Memory and Epistemic Conservatism
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We are all conservatives, at least when it comes to belief retention. We are forgetful, of course, but we typically do not abandon our beliefs unless we have special reasons to do so. Whichever view one takes of the psychology, an epistemological question arises: if a subject S believes that p, does the retention of that belief thereby have some positive epistemic status for S, at least prima facie? An epistemic conservative is someone who answers this question in the affirmative. In this paper, I will defend a form of conservatism about rational belief retention. I focus on rationality mainly for two reasons. First, this notion is regularly employed in ordinary epistemic evaluations of belief (arguably unlike justification). Second, rational belief retention does not require that one's belief be true, and so does not require knowledge, truth-tracking, safety, or other truth-entailing externalist statuses. Conservatism with respect to these statuses is a non-starter, at least under any reasonably narrow construal of the range of defeating conditions. I will argue that epistemic conservatism makes a good epistemology of memory. More particularly, I will argue, first, that the two standard accounts of the rationality of memory belief, preservationism and evidentialism, face insuperable problems, and second, that conservatism, properly honed, avoids those problems and incurs no unacceptable commitments. I make the case against the standard accounts in sections I and II, and defend conservatism against objections in section III. What will emerge is a moderate form of conservatism that is fundamentally an epistemological principle about memory.