Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness 2014



Title:  Can reliabilism explain how conscious reflection justifies beliefs?



This poster addresses the justificatory role of conscious reflection within a naturalized, reliabilist epistemology. Reliabilism is the view that implicit, mechanistic (System 1) processes can justify beliefs, e.g. perceptual beliefs formed after a history of consistent exposure to normal lighting conditions are justified in a given context with normal lighting. A popular variant of reliabilism is virtue epistemology where the cognitive circumstances and abilities of an agent play a justificatory role, e.g. the cooperation of the prefrontal cortex and primary visual cortex of the individual perceiving the Müller-Lyer illusion partly justify the belief that the lines are equi-length. While virtue epistemology is a well-endorsed reliabilism for implicit beliefs, its application to explicit, consciously reflective (System 2) processes is more controversial. Critics ask: How can iterations of dumb reliabilist processes produce higher order justification? To respond to this concern, I draw on another agent-centred, normative and reliabilist epistemology—Bayesian epistemology. A Bayesian virtue epistemology argues that reflective hypothesis-testing generated by (largely) implicit Bayesian mechanisms offers higher order reliabilist justification for beliefs. Iterative Bayesian mechanisms (e.g. hierarchically nested probabilistic models) explain the development of higher order beliefs about abstract concepts such as causation, natural laws and theoretical entities traditionally explained by recourse to vague concepts such as ‘the a priori’, ‘intuition’ or ‘the intellect’. A hybrid Bayesian virtue epistemology offers an iterative reliabilist framework to explain how conscious reflection justifies beliefs. However, I acknowledge limitations on Bayesian accounts of justification such as confirmational holism, commutativity, and the frame problem.

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Cognitive Decision Scientist

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S. Kate Devitt

Research Associate, Institute for Future Environments and the Faculty of Law, Queensland University of Technology