How should rational believers pursue the aim of truth? Epistemic utility theorists have argued that by combining the tools of decision theory with an epistemic form of value—gradational accuracy, proximity to the truth—we can justify various epistemological norms. I argue that deriving these results requires using decision rules that are different in important respects from those used in standard (practical) decision theory. If we use the more familiar decision rules, we can’t justify the epistemic coherence norms that epistemic utility theory (...) had hoped to justify. In short, those of us who are attracted to the project of epistemic utility theory face a dilemma. If we choose “consequentialist” rules, then we can vindicate the idea that rational belief has the aim of accuracy—but at the cost of giving up attractive epistemic norms. (shrink)
Does rationality require imprecise credences? Many hold that it does: imprecise evidence requires correspondingly imprecise credences. I argue that this is false. The imprecise view faces the same arbitrariness worries that were meant to motivate it in the first place. It faces these worries because it incorporates a certain idealization. But doing away with this idealization effectively collapses the imprecise view into a particular kind of precise view. On this alternative, our attitudes should reflect a kind of normative uncertainty: uncertainty (...) about what to believe. This view refutes the claim that precise credences are inappropriately informative or committal. Some argue that indeterminate evidential support requires imprecise credences; but I argue that indeterminate evidential support instead places indeterminate requirements on credences, and is compatible with the claim that rational credences may always be precise. (shrink)
Ideal epistemologists investigate the nature of pure epistemic rationality, abstracting away from human cognitive limitations. Non-ideal epistemologists investigate epistemic norms that are satisfiable by most humans, most of the time. Ideal epistemology faces a number of challenges, aimed at both its substantive commitments and its philosophical worth. This paper explains the relation between ideal and non-ideal epistemology, with the aim of justifying ideal epistemology. Its approach is meta-epistemological, focusing on the meaning and purpose of epistemic evaluations. I provide an account (...) on which the fundamental difference between ideal and non-ideal epistemic evaluations is that only the non-ideal epistemic ‘ought’ implies any substantive ‘can’. I argue that only ideal epistemic evaluations are ‘normatively robust’: they are neither conventional nor seriously context-sensitive. Non-ideal epistemic evaluations are normatively non-robust, exhibiting both conventionality and serious context-sensitivity from an interesting variety of distinct sources. For this reason, non-ideal epistemic evaluations won’t characterize the fundamental nature of epistemic rationality. Non-ideal epistemic rationality depends, not merely on what’s epistemically valuable, but also on modally contingent epistemic conventions and contextually contingent constraints on epistemic options. If we want a normatively robust theory of epistemic rationality, ideal epistemology is the only game in town. (shrink)
The subjective deontic "ought" generates counterexamples to classical inference rules like modus ponens. It also conflicts with the orthodox view about modals and conditionals in natural language semantics. Most accounts of the subjective ought build substantive and unattractive normative assumptions into the semantics of the modal. I sketch a general semantic account, along with a metasemantic story about the context sensitivity of information-sensitive operators.
Accuracy-first epistemology aims to show that the norms of epistemic rationality can be derived from the effective pursuit of accuracy. This paper explores the prospects within accuracy-first epistemology for vindicating “modesty”: the thesis that ideal rationality permits uncertainty about one’s own rationality. I argue that accuracy-first epistemology faces serious challenges in accommodating three forms of modesty: uncertainty about what priors are rational, uncertainty about whether one’s update policy is rational, and uncertainty about what one’s evidence is. I argue that the (...) problem stems from the representation of epistemic decision problems. The appropriate representation of decision problems, and corresponding decision rules, for (diachronic) update policies should be a generalization of decision problems and decision rules for (synchronic) coherence. I argue that extant accounts build in conflicting assumptions about which kinds of information about the believer should be used to structure epistemic decision problems. In particular, extant accounts of update build in a form of epistemic consequentialism. Related forms of epistemic consequentialism have been shown to generate problems for accuracy-first epistemology’s purported justifications of probabilism, conditionalization, and the principal principle. These results are vindicated only with nonconsequentialist epistemic decision theories. I close with suggestive examples of how, with a fully nonconsequentialist representation of epistemic decision problems, accuracy-first epistemology can allow for rational modesty. (shrink)
It’s been argued that there are no diachronic norms of epistemic rationality. These arguments come partly in response to certain kinds of counterexamples to Conditionalization, but are mainly motivated by a form of internalism that appears to be in tension with any sort of diachronic coherence requirements. I argue that there are, in fact, fundamentally diachronic norms of rationality. And this is to reject at least a strong version of internalism. But I suggest a replacement for Conditionalization that salvages internalist (...) intuitions, and carves a middle ground between conservatism and evidentialism. (shrink)
On an attractive, naturalistically respectable theory of intentionality, mental contents are a form of measurement system for representing behavioral and psychological dispositions. This chapter argues that a consequence of this view is that the content/attitude distinction is measurement system relative. As a result, there is substantial arbitrariness in the content/attitude distinction. Whether some measurement of mental states counts as characterizing the content of mental states or the attitude is not a question of empirical discovery but of theoretical utility. If correct, (...) this observation has ramifications in the theory of rationality. Some epistemologists and decision theorists have argued that imprecise credences are rationally impermissible, while others have argued that precise credences are rationally impermissible. If the measure theory of mental content is correct, however, then neither imprecise credences nor precise credences can be rationally impermissible. (shrink)
Metanormativists hold that moral uncertainty can affect how we ought, in some morally authoritative sense, to act. Many metanormativists aim to generalize expected utility theory for normative uncertainty. Such accounts face the “easy problem of intertheoretic comparisons”: the worry that distinct theories’ assessments of choiceworthiness are incomparable. The easy problem may well be resolvable, but another problem looms: while some moral theories assign cardinal degrees of choiceworthiness, other theories’ choiceworthiness assignments are merely ordinal. Expected choiceworthiness over such theories is undefined. (...) Call this the “hard problem of intertheoretic comparisons.” This paper argues that to solve the hard problem, we should model moral theories with imprecise choiceworthiness. Imprecise choiceworthiness assignments can model incomplete cardinal information about choiceworthiness, with precise cardinal choiceworthiness and merely ordinal choiceworthiness as limiting cases. Generalizing familiar decision theories for imprecise choiceworthiness to the case of moral uncertainty generates puzzles, however: natural generalizations seem to require reifying parts of the model that don’t correspond to anything in normative reality. I discuss three ways of addressing this problem: by demystifying the reified elements by using them as promiscuously as possible; by constructing alternative decision theories that don’t require the troublesome elements; and by employing an alternative model of metanormative decision problems, and of moral uncertainty generally. (shrink)