The Epistemic Value of Moral Considerations: Justification, Moral Encroachment, and James' 'Will To Believe'

Noûs 45 (2):239-268 (2010)
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Abstract

A moral-pragmatic argument for a proposition is an argument intended to establish that believing the proposition would be morally beneficial. Since such arguments do not adduce epistemic reasons, i.e., reasons that support the truth of a proposition, they can seem at best to be irrelevant epistemically. At worst, believing on the basis of such reasoning can seem to involve wishful thinking and intellectual dishonesty of a sort that that precludes such beliefs from being epistemically unjustified. Inspired by an argument from William James’ classic, “The Will to Believe”, I argue that there is a way of making sense of moral-pragmatic arguments such that they are epistemically relevant. I develop and argue for a theory of epistemic justification that I dub the “moral encroachment theory” (emphasizing its connection to recent pragmatic encroachment views). According to the theory, moral considerations can raise or lower epistemic standards from where they would be in morally neutral settings. The moral encroachment theory, I contend, denotes a normative property that is at once distinctively epistemic and valuable. The theory also allows a legitimate role for moral-pragmatic reasoning under certain conditions. The upshot is that moral-pragmatic reasoning can be epistemically as well as morally appropriate.

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Michael Pace
Chapman University

Citations of this work

Belief and Credence: Why the Attitude-Type Matters.Elizabeth Grace Jackson - 2019 - Philosophical Studies 176 (9):2477-2496.
Varieties of Moral Encroachment.Renée Jorgensen Bolinger - 2020 - Philosophical Perspectives 34 (1):5-26.
Moral Encroachment.Sarah Moss - 2018 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 118 (2):177-205.

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References found in this work

The Will to Believe: And Other Essays in Popular Philosophy.William James - 1979 - New York: Cambridge University Press. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt, Fredson Bowers & Ignas K. Skrupskelis.
Evidence, pragmatics, and justification.Jeremy Fantl & Matthew McGrath - 2002 - Philosophical Review 111 (1):67-94.
Decision theory as philosophy.Mark Kaplan - 1983 - Philosophy of Science 50 (4):549-577.

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