SOPhiA 2019

Salzburgiense Concilium Omnibus Philosophis Analyticis

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Programme - Talk

Stakes and Anxious Ascribers
(Epistemology, English)

Jennifer Nagel (2010, Epistemic Anxiety and Adaptive Invariantism. Philosophical Perspectives, 24 (1): 407-35) famously explained the stakes effect on knowledge ascriptions by pointing to the subject of a knowledge claim and to their potential state of epistemic anxiety ("the inclination or desire for increased cognitive activity" Nagel 2010, 414). In my presentation, I want to discuss, on the one hand, a problem with Nagel's account, and to suggest, on the other hand, a further application of <epistemic anxiety> to the ascribers of knowledge.

According to Nagel's account, a subject that is in a high-stakes situation is more epistemically anxious and forms beliefs more reluctantly than a subject in a low-stakes situation, even if the two have the same epistemic position. But then, given that believing is a necessary condition of knowledge, it follows that we do not ascribe knowledge to high-stakes subjects -- subjects that presumably are epistemically anxious -- because we do not ascribe beliefs to them either. Notice that the concept Nagel has in mind here is <outright belief>, a belief incompatible with uncertainty (Nagel 2010, 413-420).

But are we really interested in whether the subject possesses an "outright belief" -- as opposed to a non-outright belief? Actually, is outright belief even a condition of knowledge? Consider the following utterances:

(1) Matt knows he did the right thing, even though he has had doubts his whole life.

(2) You know that this is the answer and you should be more confident about it!

(3) Hannah is just anxious, but she knows very well that she should play that card.

It seems that 1-3 are perfectly felicitous, and we make such utterances all the time. In normal circumstances, we are not very interested, when making third person knowledge ascriptions, in how confident the subject we ascribe knowledge to is. Of course, it is important for the subject to assent in a minimal way to the proposition that we claim she knows. We would not ascribe knowledge that p to somebody who does not believe in the slightest that p is true. But we do not seem to be interested in how strong that person believes in p.

Furthermore, one might wonder if epistemic anxiety is not connected more often to the evaluator of a knowledge claim, rather than to the subject of that claim. My contention is that we can explain fuller the salient stakes effect on knowledge ascription if we look closer into the belief-formation mechanism by which ascribers form knowledge-beliefs (i.e. beliefs of the form 'S knows p' or 'S does not know p').

Chair: Basil Müller
Time: 17:40-18:10, 18 September 2019 (Wednesday)
Location: HS E.002

Sergiu Spatan 
(University of Hamburg, Germany)

I am a PhD student and Research Associate at the University of Hamburg, where I work under the supervision of Prof. Thomas Krödel on topics related to skepticism, knowledge ascriptions, doubt, and epistemic feelings. In my dissertation, I will defend a skeptical version of invariantism about knowledge ascriptions, which I call 'Certainty Sensitive Invariantism'. According to this account, knowledge ascriptions track the ascriber's metacognitive attitude of subjective certainty. In order to fully develop this account, in my research I explore such notions as metacognitive feelings, certainty or doubt. Besides research, I also teach at the University of Hamburg. This semester I teach a class on philosophy of emotions, but I also taught an introduction to philosophy of mind, contemporary skepticism and perception. My secondary interest, after epistemology, is philosophy of mind and the ontology of epistemic attitudes.

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