Does Murphy's Law Apply in Epistemology?: Self-Doubt and Rational Ideals

In Tamar Szabo Gendler & John Hawthorne (eds.), Oxford Studies in Epistemology:Volume 2: Volume 2. Oxford University Press (2007)
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Formally inclined epistemologists often theorize about ideally rational agents—agents who exemplify rational ideals, such as probabilistic coherence, that human beings could never fully realize. This approach can be defended against the well-known worry that abstracting from human cognitive imperfections deprives the approach of interest. But a different worry arises when we ask what an ideal agent should believe about her own cognitive perfection (even an agent who is in fact cognitively perfect might, it would seem, be uncertain of this fact). Consideration of this question reveals an interesting feature of the structure of our epistemic ideals: for agents with limited information, our epistemic ideals turn out to conflict with one another. This suggests that we must revise the way we see ideal agents in epistemic theorizing.

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David Christensen
Brown University


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