Ph.D., University of California - San Diego
My current research focuses on good reasoning and good lives. My goal is to develop ideas that combine the insights of philosophers and psychologists on these topics. Abstract away from the details, and the arguments for my views are pretty simple: You should accept my views because a theory that makes sense of more stuff (the insights of both philosophers and psychologists) is better than a theory that makes sense of less stuff (the insights of just philosophers).
Below you will find selected works organized by topic.
Ethics and Well-Being
The Good Life: Unifying the Philosophy and Psychology of Well-Being. Oxford University Press. 2015.
The network theory of well-being holds that your life is going well for you when you’re caught up in a self-maintaining network of positive feelings, attitudes, traits, and interactions with the world. Because the network theory is designed to make sense of the psychology of well-being, it has a natural advantage over traditional philosophical theories of well-being: It makes sense of the evidence of both science and commonsense.
The Network Theory of Well-Being: An Introduction. The Baltic International Yearbook of Cognition, Logic and Communication. 2012.
A brief introduction to the network theory of well-being, which holds that your life is going well for you when you’re caught up in a self-maintaining network of positive feelings, attitudes, traits, and interactions with the world.
Epistemology and the Psychology of Human Judgment. Michael Bishop & J.D. Trout. Oxford University Press. 2005.
J.D. Trout and I articulate and defend Strategic Reliabilism, the view that reasoning is better to the extent it’s cheap, useful, and reliable (i.e., truth-conducive). We defend Strategic Reliabilism on the grounds that it makes sense of “ameliorative psychology” – those areas of psychology that yield powerful advice about how people should (and should not) reason about significant issues.
The Epistemic Virtues of a Closed Mind. Michael Bishop & J.D. Trout. Frontiers in Communication: Science and Environmental Communication. 2021.
We live in the golden age of the epistemic confidence game. An epistemic con seeks to recruit you to spread doubt and falsehood about well-established claims, and it has two elements. First are magic bullet arguments, which purport to identify the crucial fact that proves some well-established hypothesis is false. Second are appeals to epistemic virtue: You should be fair and think for yourself. As the mark (or victim) of an epistemic con, you don’t understand the game. You think it’s to find the truth. But really, it’s to see how long you’re willing to be the con artist’s unwitting shill (an accomplice who entices other victims to the con). To avoid scientific cons, J.D. Trout and I recommend an attitude of “close-minded deference” to settled science. Settled science consists of the general consensus of scientific experts, where experts are defined by their roles within the institutions of science. Close-minded deference is neither blind faith nor certainty. It is belief that does not waver in the face of objections from less reliable sources.
Strategic Reliabilism: A Naturalistic Approach to Epistemology. Michael Bishop & J.D. Trout. Philosophy Compass. 2008.
A brief introduction to Strategic Reliabilism, the view that reasoning is epistemically better to the extent it’s cheap, useful, and reliable (i.e., truth-conducive).
In Praise of Epistemic Irresponsibility: How Lazy and Ignorant Can You Be? Synthese. 2000.
To be epistemically responsible is to believe in accordance with the evidence. But in some realistic (non-skeptical) situations, reliability (truth-conduciveness) and responsibility go their separate ways. Reasoning reliably involves not believing in accordance with the (first-order) evidence. This means that sometimes we’ll know that the first-order evidence clearly supports p, the most reliable reasoning rule will recommend we believe not-p, and p will turn out to be true. This sort of case forces us to rethink our notion of epistemic responsibility.
Reflections on Cognitive and Epistemic Diversity: Can a Stich in Time Save Quine? Stich and his Critics. Wiley-Blackwell. 2009.
A critical review of Stephen Stich’s epistemological views, and a defense of Quine’s unpopular contention that epistemology, properly understood, “simply falls into place as a chapter of psychology and hence of natural science.” Quinean naturalism requires the proviso that psychology is not a purely descriptive endeavor. Psychology is full of normative prescriptions about how we ought to reason.
Why the Generality Problem is Everybody’s Problem. Philosophical Studies. 2010.
Reliabilism holds that a belief is justified just in case it’s produced by a reliable process. The generality problem is the challenge of identifying the belief-forming process whose reliability determines the justificatory status of a belief. If this challenge undermines reliabilism, it undermines every plausible theory of justification. That’s because the generality problem challenge arises any time a person justifies a belief on the basis of higher-order evidence that the belief is the product of a highly reliable belief-forming process. Since every plausible theory of justification must account for such cases, every plausible theory of justification falls victim to the generality problem challenge.
