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Dissertation Defense: Epistemic Norms and the Normativity of Belief

Anna Edmonds

Maria Lasonen-Aarnio (Chair)
Peter Railton
Brian Weatherson
Chandra Sripada
Rick Lewis (cognate: CogSci)

Epistemologists frequently claim that the question “What should I believe?” demarcates the field of epistemology. This question is then compared to the question asked in ethics: “What should I do?” The question and the ensuing comparison, it is thought, specify both the content and the normativity at stake in epistemology. I argue that both of the assumptions embedded in this demarcation are problematic. By thinking of epistemology’s focal question in this light, first, we risk importing our assumptions about the epistemic domain into our understanding of the nature and normativity of the belief state, and second, we come to have a false picture of the normativity that supposedly underlies the domain.

In Chapter 1, “The Doxastic Assumption about the Epistemic”, I explore a range of views that assume there to be an essential connection between belief and truth. I look at views that treat all beliefs as attempts to believe the truth, views that consider belief’s biological function to be accurate representation, and views that hold that the very concept of belief is a normative concept. I go on to explore instrumentalist conceptions of belief’s truth connection and conduct an inquiry into the value of true belief. I conclude that neither the value of true belief nor an essential connection between belief and truth can explain epistemic normativity.

In Chapter 2, “Evidential Exclusivity, Correctness, and the Nature of Belief” I note that epistemologists have recently argued that the best explanation for the apparent truth of a pair of claims - “Transparency” and “Exclusivity” – is that belief is subject to a standard of correctness such that a belief that p is correct if and only if p is true. I argue that the proposed explanation unduly privileges one part of belief’s full functional profile – its role in deliberation – and that a more complete consideration of belief’s role in cognition suggests an alternative explanation for Exclusivity and Transparency but denies belief’s standard of correctness.

In Chapter 3, “Tradeoffs and Epistemic Value”, I look at a debate about whether epistemic norms are teleological. Though it’s standard to assume in keeping with teleology that certain goals or values explain the content of our norms, a collection of recent papers have aimed to show that this assumption can’t be correct because teleological norms countenance tradeoffs but epistemic norms don’t countenance tradeoffs. I note that the kind of non-teleological view that countenances no tradeoffs whatsoever is actually quite extreme and virtually unheard of in ethics. I go on to make the case that norms that license no tradeoffs can’t reasonably be taken to be grounded in value at all, and thus can’t be understood to be genuinely normative. I conclude by suggesting that we broaden our conception of the epistemic domain to recognize teleological norms that provide recommendations for methods of inquiry or pursuit of significant truth or knowledge.
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Map Angell Hall - 1164

August 2018

10:00am - 12:00pm

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