Philosophy The Evidential Support Relation In Epistemology
by
Ryan Byerly
  • LAST REVIEWED: 07 October 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 19 December 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0189

Introduction

Just when does a person’s evidence support a proposition? This question is at the heart of influential evidentialist views in epistemology, which suggest that at least some epistemically valuable properties are determined by the relationship between the object of the agent’s attitudes and her evidence. When the agent adopts an attitude of belief toward some proposition, evidentialists will say that some epistemically valuable property attaches to that belief just in case the proposition believed is supported by the agent’s evidence and her belief is properly based on this evidence. A question similar to the one asked above, concerning when evidence confirms a theory, has been discussed in the philosophy of science literature, but it is not immediately obvious that the notion of evidential support at work in epistemology is the same as that at work in the philosophy of science. The focus of this bibliography is on debates concerning the nature of the evidential support relation as it appears in epistemology, with a special focus on its appearance in evidentialist views. Among the works surveyed are those devoted to the roles the evidential support relation may play in epistemology (in both evidentialist and nonevidentialist theories), those concerning the relata of the relation, those concerning the structure of the relation, and those bearing on the analysis or partial analysis of the relation. Where appropriate, as in the section Probabilistic Accounts of Evidential Support, literature from the philosophy of science concerning the evidential support or confirmation of theories will be surveyed as well.

Reference Works

General overviews, textbooks, and reference works on the topic of evidential support in epistemology are lacking. This is in part because discussion of the topic is at a nascent stage. However, there are some reference works dedicated to closely related areas which can help acquaint the reader with the topic and which highlight its importance. Among these are works dedicated to the viability of evidentialist views in epistemology, works dedicated to the nature of evidence, and works dedicated to the role of evidence in theory confirmation. In the former category are Plantinga 1998, Feldman 1992, and Mittag 2004; in the second category are Kelley 2006 and DiFate 2007; and in the final category are Hawthorne 2011 and Kuipers 1998.

  • DiFate, Victor. “Evidence.” In Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by James Fieser and Bradley Dowden. 2007.

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    Includes a large section on the evidential relation, mainly devoted to the relation in philosophy of science.

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    • Feldman, Richard. “Evidence.” In A Companion to Epistemology. Edited by Jonathan Dancy and Ernest Sosa, 349–351. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Reference, 1992.

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      Includes a subsection on evidential support which emphasizes the difficulty of stating precise conditions under which evidence supports a proposition.

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      • Hawthorne, James. “Inductive Logic.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. 2011.

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        Discusses evidential support in the context of inductive logic.

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        • Kelley, Thomas. “Evidence.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. 2006.

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          This article is especially helpful for distinguishing evidence and evidential support in epistemology from evidence and evidential support in the philosophy of science.

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          • Kuipers, Theo. “Confirmation Theory.” In The Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Vol. 2. Edited by Edward Craig. London: Routledge, 1998.

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            Includes a short section on applications of confirmation theory including applications to epistemology. Available online by subscription.

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            • Mittag, Daniel. “Evidentialism.” In Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by James Fieser and Bradley Dowden. 2004.

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              Includes a short section on support, discussing contextualist views of support and degrees of support.

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              • Plantinga, Alvin. “Religion and Epistemology.” In The Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Vol. 8. Edited by Edward Craig London: Routledge, 1998.

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                Discusses evidentialism and evidential support in the context of religious epistemology. Offers an argument-based characterization of evidentialism and a probabilistic account of support (following Locke). Available online by subscription.

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                Evidential Support and Epistemic Goods

                Interest in the evidential support relation derives primarily from the thought that the believer who believes what her evidence supports has done something good, especially when her belief is also based on such evidence. According to both evidentialist and nonevidentialist views, the evidential support relation may play a key role in the analysis of valuable epistemic properties.

