Matthew A. Benton

I am an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Seattle Pacific University.

Before moving to Seattle I was a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Notre Dame, and at the University of Oxford. I did my Ph.D. in Philosophy at Rutgers University.

My primary areas of research are epistemology, philosophy of language, and philosophy of religion, with strong additional interests in philosophy of mind, metaphysics, and logic.

Here are my Google Scholar page and Phil Papers profile.

I am also PhilPapers editor for the categories DefeatPrimitivism about KnowledgeNorms of Assertion, and Epistemology of Religion.

You can reach me at: bentonm at spu dot edu

 

sunset photo of Triton fountain and Radcliffe Observatory courtesy of Jonathan Kirkpatrick, Zeuxis Photography.

research

books

Knowledge, Belief, and God: New Insights in Religious Epistemology. Edited with John Hawthorne and Dani Rabinowitz. Oxford University Press, 2018.

A collection of 16 new essays in the epistemology of religion, broadly construed. Includes work from historical perspectives (Aquinas; Scotus; Maimonides; Hume); in social epistemology (on testimony, disagreement, and expertise); formal epistemology (especially fine-tuning and many-worlds hypotheses); and rationality considerations (practical factors, modal arguments, phenomenal conservatism). Contributors: Charity Anderson, Richard Cross, Billy Dunaway, Dani Rabinowitz, Isaac Choi, Hans Halvorson, John Hawthorne & Yoaav Isaacs, Roger White, Max Baker-Hytch, Rachel Elizabeth Fraser, Jennifer Lackey, Paulina Sliwa, Matthew Benton, Keith DeRose, Margot Strohminger & Juhani Yli-Vakkuri, and Richard Swinburne.

in preparation:

Religious Disagreement and Pluralism. Edited with Ted A. Warfield. In preparation.

A collection of new essays on epistemological issues arising from religious disagreement, religious diversity, the epistemology of disagreement, and pluralist approaches to religious belief.

Knowledge and Language. (monograph, in progress; email for draft)

Knowledge forms the basis of our everyday conversations. Our communications depend on a variety of assumptions and expectations which turn on whether a speaker knows particular propositions which are, directly or indirectly, the topics of discussion. The use of the English term “know(s)” has received a great deal of attention in epistemology in recent years. But our use of such terms in knowledge-ascriptions and knowledge-denials exhibits only a fragment of how knowledge enters into the dialectic of our conversations. For there is a wide range of predicates which presuppose or express a speaker’s relationship to knowledge, or to her lack of knowledge. And our conversational moves exhibit the way that a speaker can commit to, or can hedge against, her having knowledge. Drawing on work in philosophy of language and linguistics, this book details the many ways that knowledge figures in, and lies behind, our speech. Knowledge is arguably indispensable to our daily thought and talk even when our talk does not include the terms “know(s)” or “knowledge.” Chapters: 1. Factive. 2. Emotive. 3. Negative. 4. Assertive. 5. Cooperative. 6. Interrogative. 7. Tentative and Ampliative. 8. Deceptive.

journal articles

God and Interpersonal Knowledge, Res Philosophica 95 (2018): 421-448.

Recent epistemology offers an account of what it is to know other persons. Such accounts hold promise for illuminating several issues in philosophy of religion, and for advancing a distinctive approach to religious epistemology. This paper develops an account of interpersonal knowledge, and clarifies its relation to propositional and qualitative knowledge (§1). §2 considers our knowledge of God and God’s knowledge of us, and compares interpersonal knowledge with important work by Eleonore Stump on “Franciscan” knowledge. §3 examines how interpersonal knowledge may figure in liturgical practice, diffusing the problem of divine hiddenness, and motivating a novel understanding of divine love. Finally, §4 explores the possibility of epistemic injustice arising from dismissal or neglect of our religious testimony to one another, or of divine testimony to humanity, focusing specifically on the import of interpersonal knowledge.

Knowledge, Hope, and Fallibilism, Synthese (2018, online first): 1-17.

Hope, in its propositional construction “I hope that p,” is compatible with a stated chance for the speaker that ~p. On fallibilist construals of knowledge, knowledge is compatible with a chance of being wrong, such that one can know that p even though there is an epistemic chance for one that ~p. But self-ascriptions of propositional hope that p seem to be incompatible, in some sense, with self-ascriptions of knowing whether p. Data from conjoining hope self-ascription with outright assertions, with first- and third-person knowledge ascriptions, and with factive predicates suggest a problem: when combined with a plausible principle on the rationality of hope, they suggest that fallibilism is false. By contrast, the infallibilist about knowledge can straightforwardly explain why knowledge would be incompatible with hope, and can offer a simple and unified explanation of all the linguistic data introduced here. This suggests that fallibilists bear an explanatory burden which has been hitherto overlooked.

