Irrelevant Influences

Philosophy and Phenomenological Research:134-152 (2018)
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Abstract

We often hear such casual accusations: you just believe that because you are a liberal, a Christian, an American, a woman… When such charges are made they are meant to sting—not just emotionally, but epistemically. But should they? It can be disturbing to learn that one's beliefs reflect the influence of such irrelevant factors. The pervasiveness of such influence has led some to worry that we are not justified in many of our beliefs. That same pervasiveness has led others to doubt whether there is any worry here at all. I argue that evidence of irrelevant belief influence is sometimes, but not always, undermining. My proposal picks out ordinary, non-skeptical cases in which we get evidence of error. It says that, in those cases, evidence of irrelevant influence is epistemically significant. It shows how respecting evidence of error is compatible with the epistemic lives we see ourselves living. We are fallible creatures, yes, but we are also capable and intelligent ones. We can recognize and correct for our own error so as to improve our imperfect, yet nevertheless robust, epistemic lives.

Author's Profile

Katia Vavova
Mount Holyoke College

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