25. A tacit part of Turri’s counterexample is that Miss Improper is in roughly the sort of circumstances with respect to tea leaf reading that most anyone in the actual world would be, and thus that there are socially available reasons to think tea leaf reading is unreliable (and virtually no reasons think it is reliable).

  26. ...provided one has not also properly based their belief on further epistemically appropriate reasons.

  27. Of course those not convinced of (\(\lnot \)DJ) will not have reason to endorse the necessity of (II*).

  28. Special thanks are due to John Williams, Greg Dawes, Tim Oakley, and anonymous referees.


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Special thanks to the AAP (Auckland, 2013) audience, John Williams, Greg Dawes, and Tim Oakley for their helpful comments.

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Silva, P. On Doxastic Justification and Properly Basing One’s Beliefs. Erkenn 80, 945–955 (2015).

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  • Intellectual Handicap
  • Justify Belief
  • Perceptual Justification
  • Closure Principle
  • Skeptical Hypothesis