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Jennifer Nagel, U Toronto

Losing Knowledge by Thinking about Thinking

Is it true that even the most securely-based judgment about the external world can be undermined by misleading evidence? Fallibilists think so, appealing to our intuitions about “defeat cases” to make this point. Starting with some best-case scenario for perceptual knowledge, for example, it is possible to undermine a subject’s confidence in her sensory faculties until it becomes unreasonable for her to persist in her belief. Some epistemologists have taken these defeat cases to indicate that any basis for knowledge is rationally defeasible; others have argued that there can be unreasonable knowledge. I argue that self-consciousness about the basis of one’s belief forces a change in that basis. For example, when appropriate doubts are raised about the reliability of perception, one shifts from unreflective perceptual judgment to conscious inference. When knowledge is defeated, one’s original basis is lost rather than undermined. This approach to defeat clears the path for a new way to defend infallibilism in epistemology.