Proponents of SKNA still have to explain why it seems that Randy’s and Spiro’s assertions are epistemically defective despite being epistemically permissible on their account. I think this can be done by appealing to the notion of epistemic blameworthiness. The idea is that while Randy’s and Spiro’s respective assertions are epistemically permissible (because they satisfy SKNA), both Randy and Spiro are epistemically blameworthy. In this section, I will argue that they are epistemically blameworthy given a plausible account of epistemic blame and that one can be epistemically blameworthy even when one acts epistemically permissibly.
I cannot defend a complete picture of what is necessary and sufficient for being morally or epistemically blameworthy here. What I will do, however, is to sketch a condition that is relevant to whether a person is morally or epistemically blameworthy and argue that it can explain what is intuitively defective with Randy’s and Spiro’s cases. I will therefore assume that Randy and Spiro at least satisfy whatever other conditions are necessary for being blameworthy (e.g., being responsible for asserting as they do).
As I will argue, the defect is not in the assertions themselves, but in the asserters. I argue that, as many have argued, an agent can be morally blameworthy even if her action is morally permissible. I conclude that it’s therefore plausible that an asserter can be epistemically blameworthy even if her assertion is epistemically permissible. Therefore, the proponent of SKNA can plausibly argue that what is intuitively defective about Randy’s and Spiro’s assertions is not that they are epistemically impermissible, but the reasons for which the assertions are made make Randy and Spiro epistemically blameworthy.Footnote 44
One plausible set of views of moral blameworthiness are so-called “quality of will” accounts.Footnote 45 One’s quality of will is the worth of the “regard or concern one has for others (or oneself), and toward the relevance of moral considerations, as manifested in one’s conduct.”Footnote 46 Whether one is morally blameworthy is, at least in part, a matter of whether one expresses or indicates an insufficient degree of regard or concern for people or morally-important considerations. As McKenna (2012) notes, “One’s good, ill, or indifferent will, so understood, might well be exhibited in the reasons for which one acts, the intention with which one acts, or the choices one makes.”Footnote 47
A classic case of a person expressing an insufficient degree or lack of regard or concern is one in which they intentionally try to harm someone. For example, imagine that Edward tells Susan that he hates her because he knows that this will hurt her deeply. Edward is intuitively morally blameworthy for this action. Why? One plausible answer is that Edward acts on the basis of a morally bad reason, i.e., a reason that counts against the moral permissibility of an action. It seems to me that because he acts for this particular reason he expresses an insufficient degree or even lack of regard or concern for a morally-important consideration, i.e., Susan’s feelings.
Moreover, one can also fail to express a sufficient degree of regard or concern by failing to act on certain reasons. Consider the following case from McKenna (2012):
Casper intentionally cancels his weekend business plans, and he does so with the intention of arranging a golf outing with his buddies. The reasons for his making these plans include a desire to spend some time in the sun, talk with a few old friends, enjoy a challenging game, and forget about his burdens at the office. His intentions and the reasons figuring in them are innocuous. But suppose that in making these arrangements, he did not consider taking time to spend with his daughter, who has recently become quite ill.Footnote 48
Casper’s reasons for canceling his weekend business plans seem, as McKenna notes, “morally innocuous.”Footnote 49 However, Casper is still intuitively morally blameworthy. This is because, even though he doesn’t act for a morally bad reason, he nonetheless ignores, and thus shows a lack of regard or concern for, morally-important considerations, e.g., his daughter and her failing health. In particular, he failed to even see the fact that his daughter is quite ill as a reason to cancel his weekend business plans.
While I cannot provide a full defense of the claim here, I think a very similar story can be told about epistemic blameworthiness. One condition that is important for determining whether a person is epistemically blameworthy for forming a belief or for making an assertion is whether or not they failed to express or display sufficient regard or concern for epistemically-important considerations (e.g., truth, justification, evidence, knowledge, and so on). For example, imagine that Harry asserts something he knows to be false to Bryan because he knows it is false and he wants to deceive Bryan. In this case, Harry is asserting on the basis of an epistemically bad reason, i.e., a reason that counts against the epistemic permissibility of that assertion. This is analogous to Edward asserting something hurtful to Susan because he knows it will hurt her. Whether or not Harry is morally blameworthy for this assertion, he is epistemically blameworthy for making it because it expresses an insufficient degree (or lack of) regard or concern for an epistemically-important consideration, i.e., truth.
Randy’s and Spiro’s respective assertions are also epistemically blameworthy because the reasons for which they assert express—or at least indicate—an almost complete lack of regard or concern for epistemically-important considerations.Footnote 50 Randy does not even reflect for a moment about whether he knows what he asserts, whether he has any evidence for it, whether it is prima facie plausible, and so on. Rather he just makes a random guess and asserts it. As Turri writes, “Without actually trying to recall, Randy randomly guesses....”Footnote 51 And, despite the fact that Randy knows the content of his assertion, this knowledge plays no role in explaining why he asserted it. Like Casper, Randy ignored the normatively-important consideration he had to act. Casper ignored the fact that his daughter was quite ill and Randy ignored the fact that he knew the content of his assertion. It seems clear that Randy is not at all concerned with the truth, justifiability, or knowability of his assertion. It also seems clear that Randy therefore expressed or displayed insufficient (or lack of) regard or concern for the relevant epistemically-important considerations. Thus, Randy is epistemically blameworthy for making his assertion.
