When in Doubt, Withhold: A Defense of Two Rational Grounds for Withholding

In Kevin McCain, Scott Stapleford & Matthias Steup (eds.), Epistemic Dilemmas: New Angles, New Arguments. Routledge (forthcoming)
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Abstract

Recent work has argued that there may be cases where no attitude – including withholding – is rationally permissible. In this paper, I consider two such epistemic dilemmas, John Turri’s Dilemma from Testimony and David Alexander’s Dilemma from Doubt. Turri presents a case where one’s only evidence rules out withholding (without warranting belief or disbelief). Alexander presents a case where higher order doubt means one must withhold judgment over whether withholding judgment is rational. In both cases, the authors conclude that no doxastic attitude is warranted. In this paper, I argue against the possibility of these epistemic dilemmas. I argue that withholding cannot be irrational in either case. But meditating on the dilemmas gives us an important – and overlooked – insight into the nature of rational withholding. First, rational withholding is a function of evidence failing to sufficiently support belief or disbelief. As a result, withholding is not symmetrical to belief and disbelief. Second, there can be two distinct grounds for rational withholding. First, propositional withholding, which arises when our evidence does not support belief or disbelief in p. And second, doxastic withholding, which arises when we cannot determine whether our evidence supports belief or disbelief in p. Accepting two grounds of rational withholding licenses a kind of Weak Permissivism. But this Weak Permissivism should not be troubling to anyone.

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A. K. Flowerree
Texas Tech University

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