Lying, Accuracy, and CredenceAnalysis 78 (2018): 195-198.

Traditional definitions of lying require that a speaker believe that what she asserts is false. Sam Fox Krauss (Analysis, 2017) seeks to jettison the traditional belief requirement in favour of a necessary condition given in a credence-accuracy framework, on which the liar expects to impose the risk of increased inaccuracy on the hearer (the ‘worse-off requirement’). He argues that this necessary condition importantly captures nearby cases as lies which the traditional view neglects. I argue, however, that Krauss’ own account suffers from an identical drawback of being unable to explain nearby cases; and even worse, that account fails to distinguish cases of telling lies from cases of telling the truth.

Epistemology PersonalizedThe Philosophical Quarterly 67 (2017): 813-834.

Recent epistemology has focused almost exclusively on propositional knowledge. This paper considers an underexplored area of epistemology, namely knowledge of persons: if propositional knowledge is a state of mind, consisting in a subject’s attitude to a (true) proposition, the account developed here thinks of interpersonal knowledge as a state of minds, involving a subject’s attitude to another (existing) subject. This kind of knowledge is distinct from propositional knowledge, but it exhibits a gradability characteristic of context-sensitivity, and admits of shifty thresholds. It is supported by a wide range of unexplored linguistic data and intuitive cases; and it promises to illuminate debates in epistemology, philosophy of religion, and ethics.

Knowledge and Evidence You Should Have HadEpisteme 13 (2016): 471-479. Also here.

Epistemologists focus primarily on cases of knowledge, belief, or credence where the evidence which one possesses, or on which one is relying, plays a fundamental role in the epistemic or normative status of one’s doxastic state. Recent work in epistemology goes beyond the evidence one possesses to consider the relevance for such statuses of evidence which one does not possess, particularly when there is a sense in which one should have had some evidence. I focus on Sanford Goldberg’s approach (“Should Have Known,” Synthese, 2017; and “On the Epistemic Significance of Evidence You Should Have Had,” Episteme, 2016); but the discussion will interest anyone working on epistemic defeat.

Gricean QualityNoûs 50 (2016): 689-703. Also here.

Some philosophers oppose recent arguments for the Knowledge Account of Assertion by claiming that assertion, being an act much like any other, will be subject to norms governing acts generally, such as those articulated by Grice for the purpose of successful, cooperative endeavours. But in fact, Grice is a traitor to their cause; or rather, they are his dissenters, not his disciples. Drawing on Grice’s unpublished papers, I show that he thought of asserting as a special linguistic act in need of its own norm, and he tied his maxim of Quality to knowledge. I also develop a simple Gricean-inspired argument showing that the Quality maxim is not dependent on the Cooperative Principle. If it is not thus dependent, then the Cooperative Principle cannot be the explanation of, or source of normativity for, the Quality maxim. Thus, leveraging the insights informing the maxim of Quality actually provides the resources for a distinctive positive case that knowledge is the constitutive norm of assertion.

Expert Opinion and Second-Hand KnowledgePhilosophy & Phenomenological Research 92 (2016): 492-508. Also here.

Expert testimony figures in recent debates over how best to understand the norm of assertion and the domain-specific epistemic expectations placed on testifiers. Cases of experts asserting with only isolated second-hand knowledge (Lackey 2011, 2013) have been used to shed light on whether knowledge is sufficient for epistemically permissible assertion. I argue that relying on such cases of expert testimony introduces several problems concerning how we understand expert knowledge, and the sharing of such knowledge through testimony. Refinements are needed to clarify exactly what principles are being tested by such cases; but once refined, such cases raise more questions than they answer. (Lackey replies here.)

Evil and Evidence (with John Hawthorne and Yoaav Isaacs), Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion, ed. Jonathan L. Kvanvig, vol. 7 (2016): 1-31.

The problem of evil is the most prominent argument against the existence of God. Skeptical theists contend that it is not a good argument. Their reasons for this contention vary widely, involving such notions as CORNEA, epistemic appearances, ‘gratuitous’ evils, ‘levering’ evidence, and the representativeness of goods. We aim to dispel some confusions about these notions, in particular by clarifying their roles within a probabilistic epistemology. In addition, we develop new responses to the problem of evil from both the phenomenal conception of evidence and the knowledge-first view of evidence.

