Abstract for Gerken’s talk

I will present some key ideas from a monograph-in-progress tentatively entitled ‘On Folk Epistemology.’ My overarching thesis is methodological: Epistemologists should be very cautious about arguing straightforwardly from patterns of intuitive judgments to substantive conclusions – even when there is empirical evidence for such patterns. I exemplify this thesis by considering a “salient alternatives effect” on folk knowledge ascriptions. Roughly, this is the effect that we are intuitively less inclined to ascribe knowledge if an error-possibility is made salient. It is puzzling, in part, because it generates skeptical problems. After reviewing the empirical and philosophical evidence for assuming that there is such an effect, I investigate the nature of the intuitive judgments underlying it. On the basis of this investigation, I propose a psychological account of the salient alternatives effect – the focal bias account (a development of Gerken 2012, 2013). This account is consistent with non-skeptical strict invariantism. I differentiate this account from some superficially similar proposals (Hawthorne 2004, Williamson 2005) and I defend it against some criticism (Nagel 2010). Finally, I develop it by invoking some further considerations from psychology as well as some from (cognitive) pragmatics.

Background papers.
Gerken, M. (2012b). On the Cognitive Bases of Knowledge Ascriptions. In Knowledge Ascriptions,
(eds. J. Brown and M. Gerken), Oxford University Press: 140-170.
Gerken, M. (2013c). Epistemic Focal Bias. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 91, (1): 41-61.