Judgmental perceptual knowledge and its factive grounds: a new interpretation and defense of epistemological disjunctivism
Shaw, Kegan J.
This thesis offers a fresh interpretation and defense of epistemological disjunctivism about perceptual knowledge. I adopt a multilevel approach according to which perceptual knowledge on one level can enjoy factive rational support provided by perceptual knowledge of the same proposition on a different level. Here I invoke a distinction Ernest Sosa draws between ‘judgmental’ and ‘merely functional’ belief to articulate what I call the bifurcated conception of perceptual knowledge. The view that results is a form of epistemological disjunctivism about perceptual knowledge specifically at the higher judgmental level, layered over a straightforward externalism about perceptual knowledge at the lower merely functional level. The first chapter orients the reader to epistemological disjunctivism— with particular emphasis on the ‘reflective epistemological disjunctivism’ defended by Duncan Pritchard with inspiration from John McDowell. Here I review the arguments for thinking such a proposal true, as well as highlight some problems and three emerging challenges for the view: what I call the internalist challenge, the new access challenge(s), and the ‘new evil genius’ challenge. These challenges largely inspire the chapters to follow. In the second chapter I present the positive proposal: a fresh interpretation of epistemological disjunctivism in terms of perceptual knowledge at the specifically judgmental level. I argue that this is a modification that epistemological disjunctivists should adopt since it inoculates their view against the internalist challenge: the challenge of explaining why perception should provide one with knowledge by providing one with motivating reasons for belief. In the third chapter I motivate the view further in connection with the more familiar ‘basis problem’ for epistemological disjunctivism. I argue that this approach supports a unique strategy for solving that problem: one that is consistent both with what is known as ‘the entailment’ thesis and the thought that we can reduce perceptual knowledge to a kind of rationally supported belief. In the fourth chapter I move to playing defense. I defend the proposal against the so-called ‘new evil genius’ challenge. This is the challenge to explain why subjects in pairs of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ cases can seem equally justified for sustaining their perceptual beliefs. I argue that what we are being sensitive to here, rather, is the fact that both subjects can be equally epistemically responsible and/or reasonable for believing what they do. Before concluding this chapter I also offer an error theory. In the fifth chapter I defend the proposal against the new access challenges raised in chapter one. These alleged challenges for epistemological disjunctivism arise specifically for versions of reflective epistemological disjunctivism that hold that one’s rational support for perceptual beliefs is not only factive but reflectively accessible as well. Rather than address the challenges head on, I try to dislodge the thought they depend upon—viz., that one’s factive rational support for perceptual beliefs is reflectively accessible to the subject. Here I argue that the reflective accessibility of one’s factive rational support is actually a wheel turning idly in the debate with the underdetermination-based radical sceptic—so that we can simply drop it without consequence. The result is an epistemological disjunctivism that is immune to access problems. I then offer a final summary and conclude. At the end of this thesis I have attached an appendix, which is an excursion into religious epistemology and an exploration of a form of religious epistemological disjunctivism. Here I apply the epistemological disjunctivist insight to the case of religious perception in order to defend the idea that one can offer independent rational support for theistic belief by appealing to religious beliefs that are justified on the basis of religious experiences. This appendix chapter is in keeping with the general spirit of the thesis insofar as it seeks to developed epistemological disjunctivism in new and fruitful directions.