Matthew A. Benton

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

Before moving to Seattle I was a postdoctoral research fellow in philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, and before that, a postdoc and Junior Research Fellow at the University of Oxford. And before that, I did my Ph.D. in Philosophy at Rutgers University.

My primary areas of research are Epistemology, Philosophy of Language, and Philosophy of Religion. (Recently, I’ve written on knowledge, hope, and knowing persons, as well as on assertion, hedging, lying, the epistemology of religion, and religious disagreement). My research has been supported by recent grants on knowledge and God, and on the philosophy of honesty through the Honesty Project, funded by the John Templeton Foundation.

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.



Knowledge and God. Cambridge Elements in Epistemology series, Cambridge University Press, 2024. (ebook here)

This Element examines a main theme in religious epistemology, namely, the possibility of knowledge of God. Most often philosophers consider the rationality or justification of propositional belief about God, particularly beliefs about the existence and nature of God; and they will assess the conditions under which, if there is a God, such propositional beliefs would be knowledge, particularly in light of counter-evidence or the availability of religious disagreement. This Element surveys such familiar areas, then turns toward newer and less-developed terrain: interpersonal epistemology, namely what it is to know another person. It then explores the prospects for understanding what it might take to know God relationally, the contours of which are significant for many theistic traditions.

Religious Disagreement and Pluralism. Edited with Jonathan L. Kvanvig. Oxford University Press, 2021. (Reviews in IJPR, Reading Religion, and Journal of Analytic Theology.)

Epistemological questions about the significance of disagreement have advanced in concert with broader developments in social epistemology concerning testimony, the nature of expertise and epistemic authority, the role of institutions, group belief, and epistemic injustice (among others). During this period, related issues in the epistemology of religion have reemerged as worthy of new consideration, and available to be situated with new conceptual tools. This volume explores many of the issues at the intersection of the epistemology of disagreement and religious epistemology: in particular, how to think carefully about religious diversity and disagreement, balancing epistemic humility with personal conviction, the place of religious belief in our social lives, and how best to think about truths concerning religion. 

Knowledge, Belief, and God: New Insights in Religious Epistemology. Edited with John Hawthorne and Dani Rabinowitz. Oxford University Press, 2018. (Reviews in Analysis, NDPR, Faith & Philosophy, Reading Religion, JBTS, Sophia, and Theology.)

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.

journal articles

[click on arrows for abstracts]

The Epistemology of Interpersonal RelationsNoûs, forthcoming. Also here.

What is it to know someone? Epistemologists rarely take up this question, though recent developments make such inquiry possible and desirable. This paper advances an account of how such interpersonal knowledge goes beyond mere propositional and qualitative knowledge about someone, giving a central place to second-personal treatment. It examines what such knowledge requires, and what makes it distinctive within epistemology as well as socially. It assesses its theoretic value for several issues in moral psychology, epistemic injustice, and philosophy of mind. And it offers an account of the complex content in play if interpersonal knowledge is to be understood in terms of its mental states and their functions.

Assertion Remains Strong (with Peter van Elswyk), Philosophical Studies 180 (2023): 27-50.

Assertion is widely regarded as an act associated with an epistemic position. To assert is to represent oneself as occupying this position and/or to be required to occupy this position. Within this approach, the most common view is that “assertion is strong”: the associated position is knowledge or certainty. But recent challenges to this common view present new data that are argued to be better explained by assertion being weak. Old data widely taken to support assertion being strong have also been challenged. This paper examines such challenges and finds them wanting. Far from diminishing the case for strong assertion, carefully considering new and old data reveals that assertion is as strong as ever.

Knowledge, Hope, and Fallibilism, Synthese 198 (2021): 1673-1689.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.Also here.

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

Knowledge is the Norm of Assertion. In Contemporary Debates in Epistemology, 3rd edition, ed. by Ernest Sosa, Matthias Steup, John Turri, and Blake Roeber, 329-339. Wiley-Blackwell, 2024.

Assertion is governed by an epistemic norm requiring knowledge. This idea has been hotly debated in recent years, garnering attention in epistemology, philosophy of language, and linguistics. This chapter presents and extends the main arguments in favor of the knowledge norm, from faulty conjunctions, several conversational patterns, judgments of permission, excuse, and blame, and from showing how. (Paired with a chapter by Peter J. Graham and Nikolaj J. L. L. Pedersen, “Knowledge is Not Our Norm of Assertion.”)

Disagreement and Religion. In Religious Disagreement and Pluralism, ed. by Benton and Kvanvig, 1-40. Oxford University Press, 2021.

