Indoctrination Anxiety and the Etiology of Belief

Synthese 193 (10):3079-3098 (2016)
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People sometimes try to call others’ beliefs into question by pointing out the contingent causal origins of those beliefs. The significance of such ‘Etiological Challenges’ is a topic that has started attracting attention in epistemology. Current work on this topic aims to show that Etiological Challenges are, at most, only indirectly epistemically significant, insofar as they bring other generic epistemic considerations to the agent’s attention. Against this approach, we argue that Etiological Challenges are epistemically significant in a more direct and more distinctive way. An Etiological Challenge prompts the agent to assess whether her beliefs result from practices of indoctrination, and whether she should reduce confidence in those beliefs, given the anti-reliability of indoctrination as a method of belief-acquisition. Our analysis also draws attention to some of the ways in which epistemic concerns interact with political issues—e.g. relating to epistemic injustice, identity-based discrimination, and segregation—when we’re thinking about the contingent causal origins of our beliefs.

Author Profiles

Robert Mark Simpson
University College London
Joshua DiPaolo
California State University, Fullerton


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