Ought to Believe, Evidential Understanding and the Pursuit of Wisdom

In Pedro Schmechtig & Martin Grajner (eds.), Epistemic Reasons, Norms and Goals. De Gruyter. pp. 383-406 (2016)
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It is almost an epistemological platitude that the goal of inquiry is to pursue truth-acquisition and falsity-avoidance. But further reflection on this dual goal of inquiry reveals that the two (sub)goals are in tension because they are inversely proportionate: the more we satisfy the one (sub)goal the less we satisfy the other and vice versa. I elaborate the inverse proportionality point in some detail and bring out its puzzling implications about the normative question of what one ought to believe. As I argue, given the tension between the two (sub)goals, the problem of the correct regulation of belief-fixation pops to the surface. Call this ‘the James problem’ in tribute to William James who first drew attention to the problem. As a response ‘to the James Problem’, I sketch the contours of a solution to the problem that involves the rather neglected epistemic concepts of understanding and wisdom and links these concepts with the goal of eudaimonia (or living well). The resultant theory constitutes an approach to epistemic normativity that makes little use of the traditional epistemic concepts of truth and knowledge that have historically dominated the field of epistemology.
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