Papers

Trusting Scientific Experts in an Online World. Forthcoming. Synthese.

  • A perennial problem in social epistemology is the problem of expert testimony, specifically expert testimony regarding scientific issues: for example, while it is important for me to know information pertaining to anthropogenic climate change, vaccine safety, Covid-19, etc., I may lack the scientific background required to determine whether the information I come across is, in fact, true. Without being able to evaluate the science itself, then, I need to find trustworthy expert testifiers to listen to. A major project in social epistemology has thus become determining what the markers of trustworthiness are that laypersons can appeal to in order to identify and acquire information from expert testifiers. At the same time, the ways in which we acquire scientific information has changed significantly, with much of it nowadays being acquired in online environments. While much has been said about the potential pitfalls of seeking information online (e.g. the prevalence of filter bubbles, echo chambers, and the overall proliferation of “fake news”), little has been said about how the nature of seeking information online should make us think about the problem of expert testimony. Indeed, it seems to be an underlying assumption that good markers of trustworthiness apply equally well when seeking information from expert testifiers in online and offline environments alike, and that the new challenges and opportunities presented by online environments merely affects the methods by which we can acquire evidence of said trustworthiness. Here I argue that in making this assumption one risks failing to account for how unique features of the ways in which we acquire information online affect how we evaluate the trustworthiness of experts. Specifically, I argue for two main claims: first, that the nature of information-seeking online is such that the extent to which information is susceptible to manipulation is a dominant marker of trustworthiness; second, as a result, one will be more likely to seek out a particular kind of expert testifier in online environments, what I call a cooperative as opposed to preemptive expert. The result is that criteria for expert trustworthiness may look significantly different when acquiring information online as opposed to offline.

Christine Ladd-Franklin on the Nature and Unity of the Proposition. Forthcoming. British Journal for the History of Philosophy.

  • Although in recent years Christine Ladd-Franklin has received recognition for her contributions to logic and psychology, her role in late 19th and early 20th century philosophy, as well as her relationship with American pragmatism, has yet to be fully appreciated. My goal here is to attempt to better understand Ladd-Franklin’s place in the pragmatist tradition by drawing attention to her work on the nature and unity of the proposition. The question concerning the unity of the proposition – namely, the problem of how to determine what differentiates a mere collection of terms from a unified and meaningful proposition – received substantial attention in Ladd-Franklin’s time, and would continue to interest analytic philosophers well into the 20th century. I argue that Ladd-Franklin had a distinct theory of the proposition and solution to the problem of the unity of the proposition that she developed over the course of her writings on logic and philosophy. In spelling out her views I will also show how her work interacted with that of the pragmatist who was her greatest influence, C.S. Peirce.

Group Epistemology and Structural Factors in Online Group Polarization. Forthcoming. Episteme.

  • There have been many discussions recently from philosophers, cognitive scientists, and psychologists about group polarization, particularly with regards to political issues and scientific issues that have become markers of social identity, such as anthropogenic climate change and vaccine hesitancy. Online and social media environments in particular have received a lot of attention in these discussions, both because of people’s increasing reliance on such environments for receiving and exchanging information, and because such environments often allow individuals to selectively interact with those who are like-minded. My goal here is to argue that the group epistemologist can facilitate understanding the kinds of factors that drive group polarization in a way that has been overlooked by the existing research. Specifically, I argue that polarization can occur in part because of the ways that members of a group treat the group itself (as opposed to an individual member within that group) as a source of information, and in doing so makes their own position, as well as that of the group, more extreme. I refer to this as a structural factor in driving polarization, as it is a factor that is produced by the general nature of the relationship between a group and its members.

Would We Lie To You? Review of The Epistemology of Groups. 2021. Metascience.

  • A review of Jennifer Lackey’s The Epistemology of Groups.

Beyond Politics: Additional Factors Underlying Skepticism of the COVID-19 Vaccine. 2021. History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences.

  • Even before it had been developed there had already been skepticism among the general public concerning a vaccine for COVID-19. What are the factors that drive this skepticism? While much has been said about how political differences are at play, in this article I draw attention to two additional factors that have not received as much attention: witnessing the fallibility of the scientific process play out in real time, and a perceived breakdown of the distinction between experts and non-experts.

Pragmatic Encroachment and Political Ignorance. 2021. In Hannon, Michael and Jeroen de Ridder (eds.). Routledge Handbook of Political Epistemology.

