Publications

Working Paper
Berker, Selim. Working Paper. “A Combinatorial Argument against Practical Reasons for Belief”.Abstract
Are there practical reasons for and against belief? For example, do the practical benefits to oneself or others of holding a certain belief count in favor of that belief? I argue "No." My argument involves considering how practical reasons for belief, if there were such things, would combine with other reasons for belief in order to determine all-things-considered verdicts, especially in cases involving equally balanced reasons of either a practical or an epistemic sort.
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Berker, Selim. Working Paper. “The Explanatory Character of Moral Principles”.Abstract

Moral properties are explained by other properties. And moral principles tell us about moral properties. How are these two ideas related? In particular, is the truth of a given moral principle part of what explains why a given action has a given moral property? I argue “No.” If moral principles are merely concerned with the extension of moral properties across all possible worlds, then they cannot be partial explainers of facts about the instantiation of those properties, since in general necessitation does not suffice for explanation. And if moral principles are themselves about what explains the moral properties under their purview, then by their own lights they are not needed in order to explain those moral properties’ instantiation—unless, that is, the principles countenance an objectionable form of metaphysical circularity. So moral principles cannot explain why individual actions have moral properties. Nor, I also argue, can they explain why certain other factors explain why those actions have the moral properties that they do, or in some other way govern or mediate such first-order explanations of particular moral facts. When it comes to the explanation of an individual action’s specific moral features, moral principles are explanatorily idle.

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Forthcoming
Berker, Selim. Forthcoming. “The Unity of Grounding.” Mind.Abstract

I argue that there is one and only one grounding/in-virtue-of relation, and that it is indispensable for normative theorizing.

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2015
Berker, Selim. 2015. “Coherentism via Graphs.” Philosophical Issues 25: 322–52.Abstract

Once upon a time, coherentism was the dominant response to the regress problem in epistemology, but in recent decades the view has fallen into disrepute: now almost everyone is a foundationalist (with a few infinitists sprinkled here and there). In this paper, I sketch a new way of thinking about coherentism, and show how it avoids many of the problems often thought fatal for the view, including the isolation objection, worries over circularity, and concerns that the concept of coherence is too vague or metaphorical for serious theoretical use. The key to my approach is to take a familiar tool from discussions of the regress problem -- namely, directed graphs depicting the support relations between beliefs -- and to use that tool in a more sophisticated manner than it is standardly employed.

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Berker, Selim. 2015. “Reply to Goldman: Cutting Up the One to Save the Five in Epistemology.” Episteme 12: 145–53.Abstract

I argue that Alvin Goldman has failed to save process reliabilism from my critique in earlier work of consequentialist or teleological epistemic theories. First, Goldman misconstrues the nature of my challenge: two of the cases he discusses I never claimed to be counterexamples to process reliabilism. Second, Goldman’s reply to the type of case I actually claimed to be a counterexample to process reliabilism is unsuccessful. He proposes a variety of responses, but all of them either feature an implausible restriction on process types, or fail to rule out cases with the sort of structure that generates the worry, or both.

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2014
Berker, Selim. 2014. “Does Evolutionary Psychology Show That Normativity Is Mind-Dependent?.” Moral Psychology and Human Agency: Philosophical Essays on the Science of Ethics, edited by Justin D'Arms and Daniel Jacobson, 215–52. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 215–52.Abstract

Suppose we grant that evolutionary forces have had a profound effect on the contours of our normative judgments and intuitions. Can we conclude anything from this about the correct metaethical theory? I argue that, for the most part, we cannot. Focusing my attention on Sharon Street’s justly famous argument that the evolutionary origins of our normative judgments and intuitions cause insuperable epistemological difficulties for a metaethical view she calls "normative realism," I argue that there are two largely independent lines of argument in Street’s work which need to be teased apart. The first of these involves a genuine appeal to evolutionary considerations, but it can fairly easily be met by her opponents. The second line of argument is more troubling; it raises a significant problem, one of the most difficult in all of philosophy, namely how to justify our reliance on our most basic cognitive faculties without relying on those same faculties in a question-begging manner. However, evolutionary considerations add little to this old problem, and rejecting normative realism is not a way to solve it.

