Royal Institute of Philosophy 2019 Essay Prize Results

The Royal Institute of Philosophy, a charitable organization aimed at promoting philosophy, has announced the results of its 2019 essay contest, which had the theme of “the significance of paradoxes.”

Georgi Gardiner

The winner is Georgi Gardiner, assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Tennessee, for her essay, “Profiling and Proof: Are Statistics Safe?”

Here’s the paper’s abstract:

Many theorists hold that outright verdicts based on bare statistical evidence are unwarranted. Bare statistical evidence may support high credence, on these views, but does not support outright belief or legal adjudication. The vignettes that constitute the lottery paradox and the proof paradox are marshalled to support this claim. Some theorists argue, furthermore, that examples of profiling also indicate that bare statistical evidence is insufficient for warranting outright verdicts. I examine Pritchard’s and Buchak’s treatments of these three kinds of case. Pritchard argues that his safety condition explains the insufficiency of bare statistical evidence for outright verdicts in each of the three cases, while Buchak argues that her treatment of the distinction between credence and belief explains this. In these discussions the three kinds of cases—lottery, proof paradox, and profiling—are treated alike. The cases are taken to exhibit the same epistemic features. I identity significant overlooked epistemic differences amongst these three cases; these differences cast doubt on Pritchard’s explanation of the insufficiency of bare statistical evidence for outright verdicts.

The prize is £2,500 (approximately $3250) and publication of the essay in the Royal Institute’s journal, Philosophy. A draft of the essay is available here.

The runner up is Martin Pleitz (University of Münster) for his essay, “Paradox as a Guide to Ground”.

Beyond the Ivory Tower. Workshop for academics on writing short pieces for wide audiences on big questions. Taking place October 18th to 19th. Application deadline July 30th. Funding provided.
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4 years ago


The version on my website (linked above) is a slightly older version. The forthcoming version includes a new section:

“6. On Seeking a Unified Explanation of the Paradoxes”

The new section discusses moral encroachment and meta-philosophy. The moral encroachment debate is fairly fast-moving, and I know a lot of people are interested in it.

Here is a link to the version that includes section 6.…/Gardiner_Profiling%20and…

And here is a precis of topic of section 6. As a standalone summary, it might not be fully intelligible to people who lack the relevant background. The essay itself discusses the topic in more depth.
“I examined epistemic features of five pairs of vignettes—Lottery, Prisoner, Taxi, and iPhone, with its sexual assault variation. This discussion raises two questions. Firstly, is the verdict warranted in each of the vignettes? Received wisdom holds the verdict described in Case One in each pair—the verdict based on bare statistical evidence—is unwarranted, or is at least less warranted than the corresponding Case Two verdict. This paper remains agnostic about the first question, and instead charts overlooked epistemic contours of the vignettes. The second question asks whether a unified account of the epistemology of the vignettes is tenable or even desirable. Can the same epistemological tools explain whether or not the verdicts are warranted in each vignette?

Orthodoxy holds that if a single epistemological posit explains intuitive judgements about all the vignettes, this qualifies as a virtue of the account…

A recent wave of epistemological theorising argues, however, there is something deeply mistaken about treating the cases alike. Moral encroachment holds that moral features of a judgement can affect its epistemic justification. Advocates of moral encroachment urge that we should treat the various vignettes as epistemologically heterogenous…

Such moral encroachment views apply heterogenous epistemological explanations to the various cases. They hold that treating the cases alike overlooks important aspects of epistemic and moral normativity.

On Pritchard’s view—indeed, according to orthodoxy—it is a virtue of his account if his safety posit explains the epistemological contours of all the cases. Moral encroachment, by contrast, holds that treating vignettes about crimes as epistemologically akin to vignettes about lotteries and Galton Boards is mistaken; epistemic normativity ought to be sensitive to moral features.

On this view, the paradoxes constituted by morally loaded vignettes exemplify very different epistemological phenomena from those constituted by morally neutral vignettes. A unified account of these paradoxes, is neither tenable nor desirable.

And moral encroachment exhibits a further departure from orthodoxy…. Moral encroachment thereby reverses their respective epistemic justification ranking, as compared to orthodox views.”