There’s a paper by Matt and Jeremy that is very impressive and very disturbing to me (Phil Review, 2002). It argues for pragmatic encroachment into epistemology, which I view much as I view the Bush policy of opening up parts of Alaska to oil exploration: pristine territory forever polluted… But the argument of the paper is ingenious and difficult to avoid. I think, though, that it doesn’t quite work, at least as stated. It relies on the following principle:
EPC: S is justified in believing that p only if–
for any states of affairs A and B, any X with S’s evidence for p, X is rational to prefer A & p to B & p if and only if X is rational to prefer A to B.
I think there are counterexamples to EPC, though I’m not sure they are decisive (in the sense of showing that no adequate alteration can be found). But first a counterexample.
The idea is to find something you strongly prefer to know obtains, but does not obtain. Here’s one for me:
A=my knowing that I will live in good health till I’m 120.
B=my knowing that I won’t live in good health till I’m 120.
p=I will not live in health till I’m 120.
I’m justified in believing p, and I prefer A to B. So EPC allows me to infer that I prefer A&p to B&p. But, I claim, I don’t. I don’t prefer obvious inconsistencies to realistic appraisals of the future.
This problem is relatively easy to fix: just insist that p be consistent with both A & B. But this won’t quite do the trick. Change A and B from knowing to being justified in believing. I prefer not living till 120 and being justified in believing that I won’t to not living till 120 and being justified in thinking that I will. But I prefer A to B, and here there is no inconsistency between p and either A or B.
The heart of the counterexample is this. There are things we prefer that are hopelessly unrealistic. Being justified in believing they are unrealistic puts us in a position to prefer the combination of the less ideal state of affairs together with our realistic appraisal over the more ideal state of affairs together with our realistic appraisal. Such counterexamples are, we might say, Stoic counterexamples to EPC.