                Evidential Support and Evidentialist Accounts of Epistemic Goods

                What unites evidentialist views in epistemology is that they analyze epistemic goods, or normative epistemic properties, at least partially in terms of evidence and evidential relations like the relation of evidential support. The possession of traditional epistemic goods is here thought to require evidential support. Historical advocates of such views are found in Locke 1975 and Hume 1993. Conee and Feldman 2004 offers a leading contemporary defense of an evidentialist theory of epistemic justification. Feldman 2000 defends a similar evidentialist account of epistemic obligation. Foley 1987 offers a theory of egocentric epistemic rationality in terms of a relation of fit, where fit might be partially explicated in terms of evidential support. Evidentialist theories of epistemic warrant or epistemic permission are imaginable as well. Further, because it is commonly thought that some epistemic goods are explanatorily prior to others—that, for instance, epistemic justification is partially constitutive of knowledge (see Gettier 1963) and of understanding (see Kvanvig 2003)—evidentialists are likely to think that the relation of evidential support plays a key role in the explication of these derivative epistemic goods as well. Dougherty 2011 contains exchanges between leaders in the field concerning the viability of such evidentialist accounts of traditional epistemic goods.

                • Conee, Earl, and Richard Feldman. Evidentialism: Essays in Epistemology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

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                  Includes older and more recent papers explicating and defending the authors’ evidentialist theory of justification. Some of the older papers are followed by an informative afterword.

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                  • Dougherty, Trent, ed. Evidentialism and Its Discontents. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

                    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199563500.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                    Collects papers from a variety of different epistemological perspectives which offer a range of objections and constructive criticisms of evidentialist views, particularly those of Conee and Feldman. Conee and Feldman respond to each essay.

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                    • Feldman, Richard. “The Ethics of Belief.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 60.3 (2000): 667–695.

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                      Explicates the concept of a “role” and applies it to epistemology. There are obligations which persons have in their role as believers.

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                      • Foley, Richard. The Theory of Epistemic Rationality. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1987.

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                        Egocentric rationality, according to Foley, involves fit with one’s deepest epistemic standards. If these epistemic standards are included among one’s evidence, then rationality is here defined in terms of a relation with at least some of a person’s evidence.

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                        • Gettier, Edmund. “Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?” Analysis 23.6 (1963): 121–123.

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                          Cites other historical advocates of the view that knowledge entails justification.

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                          • Hume, David. An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. 2d ed. Edited by Eric Steinberg. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1993.

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                            Herein Hume makes his famous remark that a wise man “proportions his belief to the evidence.”

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                            • Kvanvig, Jonathan. The Value of Knowledge and the Pursuit of Understanding. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

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                              Argues for a shift in epistemology from focus on knowledge to focus on understanding, where the latter does not entail the former but does entail justification.

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                              • Locke, John. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Edited by P. H. Nidditch. Oxford: Clarendon, 1975.

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                                First published in 1690. Locke was an early advocate of proportionalism—the view that the believer ought to proportion her belief to the evidence.

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                                Evidential Support and Nonevidentialist Accounts of Epistemic Goods

                                Nonevidentialist views in epistemology deny that evidential support is required for the possession of epistemic goods like justification and knowledge, which are the focus of traditional epistemology. Advocates of proper functionalist accounts of warrant and knowledge (e.g., Plantinga 1993 and Bergmann 2006) as well as advocates of virtue epistemologies (e.g., Greco 2010) often argue vigorously against the claim that evidential support is required for knowledge. This is not to say, however, that believing in accordance with what one’s evidence supports has no value according to these views. Indeed, some writers within these traditions have proposed syntheses of their views with evidentialist views, recognizing the key role played by the evidential support relation in the analysis of certain epistemic goods. Zagzebski 1996, though arguably itself inconsistent with an evidentialist account of justification (see Kvanvig 2000), opened up the possibility of broadly internalist, responsibility-based virtue epistemologies which might incorporate a significant role for evidential support. Baehr 2011 follows this lead by offering an account of justification that combines evidential support and virtue. Sosa 2009 countenances a role for evidential support in the analysis of reflective knowledge, which is distinguished from animal knowledge. The evidential support relation may also play a key role in the analysis of individual intellectual virtues, such as intellectual caution, as it does in Roberts and Wood 2007.

                                • Baehr, Jason. The Inquiring Mind: On Intellectual Virtues and Virtue Epistemology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

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                                  The book brings together some of Baehr’s earlier work, providing an introduction to the field of virtue epistemology and providing analyses of several key intellectual virtues central to inquiry.

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                                  • Bergmann, Michael. Justification without Awareness: A Defense of Epistemic Externalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.

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                                    Defends an externalist, proper function account of epistemic justification against internalist and evidentialist rivals.

