Do you see what I know? On reasons, perceptual evidence, and epistemic status

Philosophical Issues (forthcoming)
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Abstract
Our epistemology can shape the way we think about perception and experience. Speaking as an epistemologist, I should say that I don’t necessarily think that this is a good thing. If we think that we need perceptual evidence to have perceptual knowledge or perceptual justification, we will naturally feel some pressure to think of experience as a source of reasons or evidence. In trying to explain how experience can provide us with evidence, we run the risk of either adopting a conception of evidence according to which our evidence isn’t very much like the objects of our beliefs that figure in reasoning (e.g., by identifying our evidence with experiences or sensations) or the risk of accepting a picture of experience according to which our perceptions and perceptual experiences are quite similar to beliefs in terms of their objects and their representational powers. But I think we have good independent reasons to resist identifying our evidence with things that don’t figure in our reasoning as premises and I think we have good independent reason to doubt that experience is sufficiently belief-like to provide us with something premise-like that can figure in reasoning. We should press pause. We shouldn’t let questionable epistemological assumptions tell us how to do philosophy of mind. I don’t think that we have good reason to think that we need the evidence of the senses to explain how perceptual justification or knowledge is possible. Part of my scepticism derives from the fact that I think we can have kinds of knowledge where the relevant knowledge is not evidentially grounded. Part of my scepticism derives from the fact that there don’t seem to be many direct arguments for thinking that justification and knowledge always requires evidential support. In this paper, I shall consider the three arguments I’ve found for thinking that justification and knowledge do always require evidential support and explain why I don’t find them convincing. I think that we can explain perceptual justification, rationality, and defeat without assuming that our experiences provide us with evidence. In the end, I think we can partially vindicate Davidson’s (notorious) suggestion that our beliefs, not experiences, provide us with reasons for forming further beliefs. This idea turns out to be compatible with foundationalism once we understand that foundational status can come from something other than evidential support.
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First archival date: 2020-06-13
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