The Priority of the Epistemic

Episteme 18 (4):726-737 (2021)
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Epistemic burdens – the nature and extent of our ignorance (that and how) with respect to various courses of action – serve to determine our incentive structures. Courses of action that seem to bear impossibly heavy epistemic burdens are typically not counted as options in an actor’s menu, while courses of action that seem to bear comparatively heavy epistemic burdens are systematically discounted in an actor’s menu relative to options that appear less epistemically burdensome. That ignorance serves to determine what counts as an option means that epistemic considerations are logically prior to moral, prudential, and economic considerations: in order to have moral, prudential, or economic obligations, one must have options, and epistemic burdens serve to determine our options. One cannot have obligations without doing some epistemic work. We defend this claim on introspective grounds. We also consider how epistemic burdens distort surrogate decision-making. The unique epistemology of surrogate cases makes the priority of the epistemic readily apparent. We then argue that anyone who accepts a principle similar to ought implies can is committed to the logical priority of the epistemic. We also consider and reject several possible counterarguments.

Author Profiles

Parker Crutchfield
Western Michigan University School Of Medicine
Scott Scheall
Arizona State University


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