Epistemic Atonement

In Russ Shafer-Landau (ed.), Oxford Studies in Metaethics Volume 18. Oxford University Press (2023)
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When we think about agents who change a long-standing belief, we sometimes have conflicting reactions. On the one hand, such agents often epistemically improve. For example, their new belief may be better supported by the evidence or closer to the truth. On the other hand, such agents are often subject to criticism. Examples include politicians who change their minds on whether climate change is occurring or whether vaccines cause autism. What explains this criticism, and is it ever justified? To answer these questions, I introduce the notion of epistemic atonement. By epistemic atonement, I mean the process of making up for one’s previous epistemic failures, including believing badly. Central to my account is the idea that epistemic atonement requires restoring trust and indicating trustworthiness. I flesh out my proposal by drawing on philosophical and empirical literature on apologies, demonstrating that epistemic blame and atonement parallels the moral domain in various under-appreciated respects.

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Elise Woodard
King's College London


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