Accuracy and epistemic conservatism

Analysis 79 (4):658-669 (2018)
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Epistemic utility theory is generally coupled with veritism. Veritism is the view that truth is the sole fundamental epistemic value. Veritism, when paired with EUT, entails a methodological commitment: norms of epistemic rationality are justified only if they can be derived from considerations of accuracy alone. According to EUT, then, believing truly has epistemic value, while believing falsely has epistemic disvalue. This raises the question as to how the rational believer should balance the prospect of true belief against the risk of error. A strong intuitive case can be made for a kind of epistemic conservatism – that we should disvalue error more than we value true belief. I argue that none of the ways in which advocates of veritist EUT have sought to motivate conservatism can be squared with their methodological commitments. Short of any such justification, they must therefore either abandon their most central methodological principle or else adopt a permissive line with respect to epistemic risk.

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Florian Steinberger
Birkbeck, University of London


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