Epistemic Normativity is Independent of our Goals

In Blake Roeber, Matthias Steup, Ernest Sosa & John Turri (eds.), Contemporary Debates in Epistemology (3rd ed.). Wiley-Blackwell (forthcoming)
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In epistemology and in ordinary life, we make many normative claims about beliefs. As with all normative claims, philosophical questions arise about what – if anything – underwrites these kinds of normative claims. On one view, epistemic instrumentalism, facts about what we (epistemically) ought to believe, or about what is an (epistemic, normative) reason to believe what, obtain at least partly in virtue of our goals (or aims, ends, intentions, desires, etc.). The converse view, anti-instrumentalism, denies this, and holds that the facts about what we ought or have reasons to believe are independent of our goals. In this chapter, I present the case for anti-instrumentalism. I lay out a well-known problem for instrumentalism, which is to say exactly what goal (or goals) grounds our epistemic reasons. For each possible answer, the view seems to generate problematic results. I consider some ways of trying to make the instrumentalist view more sophisticated to solve the problem and reject them. I then note a further problem for instrumentalism that applies regardless of what goal the instrumentalist says grounds our epistemic reasons. Finally, I sketch my preferred positive anti-instrumentalist view and argue that it is more theoretically virtuous than instrumentalism in several respects.

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Alex Worsnip
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill


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