Evidence and Epistemic Normativity

Dissertation, Indiana University, Bloomington (2022)
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Evidence is often taken to be “normative” for doxastic agents. For instance, we are told to apportion our beliefs to the evidence, to not believe a claim without seeking out countervailing evidence, and so on. But what accounts for the normativity of evidence? This dissertation is devoted to answering this question. In order to answer it, I develop a novel approach to the theory of epistemic normativity. According to my approach, epistemic norms structure a social practice of epistemic accountability. This approach shares affinities with Strawsonian attempts to elucidate moral responsibility by considering the conditions under which it’s appropriate to subject a person to the “reactive attitudes” (e.g. resentment and indignation). However, when it comes to epistemic (as opposed to moral) accountability, I argue that the relevant attitudinal responses need not involve reactive emotions. Moreover, what I seek to elucidate by appealing to these attitudinal responses is not responsible agency, but rather the content and normative significance of epistemic norms. Crucial to my approach is a distinctly epistemic way of holding a person accountable for their doxastic attitudes. To hold a person epistemically accountable, on my approach, is to modify trust in the person in a particular way. For instance, someone might cease to take a person’s words at face value when it comes to a certain topic, or someone might be unwilling to rely on another as a testimonial source of information. I argue that our practice of epistemic accountability is a legitimate social practice. I then go on to consider what norms of belief structure its activities. I argue that a number of norms of belief are implicit in our practice of epistemic accountability, including evidential norms and knowledge norms. I ultimately argue that our acceptance of epistemic norms is itself grounded in the fact that we participate in a social practice wherein we hold each other epistemically accountable.

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Daniel Buckley
Penn State Harrisburg


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