Synthese

, Volume 191, Issue 15, pp 3621–3637 | Cite as

Epistemic supererogation and its implications

Article

Abstract

Supererogatory acts, those which are praiseworthy but not obligatory, have become a significant topic in contemporary moral philosophy, primarily because morally supererogatory acts have proven difficult to reconcile with other important aspects of normative ethics. However, despite the similarities between ethics and epistemology, epistemic supererogation has received very little attention. In this paper, I aim to further the discussion of supererogation by arguing for the existence of epistemically supererogatory acts and considering the potential implications of their existence. First, I offer a brief account of moral supererogation and how morally supererogatory acts generate a strong intuition that a similar phenomenon should exist in epistemology. Afterward, I argue for the existence of epistemically supererogatory acts by examining five cases where an epistemic activity appears to be epistemically supererogatory. Epistemic supererogation appears to provide the best explanation for our considered judgments about the individuals’ behavior in these different cases. Finally, I consider how epistemic supererogation might impact the contemporary study of epistemology, particularly with regard to how we appraise certain epistemic duties.

Keywords

Supererogation Ethics Epistemology Epistemic duty  Epistemic praise Epistemic blame Epistemically responsible action 

Notes

Acknowledgments

I must first thank E. J. Coffman and David Palmer. Both offered detailed feedback on the first complete draft of the paper, and prolonged exchanges with them helped me improve the paper’s central arguments tremendously. I also thank two anonymous referees for this journal who provided rigorous, helpful comments on earlier versions of the paper; their remarks have forced me to refine and clarify many of the paper’s subtleties. Finally, I thank the attendees of the 2011 Appalachian Regional Student Philosophy Colloquium who participated in a fruitful discussion of a much earlier version of this paper.

References

  1. Alston, W. (1988). The deontological conception of epistemic justification. Philosophical Perspectives, 2, 257–299.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Attfield, R. (1979). Supererogation and double standards. Mind, 88, 481–499.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bradley, B. (2006). Against satisficing consequentialism. Utilitas, 18, 97–108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Clifford, W. K. (1877). The ethics of belief. The Contemporary Review, 29, 289–309.Google Scholar
  5. Feldman, R. (2002). Epistemological duties. In P. Moser (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of epistemology. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Firth, R. (1981). Epistemic merit, intrinsic and instrumental. Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association, 55(1), 5–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Gilovich, T. (1991). How we know what isn’t so. New York: The Free Press.Google Scholar
  8. Grimm, S. (2009). Epistemic normativity. In A. Haddock, A. Millar, & D. Pritchard (Eds.), Epistemic value. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Hale, S. (1991). Against supererogation. American Philosophical Quarterly, 28(4), 273–285.Google Scholar
  10. Hall, R. J., & Johnson, C. R. (1998). The epistemic duty to seek more evidence. American Philosophical Quarterly, 35(2), 129–139.Google Scholar
  11. Hsieh, N. (2007). Incommensurable values. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Accessed 28 April 2014. http://plato.stanford.edu/.
  12. Jackson, M. W. (1986). The nature of supererogation. The Journal of Value Inquiry, 20, 289–296.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Jackson, M. W. (1988). Above and beyond the call of duty. Journal of Social Philosophy, 19(2), 3–12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Jamieson, D., & Elliot, R. (2009). Progressive consequentialism. Philosophical Perspectives, 23, 241–251.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Kawall, J. (2005). Promising and supererogation. Philosophia, 32, 389–398.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Kelly, T. (2008). Disagreement, dogmatism, and belief polarization. The Journal of Philosophy, 105(10), 611–633.Google Scholar
  17. Kim, K. (1994). The deontological conception of epistemic justification and doxastic voluntarism. Analysis, 54(4), 282–284.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Kornblith, H. (1983). Justified belief and epistemically responsible action. The Philosophical Review, 92(1), 33–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Lord, C., Ross, L., & Lepper, M. (1979). Biased assimilation and attitude polarization: The effects of prior theories on subsequently considered evidence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37(11), 2098–2109.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. McCarty, R. (1989). Limits of Kantian duty, and beyond. American Philosophical Quarterly, 26(1), 43–52.Google Scholar
  21. Mellema, G. (1991). Beyond the call of duty: Supererogation, obligation, and offence. Albany: SUNY Press.Google Scholar
  22. Plantinga, A. (1986). Epistemic justification. Noûs, 20(1), 3–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Plantinga, A. (1988). Positive epistemic status and proper function. Philosophical Perspectives, 2, 1–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Plantinga, A. (1991). The prospects for natural theology. Philosophical Perspectives, 5, 287–315.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Postow, B. C. (2005). Supererogation again. The Journal of Value Inquiry, 39, 245–253.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Pybus, E. (1982). Saints and heroes. Philosophy, 57(220), 193–199.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Sikora, R. I. (1979). Utilitarianism, supererogation, and future generations. Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 9(3), 461–466.Google Scholar
  28. Slote, M. (1984). Satisficing consequentialism. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 58, 139–163.Google Scholar
  29. Stanlick, N. (1999). The nature and value of supererogatory actions. Journal of Social Philosophy, 30(1), 209–222.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Tidman, P. (1996). Critical reflection: An alleged epistemic duty. Analysis, 56(4), 268–276.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Urmson, J. O. (1958). Saints and heroes. In A. I. Melden (Ed.), Essays in moral philosophy. Seattle: University of Washington Press.Google Scholar
  32. Vessel, J. (2010). Supererogation for utilitarianism. American Philosophical Quarterly, 47(4), 299–319.Google Scholar
  33. Zagzebski, L. (1996). Virtues of the mind: An inquiry into the nature of virtue and the ethical foundations of knowledge. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophy DepartmentUniversity of TennesseeKnoxvilleUSA

Personalised recommendations