Taking a Good look at the norms of gathering and responding to evidence


In the recent philosophical literature on inquiry, epistemologists point out that their subject has often begun at the point at which you already have your evidence and then focussed on identifying the beliefs for which that evidence provides justification. But we are not mere passive recipients of evidence. While some comes to us unbidden, we often actively collect it. This has long been recognised, but typically epistemologists have taken the norms that govern inquiry to be practical, not epistemic. The recent literature challenges this assumption and uncovers a rich range of questions about the epistemic normativity of inquiry. In this paper, I approach these questions from the formal side of epistemology. Developing out of the philosophy of science, as it did, this branch of epistemology has long discussed inquiry. And, building on the insights of David Blackwell (1951) and I. J. Good (1967), it has produced a reasonably well-developed framework in which to understand norms of inquiry, both epistemic and practical. In the first half of the paper, I will present the pragmatic versions of this framework due to Blackwell and Good, and the epistemic version due to Wayne Myrvold (2012); in the second half of the paper, I put this framework to work, turning to some of the questions from the recent debate about inquiry and asking how the Blackwell-Good-Myrvold approach can help us answer them. Questions will include: Are there purely epistemic norms that govern these actions (Flores and Woodard forthcoming)? When should we initiate an inquiry, when should we continue it, when should we conclude it, and when should we reopen it? How should we understand Julia Staffel's distinction between transitional attitudes and terminal attitudes (Staffel 2021a,b)? How do epistemic norms of inquiry relate to epistemic norms of belief or credence, and can they conflict (Friedman 2020)? And how should we understand the epistemic error that occurs when someone is resistant to evidence (Simion 2023)?

Author's Profile

Richard Pettigrew
University of Bristol


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