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                                    • Greco, John. Achieving Knowledge: A Virtue-Theoretic Account of Epistemic Normativity. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

                                      DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511844645Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                      Argues that internalist and hence evidentialist accounts of epistemic normativity—the normativity required for knowledge—fail. Argues additionally that the sorts of things that might be accounted for by an internalist, evidentialist view will not be very valuable.

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                                      • Kvanvig, Jonathan. “Zagzebski on Justification.” Philosophy and Phenomenal Research 60.1 (2000): 191–196.

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                                        Argues that Zagzebski’s account of justification, by appealing to what the hypothetical virtuous person would believe, fails to make justification a matter of the subject’s epistemic perspective.

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                                        • Plantinga, Alvin. Warrant and Proper Function. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.

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                                          This is the second book of Plantinga’s trilogy on warrant—that which converts true belief to knowledge. Plantinga attacks classical evidentialist views, arguing that evidential support is not required for knowledge, and offers a positive proper function account of warrant.

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                                          • Roberts, Robert, and W. Jay Wood. Intellectual Virtues: An Essay in Regulative Epistemology. Oxford: Clarendon, 2007.

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                                            What is often thought to be the most valuable contribution of this book is its analysis of several important intellectual virtues, including some whose analysis partially involves the concept of evidential support.

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                                            • Sosa, Ernest. Reflective Knowledge: Apt Belief and Reflective Knowledge. Vol. 2. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

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                                              Sosa argues that a sort of epistemic support achieved through reflective coherence is necessary for acquiring the special value of reflective knowledge.

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                                              • Zagzebski, Linda Trinkaus. Virtues of the Mind: An Inquiry into the Nature of Virtue and the Ethical Foundations of Knowledge. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

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                                                Defines justification and knowledge in terms of what the virtuous person would believe.

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                                                The Relata of the Evidential Support Relation

                                                Since the evidential support relation is a relation, we might ask more specifically what it relates: What are the relata of this relation? On one side is the evidence, and on the other side is what it supports. Philosophers typically agree that what a person’s evidence supports is a proposition, but there is a great deal of disagreement about what constitutes a person’s evidence. Hacking 1975 presents an account of evidence as consisting in facts that serve as reliable signs or symptoms of something beyond themselves. Williamson 2000 argues that evidence must consist in known propositions, since only these play the theoretical roles evidence is supposed to play in various kinds of reasoning. Davidson 1990 had earlier argued in a similar vein that only something propositional could stand in the sort of explanatory, probabilistic, and logical relationships in which evidence is supposed to stand. Davidson concluded on this basis that a person’s evidence consists in propositions she believes. Unmoved by these arguments, Conee and Feldman 2008 takes evidence to consist in mental states, including experiences, since these play the role these theorists ascribe to evidence in epistemic evaluation. Bonjour 1985 argues that experiences must be included in one’s evidence. Somewhat more sympathetic with Davidson’s arguments is John McDowell (McDowell 1996), who agrees that evidence must be able to stand in rational relations but nonetheless argues that experiences can constitute evidence because of their propositional contents. John Pollock’s discussion in Pollock 1986 of defeaters for one’s evidence reveals that what is relevant for epistemic evaluation is whether the agent’s total evidence bears the right relation to the objects of her attitudes. Some discussions of evidential support nonetheless focus on the question of when individual items of evidence support propositions, suggesting that the question of when total evidential bodies support propositions can be answered best by first answering the former question about individual items. Dougherty 2011 contains several essays that bear on the question of the relata of the evidential support relation.

                                                • Bonjour, Laurence. The Structure of Empirical Knowledge. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985.

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                                                  Develops the “input objection” to show that experiences as well as beliefs must count as evidence.

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                                                  • Conee, Earl, and Richard Feldman. “Evidence.” In Epistemology: New Essays. Edited by Quentin Smith, 83–104. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

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                                                    Clarifies several key aspects of the authors’ evidentialist view, including their concept of evidence.

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                                                    • Davidson, Donald. “A Coherence Theory of Truth and Knowledge.” In Reading Rorty. Edited by Allan Malachowski, 120–138. Oxford: Blackwell, 1990.

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                                                      Davidson’s influential work in semantics is brought to bear in the defense of several coherence theories.

