Higher-order defeat and intellectual responsibility

Synthese 197 (12):5435-5455 (2018)
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It’s widely accepted that higher-order defeaters, i.e., evidence that one’s belief is formed in an epistemically defective way, can defeat doxastic justification. However, it’s yet unclear how exactly such kind of defeat happens. Given that many theories of doxastic justification can be understood as fitting the schema of proper basing on propositional justifiers, we might attempt to explain the defeat either by arguing that a higher-order defeater defeats propositional justification or by arguing that it defeats proper basing. It has been argued that the first attempt is unpromising because a variety of prominent theories of propositional justification don’t imply that we lose propositional justification when gaining higher-order defeaters. This leads some scholars to take the second attempt. In this paper, I criticize this second attempt, and I defend the first attempt by arguing that a theory of propositional justification that requires intellectual responsibility can nicely account for higher-order defeat. My proposal is that we lose doxastic justification when we gain higher-order defeaters because there is no intellectually responsible way for us to maintain our original beliefs due to the defeaters.

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Ru Ye
Wuhan University


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