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.
KeywordsSupererogation Ethics Epistemology Epistemic duty Epistemic praise Epistemic blame Epistemically responsible action
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.
- Clifford, W. K. (1877). The ethics of belief. The Contemporary Review, 29, 289–309.Google Scholar
- Feldman, R. (2002). Epistemological duties. In P. Moser (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of epistemology. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Gilovich, T. (1991). How we know what isn’t so. New York: The Free Press.Google Scholar
- Grimm, S. (2009). Epistemic normativity. In A. Haddock, A. Millar, & D. Pritchard (Eds.), Epistemic value. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Hale, S. (1991). Against supererogation. American Philosophical Quarterly, 28(4), 273–285.Google Scholar
- Hall, R. J., & Johnson, C. R. (1998). The epistemic duty to seek more evidence. American Philosophical Quarterly, 35(2), 129–139.Google Scholar
- Hsieh, N. (2007). Incommensurable values. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Accessed 28 April 2014. http://plato.stanford.edu/.
- Kelly, T. (2008). Disagreement, dogmatism, and belief polarization. The Journal of Philosophy, 105(10), 611–633.Google Scholar
- McCarty, R. (1989). Limits of Kantian duty, and beyond. American Philosophical Quarterly, 26(1), 43–52.Google Scholar
- Mellema, G. (1991). Beyond the call of duty: Supererogation, obligation, and offence. Albany: SUNY Press.Google Scholar
- Sikora, R. I. (1979). Utilitarianism, supererogation, and future generations. Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 9(3), 461–466.Google Scholar
- Slote, M. (1984). Satisficing consequentialism. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 58, 139–163.Google Scholar
- Urmson, J. O. (1958). Saints and heroes. In A. I. Melden (Ed.), Essays in moral philosophy. Seattle: University of Washington Press.Google Scholar
- Vessel, J. (2010). Supererogation for utilitarianism. American Philosophical Quarterly, 47(4), 299–319.Google Scholar