Epistemic dependence and cognitive ability

Synthese 197 (7):2895-2912 (2017)
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In a series of papers, Jesper Kallestrup and Duncan Pritchard argue that the thesis that knowledge is a cognitive success because of cognitive ability (robust virtue epistemology) is incompatible with the idea that whether or not an agent’s true belief amounts to knowledge can significantly depend upon factors beyond her cognitive agency (epistemic dependence). In particular, certain purely modal facts seem to preclude knowledge, while the contribution of other agents’ cognitive abilities seems to enable it. Kallestrup and Pritchard’s arguments are targeted against views that hold that all it takes to manifest one’s cognitive agency is to properly exercise one’s belief-forming abilities. I offer an account of the notion of cognitive ability according to which our epistemic resources are not exhausted by abilities to produce true beliefs as outputs, but also include dispositions to stop belief-formation when actual or modal circumstances are not suitable for it (precautionary cognitive abilities). Knowledge, I argue, can be accordingly conceived as a cognitive success that is also due to the latter. The resulting version of robust virtue epistemology helps explain how purely modal facts as well as other agents’ cognitive abilities may have a bearing on the manifestation of one’s cognitive agency, which shows in turn that robust virtue epistemology and epistemic dependence are not incompatible after all.

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Fernando Broncano-Berrocal
Universitat de Barcelona


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