The Problem of Respecting Higher-Order Doubt

Philosophers' Imprint 13 (2013)
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Abstract

This paper argues that higher-order doubt generates an epistemic dilemma. One has a higher-order doubt with regards to P insofar as one justifiably withholds belief as to what attitude towards P is justified. That is, one justifiably withholds belief as to whether one is justified in believing, disbelieving, or withholding belief in P. Using the resources provided by Richard Feldman’s recent discussion of how to respect one’s evidence, I argue that if one has a higher-order doubt with regards to P, then one is not justified in having any attitude towards P. Otherwise put: No attitude towards the doubted proposition respects one’s higher-order doubt. I argue that the most promising response to this problem is to hold that when one has a higher-order doubt about P, the best one can do to respect such a doubt is to simply have no attitude towards P. Higher-order doubt is thus much more rationally corrosive than non-higher-order doubt, as it undermines the possibility of justifiably having any attitude towards the doubted proposition.

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David J. Alexander
Iowa State University

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