The Game of Belief

Philosophical Review 129 (2):211-249 (2020)
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It is plausible that there are epistemic reasons bearing on a distinctively epistemic standard of correctness for belief. It is also plausible that there are a range of practical reasons bearing on what to believe. These theses are often thought to be in tension with each other. Most significantly for our purposes, it is obscure how epistemic reasons and practical reasons might interact in the explanation of what one ought to believe. We draw an analogy with a similar distinction between types of reasons for actions in the context of activities. The analogy motivates a two-level account of the structure of normativity that explains the interaction of correctness-based and other reasons. This account relies upon a distinction between normative reasons and authoritatively normative reasons. Only the latter play the reasons role in explaining what state one ought to be in. All and only practical reasons are authoritative reasons. Hence, in one important sense, all reasons for belief are practical reasons. But this account also preserves the autonomy and importance of epistemic reasons. Given the importance of having true beliefs about the world, our epistemic standard typically plays a key role in many cases in explaining what we ought to believe. In addition to reconciling (versions of) evidentialism and pragmatism, this two-level account has implications for a range of important debates in normative theory, including the interaction of right and wrong reasons for actions and other attitudes, the significance of reasons in understanding normativity and authoritative normativity, the distinction between ‘formal’ and ‘substantive’ normativity, and whether there is a unified source of authoritative normativity.

Author Profiles

Barry Maguire
University of Edinburgh
Jack Woods
University of Leeds


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