Objectivity and subjectivity in epistemology : a defense of the phenomenal conception of evidence.
We all have an intuitive grasp of the concept of evidence. Evidence makes beliefs reasonable, justifies jury verdicts, and helps resolve our disagreements. Yet getting clear about what evidence is is surprisingly difficult. Among other possibilities, evidence might consist in physical objects like a candlestick found at the crime scene, propositions like ‘a candlestick was found at the crime scene,’ or experiences like the experience of witnessing a candlestick at the crime scene. This dissertation is a defense of the latter view. Evidence, we will argue, consists in experiences or mental states called ‘seeming states.’ We begin with a look at why the logical positivists came to abandon the experiential or “phenomenal” conception of evidence and adopted what I call “the courtroom conception.” Despite its appeal, we argue that this latter view is too objective; it has trouble playing the role of subjective reasons-provider. Being more subjective, the phenomenal conception deserves another look. However, many have thought that the phenomenal conception itself is unable to fulfill other important roles of evidence. In chapter two we dispute this, arguing that the phenomenal conception can play all four of the chief roles of evidence. Examining the religious epistemology of Alvin Plantinga in chapter three we come to see that the phenomenal conception, while attractive, is in danger of being too subjective. If the phenomenal conception of evidence is to be tenable, it must be offered in conjunction with a conservative epistemic principle which tethers together experiences with the beliefs they evidence in an epistemically appropriate manner. Hence in chapter four we consider a number of conservative epistemic principles and argue for the superiority of one in particular. But these principles have themselves been subject to criticism. For this reason, in chapter five we close by responding to a recent and pressing challenge to conservative principles in epistemology (Michael Bergmann’s dilemma for internalism) which might prevent their deployment alongside the phenomenal conception. If our arguments are correct, the phenomenal conception of evidence is still an attractive account of evidence today.