Higher-Order Defeat Without Epistemic Dilemmas

Logos and Episteme 9 (4):451-465 (2018)
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Many epistemologists have endorsed a version of the view that rational belief is sensitive to higher-order defeat. That is to say, even a fully rational belief state can be defeated by misleading higher-order evidence, which indicates that the belief state is irrational. In a recent paper, however, Maria Lasonen-Aarnio calls this view into doubt. Her argument proceeds in two stages. First, she argues that higher-order defeat calls for a two-tiered theory of epistemic rationality. Secondly, she argues that there seems to be no satisfactory way of avoiding epistemic dilemmas within a two-tiered framework. Hence, she concludes that the prospects look dim for making sense of higher-order defeat within a broader theoretical picture of epistemic rationality. Here I aim to resist both parts of Lasonen-Aarnio’s challenge. First, I outline a way of accommodating higher-order defeat within a single-tiered framework, by amending epistemic rules with appropriate provisos for different kinds of higher-order defeat. Secondly, I argue that those who nevertheless prefer to accommodate higher-order defeat within a two-tiered framework can do so without admitting to the possibility of epistemic dilemmas, since epistemic rules are not always accompanied by ‘oughts’ in a two-tiered framework. The considerations put forth thus indirectly vindicate the view that rational belief is sensitive to higher-order defeat.
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