  • Take pragmatic encroachment to be the view that whether one knows that p is determined at least in part by the practical consequences surrounding the truth of p. This view represents a significant departure from the purist orthodoxy, which holds that only truth-relevant factors determine whether one knows. In this chapter I consider some consequences of accepting pragmatic encroachment when applied to problems of political knowledge and political ignorance: first, that there will be cases in which it will not be practically rational to acquire political knowledge when the stakes surrounding one’s political actions are high; second, that political knowledge can be more easily acquired when one values the welfare of others less; and third, that pragmatic encroachment may fail to account for a form of epistemic injustice when it comes to evaluating the political knowledge of members of marginalized groups. I argue that while these consequences are undesirable, the extent to which the pragmatic encroacher is committed to them depends both on the details of the theory, as well as the extent to which one considers political knowledge to be important.

Group Understanding. Forthcoming. Synthese.

  • While social epistemologists have recently begun addressing questions about whether groups can possess beliefs or knowledge, little has yet been said about whether groups can properly be said to possess understanding. Here I want to make some progress on this question by considering two possible accounts of group understanding, modeled on accounts of group belief and knowledge: a deflationary account, according to which a group understands just in case most or all of its members understand, and an inflationary account, according to which a group’s understanding does not depend solely on whether its members understand. Despite its problems, I make a case for the inflationary account. This will require addressing the problem of distributed grasping: to do this, I propose a different way of thinking about the grasping relation at the group level, such that it is constituted by a dependency relationship between members.

Moral Understanding and Cooperative Testimony. 2020. Canadian Journal of Philosophy.

  • It is has been argued that there is a problem with moral testimony: testimony is deferential, and basing judgments and actions on deferentially acquired knowledge prevents them from having moral worth. What morality perhaps requires of us, then, is that we understand why a proposition is true, but this is something that cannot be acquired through testimony. I argue here that testimony can be both deferential as well as cooperative, and that one can acquire moral understanding through cooperative testimony. The problem of moral testimony is thus not a problem with testimony generally, but a problem of deferential testimony specifically.

Environmental Luck and the Structure of Understanding. 2020. Episteme: 1-15.

  • Conventional wisdom holds that there is no lucky knowledge: if it is a matter of luck, in some relevant sense, that one’s belief that p is true, then one does not know that p. One sense of luck that is generally recognized to be incompatible with knowledge is environmental luck. While knowledge has traditionally been the primary interest of epistemologists, understanding has recently been receiving significant attention. While there is as of yet little consensus regarding a theory of understanding, one way we can work towards developing such a theory is by considering whether the kinds of factors that are important for determining whether one knows are also important for determining whether one understands. The question I want to address here is the following: is environmental luck incompatible with understanding in the way that is for knowledge? I argue that it is. This argument has three parts. First, we need to determine how we evaluate whether one has understanding, which requires determining what I will call understanding’s evaluative object. I argue that as the evaluative object of (at least a traditional conception of) knowledge is a belief in a proposition, the evaluative object of understanding is a mental representation of a relational structure. Next, I show that arguments that environmental luck is incompatible with understanding miss the mark by considering cases in which one has a belief in a proposition is lucky to be true, instead of ones in which one’s mental representation of a relational structure is lucky to obtain. I agree, then, with those who argue that one can have understanding when one’s beliefs are environmentally lucky to be true, but that this compatibility is not relevant when considering the question of whether one can have environmentally lucky understanding. I then present what I take to be a properly constructed case which shows the incompatibility of environmental luck with understanding.

“Developing a Model of Groupstrapping: A Response to Baumgaertner and Nguyen.” 2019. Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 8(8): 32-39.

  • In their responses to my article “Epistemically Pernicious Groups and the Groupstrapping Problem” (Boyd, 2018), Bert Baumgaertner (“Groupstrapping, Boostrapping, and Oops-strapping: A Reply to Boyd”) and C. Thi Nguyen (“Group-strapping, Bubble, or Echo Chamber?”) have raised interesting questions and opened lines of inquiry regarding my discussion of what I hope to be a way to help make sense of how members of groups can continue to hold beliefs that are greatly outweighed by countervailing evidence (e.g. antivaxxers, climate-change deniers, etc.). Here I respond to these arguments and suggestions by providing three new reasons to believe that groupstrapping as I describe it occurs in epistemically pernicious groups.

Epistemically Pernicious Groups and the Groupstrapping Problem. 2018. Social Epistemology 33(1): 61-73.