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2013
Berker, Selim. 2013. “The Rejection of Epistemic Consequentialism.” Philosophical Issues 23: 363–87.Abstract

A quasi-sequel to "Epistemic Teleology and the Separateness of Propositions." Covers some of the same ground, but also extends the basic argument in an important way.

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Berker, Selim. 2013. “Epistemic Teleology and the Separateness of Propositions.” Philosophical Review 122: 337–93.Abstract

When it comes to epistemic normativity, should we take the good to be prior to the right? That is, should we ground facts about what we ought and ought not believe on a given occasion in facts about the value of being in certain cognitive states (such as, for example, the value of having true beliefs)? The overwhelming answer among contemporary epistemologists is "Yes, we should." In this essay I argue to the contrary. Just as taking the good to be prior to the right in ethics often leads one to sanction implausible trade-offs when determining what an agent should do, so too, I argue, does taking the good to be prior to the right in epistemology lead one to sanction implausible trade-offs when determining what a subject should believe. Epistemic value—and, by extension, epistemic goals—are not the explanatory foundation upon which all other normative notions in epistemology rest.

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2011
Berker, Selim. 2011. “Gupta's Gambit.” Philosophical Studies 152: 17–39.Abstract

After summarizing the essential details of Anil Gupta’s account of perceptual justification in his book Empiricism and Experience, I argue for three claims: (1) Gupta’s proposal is closer to rationalism than advertised; (2) there is a major lacuna in Gupta’s account of how convergence in light of experience yields absolute entitlements to form beliefs; and (3) Gupta has not adequately explained how ordinary courses of experience can lead to convergence on a commonsense view of the world.

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2009
Berker, Selim. 2009. “The Normative Insignificance of Neuroscience.” Philosophy and Public Affairs 37: 293–329.Abstract

It has been claimed that the recent wave of neuroscientific research into the physiological underpinnings of our moral intuitions has normative implications. In particular, it has been claimed that this research discredits our deontological intuitions about cases, without discrediting our consequentialist intuitions about cases. In this paper I demur. I argue that such attempts to extract normative conclusions from neuroscientific research face a fundamental dilemma: either they focus on the emotional or evolved nature of the psychological processes underlying deontological intuitions, in which case the arguments rely on a blatantly fallacious inference, or they appeal to the (alleged) moral irrelevance of the factors to which deontological intuitions respond, in which case the neuroscientific results end up playing no role in the overall argument.

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2008
Berker, Selim. 2008. “Luminosity Regained.” Philosophers' Imprint 8 (2): 1–22.Abstract

The linchpin of Williamson (2000)'s radically externalist epistemological program is an argument for the claim that no non-trivial condition is luminous—that no non-trivial condition is such that whenever it obtains, one is in a position to know that it obtains. I argue that Williamson's anti-luminosity argument succeeds only if one assumes that, even in the limit of ideal reflection, the obtaining of the condition in question and one's beliefs about that condition can be radically disjoint from one another. However, no self-respecting defender of the luminosity of the mental would ever make such an assumption. Thus Williamson can only secure his controversial claims in epistemology by taking for granted certain equally controversial claims in the philosophy of mind. What emerges is that the best bet for defending an internalist epistemology against Williamson's attack is to take there to be a tight, intimate connection between (to take one example) our experiences and our beliefs upon reflection about the obtaining of those experiences, or between (to take another example) the rationality of our beliefs and our beliefs upon reflection about the rationality of those beliefs.

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2007
Berker, Selim. 2007. “Particular Reasons.” Ethics 118: 109–39.Abstract

Moral particularists argue that because reasons for action are irreducibly context-dependent, the traditional quest in ethics for true and exceptionless moral principles is hopelessly misguided. In making this claim, particularists assume a general framework according to which reasons are the ground floor normative units undergirding all other normative properties and relations. They then argue that there is no cashing out in finite terms either (i) when a given non-normative feature gives rise to a reason for or against action, or (ii) how the reasons that are present in a given context play off each other to determine one’s overall duties. However, the conjunction of these two theses leaves particularists without a coherent notion of a reason for action: posit too much irreducible context-dependence in the behavior of reasons, and the reasons-based framework breaks down. One upshot is that the particularists' challenge to principle-based approaches to ethics has not, at present, been successfully made out; another upshot is that perhaps the best way to formulate that challenge involves renouncing the reasons-based framework all together.

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