My work is available for download at my PhilPeople profile. Some of the papers archived there are penultimate drafts. Please cite the final, published version. (Others are drafty drafts. Cite and circulate if you will, but don’t hold me to them.)
The Limits of Rational Belief Revision: A Dilemma for the Darwinian Debunker
Noûs, 55(3): 717-734, 2021. (Penultimate version.)
We are fallible creatures, prone to making all sorts of mistakes. So, we should be open to evidence of error. But what constitutes such evidence? And what is it to rationally accommodate it? I approach these questions by considering an evolutionary debunking argument according to which (a) we have good, scientific, reason to think our moral beliefs are mistaken, and (b) rationally accommodating this requires revising our confidence in, or altogether abandoning the suspect beliefs. I present a dilemma for such debunkers, which shows that either we have no reason to worry about our moral beliefs, or we do but we can self-correct. Either way, moral skepticism doesn’t follow. That the evolutionary debunking argument fails is important; also important, however, is what its failure reveals about rational belief revision. Specifically, it suggests that getting evidence of error is a non-trivial endeavor and that we cannot learn that we are likely to be mistaken about some matter from a neutral stance on that matter.
Ethics, 128(3): 687–695, 2018. (Penultimate version.)
Episteme, 13(4): 529–538, 2016. (Penultimate version.)
Alan Hájek attacks the idea that deliberation crowds out prediction—that when we are deliberating about what to do, we cannot rationally accommodate evidence about what we are likely to do. Although Hájek rightly diagnoses the problems with some of the arguments for the view, his treatment falls short in crucial ways. In particular, he fails to consider the most plausible version for the argument, the best argument for it, and why anyone would ever believe it in the first place. In doing so, he misses a deep puzzle about deliberation and prediction—a puzzle which all of us, as agents, face, and which we may be able to resolve by recognizing the complicated relationship between deliberation and prediction.
Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 96(1): 134–152, 2018. Early View, 2016. (Penultimate version.)
It can be disturbing to realize that your belief reflects the influence of irrelevant factors. But should it be? Such influence is pervasive. If we are to avoid mass agnosticism, we must determine when evidence of irrelevant belief influence is undermining and when it is not. I provide a principled way to do this. I explain why belief revision is required when it is, and why it isn’t when it isn’t. I argue that rational humility requires us to revise our beliefs in response to such evidence. I explain the nature and import of such humility: what it is and what it is to accommodate it. In doing so, I bring to light a little-discussed epistemic challenge, and explain its significance in a way that provides insight into the role of rational humility in our epistemic lives.
Philosophy Compass, 10(2): 104–116, 2015. (Penultimate version.)
Evolutionary debunking arguments move from a premise about the influence of evolutionary forces on our moral beliefs to a skeptical conclusion about those beliefs. My primary aim is to clarify this empirically grounded epistemological challenge. I begin by distinguishing among importantly different sorts of epistemological attacks. I then demonstrate that instances of each appear in the literature under the ‘evolutionary debunking’ title. Distinguishing them clears up some confusions and helps us better under- stand the structure and potential of evolutionary debunking arguments.
Philosophical Perspectives, 28(1): 302–333, 2014. (Penultimate version.)
The fact of moral disagreement when conjoined with Conciliationism, an independently attractive view about the epistemic significance disagreement, seems to entail moral skepticism. This worries those who like Conciliationism but dislike moral skepticism. Others, equally inclined against moral skepticism, think this is a reductio of Conciliationism. I argue that they are both wrong. There is no reductio and we have nothing to worry about.
Oxford Studies in Metaethics, R. Shafer-Landau (ed.), Vol. 9: 76–101, 2014. (Penultimate version).
Evolutionary debunking arguments start with a premise about the influence of evolutionary forces on our evaluative beliefs, and conclude that we are not justified in those beliefs. The value realist holds that there are attitude-independent evaluative truths. But the debunker argues that we have no reason to think that the evolutionary forces that shaped human evaluative attitudes would track those truths. Worse yet, we seem to have a good reason to think that they wouldn’t: evolutionary forces select for creatures with characteristics that correlate with survival and genetic fitness, and beliefs that increase a creature’s fitness and chances of survival plausibly come apart from the true evaluative beliefs. My aim in this paper is to show that no plausible evolutionary debunking argument can both have force against the value realist and not collapse into a more general skeptical argument. I begin by presenting what I take to be the best version of the debunker’s challenge. I then argue that we have good reason to be suspicious of evolutionary debunking arguments. The trouble with these arguments stems precisely from their evolutionary premise. The most ambitious of these threaten to self-defeat: they rely on an evolutionary premise that is too strong. In more modest debunking arguments, on the other hand, the evolutionary premise is idle. I conclude that there is little hope for evolutionary debunking arguments. This is bad news for the debunker who hoped that the cold, hard scientific facts about our origins would debunk our evaluative beliefs. She has much to do to convince us that her challenge is successful.
Erkenntnis, 79(S1):173–183, 2014. (Penultimate version.)
Should learning that we disagree about p lead you to reduce confidence in p? Some who think it should want to except beliefs in which you are rationally highly confident. Against this I show that quite the opposite holds: factors that justify low confidence in p also make disagreement about p less significant. I examine two such factors: your antecedent expectations about your peers’ opinions and the difficulty of evaluating your evidence. I close by showing how this initially surprising result can help us think about confidence, evidence and disagreement.
Ethics, 124 (3): 632–636, 2014. (Penultimate version.)