  • Recently, there has been growing concern that increased partisanship in news sources, as well as new ways in which people acquire information, has led to a proliferation of epistemic bubbles and echo chambers: in the former, one tends to acquire information from a limited range of sources, ones that generally support the kinds of beliefs that one already has, while the latter function in the same way, but possess the additional characteristic that certain beliefs are actively reinforced. Here I argue, first, that we should conceive of epistemic bubbles and echo chambers as types of epistemically pernicious groups, and second, that while analyses of such groups have typically focused on relationships between individual members, at least part of what such groups epistemically pernicious pertains to the way that members rely on the groups themselves as sources of information. I argue that member reliance on groups results in groups being attributed a degree of credibility that outruns their warrant, a process I call groupstrapping. I argue that by recognizing the groupstrapping as an illicit method of forming and updating beliefs we can make progress on some of the open questions concerning epistemically pernicious groups.

Peirce on Intuition, Instinct, and Common Sense. 2017. European Journal of Pragmatism and American Philosophy (2): 1-25.

  • In addition to being a founder of American pragmatism, Charles Sanders Peirce was a scientist and an empiricist. A core aspect of his thoroughgoing empiricism was a mindset that treats all attitudes as revisable. His fallibilism seems to require us to constantly seek out new information, and to not be content holding any beliefs uncritically. At the same time, Peirce often states that common sense has an important role to play in both scientific and vital inquiry, and that there cannot be any “direct profit in going behind common sense.” Our question is the following: alongside a scientific mindset and a commitment to the method of inquiry, where does common sense fit in? Peirce does at times directly address common sense; however, those explicit engagements are relatively infrequent. In this paper, we argue that getting a firm grip on the role of common sense in Peirce’s philosophy requires a three-pronged investigation, targeting his treatment of common sense alongside his more numerous remarks on intuition and instinct. By excavating and developing Peirce’s concepts of instinct and intuition, we show that his respect for common sense coheres with his insistence on the methodological superiority of inquiry. We conclude that Peirce shows us the way to a distinctive epistemic position balancing fallibilism and anti-scepticism, a pragmatist common sense position of considerable interest for contemporary epistemology given current interest in the relation of intuition and reason.

Testifying Understanding. 2017. Episteme 14(1): 103-127.

  • While it is widely acknowledged that knowledge can be acquired via testimony, it has been argued that understanding cannot. While there is no consensus about what the epistemic relationship of understanding consists in, I argue here that regardless of how understanding is conceived there are kinds of understanding that can be acquired through testimony: easy understanding (e.g. understanding simple and mundane information) and easys understanding (e.g. understanding information that might be complex, but is nevertheless easy for an expert S). I address a number of aspects of understanding that might stand in the way of being able to acquire understanding through testimony, focusing on understanding’s paradigmatic form and what it means to say that in order to understand something you need to “grasp” some information or the relationship between bits of information. I argue that in cases of both easy and easys understanding, no aspect of understanding stands in the way of it being able to acquire it through testimony. As a result, while not all understanding be acquired through testimony in all instances and for all subjects, this failure of acquisition is only a product of the complexity of the relevant information or one’s unfamiliarity with it, and not a product of the epistemic relationship of understanding.

Rascals, Triflers, and Pragmatists: Developing a Peircean Account of Assertion. (Co-Authored with Diana Heney). 2017. British Journal for the History of Philosophy 25(2): 287-308.

  • While the topic of assertion has recently received a fresh wave of interest from Peirce scholars, to this point no systematic account of Peirce’s view of assertion has been attempted. We think that this is a lacuna that ought to be filled. Doing so will help make better sense of Peirce’s pragmatism; further, what is hidden amongst various fragments is a robust pragmatist theory of assertion with unique characteristics that may have significant contemporary value. Here we aim to uncover this theory, and to show that assertion for Peirce is not a mere corollary of pragmatic conceptions of truth, judgement, and belief, but is rather a central aspect of his philosophy.

Pragmatic Encroachment and Epistemically Responsible Action. 2016. Synthese 193(9): 2721-2745.

  • One prominent argument for pragmatic encroachment (PE) is that PE is entailed by a combination of a principle that states that knowledge warrants proper practical reasoning, and judgments that it is more difficult to reason well when the stakes go up. I argue here that this argument is unsuccessful. One problem is that empirical tests concerning knowledge judgments in high-stakes situations only sometimes exhibit the result predicted by PE. I argue here that those judgments that appear to support PE are better interpreted not as judgments that the epistemic demands for knowing increase as one’s practical situation becomes more demanding, but instead as judgments reflecting a different kind of normative epistemic evaluation, namely whether one is acting in an epistemically responsible way. The general idea is that when someone treats a proposition as a reason for acting we can evaluate them epistemically both in terms of whether they know that proposition, as well as in terms of whether they are acting on their knowledge in the right kind of way. My charge against the PE proponent, then, is that she is interpreting judgments that are indicative of whether we are adhering to certain normative epistemic requirements generally as being indicative of whether we have knowledge specifically. There are, however, normative epistemic requirements that make demands of us that are indicative of something other than our possession of knowledge.

