12. – 13.09.2013

The New Evil Demon — Knowledge, Rationality and the Internal

Organisation: Julien Dutant (Geneva) & Fabian Dorsch (Fribourg)
Location: Room SO 019, University of Geneva, 5 rue Saint-Ours, 1200 Geneva  (Map)
Links: Conference Website


Thursday, 12th of September
10:30 – 12:00 Steward Cohen (Arizona): TBA (cancelled)
12:00 – 14:30 Lunch Break
14:30 – 16:00 Julien Dutant (Geneva): ‘Knowledge-Based Decision Theory and the New Evil Demon’
16:00 – 16:30 Coffee Break
16:30 – 18:00 Clayton Littlejohn (KCL): ‘A Plea for Epistemic Excuses’
Friday, 13th of September
10:30 – 12:00 Nico Silins (Cornell & Yale-NUS): ‘The Evil Demon Inside’
12:00 – 14:30 Lunch Break
14:30 – 16:00 Maria Lasonen-Aarnio (Michigan): ‘The Disposition to Know’
16:00 – 16:30 Coffee Break
16:30 – 18:00 Timothy Williamson (Oxford): ‘Legality and Law-Abidingness’

The Conference Theme

The New Evil Demon problem is a standing issue at the interface of ethics and epistemology. It concerns rationality – both rational action and rational belief – and what epistemologists call „justified“ belief and action. Recent years have seen a growing wave of „externalist“ theories of justification, reasons and evidence. On such views, justification, reasons and evidence are not only dependent on what goes on in one‘s head – or in one‘s mind, narrowly conceived -, but partly depend on one‘s environment. Typical examples are Williamson‘s views that one‘s evidence is what one knows and that one is justified by what one knows (Williamson 2000), of the idea that one‘s reasons are what one knows (Unger 1975, Hyman 1999). Insofar as we think that rationality is a matter of reasons, justification or evidence, such views face a pressing problem known as the New Evil Demon problem (Cohen 1983).

The problem starts with a pair of cases: a „Good“ case, in which everything is normal and one believes or intend something justifiedly and rationally, and a „Bad“ case, in which everything appears to one as in the „Good“ case, but one‘s belief or intention are mistaken. The Bad case involve a Cartesian Evil Demon, but also much more ordinary forms of honest mistakes – tricky lightning, prankster friends and the like. With such pairs of cases there is considerable pressure to say what it is rational to intend and to believe is the same in both cases; and perhaps also that what it is justified to intend and to believe is the same in both cases. Such cases apparently contradict externalist views of rationality and justification and have been used to defend „internalism“ about justification (Cohen 1983) and rationality (Wedgwood 2002).

Externalists have tried to address the problem in various ways – some of which have only recently been put forward. They can for instance defend a straightforward externalism about rationality – so that belief and action in the Bad case are irrational -, adopt some form of disjunctivism about rationality – so that belief in the Bad case is rational by being „excused“ rather than „justified“ -, or try to derive internalism about rationality from externalist grounds – so that, for instance, belief in the Bad case is rationalized by what one knows, even though one does not know the same thing as in the Good case. The conference will discuss new developments of the debate.