The Autonomy of Social Epistemology. Episteme. 2005.
Epistemological individualism holds that individuals implicitly know the right epistemic norms and can discover them via an appropriate process of self-exploration, and social epistemology is simply the application of these norms to social situations. Epistemic individualism is false because the epistemic norms that govern social practices are inconsistent with the epistemic norms that we implicitly know. What’s more, when these norms conflict, it is the social norms that are the right ones. Social rationality is rationality.
Ending the Rationality Wars: How to Make Disputes about Human Rationality Disappear. Richard Samuels, Stephen Stich, and Michael Bishop. Common Sense, Reasoning and Rationality. Oxford University Press. 2002.
An attempt to resolve the debates between Kahneman and Tversky (on the one hand) and Gigerenzer and his colleagues (on the other hand) about whether people are rational.
Fast and Frugal Heuristics. Philosophy Compass. 2006.
An opinionated review of the “fast and frugal” heuristics literature. Heuristics are relatively simple rules for making judgments. A fast heuristic is easy to use and allows one to make judgments quickly. A frugal heuristic comes to a judgment on the basis of a small fraction of the available evidence. Some fast and frugal heuristics are claimed to be about as reliable as ideal (non-fast, non-frugal) reasoning strategies.
Philosophy of Science
Why Thought Experiments are Not Arguments. Philosophy of Science. 1999.
Sometimes scientists disagree about the outcome of a thought experiment. Einstein and Bohr, for example, disagreed about the outcome of the clock-in-the-box thought experiment. And so they reconstructed the thought experiment using different arguments. Any such episode consists of two arguments but just one thought experiment. So the thought experiment can’t be the arguments.
An Epistemological Role for Thought Experiments. Poznan Studies in the Philosophy of the Sciences and the Humanities. 1998.
Thought experiments are puzzling: Why should something that exists only in the mind alter our fundamental beliefs about reality? After all, isn’t reasoning from the imaginary to the real a sign of psychosis? A thought experiment is a thought (about) experiment. And a role of thought experiments in science is to test the explanatory power of a theory. Thus, thought experiments can play a role in rational theory choice whenever explanatory power counts in favor of a theory. If this is right, then scientists who employ imaginary thought experiments in their theorizing are betraying an implicit commitment to a kind of realism about the aims of science.
50 Years of Successful Predictive Modeling Should Be Enough: Lessons for Philosophy of Science. Michael Bishop & J.D. Trout. Philosophy of Science. 2002.
There are statistical models that make more accurate predictions than expert humans. J.D. Trout and I explore the implications of these models for the nature of understanding, explanation, good reasoning, and the goals of theorizing in the philosophy of science.
The Flight to Reference, or How Not to Make Progress in the Philosophy of Science. Michael Bishop & Stephen P. Stich. Philosophy of Science. 1998.
A “flight to reference” argument aims to settle metaphysical questions (about whether something exists) by appeal to reference (how words refer to things in the world). Stephen Stich and I argue that such arguments are fatally flawed.
Theory-Ladenness of Perception Arguments. PSA: Proceedings of the Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association. 1992.
A theory-ladenness of perception argument tries to draw important implications about the rationality of theory-choice in science from empirical facts about perception. Four empirical phenomena fors the basis of four popular theory-ladenness of perception arguments: (a) the conceptual penetrability of the visual system, (b) voluntary reversal of ambiguous figures, (c) adaptation to distorting lenses, and (d) expectation effects. Consider each argument on its merits, and it turns out that a lot of the conventional wisdom about theory-ladenness of perception arguments turns out to be false.
Why the Semantic Incommensurability Thesis is Self-Defeating. Philosophical Studies. 1991.
Two theories are semantically incommensurable when proponents of those theories inevitably talk past one another, at least partially, when attempting to resolve their disagreements. This thesis is attractive because adopting a new theory increases our expressive capacities: We learn and can employ new concepts. But for communication across the theoretical divide to be inevitably partial, the adoption of a new theory must radically restrict our conceptual resources, so that we can only express the concepts of the theories we embrace. The semantic incommensurability thesis is self-defeating because the insight that seems to nurture it (new theories expand our conceptual repertoire) actually poisons it.
The Pessimistic Induction, the Flight to Reference, and the Metaphysical Zoo. International Studies in the Philosophy of Science. 2003.
