Believing for Practical Reasons

Noûs (4):763-784 (2018)
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Some prominent evidentialists argue that practical considerations cannot be normative reasons for belief because they can’t be motivating reasons for belief. Existing pragmatist responses turn out to depend on the assumption that it’s possible to believe in the absence of evidence. The evidentialist may deny this, at which point the debate ends in an impasse. I propose a new strategy for the pragmatist. This involves conceding that belief in the absence of evidence is impossible. We then argue that evidence can play a role in bringing about belief without being a motivating reason for belief, thereby leaving room for practical considerations to serve as motivating reasons. I present two ways in which this can happen. First, agents can use evidence as a mere means by which to believe, with practical considerations serving as motivating reasons for belief, just as we use tools (e.g. a brake pedal) as mere means by which to do something (e.g. slow down) which we are motivated to do for practical reasons. Second, evidence can make it possible for one to choose whether or not to believe – a choice one can then make for practical reasons. These arguments push the debate between the evidentialist and the pragmatist into new territory. It is no longer enough for an evidentialist to insist that belief is impossible without evidence. Even if this is right, the outcome of the debate remains unsettled. It will hang on the ability of the evidentialist to respond to the new pragmatist strategy presented here.

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Susanna Rinard
Harvard University


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