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                                                      • Dougherty, Trent, ed. Evidentialism and Its Discontents. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

                                                        DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199563500.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                        Especially relevant is the contribution made by Dougherty and the response of Conee and Feldman to Goldman’s piece, where they defend the idea that dispositions to recollect may count as evidence.

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                                                        • Hacking, Ian. The Emergence of Probability. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1975.

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                                                          The idea that evidence is constituted by things plays a key role in Hacking’s narration of the story of the development of modern concepts of probability.

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                                                          • McDowell, John. Mind and World. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996.

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                                                            Argues that experiences have propositional content and so can stand in rational relationships with beliefs.

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                                                            • Pollock, John. Contemporary Theories of Knowledge. Totowa, NJ: Rowman & Littlefield, 1986.

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                                                              Develops a key distinction between rebutting and undercutting defeaters.

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                                                              • Williamson, Timothy. Knowledge and Its Limits. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

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                                                                This book has been hailed by many as the most important philosophical discussion of the concept of knowledge in our time. Williamson’s thesis that a person’s evidence is equivalent with what she knows has received a great deal of attention.

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                                                                The Structure of the Evidential Support Relation

                                                                There are good questions to ask about the structure of evidential support, which mirror questions about the structure of justification and knowledge. Are all beliefs that are supported by evidence supported only by beliefs? If so, do these latter beliefs themselves need to be supported if they are to give evidential support to other beliefs? Are some of them self-supporting? And, further, do beliefs support one another in a linear fashion, such that some support others that support others and so on; or is each member of a set of beliefs supported when that set as a whole has certain properties? Thinkers such as Richard Fumerton and Robert Audi (Fumerton 2001, Audi 1999) who are sympathetic with foundationalist theories of epistemic justification will favor a linear account of support that terminates in some kind of unsupported or self-supported supporters, whether these be basic beliefs or something else, such as experiences or seemings. While some foundationalists argue that the unsupported or self-supported supporters are a fixed body of beliefs or other states, others argue that what plays the role of unsupported or self-supported supporter shifts from one context to another or is relative (on this distinction, see Williams 2007). One classic objection to foundationalist theories in general comes from Wilfrid Sellars’s myth of the given, presented in Sellars 1997, to which Pryor 2005 is the most current reply. Alternatives to foundationalism include coherentist and infinitist views. Coherentists, such as Laurence Bonjour (Bonjour 1985), will favor an account of support where a belief’s being supported is a matter of its being a member of set of beliefs that is coherent. Infinitists will favor a linear account of support where, in some sense, that account does not terminate in any unsupported or self-supported supporters. For an overview of debates between advocates of these views, see Fumerton 2010.

                                                                • Audi, Robert. “Contemporary Modest Foundationalism.” In The Theory of Knowledge: Classical and Contemporary Readings. 3d ed. Edited by Louis P. Pojman, 174–181. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1999.

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                                                                  Audi defends modest, as distinguished from classical or Cartesian, foundationalism. Modest foundationalism recognizes foundational status for perceptual beliefs.

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                                                                  • Bonjour, Laurence. The Structure of Empirical Knowledge. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985.

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                                                                    Sparked much interest in coherentist theories in the 1980s and 1990s. Bonjour later moved to a foundationalist view.

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                                                                    • Fumerton, Richard. “Classical Foundationalism.” In Resurrecting Old-Fashioned Foundationalism. Edited by Michael R. DePaul, 3–20. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001.

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                                                                      Fumerton defends classical or Cartesian, as distinguished from modest, foundationalism. Classical foundationalism denies foundational status to perceptual beliefs.

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                                                                      • Fumerton, Richard. “Foundationalist Theories of Epistemic Justification.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. 2010.

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                                                                        Mainly tracks the debate between foundationalists and coherentists.

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                                                                        • Pryor, James. “There is Immediate Justification.” In Contemporary Debates in Epistemology. Edited by Matthias Steup and Ernest Sosa, 181–202. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2005.

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                                                                          A very readable treatment of immediate justification, with responses to Sellars-like worries.

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                                                                          • Sellars, Wilfrid. Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997.

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                                                                            Originally published in 1963. This contains the influential argument against foundationalism known as “Sellars’s dilemma.”

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                                                                            • Williams, Michael. “Why (Wittgensteinian) Contextualism Is not Relativism.” Episteme 4 (2007): 93–114.

