I argue that current discussions of the epistemological significance of reflection have entangled concerns about reflection with agential concerns. I begin by showing that a central strand of internalist criticism finds externalism unsatisfactory because it fails to provide a particular kind of self-knowledge, knowledge about the epistemic status of one’s own beliefs. Identifying this internalist motivation as the desire for a kind of self-knowledge opens up new possibilities and suggests new conceptual resources. I employ one of these resources—Richard Moran’s distinction between the theoretical stance and the deliberative stance—to locate two types of reflection: mere reflective awareness of one’s attitudes and agent-awareness of one’s attitudes. I then examine Ernest Sosa’s account of the importance of reflection, showing how Moran’s distinction brings out the centrality of agential concerns in Sosa’s argument for reflective knowledge. I also consider briefly its relevance to fully apt knowledge. While I focus on Sosa’s epistemology, the point extends to internalism more generally.
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On Moran’s view, occupying the theoretical stance involves a kind of estrangement; the best examples of occupying merely the theoretical stance are those in which something has gone awry. Moran uses the distinction to address cases of weakness of will. We might suppose that someone who tends to overeat is asked whether or not he believes he will remain on his diet over the holidays. This person might say that he intends to remain on his diet, while at the same time, given his history of overeating, he also doubts that he will remain on his diet. This doubt that he will remain on his diet is an assessment that he makes as a result of considering his history and observing that he has never yet remained on a diet over the holidays. When his assessment of what he believes he will do depends on evaluating his relevant behavior, rather than arising from his own intentions, he is occupying the theoretical stance toward his belief that he will, despite his present intentions, not remain on his diet.
For example, consider a case raised by Lackey (2008) in which a teacher who believes the universe was created by intelligent design might nevertheless recognizes that it is his responsibility to teach evolution.
Here one might also press Sosa on the strength of this requirement, especially in regard to skeptical challenges. For instance, does defensibility require being able to defend one’s belief against all challenges, or only some? If the former, then is any belief defensible? If the latter, then which challenges are the relevant ones, and why does reflective knowledge require defensibility only to those? These are important questions, but getting clear on the scope of the requirement of defensibility is not our present concern.
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Mason, S. Agent-Awareness in Reflective Knowledge. Erkenn 84, 239–255 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10670-017-9956-5