In this section, I present doxasticism in more detail. I begin by presenting what I take to be the basic principles in a doxastic account. I then lay out how these principles can be used to explain non-traditional factor effects in the studies reported above as well as in other, more challenging contexts. Notice that one should distinguish doxasticism as applied to salient alternative effects from doxasticism as applied to stakes effects. One can endorse one of these accounts while rejecting the other. I will present them in tandem to make parallels visible. I will duly tear them apart later when discussing objections.Footnote 6
The following principles are at the center of gravity in a doxastic account.
SALIENCE Unless we are rushed, distracted or otherwise impaired, we normally don’t form a belief that p when an error-possibility to p is salient to us that we cannot rule out.
STAKES Unless we are rushed, distracted or otherwise impaired, we normally don’t form a belief that p when we aren’t in a position to act on the assumption that p.
SALIENCE, for instance, suggests that the protagonists in the bank cases will lose their belief that the bank will be open once the possibility of changed opening hours becomes salient to them. After all, they cannot rule it out. STAKES suggests that the protagonist of the typo stories will read his paper more frequently before he forms the belief that no typos remain when the stakes are high rather than low. This is because, in the high stakes context, he will need more evidence before he can act on the assumption that no typos remain i.e. before he can submit his paper. (The “unless”-clauses in SALIENCE and STAKES will become relevant later.)
Doxasticists can appeal to empirical data from psychology to justify that SALIENCE and STAKES hold. I will not rehearse this data here and just grant that it is sound.Footnote 7 Instead, I want to briefly address the question of why SALIENCE and STAKES hold. Doxasticists aren’t committed to any specific view here. To clarify their position, though, it will be useful to outline their options.
One candidate explanation is normative. Doxasticists can hold that the conditions for justified belief become more demanding once the stakes rise or an error-possibility is made salient. For instance, they could adopt a principle along the following lines. S’s belief that p is justified only if S’s evidence for p is such that (i) it’s good enough for S to act on p in her current contextFootnote 8 and (ii) it rules out all error-possibilities to p currently salient to S. This would explain why we lose beliefs as the stakes rise and new error-possibilities become salient. The pertinent beliefs would simply cease to be justified. For instance, the protagonists in the bank cases may initially be justified to believe that the bank will be open but cease to be so justified once the possibility of changed opening hours is raised to salience. Similarly, the protagonist of the typo stories may be justified to believe that no typos remain after two rounds of proofreading when the stakes are low, whereas, when the stakes are high, he fails to be so justified because he cannot yet act on this assumption and thus submit his paper.
A caveat should be noticed. It’s exceedingly natural to think that knowledge entails justified belief. Given the just-stated justification principle, knowledge will thus entail different evidential demands depending on non-traditional factors. When the stakes are high, for instance, knowledge will entail stronger evidence than when the stakes are low. This is, of course, a paradigmatic form of anti-intellectualism, a view that doxasticists (on my understanding) reject. So if the doxasticist adopts the above justification principle, she has to sever the link between knowledge and justified belief. For instance, she could argue that the evidential requirements for justified belief sometimes exceed the evidential requirements for knowledge.Footnote 9
Another way to explain STAKES and SALIENCE is error-theoretic. Doxasticists can reject the variable justification principle above and hold instead that the evidential requirements for justified belief remain stable independently of non-traditional factors. They can thus retain the link between knowledge and justified belief. It also follows that our sensitivity to stakes and salient alternatives is somehow erroneous. Take the sensitivity to stakes to illustrate. Other things being equal, beliefs in low-stakes contexts and corresponding beliefs in high-stakes contexts will either both be justified, or they will both be unjustified. In the former case, our practice of giving up beliefs in the face of high stakes (following STAKES) would be mistaken. After all, it is a mistake to give up perfectly justified beliefs. In the latter case, our practice of maintaining beliefs in low stakes contexts would be mistaken because it is a mistake to hold on to unjustified beliefs. Doxasticists can endorse one of these error-theoretic commitments, and then provide some explanation of why we make the respective mistake in order to explain why STAKES and SALIENCE hold.
