ICS Colloquium: Julia Staffel, PhD

Title: "Unsettled Thoughts: A Theory of Degrees of Rationality"

Presenter: Assistant Professor Department of Philosophy

Abstract: Theories of epistemic rationality, such as subjective Bayesianism, typically formulate norms of what it takes to have ideally rational beliefs or credences. Humans thinkers tend to be unable to fully comply with these ideal norms due to their cognitive limitations. Still, it is often claimed, ideal norms are relevant to human thinkers, because they are aims we are supposed to approximate, even if full compliance is out of reach. I argue that in order to defend the relevance of ideal norms for limited thinkers, we need to answer two questions: 1) What does it mean to be closer to or farther away from being ideally rational? 2) Why is it better to be closer to ideal rationality? I explain why these questions are difficult to answer, and propose strategies for overcoming these difficulties. 

For students who would like to prepare for the talk, I recommend that they look at the first chapter of the manuscript, which can be found here:

Bio:  Julia Staffel (Ph.D., University of Southern California, 2013) joined the Philosophy Department, CU Boulder  in Fall 2018. Prior to coming to Boulder, she worked at Washington University in St. Louis and the Australian National University.

Professor Staffel specializes in epistemology, with a focus on formal epistemology. She also has research and teaching interests in philosophy of mind, philosophy of science, philosophy of language, logic, and metaethics.

Her work focuses, among other things, on the question of how to make idealized formal models in epistemology applicable and relevant to human, non-ideal thinkers. Her book manuscript "Unsettled Thoughts: A Theory of Degrees of Rationality" is under contract with OUP. In it, she explains how Bayesian theories of ideal rationality can be used to account for the idea that rationality comes in degrees. Imperfect reasoners can approximate ideal rationality more or less. The guiding questions for her investigation are: Why should imperfect reasoners approximate ideal rationality if they can never fully reach the ideal? Why is it better to be closer to being ideally rational than farther away from it? How exactly should we characterize approximations to ideal rationality?

Friday, January 18 at 12:00pm to 2:00am

Muenzinger Psychology, Rooms D428 and D430 on the fourth floor
1905 Colorado Avenue, Boulder, CO 80309

Event Type



Science & Technology, Research & Innovation


Students, Faculty, Alumni, Graduate Students, Postdoc

College, School & Unit

Graduate School



Institute of Cognitive Science


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