PhilPapers Foundation (2019)
In formal epistemology, we use mathematical methods to explore the
questions of epistemology and rational choice. What can we know? What
should we believe and how strongly? How should we act based on our
beliefs and values?
We begin by modelling phenomena like knowledge, belief, and desire
using mathematical machinery, just as a biologist might model the fluctuations of a pair of competing populations, or a physicist might model
the turbulence of a fluid passing through a small aperture. Then, we explore, discover, and justify the laws governing those phenomena, using
the precision that mathematical machinery affords.
For example, we might represent a person by the strengths of their
beliefs, and we might measure these using real numbers, which we call
credences. Having done this, we might ask what the norms are that govern
that person when we represent them in that way. How should those
credences hang together? How should the credences change in response
to evidence? And how should those credences guide the person’s actions?
This is the approach of the first six chapters of this handbook.
In the second half, we consider different representations—the set of
propositions a person believes; their ranking of propositions by their
plausibility. And in each case we ask again what the norms are that govern
a person so represented. Or, we might represent them as having both
credences and full beliefs, and then ask how those two representations
should interact with one another.
This handbook is incomplete, as such ventures often are. Formal epistemology is a much wider topic than we present here. One omission, for
instance, is social epistemology, where we consider not only individual
believers but also the epistemic aspects of their place in a social world.
Michael Caie’s entry on doxastic logic touches on one part of this topic,
but there is much more. Relatedly, there is no entry on epistemic logic, nor
any on knowledge more generally. There are still more gaps.
These omissions should not be taken as ideological choices. This material
is missing, not because it is any less valuable or interesting, but because we
failed to secure it in time. Rather than delay publication further, we chose
to go ahead with what is already a substantial collection. We anticipate a
further volume in the future that will cover more ground.
Why an open access handbook on this topic? A number of reasons. The
topics covered here are large and complex and need the space allowed
by the sort of 50 page treatment that many of the authors give. We also
wanted to show that, using free and open software, one can overcome a
major hurdle facing open access publishing, even on topics with complex
typesetting needs. With the right software, one can produce attractive, clear
publications at reasonably low cost. Indeed this handbook was created on
a budget of exactly £0 (≈ $0).
Our thanks to PhilPapers for serving as publisher, and to the authors:
we are enormously grateful for the effort they put into their entries.