Instrumental reasons for belief: elliptical talk and elusive properties

In Sebastian Schmidt & Gerhard Ernst (eds.), The Ethics of Belief and Beyond. Understanding Mental Normativity. Abingdon: Routledge. pp. 109-125 (2020)
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Epistemic instrumentalists think that epistemic normativity is just a special kind of instrumental normativity. According to them, you have epistemic reason to believe a proposition insofar as doing so is conducive to certain epistemic goals or aims—say, to believe what is true and avoid believing what is false. Perhaps the most prominent challenge for instrumentalists in recent years has been to explain, or explain away, why one’s epistemic reasons often do not seem to depend on one’s aims. This challenge can arguably be met. But a different challenge looms: instrumental reasons in the practical domain have various properties that epistemic reasons do not seem to share. In this chapter, we offer a way for epistemic instrumentalists to overcome this challenge. Our main thesis takes the form of a conditional: if we accept an independently plausible transmission principle of instrumental normativity, we can maintain that epistemic reasons in fact do share the relevant properties of practical instrumental reasons. In addition, we can explain why epistemic reasons seem to lack these properties in the first place: some properties of epistemic reasons are elusive, or easy to overlook, because we tend to think and talk about epistemic reasons in an ‘elliptical’ manner.

Author Profiles

Mattias Skipper
Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences


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