Ryan McKay (Royal Holloway) and Maarten Boudry (University of Ghent)
'In Defence of False Beliefs?'
False beliefs have a very bad press. Most of us prefer to avoid them, or at least to appear as though we are doing our best to avoid them (epistemic vanity). In this paper we will explore – and distinguish – three broad defences of false belief. First, false beliefs may often be the best on offer. Even if we integrate all available evidence in a Bayesian fashion, usually that evidence will be flawed or incomplete. In such situations, our false beliefs, though imperfect, may be epistemically optimal. Second, despite causing local epistemic harm, false beliefs may sometimes have net epistemic benefits, preserving existing knowledge or opening the way to new discoveries (epistemic “innocence”). Third, false beliefs may have considerable non-epistemic benefits – psychological, physical, social and even biological – benefits that compensate for epistemic losses (if not redeeming them in epistemic terms). There is much confusion about these different grounds for defending false beliefs, and about what such defences amount to. How to tell which false beliefs are safe to indulge in, and which are deleterious? Are some beliefs defensible because they are false, or just despite their being false? Does a defence of false beliefs compromise their stability? Can an agent mount a defence of his false beliefs, without getting entangled in a maze of self-deception? We will distinguish the psychological from the genetic, the genetic from the epistemic, and the epistemically optimal from the epistemically perfect. In doing so we will consider whether, and when, it can be coherent to move beyond being apologists for false belief, to advocates of false belief.
Lisa Bortolotti (University of Birmingham)
'Epistemic Costs and Benefits of Delusional Beliefs'
I introduce the notion of epistemic innocence as the status of cognitions that may infringe epistemic norms, but have significant epistemic benefits that could not be attained otherwise. In particular, a cognition is epistemically innocent if: (1) it delivers some significant epistemic benefit to a given subject at a given time by contributing to the acquisition, retention or use of true beliefs of importance; (2) alternative cognitions are either unavailable or fail to deliver the same epistemic benefit to that subject at that time. Then I ask whether clinical delusions have the potential for epistemic innocence. Delusions are typically false and irresponsive to evidence, and exemplify failures of rationality and self-knowledge. But empirical studies suggest that delusions may have psychological benefits by relieving anxiety, enhancing meaningfulness and sense of coherence, or playing a defensive function. Can such psychological benefits convert into epistemic ones? I shall argue that at least some delusions can have temporary epistemic benefits and be a means to restore epistemic functionality in agents subject to perceptual anomalies or overwhelming negative emotions.
Katerina Fotopoulou (University College London)
'Inferring the Self: Neurological Exaggerations of Normally Imperfect Inferences about the Body'
The self has always been an elusive and controversial topic in the humanities. Classic, Cartesian philosophical views on self-consciousness portray a private, unitary and disembodied self. This perspective has been challenged by philosophical positions that view the self as embodied and as relational. These positions have an intricate philosophical history and they have been recently invigorated in cognitive neuroscience. Indeed to face the challenge of a scientific understanding of self-consciousness, some neuroscientists have employed a variety of first- and third-person approaches to the search of a ‘core’ or ‘minimal’ bodily self, as the common denominator of all other facets of self-consciousness. Thus a critical, consequent question is how we integrate the various, and at times conflicted, signals from the body to form our coherent sense of a bodily self. According to one influential view that can be traced back to von Helmholtz, we do not passively perceive such signals from the body. Instead we actively filter and combine them according to prior predictions and expectations. The signals that greatly violate our predictions and hence cannot be suppressed by them are used to update our predictions and inform our awareness. In this chapter, I use a recent framework from computational neuroscience, namely the free energy framework, that is based on such predictive coding and Bayesian inference principles, to describe how neurological disorders of the bodily self can be understood as aberrant inferences about the self, based on weak or absent interoceptive and exteroceptive signals from the body. On the basis of relevant experimental and neuroimaging findings on neurological disorders of body agency and ownership, I argue that such disorders represent exaggerated instances of normally imperfect (but Bayes optimal) inferences about one¹s bodily state and the self.
Martin Conway (City University London)
'Memory, Reality, and Consciousness in the Remembering-Imaging System'
In this paper I explore recent themes relating to autobiographical memory (AM). One particularly interesting question is: Does AM represent reality? My answer is that it represents experienced reality. I explore this with theory and examples from the study of AM. I next consider the roles and nature of conscious and non-conscious memories. The former play an important role in, amongst other things, imagining the future, the latter in profoundly influencing choice, of all sorts. Finally, I outline some thoughts on what I term the remembering-imaging system and the connections between what is remembered and what is imagined.
