Losing knowledge by thinking about thinking

In Jessica Brown & Mona Simion (eds.), Reasons, Justification, and Defeat. Oxford Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 69-92 (2021)
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Defeat cases are often taken to show that even the most securely-based judgment can be rationally undermined by misleading evidence. Starting with some best-case scenario for perceptual knowledge, for example, it is possible to undermine the subject’s confidence in her sensory faculties until it becomes unreasonable for her to persist in her belief. Some have taken such cases to indicate that any basis for knowledge is rationally defeasible; others have argued that there can be unreasonable knowledge. I argue that defeat cases really involve not an exposure of weakness in the basis of a judgment, but a shift in that basis. For example, when threatening doubts are raised about whether conditions are favorable for perception, one shifts from a basis of unreflective perceptual judgment to a basis of conscious inference. In these cases, the basis of one’s knowledge is lost, rather than rationally undermined. This approach to defeat clears the path for a new way to defend infallibilism in epistemology, and a new understanding of what can count as the basis of any instance of knowledge.

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Jennifer Nagel
University of Toronto, Mississauga


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