The place of reasons in epistemology

In Daniel Star (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Reasons and Normativity (2018)
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This paper considers the place of reasons in the metaphysics of epistemic normativity and defends a middle ground between two popular extremes in the literature. Against members of the ‘reasons first’ movement, we argue that reasons are not the sole fundamental constituents of epistemic normativity. We suggest instead that the virtue-theoretic property of competence is the key building block. To support this approach, we note that reasons must be possessed to play a role in the analysis of central epistemically normative properties, and argue that the relation of possession must be analyzed in terms of competence. But while we diverge with reasons-firsters on this score, we also distance ourselves from those who deny reasons any important role in epistemology. For we maintain that possessed reasons do help to ground deontic facts in the epistemic domain (e.g., facts about what one epistemically ought to believe, may believe, or is justified in believing). Indeed, we present an argument that the possession of sufficient epistemic reasons is necessary and sufficient for propositional justification, and that proper basing on such reasons yields doxastic justification. But since possession and proper basing are themselves grounded in competence, reasons are not the end of the explanatory road: competence enables them to do their work, putting them—and us—in the middle.

Author Profiles

Ernest Sosa
Rutgers University - New Brunswick
Kurt Sylvan
University of Southampton


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