Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The right and the good

I've been thinking about the possibility of deriving an account of the right from an account of the good in epistemology. Here's a sort of worry. Suppose we start with our value theory and then wave our hands around a bit and then say that justified beliefs are connected to the value we identified at the first step. So far, so good. The problem, as I see it, is that once you say that justified beliefs are justified because of the value, V, you have to explain why it is that something like results matter but consequences don't. von Wright has this distinction between results and consequences (I believe), and I think that the line that's natural for a certain kind of consequentialist to take is one on which the justification of an action is determined by both its results and consequences. Similarly, if believing p has all sorts of doxastic effects (e.g., leading to belief in q, blocking belief in r) and these effects are the bearers of value that determine whether the belief is justified, what justification is there for adopting a view on which the justificatory standing of some subject's belief that p is determined by that belief as opposed to the values that attach to subsequent beliefs believed only because p is believed. Just to make it concrete, suppose that there's no evidence that supports p but I know believing p will lead to many valuable epistemic states of affairs and actually maximizes the values we care about here. Does that mean the belief is justified? I'd think that a consequentialist of a certain stripe would say that, but then the challenge is to make the value-driven stuff do the driving while preserving the idea that epistemic evaluation is concerned with particular beliefs and not their effects.

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