Research Description

(Click here for description of individual papers.)

My main research interests lie in epistemology. I am currently investigating the connections between beliefs and inquiry. In my dissertation I propose a view of beliefs according to which beliefs are mental states that function to close (or foreclose) inquiry. I show that this account of belief can shed light on different phenomena that have emerged in the epistemology literature recently: it can explain why beliefs are necessary for the (appropriate) formation of reactive attitudes like blame, why the rationality of beliefs is sensitive to practical factors, and even why there can be certain cases in which beliefs appear to be “weak” — i.e. cases where it seems rational to believe something while having a relatively low credence in that claim. I argue that explaining these phenomena in terms of the relationship between beliefs and inquiry not only offers a unified explanation of each of these phenomena, but in fact such an explanation often proves superior to alternative explanations in the literature. I plan to develop this research program in the near future to address questions concerning the conditions of doxastic wronging. 

Besides the question of the nature and norms of belief, I am also interested in the norms governing our degrees of confidence. In a paper entitled “Accuracy and Credal Imprecision” (published in Nous and co-authored with Nilanjan Das) I consider Miriam Schoenfield’s argument that for each imprecise credal state, there will be a precise credal state that is just as accurate. We prove that Schoenfield’s argument only applies to a very small range of cases, but then develop a generalization that extends to all cases. Additionally, we point out that construed in this way, the results are worse than Schoenfield predicts: Not only are imprecise credences not more accurate than precise credences, but they are accuracy dominated by precise credences in most cases. 

Papers

Accuracy and Credal Imprecision (with Nilanjan Das)

Noûs 54 (3):666-703.

Published version here.

Many have claimed that epistemic rationality sometimes requires us to have imprecise credal states (i.e. credal states representable only by sets of credence functions) rather than precise ones (i.e. credal states representable by single credence functions). Some writers have recently argued that this claim conflicts with accuracy-centered epistemology, i.e., the project of justifying epistemic norms by appealing solely to the overall accuracy of the doxastic states they recommend. But these arguments are far from decisive. In this essay, we prove some new results, which show that there is little hope for reconciling the rationality of credal imprecision with accuracy-centered epistemology.

A paper on pragmatic encroachment (title redacted)

Draft available here!

The traditional explanation of pragmatic encroachment in the literature holds that an agent must be able to rationally rely on a belief in her actions or her reasoning in order to be epistemically justified in having that belief. However, there is a class of intuitively low-stakes cases where it is nevertheless not rational for us to rely on our beliefs. The traditional explanation thus predicts that pragmatic encroachment occurs in such cases, but given the low stakes involved, this seems to be the intuitively wrong result. I propose a new account of how pragmatic encroachment is possible that I call the inquiry-based explanation. This explanation accounts for pragmatic encroachment by pointing out that an agent in a high stakes situation is often required to inquire further and argues that inquiring further is incompatible with rational belief. I argue that we should prefer this explanation to the traditional one. 

A paper on belief and inquiry (title redacted)

Draft available here!

See here for a shorter version. 

This paper defends an inquiry-based view of belief, according to which an agent believes some proposition P iff she has closed inquiry into some question Q (of which P is a complete answer) by concluding that P. The paper gives a new motivation for such an inquiry-based view of belief by considering the role that beliefs play in the formation of reactive attitudes. It argues that adopting the inquiry-based view is necessary for a view on which it is beliefs and not other mental states that license the forming of such reactive attitudes. The paper also defends the inquiry-based view from an objection that arises when we consider cases of double-checking. Finally the paper considers which norms might govern belief if the inquiry-based view is true. It proposes two such norms and argues that they prove fruitful in explaining different phenomena such as weak belief and pragmatic encroachment. 

A paper on weak belief (title redacted)

Draft available here!

Recently several authors have argued that belief can be weak — i.e. that it can sometimes be rational to believe some proposition P even though one’s evidence for P only supports a credence in P that is below 0.5. These authors explain the idea that beliefs can be weak by holding that beliefs are essentially our (best) guesses in response to different questions. One problem with these explanations is that on such a view of belief, belief can’t play many of the interesting roles that it has been thought to play (such as licensing reactive attitudes, constituting our picture of the world, etc.). However I argue that the inquiry-based view of belief can explain both how belief might be weak and allow beliefs to play all these roles. The idea is that weak belief can be rational on the inquiry-based picture because in some situations it might be rational to close inquiry into a question Q by answering P, as long as P is more likely than the other alternatives I’m considering as possible answers to Q. Sometimes these alternatives might be “P, Q and R” rather than “P and not-P” and so P might be more likely than Q and R, even though my credence in P is below 0.5.

Norms for Beliefs and Norms for Inquiry

Draft available soon!

This paper discusses the question of how the traditional norms for belief fit into a more general picture of epistemology as related to inquiry. I respond to a recent paper by Jane Friedman in which she argues that there is a tension between the norms of inquiry and the norms of belief. In order to inquire successfully into question Q I have to focus on my inquiry and it is not rationally permissible to form beliefs about unrelated topics. However, according to the norms of belief it is always appropriate to form a belief as long as I have enough evidence for it. Friedman argues if I thus form a belief about some irrelevant proposition P this belief is rationally permitted by the norms of belief but impermissible according to the norms of inquiry. I argue that this tension disappears if we consider the norms for beliefs merely as norms for how to close inquiries that we have already started. It’s less clear that the norms of inquiry would forbid me to close an inquiry that I have already started if I can do so. On such an understanding of the norms of belief, they fit nicely into an epistemology of inquiry.