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Belief, Credence, and Pragmatic Encroachment


  • Thanks to Lara Buchak, Kenny Easwaran, Richard Holton, Shieva Kleinschmidt, Matthew McGrath, Julia Staffel, Brian Weatherson, Ralph Wedgwood, Jonathan Weisberg, an audience at Northwestern University, participants in the 2011 Formal Epistemology Workshop, and participants in Jake Ross’s spring 2011 graduate seminar, for helpful discussion and/or comments.


This paper compares two alternative explanations of pragmatic encroachment on knowledge (i.e., the claim that whether an agent knows that p can depend on pragmatic factors). After reviewing the evidence for such pragmatic encroachment, we ask how it is best explained, assuming it obtains. Several authors have recently argued that the best explanation is provided by a particular account of belief, which we call pragmatic credal reductivism. On this view, what it is for an agent to believe a proposition is for her credence in this proposition to be above a certain threshold, a threshold that varies depending on pragmatic factors. We show that while this account of belief can provide an elegant explanation of pragmatic encroachment on knowledge, it is not alone in doing so, for an alternative account of belief, which we call the reasoning disposition account, can do so as well. And the latter account, we argue, is far more plausible than pragmatic credal reductivism, since it accords far better with a number of claims about belief that are very hard to deny.