Intellectual courage and inquisitive reasons

Philosophical Studies 180 (4):1343-1371 (2023)
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Intellectual courage requires acting to promote epistemic goods despite significant risk of harm. Courage is distinguished from recklessness and cowardice because the expected epistemic benefit of a courageous action outweighs (in some sense) the threatened harm. Sometimes, however, inquirers pursue theories that are not best supported by their current evidence. For these inquirers, the expected epistemic benefit of their actions cannot be explained by appeal to their evidence alone. The probability of pursuing the true theory cannot contribute enough to the expected epistemic benefit for the action to count as courageous rather than reckless. Thus, there must be some other epistemic consideration which favors their action, besides evidence for their theory. I argue that the proper account of intellectual courage requires recognition of inquisitive reasons: a distinct category of epistemic reasons which concern successful inquiry. This category includes reasons to think a theory itself is promising, e.g., that the theory suggests potentially fruitful new research. It also includes social epistemic reasons, e.g., that pursuing a theory will improve the distribution of cognitive labor. Inquisitive reasons help explain why researchers who pursue improbable theories count as intellectually courageous, rather than reckless. The expected epistemic benefit of an action is partially determined by the inquisitive reasons in its favor. On my account, intellectually courageous inquiry requires acting in a way that is sensitive to inquisitive reasons.

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Will Fleisher
Georgetown University

Citations of this work

Unzipping the Zetetic Turn.David Domínguez - 2023 - Synthese 202 (6):1-29.

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References found in this work

What we owe to each other.Thomas Scanlon - 1998 - Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
Virtue Ethics.Rosalind Hursthouse & Glen Pettigrove - 2022 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Knowledge and its Limits.Timothy Williamson - 2000 - Tijdschrift Voor Filosofie 64 (1):200-201.

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