A Plea for Epistemic Excuses

In Fabian Dorsch Julien Dutant (ed.), The New Evil Demon Problem. Oxford University Press (forthcoming)
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The typical epistemology course begins with a discussion of the distinction between justification and knowledge and ends without any discussion of the distinction between justification and excuse. This is unfortunate. If we had a better understanding of the justification-excuse distinction, we would have a better understanding of the intuitions that shape the internalism-externalism debate. My aims in this paper are these. First, I will explain how the kinds of excuses that should interest epistemologists exculpate. Second, I will explain why the intuitions that underwrite the new evil demon argument don't provide support for the internalist claim that justification is just in the head. The positive response that Cohen's example elicits is an indication that the subject should be excused if she violates an epistemic norm, not an indication that no norm has been violated. For just about any conceivable norm we can think of we can imagine situations in which someone violates that norm because they're moved by evidence that misleadingly suggests that they'd conform to it. When that happens, we'll respond positively in just the way we do when we consider Cohen's deceived subjects. When that happens, we cannot say that the subjects' responses were justified because we've stipulated that the subjects' responses contravene the relevant norms. Regardless of whether you think of norms along internalist or externalist lines, you should see that the intuitions that underwrite the new evil demon objection tell us nothing at all about whether a subject conforms to a norm. They tell us nothing about justification

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Clayton Littlejohn
Australian Catholic University


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