Tradeoffs, Self-Promotion, and Epistemic Teleology

In Pedro Schmechtig & Martin Grajner (eds.), Epistemic Reasons, Norms, and Goals. De Gruyter. pp. 249-276 (2016)
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Epistemic teleology is the view that (a) some states have fundamental epistemic value, and (b) all other epistemic value and obligation are to be understood in terms of promotion of or conduciveness to such fundamentally valuable states. Veritistic reliabilism is a paradigm case: It assigns fundamental value to true belief, and it makes all other assessments of epistemic value or justification in terms of the reliable acquisition of beliefs that are true rather than false. Teleology faces potentially serious problems from cases of cross-propositional tradeoffs and cases of epistemic self-promotion. Both are cases in which committing some intuitive epistemic ill (such as believing against one’s evidence) promotes the greater epistemic good. It can seem that epistemic teleologies must incorrectly endorse intuitively unjustified beliefs as justified in such cases. This paper defends epistemic teleology on two fronts. First, I argue that the problems of tradeoffs and self-promotion do not affect minimally plausible epistemic teleologies. Second, I rehearse some of what I take to be the main reasons to prefer epistemic teleology to alternative views. A theme that develops along the way is that plausible teleologies evaluate belief-forming methods by appeal to their promotion of epistemic goals, but they evaluate individual beliefs by appeal to their causal histories. That is the feature that enables them to avoid tradeoff problems, without abandoning teleology and without resorting to ad hoc epicycles.
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