Defeatism Defeated (with Max Baker-Hytch), Philosophical Perspectives 29 (2015): 40-66. Also here.

Many epistemologists are enamored with a defeat condition on knowledge. In this paper we present some implementation problems for defeatism, understood along either internalist or externalist lines. We then propose that one who accepts a knowledge norm of belief, according to which one ought to believe only what one knows, can explain away much of the motivation for defeatism. This is an important result, because on the one hand it respects the plausibility of the intuitions about defeat shared by many in epistemology; but on the other hand, it obviates the need to provide a unified account of defeat which plays well with the most plausible views of how knowledge fits with evidential probability.

Iffy Predictions and Proper Expectations (with John Turri), Synthese 191 (2014): 1857-1866. Also here.

What individuates the speech act of prediction? The standard view is that prediction is individuated by the fact that it is the unique speech act that requires future-directed content. We argue against this view and two successor views. We then lay out several other potential strategies for individuating prediction, including the sort of view we favor. We suggest that prediction is individuated normatively and has a special connection to the epistemic standards of expectation. In the process, we advocate some constraints that we think a good theory of prediction should respect.

Believing on Authority, European Journal for Philosophy of Religion 6 (2014): 133-144. Also here.

Linda Zagzebski’s Epistemic Authority (Oxford Univ Press, 2012) brings together issues in social epistemology with topics in moral and political philosophy as well as philosophy of religion. In this paper I criticize her discussion of self-trust and rationality, which sets up the main argument of the book; I consider how her view of authority relates to some issues of epistemic authority in testimony; and I raise some concerns about her treatment of religious epistemology and religious authority in particular. (Zagzebski’s replies appear in this issue.)

Dubious Objections from Iterated ConjunctionsPhilosophical Studies 162 (2013): 355-358.

The Knowledge Account of Assertion — roughly: one should not assert what one does not know — can explain a variety of Moorean conjunctions, a fact often cited as evidence in its favor. David Sosa (“Dubious Assertions,” Philosophical Studies, 2009) has objected that the account does not generalize satisfactorily, since it cannot explain the infelicity of certain iterated conjunctions without appealing to the controversial ‘KK’ principle. This essay responds by showing how the Knowledge Account can handle such conjunctions without use of the KK principle.

Assertion, Knowledge, and PredictionsAnalysis 72 (2012): 102-105.

John N. Williams (1994) and Matthew Weiner (2005) invoke predictions in order to undermine the normative relevance of knowledge for assertions; in particular, Weiner argues, predictions are important counterexamples to the Knowledge Norm or Knowledge Account of Assertion (KAA). I argue here that they are not true counterexamples at all, a point that can be agreed upon even by those who reject KAA.

Two More for the Knowledge Account of AssertionAnalysis 71 (2011): 684-687. Also here.

The Knowledge Norm or Knowledge Account of Assertion (KAA) has received added support recently from data on prompting assertion (John Turri 2010) and from a refinement suggesting that assertions ought to express knowledge (John Turri 2011). This paper adds another argument from parenthetical positioning, and then argues that KAA’s unified explanation of some of the earliest data adduced in its favor recommends KAA over its rivals.

The Modal Gap: the Objective Problem of Lessing’s Ditch(es) and Kierkegaard’s Subjective ReplyReligious Studies 42 (2006): 27-44. Also here.

This essay expands upon the suggestion that G.E. Lessing’s infamous ‘ditch’ is actually three ditches: temporal, metaphysical, and existential gaps. It examines the complex problems these ditches raise, and then proposes that Kierkegaard’s Philosophical Fragments and Concluding Unscientific Postscript exhibit a similar triadic structure, which may signal a deliberate attempt to engage and respond to Lessing’s three gaps. Viewing the Climacean project in this way offers an enhanced understanding of the intricacies of Lessing’s rationalist approach to both religion and historical truth, and illuminates Climacus’s subjective response to Lessing.

chapters in books; handbook articles; encyclopedia article

Hedged Assertion (with Peter van Elswyk). For The Oxford Handbook of Assertion, ed. by Sanford Goldberg. Oxford University Press, forthcoming.

We discuss hedging and its relation to assertion. Topics covered include which epistemic expressions have interpretations as hedges, what hedging shows about unhedged assertion, and how best to understand the conversational function of hedging.

Religious Diversity and Disagreement. In The Routledge Handbook of Social Epistemology, ed. by Miranda Fricker, Peter Graham, David Henderson, Nikolaj Pedersen, and Jeremy Wyatt. Routledge, forthcoming.

