Knowledge, Action, and Humility

August 14, 2023
Dianoia Institute of Philosophy, Australian Catholic University

250 victoria parade

This event is available both online and in-person


  • John Templeton Foundation


King's College London
Oxford University
University of Southern California
King's College London
Australian Catholic University
Singapore Management University

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Conference on Knowledge, Action, and Humility 

August 14th in Melbourne, 5th floor of 250 victoria parade / Zoom. Conference supported by the John Templeton Foundation, for the grant project Humble Knowers. All are welcome to attend in person or via zoom.

For any questions, please contact [email protected]


Eleanor Gordon-Smith, Princeton

John Hawthorne, ACU

Julien Dutant, KCL

Brandon Yip, ANU

Clayton Littlejohn, ACU

Rachel Fraser, ACU

Schedule (Melbourne time)

930-1030: Eleanor Gordon-Smith (speaking via zoom), Contagious Inquiry

1030-1130: John Hawthorne, Sentential Certainty, Human and Divine: Luminosity Begets Ignorance

1130-1: Lunch

1-2: Julien Dutant, Precrime and Punishment

2-3: Brandon Yip, A Geneological Argument for Moral Encroachment

3-4: Clayton Littlejohn, Are There Counterexamples to the Consistency Principle?

4-6: Break

6-7: Rachel Fraser (speaking via zoom), Open-Mindedness as Curiosity

7-late: Dinner

All talks are accessible on Zoom, at the following link: 


Contagious Inquiry

Eleanor Gordon-Smith

Here’s a phenomenon: inquiry can be catching. When someone near me finds a question interesting, that can make the same question seem interesting to me too, such that inquiry travels rapidly between people in the same families, towns, or social networks, when other thinkers in similar evidential situations do not devote cognitive resources to the same questions at all. In other words, sometimes B learning that A is inquiring into some question q can strike B as a reason for her also to inquire into q. I call this phenomenon "contagious inquiry." My aim in this paper is to ask whether and why contagious inquiry could be good epistemic practice. From one angle, the social spread of inquiry can seem like a continuation of a positive ‘social turn’ in epistemology. Perhaps we can expect there to be a parity between the established epistemic value of being socially influenced by others’ testimony and beliefs, and the value of being influenced by others’ decisions over whether to inquire. From another angle, contagious inquiry can seem like a zetetic case of “monkey see, monkey do”. I’ll first distinguish between cases of contagious inquiry in which A treats B’s inquiry as evidence with respect to some proposition, and cases in which A treats to B’s decision to inquire as content-independent reason for her to inquire. I’ll argue the former can be good epistemic practice, and sketch the case that the latter is not. By an analogy to the ways it seems peculiar to defer to others for our moral principles, we’ll see why we might think that the issue of what I should inquire into is not one I should resolve by deference to others. Just as it undercuts the value of being a moral agent to take one’s moral principles from deference to others, I’ll outline how we might think it undercuts the value of being a good reasoner to embark on one’s inquiries out of deference. 

Sentential Certainty, Human and Divine: Luminosity Begets Ignorance

John Hawthorne 

Abstract: It is not unusual for Baeysians to assume that the objects of credences are sentences---a reasonable modeling assumption. Such a modeling choice is very understandable, since it allows them to bypass such questions as whether (given that Hesperus = Phosphorus) the proposition that Hesperus = Phosphorus is the proposition that Hesperus = Hesperus: however that may be, the sentences `Hesperus = Phosphorus' and `Hesperus = Hesperus' are distinct, so there is no inconsistency in supposing that one might be certain of the latter but not the former. Certain further idealizations are even more common in Bayesian modeling. One is the assumption of logical perfection: namely, that the agent's certainties are both consistent and closed under deductive consequence. Another is the assumption of perfect access to (i.e., certainty of) the presence or absence of certainty---an assumption we call Luminosity. The main result of this paper is its eponymous paradox: these assumptions are inconsistent. In slogan form: Luminosity begets irrationality. Both our main result and some of the further results we will present bear some resemblance to the well known paradox of the knower, which arises for various factive sentential attitudes, such as the attitude of sentential knowledge that figures in the classic discussion of Kaplan and Montague (1960). However, the sentential attitude that plays a starring role in this paper---subjective certainty---is not presumed to be factive. The source of the trouble in the present case is the presumed luminosity of the attitude of interest. 

Precrime and Punishment

Julien Dutant

Some facts about the future are “beyond reasonable doubt” on any natural interpretation of that phrase—and clearly so on most of the ways in which epistemologists have proposed to characterize it, be it high probability, high probability of knowledge, normic support, etc. This raises the theoretical possibility—reminiscent of Philipp K. Dick’s Minority Report—that a jury could find someone guilty “beyond reasonable doubt” before they actually commit their crime, and the question whether it would be legitimate to punish them for it. But this also raises the much more realistic possibility that a jury could find “beyond reasonable doubt” someone guilty of a past crime on the basis of forward-looking evidence alone—the kind of evidence we’re restricted to when it comes to facts about the future. In fact, one actual case was disputed because it relied on such evidence (US vs Shonubi 98 F2. 84 1993). I’ll ask whether it would be acceptable to punish someone on the basis of such evidence, and if not, why not. I’ll pay a special attention to views designed to deal with a different puzzle about standards of legal proof, the statistical evidence puzzle.

 A Genealogical Argument for Moral Encroachment

Brandon Yip

Moral encroachment, broadly, is the view that moral considerations play a role in the epistemic status of belief. Standard arguments for moral encroachment begin by focusing on the nature of belief and the possibility of doxastic wronging: wronging others by forming certain kinds of beliefs (e.g. prejudicial/racist beliefs) (Basu 2019; Schroeder 2018; Basu 2021). It is then claimed that the fact that certain beliefs will wrong others affects the epistemic status of that belief. In this paper, we offer a novel argument for moral encroachment. Instead of focusing on the nature of belief, we argue that a genealogical approach to uncovering the concept of knowledge reveals that that possession of knowledge involves being sensitive to moral considerations. Our key insight is this: insofar as a good informant is one that can contribute to the epistemic community, they must themselves make up their minds in a way that is sensitive to the distinction between good informants and sources of information. To treat an agent as a mere source of information in making up their mind is to attempt to know in a way that disrespects the other as an agent (See Fricker 2009).

Are there counterexamples to the consistency principle? 

Clayton Littlejohn

After we distinguish between different ways of understanding belief, I argue that there's an important notion of belief that's not subject to a consistency requirement. We'll look at a recent argument to the contrary and discuss two responses to it. The first appeals to considerations of epistemic utility (e.g., in terms of total epistemic value, it's better to tolerate inconsistency). The second appeals to the separateness of propositions. I'll offer a reading of the separateness idea, explain its bearing on our topic, and argue that we should tolerate inconsistency if we're going to respect the separateness idea. 

Open mindedness as curiosity

Rachel Fraser

Can one be rationally open minded with respect to some proposition p which one knows? Hopefully, the answer is ‘yes’. It’s natural to think there is some deep connection between open mindedness and an awareness of one’s fallibility. Fallibility-based accounts of open mindedness argue that it is awareness of one’s fallibility that underwrites rational open mindedness. I argue that such accounts are defective and propose an alternative, curiosity based account of rational open mindedness. 

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