Dispossessing Defeat

Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 101 (2):323-340 (2020)
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Abstract

Higher‐order evidence can make an agent doubt the reliability of her reasoning. When this happens, it seems rational for the agent to adopt a cautious attitude towards her original conclusion, even in cases where the higher‐order evidence is misleading and the agent's original reasons were actually perfectly good. One may think that recoiling to a cautious attitude in the face of misleading self‐doubt involves a failure to properly respond to one's reasons. My aim is to show that this is not so. My proposal is that (misleading) higher‐order evidence can undermine the agent's possession of her first‐order reasons, constituting what I call a dispossessing defeater. After acquiring the higher‐order evidence, the agent is no longer in a position to rely competently on the relevant first‐order considerations as reasons for her original conclusion, so that such reasons stop being available to her (even if they remain as strong as in the absence of the higher‐order evidence). In this way, an agent with misleading higher‐order evidence can adopt a cautious stance towards her original conclusion, while properly responding to the set of reasons that she possesses–a set that is reduced due to the acquisition of higher‐order dispossessing defeaters.

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