A mixed strategy is possible too. One might try to vindicate STAKES normatively, based on the idea that beliefs are justified only if the subject can act on the believed proposition, thus severing the link between knowledge and justified belief. Meanwhile, one can suggest that SALIENCE reflects erroneous belief formation processes (or vice versa).
All of the above accounts face challenges. It seems troublesome to sever the link between knowledge and justified belief; and error-theoretic commitments impose a burden of proof. Neither of these challenges, however, seems insurmountable at this point. Thus, I submit the above considerations as clarifications of the commitments of doxasticism, and as invitations to say more. But I won’t treat them as an objection.
The basic account
Let’s see how STAKES and SALIENCE can be used to explain non-traditional factor effects on knowledge ascriptions. Consider salient alternative effects first, and recall Buckwalter’s factorial version of the bank cases. In Bank-Plain, the possibility of changed opening hours isn’t salient. Thus, SALIENCE doesn’t stand in the way of the protagonists forming the belief that the bank will be open, and doxasticists will hold that this belief amounts to knowledge. In Bank-Error, the possibility of changed opening hours is salient. Moreover, the protagonists can’t rule it out. Thus, by SALIENCE, they won’t normally form the belief that the bank will be open. Study participants assume that things are supposed to be normal in the story they read,Footnote 10 so they will assume that the protagonists don’t form this belief. Since knowledge entails belief,Footnote 11 the protagonists will lack knowledge. According to the doxastic account, this explains why participants become less willing to ascribe knowledge.
Consider stakes effects, and recall Pinillos’ typo stories. In Typo-Low, the stakes are low and the protagonist can arguably act on the assumption that the paper is free of typos after two rounds of proofreading. Thus, after two rounds, STAKES doesn’t stand in the way of belief formation anymore, and the protagonist gains knowledge that no typos remain according to doxasticism. Meanwhile, in Typo-High, the protagonist should arguably read his paper five times before he can act on the assumption that no typos remain. Thus, five reads will normally be required for him to form the pertinent belief, given STAKES. Again, participants assume that things are supposed to be normal, and thus they assume that the protagonist will form the respective belief only after five rounds. Since knowledge entails belief, they say that he will know that the paper is free of typos only after five rounds.
Let me flag an implicit assumption in the outlined account. Even if STAKES and SALIENCE hold and even if knowledge entails belief, it doesn’t follow that judgements about the typo cases and the bank cases differ between conditions. These principles merely suggest that, on a normal construal of these cases, there will be differences in knowledge. Participants could still fail to track these differences in their judgements. To bridge this gap, we have to assume that people track the joint predictions of STAKES and SALIENCE, on the one hand, and the belief requirement on knowledge, on the other, when assessing fictitious cases like the bank cases and the typo cases. I will challenge this tracking assumption later. For now, I just want to put it on the table.Footnote 12
One immediate prediction of the doxastic account is nicely confirmed. On the doxastic account, we would expect that not only judgements about knowledge but also judgements about belief are affected by factors such as stakes and salient alternatives. After all, knowledge judgements supposedly vary because belief judgements do. Nagel et al. (2013: 656) correspondingly show that the salience of error-possibilities affects belief ascriptions. Similarly, we find stakes effects when “knows” is replaced by “believes” in the prompt from the typo studies above (Buckwalter 2014: 160–162; Buckwalter and Schaffer 2015: 209–214).Footnote 13 This is good news for the doxasticist, but the point shouldn’t be overstated. Anti-intellectualists who subscribe to the variable justification principle from above, for instance, make similar predictions, and thus the presented data equally confirms their position.
