Kant’s Account of Epistemic Normativity

Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie (forthcoming)
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According to a common interpretation, most explicitly defended by Onora O’Neill and Patricia Kitcher, Kant held that epistemic obligations normatively depend on moral obligations. That is, were a rational agent not bound by any moral obligation, then she would not be bound by any epistemic obligation either. By contrast, in this paper, I argue that, according to Kant, some epistemic obligations are normatively independent from moral obligations, and are indeed normatively absolute. This view, which I call epistemicism, has two parts. First, it claims that in the absence of other kinds of obligations, rational agents would still be bound by these epistemic obligations, i.e., that the latter are normatively independent. Second, it claims that, no matter what other obligations are at stake, rational agents are bound by these epistemic obligations, i.e., the normativity of these epistemic obligations is absolute in that it cannot be undercut by any moral or other sort of obligation. The argument turns on an exploratory reading of Kant’s remarks in “What Is Orientation in Thinking?” (1786) about the maxim of “thinking for oneself” as the “supreme touchstone of truth.” In contrast to O’Neill and Kitcher, I argue that if we interpret this maxim as stating the unifying principle of theoretical and practical reason, then we must interpret it as stating an epistemic, and not merely practical imperative. This result, I argue, vindicates epistemicism and illuminates interesting lessons about Kant’s conception of the category of “epistemic” norms. Further, it helps us make headway with Kant’s enigmatic remarks about the unity of practical and theoretical reason in the Groundwork, first and the second Critiques, and the Lectures on Logic. On my proposal, principles of the practical and theoretical uses of rea-son are unified through a formal epistemic principle.


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Author's Profile

Reza Hadisi
University of Toronto, St. George Campus

References found in this work

A Treatise of Human Nature.David Hume & A. D. Lindsay - 1958 - Philosophical Quarterly 8 (33):379-380.
Morality as a system of hypothetical imperatives.Philippa Foot - 1972 - Philosophical Review 81 (3):305-316.
Are Moral Requirements Hypothetical Imperatives?John McDowell & I. G. McFetridge - 1978 - Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 52 (1):13-42.
The Practice of Moral Judgment.Barbara Herman - 1985 - Journal of Philosophy 82 (8):414.

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