“Epistemic Duty and Epistemic Tension:  a Rossian Account” @ Salle 309, Stone Castle
Nov 19 @ 12:00 – 13:15
“Epistemic Duty and Epistemic Tension:  a Rossian Account” @ Salle 309, Stone Castle

Les membres du CRÉ se réjouissent d’entendre Mark T. Nelson, chercheur invité au CRÉ, donner une présentation intitulée “Epistemic Duty and Epistemic Tension:  a Rossian Account”.


We are subject to “epistemic tension” when we feel the pull of apparently incompatible ideas P and Q, i.e., when we have what we take to be strong reasons to think that both P and Q are true.  Sometimes we relieve this tension by showing that P and Q are not really incompatible or that we do not have strong reason to believe both of them.  Sometimes, however, we do not.  For example, in his famous  discussion of “naked soldiers” Michael Walzer (1992:  138-143) presents a number of historical accounts in which soldiers were in a position to kill an enemy, but declined to do so because the enemy soldier in question was bathing or holding up his pants or drinking coffee or simply enjoying a spring sunrise, i.e., activities in which we “recognize a fellow creature, who is not threatening me, whose activities have the savor of peace and camaraderie, whose person is as valuable as my own.”  And yet, after presenting these accounts in loving detail, Walzer returns to the conclusion he has defended over the previous eight chapters: “It is not against the rules of war as we currently understand them to kill soldiers who look funny, who are taking a bath, holding up their pants, reveling in the sun, smoking a cigarette.”  Far from seeking to eliminate the epistemic tension between two conflicting moral ideas, here he seems to embrace it.  Why would he do this?  Maybe his purpose is to show that logic breaks down, hence we must tolerate paradoxes?  Or maybe he wants to heighten our sense of the problem to make his later solution all the more dazzling?  Or maybe he is just perverse?  On the contrary, I suggest that in some such cases epistemic tension can provide us with valuable information:  namely, that there is strong prima facie evidence for both P and Q.  I will argue further that the existence of such cases fits well with a pluralistic, non-reductive account of epistemic justification modelled on Rossian prima facie rightness.  Finally, I argue that the distinctive phenomenology of epistemic tension shows how we may garner such information about justification in the absence of a plausible objective, quantitative account of evidential relations.