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Skepticism Motivated: On the Skeptical Import of Motivated Reasoning

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 May 2020

J. Adam Carter*
Philosophy, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, Scotland
Robin McKenna
Philosophy, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, England
*Corresponding author: Email:


Empirical work on motivated reasoning suggests that our judgments are influenced to a surprising extent by our wants, desires, and preferences (Kahan 2016; Lord, Ross, and Lepper 1979; Molden and Higgins 2012; Taber and Lodge 2006). How should we evaluate the epistemic status of beliefs formed through motivated reasoning? For example, are such beliefs epistemically justified? Are they candidates for knowledge? In liberal democracies, these questions are increasingly controversial as well as politically timely (Beebe et al. 2018; Lynch Forthcoming, 2018; Slothuus and de Vreese 2010). And yet, the epistemological significance of motivated reasoning has been almost entirely ignored by those working in mainstream epistemology. We aim to rectify this oversight. Using politically motivated reasoning as a case study, we show how motivated reasoning gives rise to three distinct kinds of skeptical challenges. We conclude by showing how the skeptical import of motivated reasoning has some important ramifications for how we should think about the demands of intellectual humility.

© The Author(s) 2020. Published by Canadian Journal of Philosophy

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