Research Group
in Analytic Philosophy

A Dilemma for Trust-Based Accounts of Epistemic Entitlement

Date: 02 May 2018

Time: 15:00

Place: Seminari de Filosofia UB


Entitlement theory promises a powerful response to scepticism in the form of a species of propositional warrant, distinct from the familiar conception of evidential justification, that one does not need to do any specific evidential work to acquire. So long as we have no evidence to believe they are false, we may be entitled—warranted by default—to certain presuppositions of inquiry. But what exactly is an entitlement a warrant to do? On one account, due to Crispin Wright, entitlements are warrants to place trust in the truth of certain propositions (2004, 2012, 2014). Here is a question that a defender of such an account needs to answer: what degree of confidence in a proposition does this notion of trust permit? Perhaps an entitlement to trust in a proposition marks a warrant to be somewhat confident but not fully confident. Call this a weak account of entitlement-to-trust (henceforth ET). Alternatively, a strong account of ET permits a high degree of confidence, perhaps even as high as subjective certainty. Both weak and strong accounts face serious problems. I begin by suggesting that the initially most plausible version of ET is a weak reading, supported by some considerations that lead down the path of entitlement in the first place. It will turn out, upon closer inspection, however, that weak accounts are implausible, for they will lead to condoning rationally inconsistent doxastic attitudes: combinations of high degrees of confidence in lower-order propositions and low degrees of confidence in respective higher-order propositions. With weak accounts ruled out on this basis, I then turn to the possibility of developing a strong account of ET. We will see that such accounts are able to avoid the inconsistency problem but only at the cost of generating some problems of its own. Strong accounts are committed to rejecting two highly plausible principles of rational belief: the Lockean Thesis and a related, weaker principle connecting certainty to belief. Strong accounts also face the problem of accounting for how entitlement can support such high degrees of confidence despite providing no reasons that indicate the likely truth of the proposition in question—Reichenbachean dominance reasoning, the standard line of argument for ET, seems ill-suited to such a task. I finish by suggesting that the moral of the above story is that the entitlement theorist must ditch this notion of trust and instead focus on accounting for how we can be entitled to believe in the presuppositions of inquiry.