This chapter aims to provide a map of the contemporary landscape of the epistemology of disagreement, detailing both the conceptual and normative issues in play, and how these have (and have not) translated into the domain of religious diversity and disagreement. We first examine several sorts of disagreement, and consider in detail some epistemological issues on which many philosophers have recently focused: in particular, what range of attitudes a body of evidence can support, understanding higher-order evidence, and thinking about who counts as an epistemic “peer”. We then turn to how some of these questions surface when considering disagreements over religion, including debates over the nature of evidence and truth in religion, epistemic humility, concerns about irrelevant influences and about divine hiddenness, and arguments over exclusivism, inclusivism, and pluralism. Finally, I offer a brief summary of the contributors’ essays in this volume.

Hedged Assertion (with Peter van Elswyk). For The Oxford Handbook of Assertion, ed. by Sanford Goldberg, 245-263. Oxford University Press, 2020.

Surprisingly little has been written about hedged assertion. Linguists often focus on semantic or syntactic theorizing about, for example, grammatical evidentials or epistemic modals, but pay far less attention to what hedging does at the level of action. By contrast, philosophers have focused extensively on normative issues regarding what epistemic position is required for proper assertion, yet they have almost exclusively considered unqualified declaratives. This essay considers the linguistic and normative issues side-by-side. We aim to bring some order and clarity to thinking about hedging, so as to illuminate aspects of interest to both linguists and philosophers. In particular, we consider three broad questions. 1) The structural question: when one hedges, what is the speaker’s commitment weakened from? 2) The functional question: what is the best way to understand how a hedge weakens? And 3) the taxonomic question: are hedged assertions genuine assertions, another speech act, or what?

Epistemological Aspects of Hope. For The Moral Psychology of Hope, ed. by Claudia Blöser and Titus Stahl, 135-151. The Moral Psychology of the Emotions series. Rowman & Littlefield, 2019.

Hope clearly has a desire element to it, for one only hopes for those propositions which one wants to be true. But hope also has an interesting epistemological element to it, namely, it is an attitude which is somehow incompatible with knowledge. In this paper I first rehearse some of the data which reveal the incompatibility of hope with knowledge. Then I survey a range of propositional emotive attitudes, and compare the epistemological dimension of hope with that of other attitudes. I examine whether there are any norms of rationality invoking epistemological concepts which govern hope, and whether there are related norms concerning when hope may permissibly figure in practical deliberation over a course of action. Finally, I consider second-order inductive reflection on when one should, or should not, hope for an outcome with which one has a long record of experience: in other words, what is the epistemology behind when one should, if ever, stop hoping for outcomes which have failed one many times in the past?

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)

Religious Diversity and Disagreement. In The Routledge Handbook of Social Epistemology, ed. by Miranda Fricker, Peter Graham, David Henderson, and Nikolaj J.L.L. Pedersen, 185-195. Routledge, 2019.

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.

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

Review of John Pittard, Disagreement, Deference, and Religious Commitment (Oxford University Press, 2020), in Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, Sept. 30, 2020 (online).

Review of Hud Hudson, A Grotesque in the Garden (Xerxes Press, 2016; 2nd edn., Eerdmans, 2020) in Faith and Philosophy 36 (2019): 271-275.

Paul Grice, in Oxford Bibliographies in Philosophy. Oxford University Press, March 2015. Revised 2020.

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.

interviews and public-facing philosophy

New Work in Philosophy feature on my paper “The Epistemology of Interpersonal Relations” in Noûs, May 2024.

Linguistic and Interpersonal Honesty,” talk at Wake Forest University, final Honesty Project Conference July 2023.

Interview with Parker Settecase on The Philosophy of Honesty, Parker’s Pensees, July 13, 2023.

In All Things, Charity,” interview with Shelly Ng, SPU Stories, June 23, 2022.

Does Peer Disagreement Destroy your Religious Knowledge?” interview with Parker Settecase, Parker’s Pensees, May 29, 2022. Podcast version here.

Finding Common Ground through Religious Disagreement,” interview with Jamie Aten, Hope + Resilience blog, Psychology Today, April 23, 2021.

White Noise and White Silence: Evangelicals and Race,” Marginalia Review of Books, Dec. 4, 2020.

Evil, Hell, and Evidence for God at a Christian College,” interview with Dan Koch, You Have Permission podcast, Nov. 2019.

Revitalizing the Epistemology of Religion,” OUP blog, Oxford University Press, June 16, 2018.