Scepticism, defeasible evidence and entitlement

Philosophical Studies 168 (2):439-455 (2014)
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Abstract
The paper starts by describing and clarifying what Williamson calls the consequence fallacy. I show two ways in which one might commit the fallacy. The first, which is rather trivial, involves overlooking background information; the second way, which is the more philosophically interesting, involves overlooking prior probabilities. In the following section, I describe a powerful form of sceptical argument, which is the main topic of the paper, elaborating on previous work by Huemer. The argument attempts to show the impossibility of defeasible justification, justification based on evidence which does not entail the (allegedly) justified proposition or belief. I then discuss the relation between the consequence fallacy, or some similar enough reasoning, and that form of argument. I argue that one can resist that form of sceptical argument if one gives up the idea that a belief cannot be justified unless it is supported by the totality of the evidence available to the subject—a principle entailed by many prominent epistemological views, most clearly by epistemological evidentialism. The justification, in the relevant cases, should instead derive solely from the prior probability of the proposition. A justification of this sort, that does not rely on evidence, would amount to a form of entitlement, in (something like) Crispin Wright’s sense. I conclude with some discussion of how to understand prior probabilities, and how to develop the notion of entitlement in an externalist epistemological framework
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