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March 31st, 2007

Epistemic Norms

For anyone interested, I’m posting the latest draft of my paper Epistemic Norms and Natural Facts, which argues for a kind of Cornell realism about epistemic norms. Comments are very welcome, as I’m currently preparing a final version.

Posted by Carrie Jenkins in Uncategorized

3 Comments »

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3 Responses to “Epistemic Norms”

  1. Justin says:

    The paper looks good! Here are a few things that occurred to me while reading it.

    1. In response to the open question argument, you effectively group together two views: (i) there are no conceptual entailments from the non-normative to the normative, and (ii) there are such entailments, but they are unobvious. At least for some purposes (which maybe you want to ignore here?), there seem to be important differences between these two views. A naturalist who holds (i) grants Moore that his question is genuinely open but denies this leads to non-naturalist conclusions, while a naturalist who holds (ii) takes Moore’s question to be closed, but unobviously so. A true Cornell realist will hold (i), while someone like Jackson who opposes Cornell realists will accept (ii). Now, for certain purposes the Cornell realists and Jackson can be legitimately lumped together. Maybe you’ll want to note it if you’re grouping them together here?

    2. Here is a question you wouldn’t necessarily need to address in the paper, but something I’m curious about. Inspired by nonreductive physicalists in the philosophy of mind like Putnam and Fodor, sometimes Cornell realists say that their view is (or at least can be) nonreductive as well. Here would be the picture: mental facts aren’t identical to physical facts, it’s more like they are realized by physical facts; similarly, perhaps, normative facts aren’t identical to natural facts, but realized by them. My question is just whether this sort of view would be acceptable to you, or whether you would want to reject it. (It may be that you would want to reject it, but not for reasons relevant to your purposes in the paper.)

    3. This last point is connected to my first point. Again, it’s not something you would need to address in the paper, but something I’m curious about. Two-dimensionalists hold something like this: that the cup is filled with H2O doesn’t by itself conceptually entail that it’s filled with water, but that the cup is filled with H2O + the further claim that H2O is the actual watery stuff does conceptually entail this. In short, the idea is that given all the H2O truths (including “actuality” truths), it isn’t really an open question whether H2O is water. If you map this idea onto the metaethical (or metaepistemological) realm, the idea would be that if naturalism is true, then there really shouldn’t be any open questions about normativity once absolutely all of the natural truths (including “actuality” truths) are in. And in fact, Horgan and Timmons push something like this line while arguing that the Cornell realists have not adequately responded to the open question argument.

    My question is just, how are you thinking of things? Two dimensionalists’ claims about conceptual entailment are extremely controversial, so you might just want to reject them. This would involve saying that H2O truths (including “actuality” truths) don’t conceptually entail water truths, and so just as there is a normative/non-normative open question, there is also a water/H2O open question. Or, you might agree with the two dimensionalists and hold that just as in the water/H2O case, there is no real open question in the normative/non-normative case. To make this result seem less counterintuitive, you could insist that it isn’t obvious that the question in this case is closed, although in fact it is. If you took this line, then your position might resemble Cornell realism in certain respects (just as Jackson’s view does), but strictly speaking it wouldn’t be a form of it.

  2. Carrie Jenkins says:

    Hi Justin,

    Thanks very much for these comments. 1 and 3 concern an issue that I will probably leave open for the purposes of this paper, though you’re right that it might be worth adding a few remarks about it in the final version.

    2 is pretty interesting. Would the idea be that the normative facts are not identical to the relevant natural facts because the former are – and the latter aren’t – to be characterized in terms of a certain role that normative facts play? That looks like another option on the table, and as far as I know no-one’s defended that as a view about epistemic norms. (Another paper waiting to be written. There are vast swathes of underexplored territory here!) I’m not particularly attracted to such a view myself, but for reasons which could no doubt bear more scrutiny than I’ve given them so far, namely that I can’t think what the characteristic role would look like.

  3. Justin says:

    Yeah, I take it that the idea is to draw something like a role/realizer distinction, although I’ve never seen the details fully worked out in the moral case.

    One idea worth mentioning is that perhaps the roles in question needn’t be purely causal in nature. Jackson and Pettit defend something they call “moral functionalism,” but they emphasize that the platitudes that comprise the moral theory which gets Ramsified needn’t all be causal. So for instance “murder is bad” might be a platitude (suppose), but it’s not that murder causes badness. It seems like someone could do something similar for epistemic norms: take some epistemic theory (perhaps folk, perhaps not), Ramsify it, and then derive roles. Then, identify normative facts with role facts rather than realizer facts.

    There might be a dianalogy here to the mind case, though. Plausibly, role facts shouldn’t count as physical facts, and so if you identify mental facts with certain role facts, you aren’t reducing the mental to the physical. Maybe role facts should still count as natural facts, though, even if they aren’t physical? If so, then the resulting epistemic view would still identify normative facts with certain natural facts. It’s hard for me to say with full confidence before seeing a worked out view.

    Anyhow, again, I really liked your paper. I’m just getting into the subject myself, but without too much of a background in epistemology, so your paper helped clarify for me how some of these ideas play out once the discussion is shifted from moral to epistemic norms.

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