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                                                                              Emphasizes the Wittgensteinian background of contemporary contextualist accounts of what makes something foundational. Distinguishes contextualist and relativist views of foundations.

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                                                                              Probabilistic Accounts of Evidential Support

                                                                              One tempting approach to answering the question of just when a person’s evidence supports a proposition is to appeal to some kind of probabilistic account. The dominant proposal here is the positive relevance model, according to which evidence E supports a hypothesis H just in case Pr(H/E) > Pr(H). Keynes 1973 provides an early proposal like this, suggesting that a distinct kind of probability is required if the view is to be applicable to epistemology. Fumerton 1995 follows Keynes in this. Rudolf Carnap provides an alternative conception. In Carnap 1962, he defends a positive relevance account of confirmation using his concept of logical probability and argues that substantive bridge principles can be used to connect this conception of confirmation with epistemology. Swinburne 2001 provides a contemporary example using such bridge principles to link inductive probability with epistemic probability. Some Bayesians, such as Brian Weatherson (Weatherson 2007), make the connection between confirmation theory and epistemology in part by letting the values for prior probabilities be determined not by a principle of indifference or some other a priori measure (as in Carnap) but by the epistemic agent’s degrees of belief. Others, such as Maher 2010, define Bayesian probability as inductive probability given the agent’s evidence. Goodman 1955 and Glymour 1980 offer influential criticisms of the positive relevance approach toward which much recent work is directed.

                                                                              • Carnap, Rudolf. Logical Foundations of Probability. 2d ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962.

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                                                                                Discusses Carnap’s approach to inductive logic, as well as bridge principles required to apply this to epistemology.

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                                                                                • Fumerton, Richard. Metaepistemology and Skepticism. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1995.

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                                                                                  Defends an internalist account of justification which makes salient use of a Keynesian approach to probability and the direct acquaintance relation.

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                                                                                  • Glymour, Clark. Theory and Evidence. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1980.

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                                                                                    Presents a canonical account of the “problem of old evidence” for the positive relevance model.

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                                                                                    • Goodman, Nelson. Fact, Fiction, and Forecast. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1955.

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                                                                                      Here Goodman first develops his famous “grue” paradox, which has often been interpreted as presenting a challenge to applying the positive relevance model to epistemology.

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                                                                                      • Keynes, John Maynard. A Treatise on Probability. London: Macmillan, 1973.

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                                                                                        First published in 1921. Applies probability even to arithmetic.

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                                                                                        • Maher, Patrick. “Bayesian Probability.” Synthese 172.1 (2010): 119–127.

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                                                                                          Discusses problems for the common explication of Bayesian probability in terms of the agent’s degrees of belief and instead construes Bayesian probability as inductive probability given the agent’s evidence.

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                                                                                          • Swinburne, Richard. Epistemic Justification. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

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                                                                                            Swinburne argues that a proposition is epistemically probable for a subject when she is disposed to judge that proposition inductively probable when using the correct criteria for making judgments about inductive probability.

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                                                                                            • Weatherson, Brian. “The Bayesian and the Dogmatist.” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society. 107.1 (2007): 169–185.

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                                                                                              Defines support in terms of probability relevant to an a priori or informationless background.

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                                                                                              Evidential Support and Epistemic Principles

                                                                                              Several epistemologists have attempted to use principles to analyze or partially analyze relations like the evidential support relation. These principles are taken to be bedrock epistemological truths defeasibly connecting states of subjects with normative epistemic properties. An example of such a principle would be: If S is appeared to F-ly, and S has no grounds for doubt, then it is evident to S that something is F. Such principles are one of the hallmarks of Chisholm 1989, where Chisholm uses them primarily to state sufficient conditions for when some claim is reasonable, acceptable, or evident. Van Cleve 1985 and Pryor 2000 followed with similar proposals. A related view focusing on seeming states has more recently been defended in Huemer 2001. One persistent objection to this type of approach is that it is difficult to see how the advocate of such an approach can rule out in a principled way the claim that, for instance, an experience of a twenty-three-sided figure supports the proposition that there is a twenty-three-sided figure. Sosa 1988 presents this objection forcefully, while Poston 2007 offers a recent response. A second difficulty for this principle-based approach, discussed in Pollock 1986, is that the approach has a difficult time explaining what unifies the various epistemic principles.

