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Review of Ernest Sosa, Reflective Knowledge: Schmitt - - Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 8.

Virtue Epistemology: Apt Belief and Reflective Knowledge, Volume I - Oxford Scholarship

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Sign in to use this feature. Even if it does, it would seem to have a pressing motivation only if we place little confidence in the sources we prereflectively use, or we aim for a certainty that disqualifies a source about which we have the slightest doubt. Luckily we are not in the former position, and to disqualify even slightly doubtful sources is to show an unmotivated preference for avoiding error over acquiring true beliefs.

Now, Stroud does offer an account of knowledge or rather of how we know that we know that may meet the generality requirement. On his account, we directly perceive that we know, rather than know that we know by knowing that an external condition is met.

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But Sosa makes several telling points against this account. I would add to Sosa's response to Stroud's objection the observation that the epistemic circularity of reflective knowledge our unavoidable reliance on our sources to establish their reliability clearly does not stand in the way of two sorts of value that Sosa ascribes to reflective knowledge. It does not prevent coherence from increasing the reliability of our beliefs nor from increasing their comprehensiveness. In Chapter 10 Sosa tackles the problem of easy knowledge. The problem arises, in Sosa's formulation, because it is implausible "that one should be entirely lacking in epistemic status for the relevant implicit commitments about the propitiousness of one's situation and the generic reliability of one's source in believing that one sees a red wall"; "that one should then become justified epistemically in believing that one does see a red wall … without yet being at all justified in one's commitments"; and "that then , based on one's belief about the wall's color … one should thereby acquire the relevant justification … for hosting those commitments" pp.

The relevant commitments are of two kinds: As I read him, Sosa responds to the circularity in this way. He grants that it is implausible "that unreflective justification for one's explicit or implicit commitments should be generated entirely through reasoning based on [first-order] beliefs acquired only through unjustified … commitments" p. But reflective justification for the commitments can depend on first-order beliefs without justified commitments, for reflective justification can induce coherence among the first-order beliefs and the commitments.

This is enough to provide some degree of justification for the commitments without any prior justification of those commitments. Sosa's response to the circularity assumes that a lack of initial justification of the commitments stands in the way of a noncoherence justification of the commitments based on the first-order beliefs, but it does not stand in the way of a coherence justification of the commitments. Presumably this is so because a coherence justification of the commitments does not presuppose but induces the justification of the first-order beliefs, while a noncoherence justification presupposes the justification of the first-order beliefs, in turn requiring the prior justification of the accompanying commitments.

I think this presumption would be plausible if in a noncoherence justification the first-order beliefs had themselves to be justified on the basis of the accompanying commitments. That would entail a vicious circularity of basing: There is no reason, however, to say that the first-order beliefs in a noncoherence justification must be justified on the basis of the commitments, any more than they are in a coherence justification.

If the justification of the first-order beliefs merely requires accompaniment by justified commitments rather than basing on them, it does so in a coherence as well as a noncoherence justification. But in that case, there is a circularity in the coherence justification as well. This leads me to think that it is better to respond to the problem of easy knowledge not by adverting to coherence justification as Sosa does, but simply by denying that the justification of the first-order beliefs requires any justification of the accompanying commitments -- indeed, by denying that any commitments need accompany the first-order beliefs.

I have focused on Sosa's account of reflective knowledge in Part II.

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  • This leaves out a great deal of valuable material, which I can do no more than cite here. Chapter 1 contains the most sensible interpretation of Moore's proof of an external world that I have seen. There is a forceful rejection of Strawson's naturalism in chapter 2, of Reid's common sense approach to skepticism in chapter 3, of Sellars's rejection of the given in chapter 4, and of Davidson's coherentism in chapter 5. These critical discussions are among the most insightful treatments of these topics in the literature.

    A Virtue Epistemology: Apt Belief and Reflective Knowledge, Volume I

    It should go without saying that Sosa's book is essential reading for anyone with even a passing interest in contemporary epistemology. His distinction between animal and reflective knowledge is a fundamental contribution to the field. Classical, Early, and Medieval Prose and Writers: Classical, Early, and Medieval World History: Civil War American History: Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Bibliographic Information Print publication date: Authors Affiliations are at time of print publication.

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