Ema Sullivan-Bissett (University of Birmingham)
'The Epistemic Status of Confabulatory Explanations'
In this paper I explore the nature of different forms of confabulatory explanations, including explanations of actions driven by implicit bias. I argue that such explanations are epistemically innocent. The kinds of cases I have in mind are those in which behaviour is influenced by psychological factors of which the agent is not aware. In order to explain her own behaviour, the agent confabulates. The structure of the paper is as follows: I start by characterising what it would be for an explanation to be epistemically innocent, with two necessary and jointly sufficient conditions. The first is that the agent has no grounds for revising or rejecting their confabulatory explanation, because information that would lend support to a different and less epistemically faulty alternative explanation of their action is not available to them. The second condition is that having the confabulatory explanation puts the agent in a better epistemic position than she would be in had she no explanation for her action at all. Next, I investigate whether confabulatory explanations of our target kind meet those conditions, and suggest that they do. Finally, I discuss the implications of this result.
Petter Johansson and Lars Hall (University of Lund)
'Choice Blindness and the Flexibility of Attitude Formation: Why not Knowing why might be a Good Thing'
Choice Blindness is a research paradigm originally inspired by techniques from the domain of close-up card-magic, which permits researchers to manipulate the relationship between what people choose, and what they actually get. Choice blindness has been investigated in domains such as aesthetic-, moral-, political- and consumer choice, and in the modalities of vision, voice, taste, and smell. Consistently, participants have been found to fail to notice mismatches between what they choose and what they get. In addition, they often confabulate arguments why they actually prefer the alternative they had initially rejected. This paper will describe recent studies on choice blindness and moral and political attitudes (Hall, Johansson & Strandberg, 2012; Hall et al., 2013, etc.) and discuss how the participants' surprising flexibility in their attitudes can be considered a good thing: people have a greater openness to change in their moral and political opinions than what political pundits, pollsters, and the people themselves assume.
Jules Holroyd (University of Nottingham)
'Implicit Bias, Awareness Conditions, and Epistemic Innocence'
Two claims from the growing literature on implicit bias warrant further scrutiny: first, that individuals are not aware of the presence, operation, or effects of implicit biases; second, that to the extent that this awareness is lacking, this may (in certain circumstances), exculpate from responsibility for problematic states or processes. In the first part of the paper I take up the first claim, which has been disputed. I argue that there are different senses of awareness, and different objects of awareness, at issue in different authors' claims (cf. Saul 2013, Monteith et al 2001). Having isolated the senses of awareness relevant to the responsibility claim, I then proceed, in the second part of the paper, to evaluate the role of the awareness condition in recent debates. A common assumption (including that on the awareness condition for responsibility) is that processes or states which operate 'under the radar' of conscious awareness, or cannot be brought under reflective scrutiny, are for that reason problematic (Bargh 1999, Doris 2002, Gendler 2011); this characteristic is taken as a prima facie indication of whether a state or process is epistemically innocent or not (this is true even of authors who have argued that individuals are not in fact, exculpated from responsibility for implicit bias due to lack of awareness of such processes, e.g. Kelly & Washington, forthcoming, who nonetheless talk of such implicit processes as 'creepy'). The key issue here is the supposition that because an agent lacks awareness of certain states and processes they are prima facie problematic aspects of her mental life. I argue that it is a mistake to suppose that processes or states that do not meet the relevant awareness condition are prima facie problematic: awareness conditions are not defensible candidates for distinguishing epistemically innocent processes and states from those which are problematic.
Miranda Fricker (University of Sheffield)
'Fault and No-fault Epistemic Responsibility for Implicit Prejudice: A Space for Epistemic Agent Regret?'
Normally, if one is seen to have made judgements that are significantly influenced by prejudicial bias, then one is epistemically at fault, so that epistemic blame would be justified, including self-blame. What about cases where the prejudice in question is an ‘implicit bias’ (unconscious, automatic, and possibly contrary to one’s beliefs)? Here too, even if our degree of control is very limited, we may well be blameworthy—compare character traits of which we’re unaware e.g. ‘implicit’ selfishness.
But are there circumstances where we may be guilty of implicit prejudice and yet not epistemically blameworthy? An example might be a case of (what we might call) environmental bad epistemic luck: where there is prejudice in the epistemic environment, and one has no reason to suspect that this is so, resulting in an epistemically innocent inheritance of environmental prejudice. Where this is so, we see a space for no-fault epistemic responsibility—the epistemic analogue of ‘agent regret’.