I am very interested in what is often called the “ethics of belief.” I am blamed for believing things I shouldn’t and in turn blame others for believing things they shouldn’t. I think that’s all fine. I do not, however, think of this as distinctively epistemic. It’s hard to say what is distinctive of epistemology, but it seems that issues of practical rationality or failure of a duty of care are clear cases of things that are not distinctively epistemic. I suspect that there is no non-evidential notion of distinctively epistemic blame. Yet responsibilists often explicitly claim there is (Montmarquet, Axtell, Baehr). Below the fold is one way I think one can see that there is no non-evidential distinctively epistemic notion of blameworthiness.
I want to make the dilemma I posed in “Reducing Responsibility” (www.TrentDougherty.info) more explicit here. I think it is most usefully put in the form of a recipe or flowchart for reduction of an alleged item of epistemic irresponsibility to something else.
- Take the case of a particular instance of so-called epistemic irresponsibility–say, S taking doxastic attitude A toward p in circumstance C–and ask the following questions.
- Does A fit S’s evidence wrt p?
- If not, then there is a simple explanation–lack of evidential fit. Still, the further questions would still need to be asked, since the alternative explanations are not mutually exclusive.
- In C, is there much at stake in A’s being inaccurate?
- If the answer is No, then there appears to be no basis for the charge of irresponsibility.
- If the answer is Yes, then ask the following question.
- Are the stakes those of S?
- If Yes, then not inquiring further into whether p was a failing of practical rationality.
- If No, then ask the following question.
- Are the stakes those of some individual to whom S owes a relevant duty of care?
- If Yes, then not inquiring further into whether p is a failure of a moral duty.
- If No, then there is nothing at stake and so no basis for a charge of irresponsibility.
In this way, it seems to me, any alleged case of epistemic irresponsibility can be seen to be either a standard case of lack of evidential fit, some non-epistemic shortcoming, or no problem at all.
My issue is that I haven’t been able to find or think of a clear case of s0-called epistemic irresponsibility that isn’t easily explainable as resolving into one or more of these other properties. It would need to be (or at least it would be better to be) a case were S had a doxastic attitude toward a proposition which didn’t fit. Otherwise, it would be impossible to show that epistemic irresponsibility was not just a case of lack of evidential fit, the error theory being that the responsibilist is latching onto the evidential norm and illegitimately appropriating that failure to do as one epistemically ought into their own conception of irresponsibility.
But I’m not very good with cases, maybe there’s one out there I haven’t seen or maybe someone can think of one.