Epistemology

The Marc Sanders Prize in Epistemology is administered by Tamar Szabó Gendler, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and Vincent J. Scully Professor of Philosophy and Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Science at Yale University.

Note: The 2019 competition is closed. The next competition cycle will be in 2021.

Current Competition Details

The Marc Sanders Prize in Epistemology is a biennial essay competition open to scholars who are within fifteen (15) years of receiving a Ph.D. or students who are currently enrolled in a graduate program. Independent scholars may also be eligible and should direct inquiries to the Editors of OSE (see below.)

The award is $5,000. Winning essays will be published in Oxford Studies in Epistemology.

Submitted essays must report original research in epistemology. Essays should generally be between 7,500 and 15,000 words. Longer essays may be considered, but authors must seek prior approval by providing the Editors with an abstract and a word count before submission. Since winning essays will appear in Oxford Studies in Epistemology, submissions must not be under review elsewhere. To be eligible for the next prize, submissions must be received, electronically, by October 15th, 2019. Authors should include with their submissions an abstract of no more than 500 words. Refereeing will be blind; authors should omit remarks and references that might disclose their identities. Receipt of submissions will be acknowledged by e-mail. The winner will be determined by a committee of members of the Editorial Board of Oxford Studies in Epistemology or by a committee deputized by them for this purpose and will be announced in November. (The Editorial Board reserves the right to extend the deadline further, if no essay is chosen.) At the author’s request, the Board will simultaneously consider entries in the prize competition as submissions for publication in Oxford Studies in Epistemology independently of the prize.

Inquiries and submissions should be directed to ose.editorial@gmail.com.

Prize Winners

2019 Winner

Sarah Moss, University of Michigan

Title: "Knowledge and Legal Proof" (PDF)

The Marc Sanders Foundation and Oxford Studies in Epistemology join in congratulating Sarah Moss as the winner of the Sanders Prize in Epistemology for her paper “Knowledge and Legal Proof.”

Abstract:

Contemporary legal scholarship on evidence and proof addresses a host of apparently disparate questions: What does it take to prove a fact beyond a reasonable doubt? Why is the reasonable doubt standard notoriously elusive, even sometimes considered by courts to be impossible to define? Can the standard of proof by a preponderance of the evidence be defined in terms of probability thresholds? Why is merely statistical evidence often insufficient to meet the burden of proof?

This paper defends an account of proof that addresses each of these questions. Where existing theories take a piecemeal approach to these puzzles, my theory develops a core insight that unifies them—namely, the thesis that legal proof requires knowledge. Although this thesis may seem radical at first, I argue that it is in fact highly intuitive; in fact, the knowledge account of legal proof does better than several competing accounts when it comes to making sense of our intuitive judgments about what legal proof requires.

2019 Honorable Mention

Thi Nguyen, Utah Valley University

Title: "Trust as an Unquestioning Attitude" (PDF)

Most theories of trust presume that trust is a conscious attitude that can be directed at only other agents. I sketch a different form of trust: the unquestioning attitude. What it is to trust, in this sense, is not simply to rely on something, but to rely on it unquestioningly. It is to rely on a resource while suspending deliberation over its reliability. To trust, then, is to set up open pipelines between yourself and parts of the external world — to permit external resources to have a similar relationship to one as one’s internal cognitive faculties. This creates efficiency, but at the price of exquisite vulnerability. We must trust in this way because we are cognitively limited beings in a cognitively overwhelming world. Crucially, we can hold the unquestioning attitude towards objects. When I trust my climbing rope, I climb while putting questions of its reliability out of mind. Many people now trust, in this sense, complex technologies such as search algorithms and online calendars. But, one might worry, how could one ever hold such a normatively loaded attitude as trust towards mere objects? How could it ever make sense to feel betrayed by an object? Such betrayal is grounded, not in considerations of inter-agential cooperation, but in considerations of functional integration. Trust is our engine for expanding and outsourcing our agency — for binding external processes into our practical selves. Thus, we can be betrayed by our smartphones in the same way that we can be betrayed by our memory. When we trust, we try to make something a part of our agency, and we are betrayed when our part lets us down. This suggests a new form of gullibility: agential gullibility, which occurs when agents too hastily and carelessly integrate external resources into their own agency.

2017 Winner

Miriam Schoenfield, MIT

Title: "Meditations on Beliefs Formed Arbitrarily" (PDF)

The Marc Sanders Foundation and Oxford Studies in Epistemology join in congratulating Miriam Schoenfield as the winner of the Sanders Prize in Epistemology for her paper “Meditations on Beliefs Formed Arbitrarily.” Miriam is Associate Professor of Philosophy at MIT.

Abstract:

Had we grown up elsewhere or been educated differently, our view of the world would likely be radically different. What to make of this? This paper takes an accuracy-centered first-personal approach to the question of how to respond to the arbitrary nature in which many of our beliefs are formed. I show how considerations of accuracy motivate different responses to this sort of information depending on the type of attitude we take towards the belief in question upon subjecting the belief to doubt.

Honorable Mention

Jason Konek, University or Bristol

Title: "The Art of Learning" (PDF)

The Marc Sanders Foundation and Oxford Studies in Epistemology join in congratulating Jason Konek as the winner of the Sanders Prize in Epistemology for the paper “The Art of Learning.”

 

Abstract:

Confirmational holism is at odds with Jeffrey conditioning—the orthodox Bayesian policy for accommodating uncertain learning experiences. Two of the great insights of holist epistemology are that (i) the effects of experience ought to be mediated by one’s background beliefs, and (ii) the support provided by one’s learning experience can and often is undercut by subsequent learning. Jeffrey conditioning fails to vindicate either of these insights. My aim is to describe and defend a new updating policy that does better. In addition to showing that this new policy is more holism-friendly than Jeffrey conditioning, I will also show that it has an accuracy-centered justification.

2015 Winner

Sophie Horowitz, Rice University

Title: “Accuracy and Educated Guesses” (PDF)

The Marc Sanders Foundation and Oxford Studies in Epistemology join in congratulating Sophie Horowitz as the winner of the Sanders Prize in Epistemology for her paper “Accuracy and Educated Guesses.” Sophie is Assistant Professor at Rice University and her paper will appear in Oxford Studies in Epistemology.

An Honorable Mention goes to David Barnett, the runner-up, for his paper titled, “Perceptual Justification and the Cartesian Theater”.

Abstract:

Abstract: Credences, unlike full beliefs, can’t be true or false. So what makes credences more or less accurate? I offer a new answer to this question: credences are accurate insofar as they license true educated guesses, and less accurate insofar as they license false educated guesses. I argue that this account can be used to justify certain coherence constraints on rational credence, and has other advantages over rival accounts of accuracy.

2013 Winner

Michael Titelbaum, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Title: “Rationality’s Fixed Point“ (PDF)

The Marc Sanders Foundation and Oxford Studies in Epistemology join in congratulating Michael Titelbaum as the winner of the Sanders Prize in Epistemology for his entry “Rationality’s Fixed Point.”

Abstract:

This year there were 61 entries for the prize which, after a rigorous review process, were reduced to an exceptionally strong field of 6 finalists. Michael’s paper will appear in Oxford Studies in Epistemology along with the two runners up papers by Sarah Moss (University of Michigan), “Time-Slice Epistemology and Action Under Uncertainty”, and John Bengson (University of Wisconsin-Madison), “Grasping the Third Realm.”

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The Marc Sanders Foundation would be happy to hear from you. Please feel free to contact us (e-mail is preferred) about any questions you might have.

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Barry Lam

Copyright 2019 Marc Sanders Foundation