Here’s the pessimistic induction: Most successful scientific theories of the past were false; so our current successful scientific theories are probably false as well. Realists typically respond with a “flight to reference” argument: Show that successful obsolete theories were approximately true by showing that their central expressions referred. The debate over the pessimistic induction is at a stalemate, with realists and antirealists insisting upon different views of how scientific language works. We can break the stalemate with a direct version of the pessimistic induction – one that makes no essential appeal to reference.
The Theory Theory Thrice Over: The Child as Scientist, Superscientist or Social Institution? Michael Bishop & Stephen M. Downes. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A. 2002.
The “theory theory” (a view defended by Alison Gopnik and Andrew Meltzoff) holds that theory change in science and children are similar. The theory theory is ambiguous depending on whether theory change in “science” is understood to be theory change in (i) individual scientists, (ii) a rational reconstruction of science (a “Superscientist”), or (iii) scientific communities. Stephen Downes and I argue that that (i) is false, (ii) is non-empirical, and (iii) is either false or isn’t clear enough to have a truth-value.
Diagnostic Prediction and Diagnosis: Getting from Symptom to Treatment. Michael Bishop & J.D. Trout. The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy and Psychiatry. 2013.
J.D. Trout and I review the stunning recent (post-DSM) history of subjective and semi-structured methods of psychiatric diagnosis, as well as evidence for the superiority of structured and computer-aided diagnostic techniques. While recognizing that there is evidence that certain forms of therapy are effective for alleviating the psychiatric suffering, distress, and dysfunction associated with certain psychiatric disorders, we address some of the difficult methodological and ethical challenges of evaluating the effectiveness of therapy.
Semantic Flexibility in Scientific Practice: A Study of Newton’s Optics. Philosophy and Rhetoric. 1999.
Semantic essentialism is the view that respectable scientific expressions have a fixed kernel of meaning. The application of semantic essentialism to Newton’s optics leads to deeply uncharitable and unmotivated interpretations of Newton’s writings. As Newton builds a case for his optical theory, his arguments tend to employ steadily bolder concepts. A context-sensitive view of scientific language that rejects semantic essentialism makes far better sense of the power and flexibility of Newton’s arguments – and of scientific arguments in general.
The Possibility of Conceptual Clarity in Philosophy. American Philosophical Quarterly. 1992.
Philosophers propose classical accounts (framed in terms of singly necessary and jointly sufficient conditions) of philosophically important categories. Given that our philosophical concepts are unlikely to be represented classically, what are we to make of these classical accounts? The answer depends on what we take to be the goal of philosophical theorizing. If the goal is conceptual analysis (to preserve our philosophical concept) or conceptual explication (to preserve the clear instances and non-instances of our philosophical expressions), then this endeavor is likely doomed. But if the goal of philosophy is conceptual revision in the service of theoretical excellence, the goal of developing classical accounts of important categories is a realistic and plausible one.
The Pathologies of Standard Analytic Epistemology. Michael Bishop & J.D. Trout. Nous. 2005.
The standard story about naturalized epistemology is that it fails to bridge the is-ought divide. J.D. Trout and I argue that the standard story gets things backwards. Traditional theorizing in epistemology is empirical: It attempts to accurately capture our potentially idiosyncratic epistemic judgments. It is a form of anthropology or autobiography. Naturalized epistemology takes psychology as its starting point. But the standard story is wrong about the nature of psychology. It is not purely descriptive. Some of the best contemporary psychological science is deeply normative. This means that psychology can serve as a starting point for a naturalized epistemology that has genuine prescriptive force.
WINO Epistemology and the Shifting-Sands Problem. Chris Zarpentine, Heather Cipolletti, and Michael Bishop. The Monist. 2012.
If people’s epistemic intuitions are diverse, it’s hard to see how we achieve consensus in epistemology. A natural solution is to narrow the base of evidence by finding a way to prove that some people’s intuitions are wrong. Chris Zarpentine, Heather Cipolletti and I argue that a better solution is to expand the base of evidence to include scientific evidence, and then see what theory best explains the totality of the (somewhat messy) evidence. This expansive solution is not new: It’s wide reflective equilibrium. Narrow reflective equilibrium holds that normative principles are justified when they are brought into coherence with our particular judgments about cases; wide reflective equilibrium adds that they also need to be brought into coherence with our best relevant background theories. If the expansive solution seems radical, it’s only because the methodological practices of too many contemporary epistemologists is WINO (Wide In Name Only) reflective equilibrium.
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