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Open Access Publications from the University of California

How To Be a Dogmatist

  • Author(s): Butzer, Timothy Bartholomew
  • Advisor(s): Recorla, Michael
  • Falvey, Kevin
  • et al.

According to the epistemological theory known as dogmatism, if one, for example, has a perceptual experience as of a red cube, one is immediately and defeasibly warranted in believing that there is a red cube there. The warrant is immediate in that it does not depend on one’s other beliefs or on any introspectively accessible mental states besides the experience itself. The warrant is defeasible in that it is capable of being defeated by other considerations (e.g. doubts about the reliability of one’s perceptual apparatus). My dissertation has three goals: (1) to defend dogmatism as a general thesis against objections, with particular focus on the arguments of Stewart Cohen, Roger White, and Crispin Wright; (2) to argue against internalist dogmatist proposals like those offered by Michael Huemer, James Pryor, and Declan Smithies; and (3) to present an original externalist theory of perceptual warrant, that I dub Competent Dogmatism, and argue that it is superior to competing accounts.

With regards to the third goal: I claim that the subject’s perceptual system itself is normatively evaluable with regards to its ability to produce reliably veridical representations and the manner in which it does so. There are an infinite number of possible representations of the world that are compatible with the retina being stimulated in a particular way. In order to solve this underdetermination problem, our visual systems make a set of assumptions about the environment (for example: that illumination typically comes from above, and not below). My proposed theory of perceptual warrant relies on the notion of perceptual competence. A subject’s perceptual system is competent, if and only if: (1) the assumptions the perceptual system makes of its immediate environment are typically true of the subject’s normal environment, (2) the sub-personal inferential or information processing processes conform to veridicality preserving norms, and (3) the perceptual system reliably produce veridical representations of the subject’s normal environment. When one’s perceptual system is competent in this sense, the representations it produces provide immediate and defeasible warrant for beliefs about one’s environment. On my proposal the normal environment is the environment in which the assumptions and information processing processes the perceptual system uses where developed.

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