Tuesday, July 29, 2008


I've been working on a paper on reasons for belief and epistemic justification and need to track down something. Consider this passage from Matthias Steup's, "A Defense of Internalism":
My reason for placing a direct recognizability constraint on J-factors is that I take the concept of epistemic justification to be a deontological one. I believe that epistemic justification is analogous to moral justification in the following sense: Both kinds of justification belong to the family of deontological concepts, concepts such as permission, prohibition, obligation, blame, and responsibility. An act that is morally justified is an act that is not morally permissible, an act for which one cannot be justly blamed, or an act the agent was not obliged to refrain from performing. I conceive of epistemic justification in an analogous way. A belief that is epistemically justified is a belief that is epistemically permissible, a belief for which the subject cannot justly be blamed, or a belief the subject is not obliged to drop

Then, later:
In ethics, it is particularly clear, as Linda Zagzebski has pointed out, nearly unquestioned, that responsibility and duty fulfillment demand direct recognizability ... No one defends the view that what makes an action morally justified or unjustified is something the agent cannot directly recognize. Rather, what makes actions justified or unjustified must be, at least ordinarily, directly recognizable. Likewise, if epistemic justification is analogous to the justification of actions in being deontological, then what makes beliefs epistemically justified or unjustified must be, at least ordinarily, directly recognizable

I've tracked down the passage from Zagzebski but she offers no citations or arguments for the claim that no one defends the view in question and there's a footnote in the Steup paper that says that his remarks concern justification rather than rightness. I can't make heads or tails of the suggestion that there are justified actions that aren't right to perform, but let that pass. Here's the question. Steup isn't alone in saying that on the deontic conception of justification, justified belief = permissible belief = belief the subject cannot justly be blamed for holding = belief the subject is not obliged to drop.

Where are the arguments that explain the identification of permissible belief with blamelessly held belief? I've seen something from Carl Ginet where he appeals to "ought" implies "can" principle to try to show that there cannot be more to justified belief than belief blamelessly held or responsibly held (not that those come to the same thing either!). Any others? I do not understand why the standard statement of deontic justification sticks together the claim that a justified belief is permissible or blameless.


Tony Booth said...

Hi Clayton,

I'm not entirely clear as to which identification you're asking about exactly...but if it's the epistemic permissibility -> epistemic blameworthiness link, the best (and not very often discussed) argument is in Alston's paper on the deontic conception (obviously this article has been discussed extensively, but not the argument for the identification). The argument he offers is roughly that the best type of control we have over belief is what he calls 'indirect influence'. However, a deontic conception that is based on this sort of control is one that does not allow us to evaluate *particular* beliefs (with respect to their being required, forbidden, permissible). Rather, what is required/forbidden/permissible is certain actions (such as training ourselves to be more critical of sham authorities). But this does not mean we cannot be held to *blame* for having particular beliefs. So if we want the deontic conception to be concerned with particular beliefs, then it must be identified with the concept of blame.

Hope that helps!

Aidan said...

I suspect some people are motivated by intuitions concerning brains in vats and other such scenarios. Think of a subject who's impeccably epistemically responsible, but whose external circumstances are such that she's just not going to be able to avoid having massively false beliefs. Do we really want to say she's unjustified?

Of course, lots of people will just answer 'yes'. Anyway, there's some discussion of these kinds of considerations in section 4 of Pryor's 2001 Brit. J. Phil. Sci. paper, where Pryor argues that close attention to the details of such BIV cases in fact suggests that justification outstrips blamelessness.

(Ps. I think there might be a typo in the quote from Steup. At the moment it says that an act that is morally justified is an act that is not morally permissible.)

Clayton said...

Hey Tony,

I'll need to read the Alston again. I have to admit, I have a love/hate relationship with his writing. At times, I think it's careful and clear. At others, I think he's quite sloppy. I'm not sure I follow the argument you've offered, but the crucial question is this: why think that treating justification as a deontological notion force us to say that the conditions that prevent a belief from being justified are limited to those which the subject can be blamed for failing to take account of?

Hey Aidan,
I suspect that what you've said is true for some folks, but some have suggested that in addition to new evil demon type intuitions, we can argue for internalism about justification on the grounds that justification is a deontological notion. If it's an additional argument, the intuitions you mention cannot justify the claim that only conditions you can be blamed for failing to take account of can threaten justification/prevent a belief from being justified.

Tony Booth said...

Hi again Clayton,

Yea, I know what you mean about Alston - he can sometimes be hard to follow. But I'm mostly a big fan (though I didn't like his last book). As to your question, I took myself to be trying to answer it. I could try again, but I would just be repeating myself or else paraphrasing Alston, so you may as well just read his paper "The Deontological Conception of Epistemic Justification". If you're at all interested I've got a paper coming out where I argue that deontologism does not entail epistemic internalism which I can send you. Though I actually disagree with myself now! Anyway, sorry I couldn't be of more help.

Best wishes,


Clayton said...

Hey Tony,

I'll need to look at Alston's paper again. If you get the chance, send me a copy of your paper, I'd love to take a look at it. And, congratulations on its 'forthcoming' status.