The Epistemology of Higher-Order Evidence

Project: Research

  • Skipper, Mattias (Participant)
See relations at Aarhus University


Higher-order evidence is, roughly put, evidence which indicates that my current belief state is irrational or unjustified. If I learn that I've been systematically too optimistic in my weather predictions, I can lower my confidence in fair weather tomorrow. Or if I learn that my trusted colleague prescribes antibiotics less often than I do, I can start to question my own prescription practice. In both cases, my loss of confidence is rationalized by higher-order evidence indicating that my former belief state was rationally sub-par. By contrast, ordinary first-order evidence rationalizes a change of belief without indicating that I've been less than fully rational. If I get an updated weather forecast, I may well be required to lower my confidence in fair weather tomorrow, but this does not show that my former high confidence was unjustified given the evidence I had at the time.
Higher-order evidence is a pervasive feature of human life. We all live our lives in states of epistemic imperfection, not only because we base our beliefs on limited evidence, but also because we do not always respond to the evidence we have in the best way. Accommodating one’s own cognitive fallibility is an important part of any rational human life. In this regard, higher-order evidence is a valuable source of epistemic self-improvement: it provides an opportunity for rectifying our rational mistakes, whether these are due to systematic bias or occasional cognitive blunders.
Yet, we currently lack a basic theoretical understanding of the nature and bearing of higher-order evidence. Specifically, philosophers remain puzzled about how to understand the interaction between higher-order evidence and ordinary first-order evidence. This puzzlement crops up in many important epistemological debates about, e.g., disagreement, testimony, epistemic akrasia, and epistemic dilemmas. In my project, I aim to approach these and related debates through a general theoretical investigation of the nature and bearing of higher-order evidence.
Effective start/end date01/09/2016 → …

ID: 129046634