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A defence of epistemic responsibility: why laziness and ignorance are bad after all

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It has been suggested, by Michael Bishop, that empirical evidence on human reasoning poses a threat to the internalist account of epistemic responsibility, which he takes to associate being epistemically responsible with coherence, evidence-fitting and reasons-responsiveness. Bishop claims that the empirical data challenges the importance of meeting these criteria by emphasising how it is possible to obtain true beliefs by diverging from them. He suggests that the internalist conception of responsibility should be replaced by one that properly reflects how we can reliably obtain true beliefs. In this paper I defend the internalist account by arguing that Bishop has misinterpreted the relevance of the empirical evidence to the philosophical theory. I argue that the empirical data actually provides support for the idea that, if we want to obtain true beliefs by being responsible, we should aim to meet the criteria that internalists associate with epistemic responsibility.

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  1. Bishop places the demand for coherence on a par with the requirement to fit your belief with the evidence and respond to reasons, but many internalists are not committed coherentists. I continue to use Bishop’s formulation of the internalist conception associating responsibility with coherence, but at all stages I highlight that the responsible use of heuristics involves evidence-fitting and reasons-responsiveness too. My argument therefore has power for internalists who focus on coherence as a requirement on responsibility, as well as those who do not and argue that evidence-sensitivity and responsiveness to reasons are the features required for epistemic responsibility. Thanks to an anonymous referee for highlighting this issue.

  2. Thanks to an anonymous referee for highlighting the relevance of this point.

  3. Thanks to an anonymous reviewer for highlighting how defenders of improper rules like actuarial prediction rules and heuristics are likely to be committed to this view.

  4. Bishop’s commitment to this principle is most clearly articulated in his work with J D Trout (e.g. Bishop and Trout 2005) where it is argued that the traditional project of epistemology should be replaced by a project in ameliorative psychology, that is, a project highlighting which reasoning strategies are reliable by drawing on empirical findings.


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Correspondence to Katherine Puddifoot.

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Puddifoot, K. A defence of epistemic responsibility: why laziness and ignorance are bad after all. Synthese 191, 3297–3309 (2014).

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