Some clarifications of the doxastic account are in order. First, doxasticism is distinct from anti-intellectualism. According to doxasticism, knowledge depends on non-traditional factors. In particular, non-traditional factors determine how much evidence is normally required to obtain knowledge by determining how much evidence is normally required for belief. Anti-intellectualism doesn’t follow because it doesn’t follow that knowledge entails different amounts of evidence depending on non-traditional factors. For instance, it is perfectly possible according to doxasticism to be in a high stakes situation, to have only moderate amounts of evidence and still to have knowledge. Such situations would merely be abnormal because we wouldn’t normally satisfy the belief condition for knowledge when we have only moderate amounts of evidence while the stakes are high.Footnote 14
Second, doxasticism is not an error-theory. On this view, the protagonist of the bank cases, for instance, actually loses knowledge once an error-possibility has been raised to salience because she loses the underlying belief (on a normal construal of the cases). Similarly, the protagonist of the typo stories actually needs more evidence for knowledge when the stakes are high because he needs more evidence for belief (on a normal construal of the cases). We’ll see later in our discussion of “egocentric bias” (Sect. 4.5) that certain types of cases force some error-theoretic commitments on the doxasticist, but so far doxasticism accommodates our intuitions.
Third, doxasticism is primarily concerned with the doxastic states of the protagonists of the cases discussed, not the doxastic states of the study participants. In maybe more familiar terms, doxasticists focus on the “subject” rather than the “ascriber” or the “assessor.” According to doxasticism, the doxastic states of the protagonists vary in line with STAKES and SALIENCE, and therefore their knowledge varies. Meanwhile, study participants simply track these facts. We’ll see later in our discussion of “egocentric bias” (Sect. 4.5) that specific cases force the doxasticist to focus on the study participant after all.
Doxasticism nicely accommodates the data presented so far, but it may appear insufficiently general. Schaffer and Knobe (2012: 695), for instance, confirm salient alternative effects, while explicitly stipulating that the protagonist’s confidence remains unaltered across conditions. Pinillos (2012: 203) similarly shows that stakes effects in his typo experiment remain when it is stipulated that the protagonist of the story forms the belief that there are no typos in his paper right after he finishes writing it. The doxastic account as outlined no longer gains traction. After all, it was based on the idea that shifts in knowledge judgements result from assumed shifts in belief. And it seems implausible that participants should make different assumptions about what the protagonists believe when the case descriptions explicitly hold this factor fixed.
An initially tempting way for doxasticists to respond is to say that the stipulated belief is unjustified when the stakes are high or an error-possibility is salient. This assumption could be based on the justification principle above, according to which high stakes and salient alternatives shift the evidential requirements for justified belief. Doxasticists could go on to claim that participants no longer want to ascribe knowledge because knowledge entails justified belief. We’ve seen though that this combination of views is unavailable to doxasticists. If knowledge entails justification and the evidential requirements for justification vary with non-traditional factors, anti-intellectualism follows. Our doxasticist, however, rejects anti-intellectualism.
Other strategies are available.Footnote 15 Recall that STAKES and SALIENCE contain an “unless”-clause. STAKES, for instance, says that we normally don’t form beliefs when we can’t act on them unless we are rushed, distracted or otherwise impaired. Now consider cases where it is stipulated that the protagonist forms the respective belief when the stakes are high or an error-possibility is salient. By STAKES and SALIENCE, this belief wouldn’t normally be formed unless the protagonist was rushed, distracted or otherwise impaired. Thus, participants will assume that the protagonist was rushed, etc. because they assume that the cases are supposed to be normal. This will make them less inclined to ascribe knowledge even if the belief condition is satisfied. After all, knowledge presumably entails that the belief was formed in a somewhat reliable way. And belief formation processes tend to become less reliable when employed while being rushed, etc. Take John in Typo-High, for instance. If he’s e.g. rushed, it becomes more likely that he misses typos when he proofreads his paper. Thus, he will be less reliable and less likely to obtain knowledge than his low stakes counterpart. Take the bank cases. A protagonist remembers her visit at the bank two weeks before. Our memory can be misleading though and when we are e.g. rushed, we are less likely to notice corresponding defeaters (such as that there was a sign on the door indicating that it was a special opening). This makes the respective belief formation process less reliable and thus less likely to yield knowledge.
