Friday, August 24, 2018

Epistemic Responsibility 005: Morality, Justification, and Belief

Hullo reader.

What can I do for you today?

Over the summer my attitude towards this blog has been drifting a bit to one which addressed the (potential) reader rather than some topic or concern.

One of the reasons for this is my experiences back in college.

Many academic philosophers (and many topics of study in academic philosophy) appear to be locked in an isolated chamber where they talk to themselves in a private language that is only loosely related to reality.

You, on the other hand, are living in reality.

I think that reality is important.

This sense has grown stronger as I prepare for the semester. The epistemology course in particular appears to be one where philosophers have lost touch and are off in their private world.

I really don’t want to follow them there - I am not interested.

Here’s an example.

In real people language, “justified” and “unjustified” contain an element of praise and condemnation. People use the "justified" as a term of praise - in order to encourage the behaviors and interests that brought about that which is justified. Similarly, the term "unjustified" refers to that which was brought about by behaviors and interests people have reason to discourage (or aversions people have reason to encourage).

I do not think these elements of praise and condemnation disappear when we get into the subject of belief. I think that beliefs can be brought about by good behaviors and dispositions and warrant the praise of being called a "justified" belief, and they can be brought about as a result of behaviors and interests that justify using the term "unjustified" as a term of condemnation.

It would be a significant loss to give this up. There certainly are epistemic behaviors and interests people generally have many and strong reasons to promote universally - and those that they have reason to condemn or inhibit. So, we have a use of a term that plays this role. If we do not use the terms "justified" and "unjustified" to play this role, what other term should we use in its place? And how do we go about promoting its common use so that we can harvest these benefits?

The easiest course of action is to continue to use the terms "justified" and "unjustified" in its traditional role as terms of praise and condemnation.

This is what I want to encourage people to do here.

There is still going to be a strong relationship to being justified and being true. After all, this is one of the interests that a properly motivated person would have - an interest in true beliefs. This would manifest itself as a search for signs of unreliability or for potential objections - for things that suggest that the belief is false so that the responsible agent can correct it. Indeed, the fact that a belief is false is a prima facie sign that the person who believes it is irresponsible, just as the fact that a person was killed is a prima facie sign that the person who brought about the death was reckless. Perhaps this assumption can be ruled out by further evidence, but it is legitimate to say, "Things look bad for you. What do you have to say for yourself?"

At the same time, there is no necessary connection. A person can be on their best epistemic behavior and still embrace a false belief simply because the best available evidence that a responsible person would have sought happens to support this false belief. terms to promote that which is good, and avoid that which is bad. In the real of belief (justified and unjustified belief), the term refers mostly to beliefs that come from good belief-forming habits and dispositions. Beliefs that come from bad epistemic habits and dispositions are unjustified.

Again, on this model, the situation with respect to justified and unjustified belief would be the same as the situation with respect to justified and unjustified action. Indeed, a person with a poorly founded belief can have others legitimately call it "unjustified" in both the epistemic and the moral sense at once.

This thought needs more development, but it is what seems right at the moment.

Still, this is my message for today. "Justified belief" and "unjustified belief" are statements of praise and condemnation that aim at developing and promoting good epistemic habits.

Anybody see a problem with this?

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