There is an important disagreement in contemporary epistemology over the possibility of non-epistemic reasons for belief. Many epistemologists argue that non-epistemic reasons cannot be good or normative reasons for holding beliefs: non-epistemic reasons might be good reasons for a subject to bring herself to hold a belief, the argument goes, but they do not offer any normative support for the belief itself. Non-epistemic reasons, as they say, are just the wrong kind of reason for belief. Other epistemologists, however, argue that there can be cases where non-epistemic reasons directly offer normative support for the beliefs a subject holds.
My aim in this paper is to remove an apparent obstacle for the view that there can be non-epistemic normative reasons for belief, by showing that the existence of non-epistemic reasons for belief does not conflict with epistemic standards for the assessment of inference. More specifically, I aim to show that the following principles are compatible:
Epistemic Norm of Inference (ENI): Necessarily, for all subjects, S, and inferences, I: I is a good inference for S only if S can gain a (doxastically) epistemically justified belief in I’s conclusion on the basis of I’s premises.
Non-Epistemic Reasons for Belief (NERB): Possibly, for some subject, S, reason, R, and belief, B: R is a good (i.e., normative) reason for S to hold B, and R is not an epistemic reason for B.
Guidance: For all subjects S, potential reasons R, and beliefs/actions φ: In order for R to count as a normative reason for S to φ, it must be possible for S to take R into account as relevant to the determination of whether S ought to φ.
One might naturally think that these principles conflict, for if there are non-epistemic reasons for belief, then they must guide deliberation, and in guiding deliberation, they would violate epistemic standards. The aim of this paper is to show that no such conflict need arise.
Section 2 of the paper proceeds to set out the concept of an inference, and to sketch an epistemic framework for the assessment of inferences and arguments. Section 3 sets out the distinction between normative and motivating reasons, and briefly defends the view that there can be non-epistemic reasons for beliefs. Section 4 shows that non-epistemic reasons for belief are compatible with epistemic standards for inference, because any time a reason R is a good non-epistemic reason for a subject S to hold a belief B, there is an epistemically good inference available to S which takes R as a premise and which concludes with the meta-belief that S ought to hold B. So the paper employs a level-connecting principle between normative reasons for φ-ing and epistemic reasons for believing that one ought to φ. The paper ends with clarifications of that level-connecting principle, and responses to three objections.