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Epistemic Uniqueness and the Practical Relevance of Epistemic Practices

Abstract

By taking the practical relevance of coordinated epistemic standards into account, Dogramaci and Horowitz (Philosophical Issues, 26(1), 130–147, 2016) as well as Greco and Hedden (The Journal of Philosophy, 113(8), 365–395, 2016) offer a new perspective on epistemic permissiveness. However, in its current state, their argument appears to be inconclusive. I will offer two reasons why this argument does not support interpersonal uniqueness in general. First, such an argument leaves open the possibility that distinct closed societies come to incompatible epistemic standards. Second, some epistemic practices like the promotion of methodological heterogeneity in epistemic communities could be best explained by epistemic permissiveness.

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Notes

  1. White (2005, 2014) argued that, in putative epistemically permissive situations, agents would be allowed to arbitrarily change their attitudes over time, which conflicts with basic assumptions concerning rationality. This leads White to conclude that permissive situations are implausible. Contra White, Sharadin (2015) and Schoenfield (2014) argued that there are diachronic norms prohibiting an agent from changing his or her attitudes without new evidence, even if distinct incompatible attitudes are initially permitted.

  2. White (2005, 2014), argued that epistemic standards ought to be truth-conducive, which would support uniqueness. Raleigh (2015), Kopec (2015) and Dahlback (forthcoming) defended the claim that, when P’s truth is mind-dependent, distinct incompatible attitudes can be truth-conducive. In such cases, the argument from truth-conduciveness in favour of uniqueness appears inconclusive. Relatedly, Meacham (2014) suggested that an epistemic requirement like truth-conduciveness can conflict with the calibration perspective in Bayesian epistemology.

  3. In defending uniqueness, Matheson (2011) seems to assume that the balance of epistemic reasons is objective or identical for everyone. Meacham (2014) and Schoenfield (2014) reject this assumption. They suggest that an agent’s evidence is evaluated in accordance with a set of epistemic standards such as priors, updating rules or attitudes towards epistemic risks, and that these standards may vary from one agent to another. In accordance with Meacham and Schoenfield, Titelbaum and Kopec (m.s.; forthcoming) argue that epistemically rational agents can entertain distinct incompatible standards of reasoning.

  4. Dogramaci and Horowitz argue that, while there is a strong connection between rational epistemic standards and reliable processes, reliability is not a sufficient condition for epistemic rationality (Dogramaci and Horowitz 2016, 135). In such a context, we are left with two explanations of the connection between the two. Either reliability is a necessary condition for rationality or there is a correlation between reliability and rationality.

  5. See Goldman (1986) on reliabilism.

  6. While Dogramaci and Horowitz do not give a clear definition of significant truths, it seems that they are referring to the distinction between pointless truths and useful truths in epistemology. A significant truth could simply be a useful truth. For example, knowing if smoking increases the risk of heart disease can be useful from a practical point of view, while knowing the number of blades of grass in Central Park appears to have no practical purpose. See Grimm (2009) and Côté-Bouchard (2015, 2016) on this distinction.

  7. A word on methodology. Dogramaci and Horowitz stress that they are interested in our actual epistemic practices (Dogramaci and Horowitz 2016, 132). So in elaborating an argument based on a counterfactual world, I might not connect with their paper, since they do not claim that their argument works in every possible world. However, I am very confident that numerous actual communities are a close approximation to what I have in mind with Closed Societies. At least historically, it is perfectly possible that some communities did not interact with each other.

  8. Dogramaci and Horowitz addressed similar cases, where “a community of like-minded friends” (Dogramaci and Horowitz 2016, 140) shares some epistemic rules, while judging that other agents outside the group are equally rational. So while members of that community adhere to a specific set of norms, they recognize that alternative norms are equally rational. But a case like Closed Societies appears to be different. In the situation described by Dogramaci and Horowitz, agents explicitly recognize distinct sets of norms as equally rational. What I have in mind are cases where two closed societies come to hold incompatible standards, and there is no need for a citizen of East* to know what’s going on in West*.

  9. In fact, Dogramaci and Horowitz (2016, 131) indicate that one of their aims is to answer these objections. Also, defenders of the Epistemic Practices Argument cannot assume, prior to their argument, that there is a uniquely rational set of epistemic standards. Making such an assumption is just to assume the truth of uniqueness.

  10. We can assume that some tickets from the Pick-6 and the Gosloto 6/45 lotteries have the same probability of winning. It should also be noted that two agents can be epistemic peers without knowing that they are epistemic peers. So agents from East* and West* can be epistemic peers without knowing it.

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Acknowledgements

This research was financed by the Groupe de Recherche Interuniversitaire sur la Normativité (GRIN) and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (#767-2016-1771). Thanks to Daniel Laurier, Simon-Pierre Chevarie-Cossette, Andrew Reisner, Xander Selene and two anonymous referees for their invaluable comments and suggestions.

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Daoust, MK. Epistemic Uniqueness and the Practical Relevance of Epistemic Practices. Philosophia 45, 1721–1733 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11406-017-9867-3

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Keywords

  • Rationality
  • Uniqueness
  • Epistemic peer
  • Epistemic labour