A potential worry would be that we could simply stipulate that the protagonists in Bank-Error/Typo-High form their beliefs “no more hastily and with no more bias” than the protagonists in Bank-Plain/Typo-Low (Fantl and McGrath 2009: 45). One might suggest that, intuitively, this would leave stakes effects and salient alternative effects unaltered, contrary to what the indicated account predicts. These intuitions are unstable though. Nagel (2008: 293), for instance, maintains that “the inclination to ascribe knowledge to the low-stakes subject but not the high-stakes one does not persist when their cognitive situations are explained in full detail.” Further empirical research may help to determine whose intuitions are right, but I will not pursue this issue here.
Let me add that the described approach to stipulated-belief cases isn’t the only option for doxasticists. Stipulating belief may be ineffective for much more general reasons. Nagel and Smith (2017: 94), for instance, note “the limits of our powers of stipulation.” If it makes no sense in the story that the relevant protagonist forms the relevant belief (e.g. because the available evidence is way too weak), we may “instinctively” override this stipulation.Footnote 16 Relatedly, the term “belief” may be ambiguous and allow for weaker or stronger readings. Participants may choose a weaker reading to make sense of the fact that the protagonist forms a “belief” with otherwise insufficient evidence, while only a stronger reading is relevant for knowledge and governed by principles like STAKES and SALIENCE.Footnote 17
Being in a position to know
Pynn (2014: 130) suggests that non-traditional factor effects persist if we ask participants when the protagonist of the relevant story is in a position to know rather than when she knows. Doxasticism supposedly doesn’t explain this because belief is not required in order to be in a position to know. Even if a protagonist loses her belief, she may still be in a position to know.
To strengthen this worry, I confirmed the relevant intuitions in a follow-up study with the length-matched versions of Typo-Low and Typo-High from Buckwalter and Schaffer (2015: 208–209). I replaced “knows” by “is in a position to know” in the prompt from the previously reported study, where all deontic modality was removed. In line with the indicated intuitions, a stakes effect on the number of required reads remained.Footnote 18 Notice further that “is in a position to know” isn’t just a philosophical term of art. A web search reveals that it is frequently used in ordinary English too. Of course, there may be differences between the ordinary and the technical usage. All that matters at this point, though, is that neither the technical nor the ordinary notion entails belief. And this assumption should be granted by everybody.
Doxasticists can respond to this concern as follows. The present objection implicitly assumes an analysis of the notion of being in a position to know along the following lines. S is in a position to know that p iff S’s overall situation is such that if she were to form the belief that p based on her evidence, then she would know that p. On this analysis, belief plays no relevant role. But it’s not clear why we should adopt this analysis in so far as we are trying to capture a folk concept. The following analysis seems at least equally promising. S is in a position to know that p iff S’s overall situation is such that she could easily come to know that p. This would entail that S could easily come to believe that p. And, given STAKES and SALIENCE, this latter condition will be harder to meet in high stakes cases or when an additional error-possibility has been made salient. Doxasticists can argue that non-traditional factor effects remain for this reason.
Another challenge for doxasticists comes from so-called “ignorant stakes cases” and cases where the error-possibility in question is made salient to the study participants but not the protagonists of the story. I will address this challenge in what follows.
Consider ignorant stakes cases. These are case pairs where the stakes vary as in e.g. Typo-Low and Typo-High. Additionally, it is stipulated that the protagonist is unaware of what is at stake. To illustrate, consider the following ignorant high stakes case from Pinillos (2012: 216–217):
[Ignorant-Typo-High] John, a good college student, has just finished writing a two-page paper for an English class. The paper is due tomorrow. Even though John is a pretty good speller, he has a dictionary with him that he can use to check and make sure there are no typos. There is a lot at stake. The teacher is a stickler and guarantees that no one will get an A for the paper if it has a typo. He demands perfection. John, however, finds himself in an unusual circumstance. He needs an A for this paper to get an A in the class. And he needs an A in the class to keep his scholarship. Without the scholarship, he can’t stay in school. Leaving college would be devastating for John and his family who have sacrificed a lot to help John through school. So it turns out that it is extremely important for John that there are no typos in his paper. However, John is unaware of what is really at stake. He thinks the teacher does not care at all if there are some or even many typos in the paper. Although John would like to have no typos, he is unaware that it would be extremely bad for him if there is but a single typo in the paper.