Epistemologists have shown increased interest in the epistemic significance of disagreement, and in particular, in whether there is a rational requirement concerning belief revision in the face of peer disagreement. This article examines some of the general issues discussed by epistemologists, and then considers how they may or may not apply to the case of religious disagreement, both within religious traditions and between religious (and non-religious) views.

Lying, Belief, and Knowledge. In The Oxford Handbook of Lying, ed. by Jörg Meibauer, 120-133. Oxford Handbooks in Linguistics. Oxford University Press, 2019.

What is the relationship between lying, belief, and knowledge? Prominent accounts of lying define it in terms of belief, namely telling someone something one believes to be false, often with the intent to deceive. This paper develops a novel account of lying by deriving evaluative dimensions of responsibility from the knowledge norm of assertion. Lies are best understood as special cases of vicious assertion; lying is the anti-paradigm of proper assertion. This enables an account of lying in terms of knowledge: roughly, lying is telling someone something you know ain’t so. (email me for final version)

Pragmatic Encroachment and Theistic Knowledge. In Knowledge, Belief, and God, ed. by Benton, Hawthorne, and Rabinowitz, 267-287. Oxford University Press, 2018.

If knowledge is sensitive to practical stakes, then whether one knows depends in part on the practical costs of being wrong. When considering religious belief, the practical costs of being wrong about theism may differ dramatically between the theist (if there is no God) and the atheist (if there is a God). This paper explores the prospects, on pragmatic encroachment, for knowledge of theism (even if true) and of atheism (even if true), given two types of practical costs, namely by holding a false belief, and by missing out on a true belief. These considerations set up a more general puzzle of epistemic preference when faced with the choice between two beliefs, only one of which could become knowledge.

Lotteries and Prefaces. In The Routledge Handbook on Epistemic Contextualism, ed. by Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa, 168-176. Routledge, 2017.

The lottery and preface paradoxes pose puzzles in epistemology concerning how to think about the norms of reasonable or permissible belief. Contextualists in epistemology have focused on knowledge ascriptions, attempting to capture a set of judgments about knowledge ascriptions and denials in a variety of contexts (including those involving lottery beliefs). This article surveys some contextualist approaches to handling issues raised by the lottery and preface, while also considering some of the difficulties encountered by those approaches.

Knowledge NormsInternet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2014. ISSN 2161-0002.

Encyclopedia article covering the growing literature on the Knowledge Norm of Assertion (and its rivals), the Knowledge Norm of Action (and pragmatic encroachment), the Knowledge Norm of Belief, and the Knowledge Norm of Disagreement.

entries / reviews

Paul Grice, in Oxford Bibliographies in Philosophy. Oxford University Press, March 2015.

Philosophy in Dialogue: review of Timothy Williamson’s Tetralogue: I’m Right, You’re Wrong (Oxford University Press, 2015), in Marginalia Review of Books, March 2015.

others in progress, or on hiatus

Horrendous Evils and Optimism.

Hope and optimism are arguably indispensable to a good human life. Marilyn McCord Adams (2013) argues that atheists and agnostics who are optimistic or purpose driven are subject to an uncomfortable tension if they are also sufficiently realistic about the way the world is. Acknowledging the reality and effects of horrendous evils poses a problem for the non-theist’s optimism: such evils potentially undermine the ability of the atheist or agnostic to engage in the kind of positive meaning contributed by their optimism or life-goals. In this paper I aim to clarify Adams’ argument, evaluate its commitments and drawbacks, and consider a range of responses available to the non-theist.

Memory and Retrospective Certainty in Descartes.

This essay considers Descartes’s epistemological project, particularly as it develops in the first three Meditations. It begins by highlighting the types of certainty in the early Meditations, which sets up the main focus: to provide an interpretation of the place of memory and retrospective certainty as they relate to metaphysical doubt and the theistic proof. It then evaluates Harry Frankfurt’s (1962) well-known criticisms of the earlier “memory interpretation,” and disarms elements of his refutation. I show not that his criticisms are entirely unsuccessful, but that his resulting suggestion, which has become the received view — that memory is only incidental to Descartes’s concern — is unwarranted. I interpret the many Cartesian passages linking memory and the theistic proof: these offer an explanation of why Descartes consistently construes metaphysical doubt, and why he contrasts the epistemic positions of the atheist and the theist, in terms of retrospection. It concludes with an account of Descartes’s subtle reasoning by which he evades the common charge of circularity.