Defeaters and Disqualifiers

Mind 128 (511):887-906 (2019)
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Abstract
Justification depends on context: even if E on its own justifies H, still it might fail to justify in the context of D. This sort of effect, epistemologists think, is due to defeaters, which undermine or rebut a would-be justifier. I argue that there is another fundamental sort of contextual feature, disqualification, which doesn't involve rebuttal or undercutting, and which cannot be reduced to any notion of screening-off. A disqualifier makes some would-be justifier otiose, as direct testimony sometimes does to distal testimony, and as manifestly decisive evidence might do to gratuitous evidence on the same team. Basing a belief on disqualified evidence, moreover, is distinctively irrational. One is not necessarily irresponsible. Instead one is turning down a free upgrade to a sleeker, stabler basis for one's beliefs. Such an upgrade would prevent wastes of epistemic effort, since someone who bases her belief on a disqualified proposition E will need to remember E and rethink her belief should E ever be defeated. The upgrade might also reduce reliance on unwieldy evidence, if E is relevant only thanks to some labyrinthine argument; and if even ideal agents should doubt their ability to follow such arguments, even they should care about disqualifiers.
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