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Reasons against belief: A theory of epistemic defeat

Timothy D Loughrist, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Despite its central role in our cognitive lives, rational belief revision has received relatively little attention from epistemologists. This dissertation begins to fill that absence. In particular, we explore the phenomenon of defeasible epistemic justification, i.e., justification that can be lost as well as gained by epistemic agents. We begin by considering extant theories of defeat, according to which defeaters are whatever cause a loss of justification or things that somehow neutralize one's reasons for belief. Both of these theories are both extensionally and explanatorily inadequate and, so, are rejected. We proceed to develop a novel theory of defeat according to which defeaters are reasons against belief. According to this theory, the dynamics of justification are explained by the competition between reasons for and reasons against belief. We find that this theory not only handles the counter-examples that felled the previous theories but also does a fair job in explaining the various aspects of the phenomenon of defeat. Furthermore, this theory accomplishes this without positing any novel entities or mechanisms; according to this theory, defeaters are epistemic reasons against belief, the mirror image of our epistemic reasons for belief, rather than sui generis entities.

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Recommended Citation

Loughrist, Timothy D, "Reasons against belief: A theory of epistemic defeat" (2015). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3689855.