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Two types of epistemic instrumentalism

  • Charles Côté-BouchardEmail author
Epistemic Rationality
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Instrumentalism about epistemic rationality: For and against


Epistemic instrumentalism (EI) views epistemic norms and epistemic normativity as essentially involving the instrumental relation between means and ends. It construes notions like epistemic normativity, norms, and rationality, as forms of instrumental or means-end normativity, norms, and rationality. I do two main things in this paper. In part 1, I argue that there is an under-appreciated distinction between two independent types of epistemic instrumentalism. These are instrumentalism about epistemic norms (norm-EI) and instrumentalism about epistemic normativity (source-EI). In part 2, I argue that this under-appreciated distinction matters for the debate surrounding the plausibility of EI. Specifically, whether we interpret EI as norm-EI or as source-EI matters (i) for the widely discussed universality or categoricity objection to EI, and (ii) for two important motivations for adopting EI, namely naturalism and the practical utility of epistemic norms. I will then conclude by drawing some lessons for epistemic instrumentalism going forward.


Epistemic instrumentalism Epistemic normativity Epistemic norms Epistemic rationality Epistemic reasons Instrumentalism Normativity Rationality Epistemology Epistemic value 



Thanks to anonymous referees at Synthese for their helpful and generous feedback. I am also indebted to members of the Montréal Normativity Reading Group. Special thanks to Éliot Litalien, Marc-Kevin Daoust, Matthew Scarfone, and Tiger Zheng.


Funding was provided by Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (Grant No. 756-2019-0366).


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversité de MontréalMontrealCanada

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