The basing relation and the impossibility of the debasing demon

American Philosophical Quarterly 55 (3):203 (2018)
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Descartes’ demon is a deceiver: the demon makes things appear to you other than as they really are. However, as Descartes famously pointed out in the Second Meditation, not all knowledge is imperilled by this kind of deception. You still know you are a thinking thing. Perhaps, though, there is a more virulent demon in epistemic hell, one from which none of our knowledge is safe. Jonathan Schaffer thinks so. The “Debasing Demon” he imagines threatens knowledge not via the truth condition on knowledge, but via the basing condition. This demon can cause any belief to seem like it’s held on a good basis, when it’s really held on a bad basis. Several recent critics, Conee, Ballantyne & Evans ) grant Schaffer the possibility of such a debasing demon, and argue that the skeptical conclusion doesn’t follow. By contrast, we argue that on any plausible account of the epistemic basing relation, the “debasing demon” is impossible. Our argument for why this is so gestures, more generally, to the importance of avoiding common traps by embracing mistaken assumptions about what it takes for a belief to be based on a reason.

Author Profiles

Patrick Bondy
Wichita State University
James Carter
Oxford University


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