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inaugural address – Group belief for a reason
Jessica Brown (University of St Andrews)

2022 Joint Session of the Aristotelian Society and the Mind Association

University of St Andrews

8–10 July 2022

inaugural address – Group belief for a reason


Jessica Brown


Group Belief for a Reason


Many philosophers treat groups as morally responsible agents with beliefs and aims in the light of which they act. Assuming that groups do have beliefs, an important issue concerns what it is for a group to believe something for a reason. The reason for which a subject believes something affects whether her belief is justified, and its degree of justification. For instance, even if a detective has excellent evidence for believing that Mr Big committed the crime, if her belief is based instead on wishful thinking then her belief is not justified. In this paper I investigate what it is for a group to believe something for a reason. I defend a non-summative account on which a group can believe that p for a reason even though none of its members believe that p for that reason. By contrast, a summative account would hold that the reason for which a group believes that p is a function of the reason(s) for which its members believe that p. I argue that the proposed non-summative account deals better with cases in which members of a group believe that p for different reasons. I also defend it against a range of objections including that it conflicts with epistemic norms for assertion and action.


Jessica Brown is currently professor of philosophy in the Arché philosophical research centre at St Andrews University. Since her Ph.D. at Oxford University, she has worked on a wide range of topics within philosophy of mind, epistemology, and the methodology of philosophy. However, she is perhaps best known for her work in epistemology including on contextualism, invariantism, and pragmatic encroachment; epistemic norms for assertion, belief and practical reasoning; evidence and evidential support; fallibilism; closure; defeat; epistemic blame; intuitions; thought experiments; and group epistemology. She has published two monographs (Anti-Individualism and Knowledge, MIT 2004; and Fallibilism, OUP 2018). In addition, she has co-edited several collections for Oxford University Press (Knowledge Ascriptions, 2012; Assertion, 2011; Reasons, Justification and Defeat, 2021). Since her appointment in St Andrews in 2007, she has helped to lead the highly successful international philosophical research centre Arché. She was principal investigator on a major AHRC-funded project (2008-12) examining the methodological foundations of philosophical enquiry. She was editor of thePhilosophical Quarterly (2013-2020), and is an Associate Editor of the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy (Epistemology), and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. She currently holds a Major Research Fellowship from the Leverhulme Trust for a project on group epistemology and responsibility.

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