Being neutral: Agnosticism, inquiry and the suspension of judgment

Noûs 55 (2):463-484 (2021)
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Epistemologists often claim that in addition to belief and disbelief there is a third, neutral, doxastic attitude. Various terms are used: ‘suspending judgment’, ‘withholding’, ‘agnosticism’. It is also common to claim that the factors relevant to the justification of these attitudes are epistemic in the narrow sense of being factors that bear on the strength or weakness of one’s epistemic position with respect to the target proposition. This paper addresses two challenges to such traditionalism about doxastic attitudes. The first concerns the relevance of non-epistemic factors we might call "future-comparative" – e.g., that you’ll have more decisive evidence on whether p tomorrow – to the justification of suspending judgment. The second, from Jane Friedman, is to explain the point of the neutral attitude without appealing to inquiry and thus taking goal-related factors, which are not epistemic, such as the value of the goal or the prospects for finding means to achieve it, to bear on the justification of the neutral attitude. My defense of traditionalism relies on distinguishing three ways of being neutral on a question: agnosticism, inquiry and suspension of judgment. Traditionalism is saved because, of these, agnosticism alone is a genuine doxastic attitude.

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Matthew McGrath
Washington University in St. Louis


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