                                                                                              Explanationist Accounts of Evidential Support

                                                                                              An alternative approach to answering the question of just when a person’s evidence supports a claim is to make use of the concept of explanation. Some philosophers have endorsed a view called explanationism, according to which a person’s evidence E supports a proposition P just when P is part of the best available explanation for E. Harman 1986 and Lycan 1988 both present accounts of justification that appeal to explanatory coherence among one’s beliefs. A proposition P is supported for a subject when it explanatorily coheres with the contents of her other beliefs. Moser 1989 and Conee and Feldman 2008 offer explanationist accounts of evidential support that permit experiences to qualify as evidence as well. Lehrer 1974 presents some early problems for explanationist accounts, including examples where a proposition that is a logical consequence of one’s evidence (and so would seem to be supported by it) fails to be explanatory of that evidence. The question of whether explanationist accounts can avoid external-world skepticism is addressed by Vogel 1990. Byerly 2012 argues that explanationist accounts have trouble accounting for justified beliefs about the future.

                                                                                              • Byerly, T. Ryan. “Explanationism and Justified Beliefs about the Future.” Erkenntnis (2012).

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                                                                                                Argues that explanationist accounts of evidential support cannot handle certain examples where beliefs about the future seem well supported. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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                                                                                                • Conee, Earl, and Richard Feldman. “Evidence.” In Epistemology: New Essays. Edited by Quentin Smith, 83–104. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

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                                                                                                  In this work Conee and Feldman for the first time offer an account of evidential support.

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                                                                                                  • Harman, Gilbert. Change in View: Principles of Reasoning. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1986.

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                                                                                                    Uses an explanationist account to defend coherentism.

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                                                                                                    • Lehrer, Keith. Knowledge. Oxford: Clarendon, 1974.

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                                                                                                      Offers several important potential counterexamples to explanationist views.

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                                                                                                      • Lycan, William. Judgement and Justification. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

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                                                                                                        Presents an explanation-based account of justification and contains a treatment of explanatory virtues.

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                                                                                                        • Moser, Paul. Knowledge and Evidence. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

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                                                                                                          Uses explanationism to account for both justification and knowledge.

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                                                                                                          • Vogel, Jonathan. “Cartesian Skepticism and Inference to the Best Explanation.” Journal of Philosophy 87.11 (1990): 658–666.

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                                                                                                            Classic defense of the idea that our evidence about the external world is best explained by the existence of such a world.

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                                                                                                            Causal and Counterfactual Accounts of Evidential Support

                                                                                                            Instead of using probabilistic relations or explanatory relations (more specifically, those running from the supported proposition to the supporting evidence) to define evidential support, one might use causal or counterfactual relations. Roughly, a person’s evidence E supports a proposition P when the right sort of causal relation connects E with (a state with content) P. Or, E supports P when the counterfactual claim (e.g., if P were false E would not be present) is true. Theories like this might be modeled on causal accounts of knowledge (e.g., Goldman 1967) or on related tracking accounts or conclusive reasons accounts of knowledge (e.g., Nozick 1981 or Dretske 1971). In this vein, Swain 1981 offers a reliable causation account of how a person’s grounds justify her beliefs. In Steup and Sosa 2005, John Hawthorne presents a difficulty for the counterfactual theories in that they tend to lead to the denial of attractive epistemic closure principles. One difficulty for causal proposals, on the other hand, is that they appear to make the epistemic properties that attach to token attitudes fundamental. Yet, as Kvanvig and Menzel 1990 points out, there are epistemic properties of type attitudes or even of propositions (such as propositional justification) that cannot be explained adequately in terms of the epistemic properties that attach to token attitudes (such as doxastic justification). Since the explanation works much more easily the other way around, it is concluded that the epistemic properties that attach to propositions or type attitudes are more basic than those properties that attach to token attitudes. This objection could perhaps be circumvented by a proposal that understood a subject’s evidence to support not by appropriately causing belief, but by appropriately causing something short of belief. Matheson and Rogers 2011 suggests an account along these lines, where evidence justifies by appropriately causing or explaining the presence of nondoxastic seeming states. Byerly 2012 criticizes such accounts on the basis that seeming states are not sui generis entities.

