Dissertation: Modest Epistemology
Higher-order uncertainty is uncertainty about what you should think. Mundane cases abound. I'm very confident that the plane is safe, but I wonder whether I should be more (less) so—statistics is hard, after all. Theoretically significant cases do too. Disagreement: I thought Kim was the best candidate, but my colleagues thought otherwise—I'm probably more confident than I should be. Impairment: The answer to question 17 seems obvious, but I'm running on 5 hours of sleep—I'm probably missing something. Tendencies: My argument seems convincing, but I always think my arguments are convincing—I might be overconfident. And so on.
The Question: How does uncertainty about what you should think affect what you should think?
Part one ("Higher-Order Uncertainty") sets the stage. After arguing that the "higher-order evidence" literature can be helpfully reframed in terms of higher-order uncertainty, I introduce a general framework for studying it. Using this framework, I defend a Modest Truism that sometimes it's rational to have higher-order uncertainty, and therefore to be modest: to be uncertain whether you're rational. I argue that this fact lies at the foundations of the epistemology of disagreement.
Part two ("Building Bridges") argues for a Guiding Truism—that you always should treat rationality as a guide—and shows how many justifications for rational norms (including Dutch Books, money pumps, and accuracy arguments) presuppose it. However, there is a tension between our Modest and Guiding Truisms: if you can leave open various possibilities for what rationality warrants, what guarantees that you think those opinions are likely to be correct? I argue that no extant theory navigates this tension: those that try to vindicate the Guiding Truism wind up trivializing higher-order uncertainty; those that try to vindicate the Modest Truism wind up undermining the guidance-value of rationality.
Part three ("Evidence: A Guide for the Uncertain") shows how to reconcile the Modest and Guiding Truisms. I propose a new deference principle--Trust—that requires you to think it likely that rational judgments are correct. Unlike other deference principles, Trust both allows higher-order uncertainty and guarantees that rationality has many guiding features. In fact, I claim that it is the goldilocks principle—for it is necessary and sufficient to vindicate the claim that you should expect free evidence to be valuable (Good 1967). Upshot: Trust lays the foundations for a theory of disagreement and, more generally, an epistemology that permits self-doubt—a modest epistemology.
Higher-Order Uncertainty. In M. Skipper Rasmussen & A. Steglich-Peterson (eds.), Higher-Order Evidence: New Essays. Oxford University Press. Forthcoming.
Can the Knowledge Norm Co-Opt the Opt-Out? (2014). Thought: A Journal of Philosophy (3) 4: 273-282. [Link]
Work in Progress