Relevance and risk: How the relevant alternatives framework models the epistemology of risk

Synthese 199 (1-2):481-511 (2020)
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The epistemology of risk examines how risks bear on epistemic properties. A common framework for examining the epistemology of risk holds that strength of evidential support is best modelled as numerical probability given the available evidence. In this essay I develop and motivate a rival ‘relevant alternatives’ framework for theorising about the epistemology of risk. I describe three loci for thinking about the epistemology of risk. The first locus concerns consequences of relying on a belief for action, where those consequences are significant if the belief is false. The second locus concerns whether beliefs themselves—regardless of action—can be risky, costly, or harmful. The third locus concerns epistemic risks we confront as social epistemic agents. I aim to motivate the relevant alternatives framework as a fruitful approach to the epistemology of risk. I first articulate a ‘relevant alternatives’ model of the relationship between stakes, evidence, and action. I then employ the relevant alternatives framework to undermine the motivation for moral encroachment. Finally, I argue the relevant alternatives framework illuminates epistemic phenomena such as gaslighting, conspiracy theories, and crying wolf, and I draw on the framework to diagnose the undue skepticism endemic to rape accusations.

Author's Profile

Georgi Gardiner
University of Tennessee, Knoxville


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