Charles Mills famously claimed that the method of ideal theory in ethics and political philosophy serves a pernicious ideological function. In this talk, I will explore the hypothesis that something similar is true in epistemology, with particular attention to debates about higher-order evidence. I'll isolate two aspects of epistemological ideal theory to focus on: the idea that the appropriate way to theorize is to begin by describing the ideal epistemic agent, and the idea that what happens when imperfect, real people try to follow some epistemic norm N is irrelevant to the assessment of N qua norm. These methodological commitments lead toward - or, depending on your perspective, illegitimately stack the deck in favor of - views on which the epistemic significance of higher-order evidence is diminished. I'll try to show how ideal-theoretic maneuvers in defense of this position serve a pernicious ideological function, de facto legitimating the maintenance of suspicious, ideologically motivated beliefs, while obfuscating their own performance of this function. I'll also briefly apply these ideas to some prominent recent debates on echo chambers.
Oxford Epistemology Group, 14.00-15.30pm on Thursdays via Zoom. A weekly seminar of visiting speakers, work-in-progress talks, and discussion of recent work in epistemology, for faculty and graduate students. Please email Nick Hughes to be added to the mailing list.
Oxford Epistemology Group Convenor: Nick Hughes