Knowledge and the First-Person Perspective

Committee: Adam Leite (chair), Fred Schmitt, Gary Ebbs

I defend an account of the first-person perspective in which the unique view that a subject can and often does have of her own beliefs is the consequence of a particular kind of consciousness at the level of one’s first-order thoughts. I argue that two features that some philosophers have argued are necessary for an attitude to be within one’s first-person perspective—1) that one is able to occupy a deliberative stance toward an attitude, and 2) that one is able to avow an attitude—are also sufficient for that attitude to be within a person’s first-person perspective. This is the case even when that attitude is considered and/or expressed merely as a first-order thought. The first-person perspective, then, is much broader than alternative accounts that take the first-person view to be circumscribed by grammatical self-reference or by thoughts that employ one’s self-concept. While my account does not entail any particular commitments about knowledge, it reorients our understanding of the relevance of the first-person perspective to knowledge. In particular, it illuminates a limit for the view that the tension between internalism and externalism can be dissipated by distinguishing among various epistemological projects or aims.

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Under Review

“Reflection and Agency in Reflective Knowledge”

I argue that current discussions of the epistemological significance of reflection have entangled concerns about one’s awareness of the epistemic status of one’s beliefs, which do not require the ability to take any sort of agential stance toward one’s own attitudes, with other concerns that do require the ability to take an agential stance toward one’s beliefs. I begin by proposing that a traditional internalist critique of externalism can be fruitfully described as the idea that externalism is (in some sense) unsatisfactory because it fails to provide a particular kind of self-knowledge: knowledge about the epistemic status of one’s own beliefs. This description of the objection in terms of self-knowledge is fruitful because it allows us to make use of new conceptual resources. I employ one of these resources—Richard Moran’s distinction between mere reflective awareness of one’s attitudes and agent-awareness of one’s attitudes—to reveal a deep motivating concern for agency that has thus far been underappreciated in Ernest Sosa’s work on reflective knowledge. Sosa motivates his account of reflective knowledge by claiming that, among other things, reflective knowledge has enhanced coherence, is defensible, and in some sense aids agency. I show that mere reflective awareness is not sufficient to provide these goods; each one requires agent-awareness of one’s beliefs. While I focus on Sosa’s epistemology, the point extends more generally to a particular way of motivating traditional internalism.

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In Progress

“Externalism for Doxastic Agents?”

There is a tension between externalism and a central obligation of doxastic agency—the obligation to be involved in deliberately shaping one’s beliefs in light of one’s best judgments about what the reasons support. I consider the familiar case of Norman, the reliable clairvoyant, and argue that Norman’s case reveals a deliberative problem for externalism that arises from within a person’s first-person point of view. Externalism leaves open the possibility that sometimes the only way to aim at knowledge is to reject the aim of having reasonable belief, and a common distinction between various epistemological aims or concerns does not dissipate this tension. I then show that despite the fact that the tension arises from within a person’s deliberations, it cannot be settled by deliberation. Rather, it is a higher-order worry about whether pursuing knowledge can direct a person qua doxastic agent to eschew her own doxastic agency. As a result, externalists need to recognize that the onus is on them to defend the significance of doxastic agency within an externalist theory of knowledge.

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“The Perspective of Rational Deliberation”

Many philosophers take there to be something epistemologically significant about having a view of the reasonableness of one’s own beliefs. But under what conditions does a person count as having such a perspective? I argue here that there is a special circumstance in which a person who engages in an entirely first-order rational deliberation (involving no self-regarding thoughts) and draws a first-order conclusion has a second-order perspective on the reasonableness of her own beliefs. In doing so, I defend two claims: first, when a person believes that p as the result of her first-order rational deliberation, she undertakes a second-order commitment to taking herself to have good reasons for believing that p. Second, when a person believes that p as the result of her first-order rational deliberation, she will also have a second-order view that she has good reasons for believing what she does.

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“The Sophisticated Thermometer Problem”

Here I explore the so-called “thermometer problem,” an objection to some versions of externalism that arises from a purported disanalogy between mere cognitive instruments and mature human knowers. I aim to identify the most compelling version of the thermometer problem, and develop a new version that I call the “sophisticated thermometer problem.”

“Agent Stances and Agent Awareness: A critical review of Brie Gertler’s defense of self-knowledge evidentialism”

I address the question of whether evidentialism or agentialism is the better approach to theories of self-knowledge. I suggest that evidentialism is compatible with agentialism, but we need a more precise notion of agent-awareness than is currently on offer. I argue that the kind of first-person perspective I identify in my dissertation is a plausible candidate for such an account.