                                                                                                            Evidential Support and Higher-Level Attitudes or Awarenesses

                                                                                                            A final frequently discussed topic has to do with the impact on evidential support made by a subject’s taking or not taking appropriate higher-level attitudes or awareness toward her evidence. One question in this area has to do with whether the subject must have any higher-level attitudes or awareness of her evidence or of its relation to a proposition in order for that evidence to support the proposition for her. The first part of the question is very similar to a question about what it takes to have evidence. In order for evidence to support a proposition for a subject, it is plausible that this evidence must be had by her; but this having relation may well involve an attitude or awareness concerning the evidence. Feldman 2004 provides a helpful treatment of this issue, arguing that “had” evidence is exhausted by currently hosted mental states. Bonjour 1985 suggests, on the other hand, that in order to have something as evidence, the subject must be aware of it. The second part of the question is about whether the subject must have some attitude or awareness concerning the relation between her evidence and a proposition for her evidence to support that proposition. Richard Fumerton is among those who have argued that justification for believing that one’s evidence supports P (in the form of an awareness of the probabilistic relation between the two) is required for that evidence to justify believing P for the subject (Fumerton 1995). A similar requirement might be made in order for a person’s evidence to support P. Tucker 2012 argues that de re awareness of the relation between one’s evidence and P is enough. Greco 2000, on the other hand, argues that no higher-level requirement is necessary at all. Others, including Ernest Sosa and Richard Feldman (Sosa 2009 and Feldman 2009), while not arguing that higher-level attitudes or awareness are required for support, have nonetheless argued that higher-level attitudes or awareness may make contributions to at least some dimensions of epistemic normativity. Alston 1980 provides a helpful early discussion of different levels of requirements that might play key roles in epistemological theorizing.

                                                                                                            • Alston, William. “Level-Confusions in Epistemology.” Midwest Studies in Philosophy 5.1 (1980): 135–150.

                                                                                                              DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4975.1980.tb00401.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                              This is the classic paper distinguishing different levels of requirements for epistemic properties.

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                                                                                                              • Bonjour, Lawrence. The Structure of Empirical Knowledge. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985.

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                                                                                                                The suggested account of having evidence discussed in the text can be inferred from Bonjour’s discussion of what has become known as the “subject’s perspective objection” to externalist accounts of epistemic properties.

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                                                                                                                • Feldman, Richard. “Having Evidence.” In Evidentialism: Essays in Epistemology. Edited by Earl Conee and Richard Feldman. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

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                                                                                                                  Originally published in 1988 but more easily accessible here. Surveys a variety of options for explaining when a person has evidence before settling on the currently hosted mental state view.

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                                                                                                                  • Feldman, Richard. “Evidentialism, Higher-Order Evidence, and Disagreement.” Episteme 6.3 (2009): 294–312.

                                                                                                                    DOI: 10.3366/E1742360009000720Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                    Argues that puzzles about the supposed conflict between evidentialism and peer disagreement can be resolved when we see the role that taking higher-level attitudes toward our evidence can take.

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                                                                                                                    • Fumerton, Richard. Metaepistemology and Skepticism. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1995.

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                                                                                                                      At times, it is not clear whether Fumerton’s higher-level justification requirement is only for doxastic justification or for propositional justification as well. It is clear from his 2006 epistemology textbook that he intends it for propositional justification as well as doxastic.

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                                                                                                                      • Greco, John. Putting Skeptics in their Place: The Nature of Skeptical Arguments and their Role in Philosophical Inquiry. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

                                                                                                                        DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511527418Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                        Greco argues that instead of a higher-level requirement, the believing subject needs to be moved by a conscientious cognitive disposition of hers from her argument to its conclusion.

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                                                                                                                        • Sosa, Ernest. Reflective Knowledge: Apt Belief and Reflective Knowledge. Vol. 2. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

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                                                                                                                          Sosa argues that reflective knowledge is achievable only through the right sort of higher-level attitudes toward one’s first-order evidence.

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                                                                                                                          • Tucker, Chris. “Movin’ On Up: Higher-Level Requirements and Inferential Justification.” Philosophical Studies 157.3 (2012): 323–340.

                                                                                                                            DOI: 10.1007/s11098-010-9650-9Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                            Discusses a variety of higher-level requirements on inferential justification before settling on either an acquaintance requirement or a seemings requirement.

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