Peirce on Assertion, Speech Acts, and Taking Responsibility. 2016. Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society 52(1): 21-46.

  • C.S. Peirce held what is nowadays called a “commitment view” of assertion. According to this type of view, assertion is a kind of act that is determined by its “normative effects”: by asserting a proposition one undertakes certain commitments, typically to be able to provide reason to believe what one is asserting, or, in Peirce’s words, one “takes responsibility” for the truth of the proposition one asserts. Despite being an early adopter of the view, if Peirce’s commitment view of assertion is mentioned at all in contemporary discussions it is only in passing. His view is, however, far more complex and nuanced than he has been given credit for. My primary goal here, then, is to get a better understanding of Peirce’s version of a commitment view of assertion. I also argue that figuring out the details of Peirce’s theory of assertion can also provide us with a viable way to respond to problems that contemporary commitment views of assertion face.

Assertion, Practical Reasoning, and Epistemic Separabilism. 2015. Philosophical Studies 172(7): 1907-1927.

  • I argue here for a view I call epistemic separabilism (ES), which states that there are two different ways we can be evaluated epistemically when we assert a proposition or treat a proposition as a reason for acting: one in terms of whether we have adhered to or violated the relevant epistemic norm, and another in terms of how epistemically well-positioned we are towards the fact that we have either adhered to or violated said norm. ES has been appealed to most prominently in order to explain why epistemic evaluations that conflict with the knowledge norm of assertion and practical reasoning nevertheless seem correct. Opponents of such a view are committed to what I call epistemic monism(EM), which states that there is only one way we can be properly evaluated as epistemically appropriate asserters and practical reasoners, namely in terms of whether we have adhered to or violated the relevant norm. Accepting ES over EM has two significant consequences: first, a “metaepistemological’’ consequence that the structure of normative epistemic evaluations parallels those found in other normative areas (namely, moral evaluations), and second, that the knowledge norms of assertion and practical reasoning are no worse off than any alternatives in terms of either explanatory power or simplicity.

The Reliability of Epistemic Intuitions. Co-Authored with Jennifer Nagel. 2014. In Edouard Machery (ed.), Current Controversies in Experimental Philosophy. Routledge: 109-127.

  • The chapter starts with a brief overview of the nature of epistemic intuitions. Although people evaluate judgments along many dimensions of interest to epistemology, the main focus of this article will be on propositional knowledge attributions, immediate judgments of the form “Jane knows that John is running.” Section two lays out some of the main reasons why we might expect intuitions about the presence and absence of knowledge to be reliable. Section three examines the challenge of skepticism, and discusses the difference between that challenge and the new challenge posed by nonskeptical experimentalists. Section four looks at evidence about variation in epistemic intuition across demographic groups such as ethnicity and gender. Section five looks at contextual variation in epistemic intuition, such as contrast effects. The final sections cover the impact of training in philosophy on epistemic intuitions, and the problem of variation among philosophers in epistemic intuition.

Levi’s Challenge and Peirce’s Theory/Practice Distinction. 2012. Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society 48(1): 51-70.

  • Isaac Levi (1980) targets an implicit tension in C.S. Peirce’s epistemology, one that exists between the need to always be open-minded and aware of our propensity to make mistakes so that we do not “block the road of inquiry,” and the need to treat certain beliefs as infallible and to doubt only in a genuine way so that inquiry can proceed in the first place. Attempts at alleviating this tension have typically involved interpreting Peirce as ascribing different normative standards to different areas of inquiry. I argue here that such “double-standard” interpretations face significant problems. I offer instead an interpretation of Peirce on which the differences between different areas of inquiry are descriptive rather than normative. Such a view resolves Levi’s tension while interpreting Peirce as consistently subscribing to one normative standard for all inquiry.

“Knowledge in an Uncertain World” by Jeremy Fantl and Matthew McGrath. 2010. Analysis 71(1): 189-191.

  • Review of Jeremy Fantl and Mathew McGrath’s (2009) Knowledge in an Uncertain World.