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Institute of Advanced Study

Professor Jessica Brown

“The Institute has provided a very positive and fruitful arena within which to explore the topic of evidence with other researchers from other disciplines.”

Professor Jessica Brown, University of St Andrews

IAS Fellow at Van Mildert College, Durham University (January - March 2016)

Jessica Brown is currently Professor in Philosophy in the Arché research centre within the School of Philosophical, Anthropological and Film Studies at the University of St Andrews. 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. In her early work, which culminated in her monograph for MIT Press (Anti-Individualism and Knowledge, 2004), she was concerned with the nature of a subject’s knowledge of her own mind, and how popular philosophical accounts of the nature of thought might seem to make such knowledge problematic. Since then, she’s worked on a range of topics within epistemology including the nature of knowledge and its role in human society, the idea that there are certain epistemic conditions on appropriate assertion and action, the nature of practical knowledge and how it differs from theoretical knowledge, and scepticism.

Since her appointment in St Andrews in 2007, she has helped to direct the highly successful international philosophical research centre Arché. The centre comprises 16-20 Ph.D. students, 10 local faculty and 6 visiting faculty. It typically organises 12 workshops/conferences and hosts 50 visitors per year. From 2008 to 2012, she was principal investigator on a major AHRC-funded project examining the methodological foundations of philosophical enquiry, and especially the role of intuition in generating much of our knowledge of abstract entities, including moral knowledge and mathematical knowledge. She set up an international network with an award from the Leverhulme trust to examine methodological issues in philosophy linking St Andrews University to CUNY, MIT, North Carolina Chapel Hill, Oxford, Princeton, Texas (Austin), and Yale.

In addition to her monograph with MIT, she has co-edited several collections for Oxford University Press (Knowledge Ascriptions, 2012; Assertion, 2011). In addition, she regular publishes in prestigious international peer-reviewed journals in philosophy including Analysis, Mind, Nous, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Philosophical Studies, and Synthese. She has served on the editorial boards of several journals including Episteme, and Philosophical Quarterly. Since 2013, she has been the editor of the leading international journal The Philosophical Quarterly, published by OUP.

She has been invited to visit the Australian National University in Canberra (Program Visitor (Philosophy) in the Research School of Social Sciences, 2010; 2002). She is currently a member of the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Peer-Review College, and has also provided expert guidance to funding bodies internationally including the Academy of Finland, the Netherlands Institute for Scientific Research, and Deutsche Forschung Gemeinschaft. She regularly gives talks both in the UK and internationally including at the Australian National University, Barcelona, Bonn, Cambridge, Cologne, Copenhagen, Edinburgh, Geneva, Nancy, Oslo, Oxford, Northwestern, Princeton, Rutgers, Sheffield, and Sydney.

While in Durham, Professor Brown will be conducting a philosophical investigation into the nature of evidence. Is our evidence exhausted by sense experience or does it also include claims about the world? If the latter, just how broad is one’s evidence; does it include everything known or justifiably believed? Can evidence be false? What strength of support need evidence give to a proposition in order for one to know it? Must the evidence entail what’s known or is a weaker relationship sufficient? These questions connect with some of the sub-themes of this year’s IAS theme of Evidence, including evidence and experience; and unreliable evidence.

Public Lecture - Evidence and scepticism

9th February 2016, 17:30 to 18:30, Ustinov Room, Van Mildert College

Scepticism about knowledge of the external world can seem very natural if one supposes that the only evidence one has about the world consists of one’s experiences. For instance, Descartes famously pointed out that one could have all the same experiences whether one is in a world of physical objects as presented in those experiences, or a world in which an evil demon is causing one to have just the same experiences, even though they radically misrepresent the nature of the world. However, the view of evidence which gives rise to the sceptical puzzle can seem optional. In ordinary life, we allow ourselves to refer to facts about the external world as evidence. For instance, in a court case, part of the evidence might be that the accused was at the No-Good Inn at midnight. And scientists take it that part of their evidence is that such and such experiment was performed, not merely that someone had an experience as of performing such experiment. Professor Jessica Brown considers this debate about the nature of evidence, and whether the more recently popular view that one’s evidence includes claims about the external world can solve philosophical scepticism.

Professor Jessica Brown Publications

Brown, J. (2018) Fallibilism: Evidence and Knowledge. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

IAS Insights Paper


Philosophical scepticism continues to be the focus of much contemporary philosophical debate. According to philosophical scepticism about the external world, one lacks knowledge of the existence of such external objects as chairs, tables, trees, valleys and rivers. While it is controversial just what the sceptic’s argument is for this surprising conclusion, one strand of sceptical argument exploits the idea that knowledge demands evidence meeting especially tough standards together with the idea that our evidence is very limited. While perhaps the dominant philosophical response to this kind of sceptical argument has been to reject the suggestion that knowledge is so demanding, I here consider a more recent response which holds that we have much more evidence than the sceptic suggests. I argue that even if we do have much more evidence than the sceptic allows, this will not provide an answer to a range of important sceptical arguments concerning knowledge from testimony, induction and inference to the best explanation. Instead, I suggest we need to reject the idea that knowledge is as demanding as the sceptic suggests. In particular, we need to endorse ‘fallibilism’ according to which a subject can know a claim on the basis of evidence even if that evidence does not guarantee or entail the truth of what is known.

  • Insights Paper

Volume 10 Article 5

“To my knowledge, while there are interdisciplinary research institutes in particular areas in other universities within the UK, I know of no other interdisciplinary research institute quite like that in Durham which has such a wide remit, with different topics each year. As a result, the Durham Institute reaches out to a much broader range of researchers, enabling them to make connections to other disciplines through the Fellowship scheme. ”

Professor Jessica Brown, University of St Andrews