Guest Speaker Alix Cohen: "In Defence of Epistemic Autonomy: A Kantian Proposal"


Location: DeBartolo Hall, Room 140

Guest Speaker Professor Alix Cohen from the University of Edinburgh will be here on Friday, January 27, at 3:00pm in DeBartolo Hall, room TBD.

Talk Title: In Defence of Epistemic Autonomy: A Kantian Proposal

Abstract: There is little discussion of epistemic autonomy in current literature on epistemic normativity, which is particularly surprising in light of the fact that since epistemic consequentialism has come under fire, there has been a renewed interest in non-consequentialist accounts. Even more notably, the few epistemologists who have attempted to explore Kantian inspired alternatives to epistemic consequentialism don’t seem to have considered the potential of epistemic autonomy, limiting their discussions to epistemic versions of deontology or respect for truth instead. I believe that this lack of enthusiasm for epistemic autonomy can be accounted for by the fact that recent discussions of it describe it as an account that champions epistemic individualism to the point that the subject is the only legitimate source of her beliefs. If this is an accurate description of epistemic autonomy, then there are obvious reasons we should be suspicious of it. While different reasons have been put forward in the literature, they tend to converge on the claim that insofar as human knowledge requires epistemic cooperation, epistemic autonomy, insofar as it champions epistemic individualism, is at best an unreachable ideal, and at worst a non-starter. The aim of this paper is to put forward a Kantian account of epistemic autonomy that doesn’t fall prey to these objections and thus show that it is a promising way of thinking about epistemic normativity. To support this claim, I argue that epistemic autonomy rightly understood isn’t individualistic; nor is it self-reliance, epistemic independence, or even seeing the subject as the only legitimate source of belief, as is often portrayed. Rather, on the Kantian proposal I defend, epistemic autonomy requires the epistemic contributions of others. Epistemic autonomy and epistemic communitarianism are thus two sides of the same coin – you can’t have one without the other since epistemic autonomy requires not just others, but a community with others, as its condition of possibility. In this sense, and contrary to what is usually thought, not only is epistemic autonomy compatible with epistemic communitarianism, the latter is a necessary condition of the former. Being a responsible epistemic agent consists in seeing myself as part of a community of agents who share a world (i.e., epistemic communitarianism) and are equally committed to reason’s demand (i.e., epistemic autonomy).

Originally published at