The Jowett Society (Friday - Week 4, TT19)

Philosophical Society

What is the role of phenomenal consciousness in grounding epistemic justification? This paper explores the prospects for a global version of phenomenal conservatism inspired by the work of Michael Huemer, according to which all epistemic justification is grounded in phenomenal seemings. I’m interested in this view because of its global ambitions: it seeks to explain all epistemic justification in terms of a single epistemic principle, which says that you have epistemic justification to believe whatever seems to you strongly enough on balance to be true. One of the attractions of phenomenal conservatism is that it offers such a simple and unified framework for explaining the epistemic role of phenomenal consciousness. I will argue, however, that the simplicity of phenomenal conservatism is not a theoretical virtue, but a theoretical vice, since it distorts the epistemological phenomena it is supposed to explain. In effect, phenomenal conservatism seeks to explain all epistemic justification on the same model as perception. But this has the predictable effect of distorting the epistemology of other domains, including introspection, inference, and a priori justification. I end by sketching an alternative framework for accommodating the epistemic role of phenomenal consciousness, which I call 'phenomenal accessibilism'.

After the talks all are invited to socialise and continue discussion over drinks in the Ryle Room. If you would like to join for dinner after the drinks reception, please email