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Common-Sense Rationalism about Univocal Reasoning: Anti-Individualism and Epistemic Transparency


Anti-individualism (externalism about mental content) is in tension with epistemic transparency. Rationality involves the ability to reliably engage in correct univocal reasoning. Mental content is epistemically transparent iff the ability to reason univocally can always apriori produce correct univocal reasoning and avoid equivocation.

Anti-individualism holds that relations between a thinker's mental states and environment partially individuate those mental states' contents. A consequence of anti-individualism is that the contents of one thinker's different mental states can differ from one another solely because those mental states differently relate to the environment. Such a thinker could not on apriori grounds alone avoid equivocating between these different contents; anti-individualism contradicts transparency.

I argue that content is epistemically translucent: in any normal situation, a rational thinker can always apriori produce correct univocal reasoning and avoid equivocation. John Campbell and Ruth Millikan advance anti-individualist views on which univocal reasoning is empirically warranted. Paul Boghossian has suggested rejecting anti-individualism because of its incompatibility with transparency. All of these positions neglect the possibility of translucent content.

Anti-individualist views advanced by Krista Lawlor and Mikkel Gerken are friendlier to transparency. But these views do not explain the warrant for univocal reasoning. They fail to distinguish the contributions made to an attitude's content by reasoning capacities from those made by the attitude's relations to the environment.

I provide such a distinction. Reason can establish that different representations have the function of having the same content. Then, equivocation is produced only by abnormal mistakes about the identities of entities in the environment. In a normal environment, a thinker's logical reasoning powers can on apriori grounds alone produce correct univocal reasoning and avoid equivocation.

Reason cannot guarantee that its contributions to a thinker's conceptual activity always match the world's contribution. Reason can only be sensitive to evidence of abnormality, and, in the absence of such evidence, produce cognitive structures that would function correctly in a normal environment. In very abnormal identity mistakes, different attitudes have such different causal relations to the environment that those causal relations overwhelm reason's contribution, and differently type the attitudes. Lacking evidence of abnormality, rational equivocation ensues.

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