Abstract for Puddifoot’s talk

Epistemic innocence and Memory Distortion

People often have false and distorted memories. False and distorted memories bring substantial epistemic costs. However, findings from the cognitive sciences suggest that the cognitive mechanisms responsible for some false and distorted memories are adaptive, bringing benefits to the organism. In this paper we argue that the same cognitive mechanisms also bring significant epistemic benefits, increasing the chance of an epistemic agent obtaining epistemic goods like true belief and knowledge. This result provides a significant challenge to the folk conception of false and distorted memories, according to which they are a sign of cognitive frailty, indicating that a person is less reliable than others or their former selves. Evidence of errors can undermine a person’s view of themselves as a competent epistemic agent, but we show that they can be the result of the ordinary operation of cognitive mechanisms found across the species which bring substantial epistemic benefits. This challenge to the folk conception is not adequately captured by existing epistemological theories. However, it can be captured by the notion of epistemic innocence, which has previously be deployed to highlight how beliefs which have epistemic costs can also bring significant epistemic benefits. We therefore argue that the notion of epistemic innocence should be extended so that it applies not just to beliefs but also to cognitive mechanisms.