Dissertation Precis

In my dissertation, I focus on defending evidentialism (as articulated by Richard Feldman and Earl Conee (eg. 2004)) from objections stemming from failures to gather evidence. Evidentialism is a theory of justification where one is justified in believing some proposition when one's total internally accessible evidence on balance supports belief in that proposition.

This synchronic, internalist theory of justification, because it makes justification a matter only of evidence that one has at a time, leaves room for cases where one is justified in believing some proposition, but the reason one is justified in believing that proposition at a time is that one has failed to completely or responsibly gather evidence about that proposition. This objection, which I call the responsibilist objection, leads responsibilists to propose additional conditions on evidentialism that rule out the possibility of justification on incomplete and/or irresponsibly gathered bodies of evidence, or to reject evidentialism as a theory of justification. In response, I argue that in fact, the best way to account for both justification and irresponsibility in the cases that responsibilists are troubled by is to keep traditional, Conee-and-Feldman-style evidentialism about justification, but to pair this view of justification with my view of the epistemic duty to acquire evidence. In my view, one has a duty to acquire evidence about some proposition p when and only when one's evidence grounds an interest in p, and one has a duty to acquire all and only that evidence relevant to p that one has good reason to think that one is capable of understanding, is easily accessible, and that there is a significant chance that the evidence will “change one's mind” about p, once that evidence is acquired. I also argue that one can be epistemically irresponsible when one fails to fulfill a duty to acquire evidence.

In chapter one, I argue that three particular responsibilist theories of justification—Cloos 2015, Baehr 2009, and Goldberg 2016—face important problems, and that responsibilist theories in general get unsatisfactory results when it comes to both on-balance justification and epistemic responsibility and irresponsibility. In subsequent chapters, I present and defend the details of my solution to the responsibilist objection—namely that we should prefer Feldman and Conee-style evidentialism about justification, paired with my view of the duty to acquire evidence. In chapter two, I articulate the details of when we have a duty to acquire evidence, and what evidence we have a duty to acquire. In chapter three, I present an argument that the duty is an epistemic duty, and that it is best thought of as a prima facie epistemic duty. I also argue that individuals are epistemically irresponsible when they fail to fulfill an epistemic duty to acquire evidence, if that duty is their “all-out” (non-prima facie) epistemic duty at a time. In chapter four, I argue that the overall view gets good results in social and applied epistemology, including in cases involving testimonial injustice, clinical ethics, the division of epistemic labor, mis- and dis-information, and beliefs in conspiracy theories.