Such ignorant stakes cases also trigger stakes effects (e.g. Pinillos 2012: 202–203; Pinillos and Simpson 2014). On the doxastic account, this is puzzling. After all, protagonists can’t adjust their doxastic states to their practical situation when they don’t know about it.
An analogous worry can be raised for the doxastic account of salient alternative effects. Consider, for instance, the following case pair from Alexander et al. (2014: 99).
[Furniture-Plain] John A. Doe is in a furniture store. He is looking at a bright red table under normal lighting conditions. He believes the table is red.
[Furniture-Error] John B. Doe is in a furniture store. He is looking at a bright red table under normal lighting conditions. He believes the table is red. However, a white table under red lighting conditions would look exactly the same to him, and he has not checked whether the lighting is normal, or whether there might be a red spotlight shining on the table.
Participants were assigned to either one of the stories and asked to what extent “they agreed or disagreed with the claim that John knows that the table is red” (101–102). It turns out that they were more willing to attribute knowledge in Furniture-Plain than in Furniture-Error. This is puzzling on the doxastic account. After all, the possibility of abnormal lighting conditions is made salient only to the readers of the story, not the protagonist within the story. So why should the protagonist’s doxastic state be affected?
Doxasticists can respond to this challenge by appeal to egocentric bias, a general tendency to project our own mental states onto others.Footnote 19 To accommodate the data from ignorant stakes cases, they can appeal, more specifically, to epistemic egocentrism, a pervasive failure to suppress one’s own privileged knowledge when assessing others. Royzman et al. (2003: 38), for instance, describe epistemic egocentrism as a bias consisting in
a difficulty in […] setting aside […] information (knowledge) that one knows to be unattainable to the other party, with a result that one’s prediction of another’s perspective becomes skewed toward one’s own privileged viewpoint.
We can use this bias to explain intuitions about ignorant stakes cases as follows. Participants in e.g. the Ignorant-Typo-High condition know that the stakes are high for John because they’ve read about this. Given epistemic egocentrism, they cannot suppress this privileged knowledge and project it onto him, despite the stipulation to the contrary. Once the protagonist is assumed to know about his high stakes, STAKES may lead people to conclude that he lacks the belief required for knowledge, etc.
To accommodate the data from cases where the error-possibility is presented only to the study participants, a slightly different form of egocentric bias needs to be invoked, what we could call attentional egocentrism. Gilovich et al. (2000: 212), for instance, point out that “it might be easy to confuse how salient something is to oneself with how salient it is to others.” To illustrate, participants in one of their studies were asked to don T-shirts they found embarrassing. They briefly entered a room with other study participants. After leaving the room, they estimated the number of people who were able to tell what was on their T-shirt. The estimated numbers were much higher than the actual numbers presumably because participants projected their own concern with the embarrassing T-shirt onto the onlookers, who were, in fact, much less concerned. Something similar might happen in studies where an error-possibility is salient only to the study participants. They egocentrically assume that the possibility is also salient to the protagonist of the story. Now SALIENCE can be used as before to explain salient alternative effects.Footnote 20
Doxasticists endorse an error-theory when it comes to ignorant stakes cases and cases where the error-possibility is salient only to the study participant. On their view, participants mistakenly assume that the protagonists of the stories share their knowledge and their concerns due to egocentric bias. This contrasts with the doxasticist account of basic cases and cases with a stipulation of belief. In these cases too, participants make certain assumptions about the protagonists according to doxasticism, namely, that they lack relevant beliefs or that they are rushed. These assumptions, however, supposedly follow from the perfectly justified and presumably correct assumption that the cases are intended to be normal. As such, they can hardly be called a mistake.