Like Randy, Spiro does not even reflect on whether there are epistemically-important considerations that count for or against making his assertion. In fact, Turri (2011) tells us that even after he comes to know the content of his intended assertion, this knowledge does not play any motivational role in explaining why he asserted what he did.Footnote 52 Rather he asserts only because he wants to cause Lois emotional pain. It seems clear that Spiro is not at all concerned with the truth, justifiability, or knowability of his assertion. It also seems clear that he therefore expressed or displayed insufficient (or lack of) regard or concern for the relevant epistemically-important considerations. Thus, Spiro is also epistemically blameworthy for making his assertion.
The claim that Randy and Spiro are epistemically blameworthy is bolstered by the account of epistemic blame that I sketched above. Recall that, on this view, epistemic blame involves an intellectual distancing. This distancing manifests in being less disposed to trust the blamee’s testimony or to recommend their testimony to a third party—at least concerning the topics related to what they are epistemically blameworthy for. It seems plausible that Randy’s partner should reduce her disposition to trust what he says concerning his old addresses (e.g., the postal codes) and Lois should reduce her disposition to trust anything Spiro says that might cause her emotional pain.
My argument that Randy and Spiro are epistemically blameworthy in virtue of their deficient epistemic quality of will dovetails with work by Frankfurt (2005) on “bullshit” and Cassam (2018, 2019) on epistemic insouciance. Frankfurt argues that the essence of a bullshit assertion is that it is “produced without concern with the truth” and “the motive guiding and controlling [the bullshit assertion] is unconcerned with how the things about which [the bullshitter] speaks truly are.”Footnote 53 My epistemic quality of will account can explain why bullshitters are epistemically blameworthy: they fail to show sufficient regard or concern for an epistemically-important consideration (i.e., the truth). Like the bullshitter, Randy and Spiro assert without a concern for the truth. However, they are worse, epistemically speaking, than the bullshitter because they seem to assert without a concern for anything of epistemic value, e.g., truth, evidence, justifiability, justified belief, or knowledge. After all, one might not be concerned with whether something is true, but still be concerned about whether it is plausible or epistemically justifiable to others.
One might interpret Randy and Spiro as having what Cassam (2018, 2019) calls epistemic insouciance. Epistemic insouciance involves “an indifference or lack of concern with respect to whether [one’s] claims are grounded in reality or the evidence.”Footnote 54 More specifically, it is an attitude toward inquiry in which one sees the search for knowledge through investigation as a “tedious chore that doesn’t merit one’s full attention.”Footnote 55 Moreover, it involves contempt for the truth and experts as well as a general nonchalance about finding answers to complex questions because these questions are seen as less complex than they actually are.Footnote 56 While Randy and Spiro might be epistemically worse than Frankfurt’s bullshitter, they do not seem to be quite as epistemically bad as the insouciant person. This is because they do not seem to have either the insouciant’s contempt for the truth and inquiry or her cavalier attitude toward the difficulty of answering complex questions. Moreover, the epistemically insouciant person has a general attitude about inquiry, which affects what and how they assert. However, Randy’s and Spiro’s assertions need not be a manifestation of such an attitude. The lack of regard they showed for the epistemically-important considerations could have been “out of character” or a one-off incident.
The final piece of this defense is the claim that a person can be blameworthy for φ-ing even if φ-ing is permissible.Footnote 57 With a quality of will in hand, it is clear why this is possible: one can do the right (or permissible) thing and even know what the right thing to do is and still show insufficient regard for the normatively-important considerations. For example, imagine that Peter sees a small child drowning in a shallow pond. He knows that it is morally permissible for him to jump into the water and rescue the child. He jumps into the water and rescues the child. However, the only reason he did this was to impress his love interest, Jane. Had Jane not been there to witness Peter’s “heroic” act, he wouldn’t have rescued the child. It was clearly morally permissible for Peter to save the child, but Peter is nonetheless blameworthy. Why? Because despite rescuing the child, he was completely unmoved by the morally-important considerations of the situation. He therefore exhibited a lack of regard or concern for what is morally important and is morally blameworthy.Footnote 58
Given that it seems quite plausible that one can be morally blameworthy even when one acts morally permissibly, it should also be plausible that one can be epistemically blameworthy even when one’s assertion is epistemically permissible—at least given the assumption that there is a strong symmetry between normative domains. We can also see the plausibility of there being epistemically permissible cases in which an asserter is nonetheless epistemically blameworthy. Imagine that Peter sees a car accident at the corner of 36th and Spruce. He knows that there was a car accident at 36th and Spruce. In fact, his knowledge that there was a car accident at 36th and Spruce is occurrent. He calls emergency services and asserts, “There has been a car accident at 36th and Spruce.” However, the only reason he makes this assertion is that he wants his love interest, Jane, to believe that he is a concerned citizen. Had Jane not been there to witness Peter’s helpful act, he would’ve given emergency services the wrong address as a prank. It was clearly epistemically permissible for Peter to “There has been a car accident at 36th and Spruce,” but he is nonetheless epistemically blameworthy. This is because the reason for which he makes his assertion shows that he lacks sufficient regard or concern for the epistemically-important considerations of his situation.
To sum up: proponents of SKNA can explain why there is something intuitively defective with Randy’s and Spiro’s respective assertions. They can argue that these asserters are epistemically blameworthy because they exhibit insufficient regard or concern for epistemically-important considerations (e.g., truth, justification, and knowledge). Their assertions are similar to what Frankfurt calls “bullshit” and related to the kinds of assertions that an epistemically insouciant person would tend to make. Finally, I argued that one can be epistemically blameworthy without one’s assertion being epistemically impermissible.