Upcoming JMP Discussion (Feb. 15th-16th) on Spencer Case’s “From Epistemic to Moral Realism”

We are excited to announce the next Journal of Moral Philosophy discussion here at PEA Soup. It will take place on Friday February 15th and Saturday the 16th. This discussion will be on Spencer Case‘s “From Epistemic to Moral Realism” (generously made free access by Brill Online and the Journal of Moral Philosophy), with a critical précis by David Enoch. Come join the fun! The article is now free access and will remain so through the month.

2 Replies to “Upcoming JMP Discussion (Feb. 15th-16th) on Spencer Case’s “From Epistemic to Moral Realism”

  1. Circular Entanglement

    Part One: Circularity

    Case’s article is tightly argued, interesting, and well worth reading. The reason the argument fails is that Case’s theory posits a troubling circularity. Here is my argument.

    (P1) If Case’s theory is true, then the epistemic norm (or norms) depend on a moral responsibility norm (or norms).

    (P2) If Case’s theory is true, then a moral responsibility norm depends on an epistemic norm.

    (P3) If (P1) and (P2), then there is a problematic circularity.

    (C1) Hence, if Case’s theory is true, then there is a problematic circularity.

    Premise (P1) can be seen in Case’s argument that doxastic states are epistemically better when they are accompanied by diligent inquiry or a lack of diligent inquiry that occurs because of a blame-lessening or –eliminating excuse such as ignorance, force, or impracticality. That is, epistemic norms (those that justify epistemic better-ness) depend in part on whether the agent is morally blameworthy for failing to further investigate something. In short, epistemic evaluation (whether in terms of justification or well-foundedness) depends on whether further investigation was required and whether further investigation was required depends whether someone would be blameworthy for failing to do so.

    Premise (P2) rests on the notion that blame rests in part on what a person knows. On one theory, a person is blameworthy for negligence only if he had a fair opportunity to know that what he did was wrong. On such an account, it is plausible that whether he is blameworthy for being negligent depends, at least in part, on whether there is an epistemic norm requiring him to recognize some fact. For example, a Rwandan genocidal leader who believes he is doing the right thing in ordering women to be terrorized and killed is morally blameworthy in part because he had access to the evidence that showed that what he is doing is wrong and is, thus, epistemically required to know that his order would be wrong. A similar thing is true for when someone is responsible despite being manipulated. Consider some hardline responses to Derk Pereboom’s four-case argument.

    On a second theory, a person cannot be primarily blameworthy for being negligent, that is, responsible on the basis of negligence alone. Rather, he can only be blameworthy if he knowingly performed an earlier act that made him responsible for a negligent act. On such a theory, a person is blameworthy only for morally akratic acts, that is, acts that he knew were wrong and did anyway. However, such a person is not responsible for all such akratic acts because he might know that an act is wrong, but be unable to avoid it due to an overpowering desire or manipulated decision. Also, he would not be morally blameworthy if he did not know how to prevent himself from acting akratically. On this last failure, a person is not morally blameworthy because he does not fail epistemically. He does not fail epistemically because his failure results from ignorance.

    In short, facts about moral blame depend on what a person knows or ought to know. If someone is morally blameworthy only for an akratic act, and thus what he knows, moral blame is tracking epistemic blame where a person is epistemically blameless for ignorance. If, instead, a person is morally blameworthy for what he does not know, but ought to know, moral blame depends on epistemic blame for failing to know something. What someone ought to know is at least in part an epistemic notion.

    Premise (P3) rests on the notion that moral norms and epistemic norms cannot rest on each other. To see, this consider which type of norm (or blame), epistemic or moral, is basic in terms of justifying the other.

    If epistemic blame is basic, then epistemic purism is true. Epistemic purism is the theory that epistemic assessments are determined entirely by factors that increase or decrease the probability of a belief being true from the standpoint of the agent. Examples include Bayesianism, reliabilism, and evidentialism. Such purism does not allow moral factors to sneak into epistemic norms.

    Case argues against purism. For example, he rejects evidentialism because it makes a person’s doxastic states correct when she has a justified true belief, but her belief does not depend on her justification. Consider, for example, Hillary Kornblith’s example of someone who has a justified true belief that q and justifiably believes p and if p then q, but does not hold q on this basis because she distrusts modus ponens. More generally, purism intuitively seems to capture propositional justification, but not doxastic or well-founded justification.

    If moral blame is basic, then epistemic norms may not be used to explain when a person is morally blameworthy. Intuitively, though, it seems that facts about the evidence available to the agent or, perhaps, the evidence that she was aware of, do explain, at least in part, when she is blameworthy for not having refrained from doing an act. Intuitively, the evidence-related norms are epistemic.

    A theory that one cannot be primarily morally blameworthy for negligence intuitively seems to depend on the notion that a person is not primarily epistemically blameworthy for negligence. This can be seen in that it is intuitively odd that one might accept that people are not morally blameworthy but are epistemically blameworthy for negligence or vice versa. The same is true for theories of moral blame that focus on, and only on, what the agent knew or was in some other way aware of.

    Part Two: Argument Summary

    Here is the summary of the argument with the justification included.

    (P1) If Case’s theory is true, then the epistemic norm (or norms) depend on a responsibility norm (or norms).

    (P2) If Case’s theory is true, then a responsibility norm depends on an epistemic norm.

    (P3) If (P1) and (P2), then there is a problematic circularity.

    (C1) Hence, if Case’s theory is true, then there is a problematic circularity. [(P1)-(P3)]

    Premise (P1) rests on these assumptions.

    Assumption #1a: Epistemic Failure. Whether a person is epistemically blameworthy depends on whether he did a diligent investigation.

    Assumption #1b: Moral Failure. Whether a person did a diligent investigation depends on whether he is morally blameworthy for failing to further investigate.

    Premise (P2) rests on these assumptions.

    Assumption #2a: Moral Failure. Whether a person is morally blameworthy depends on whether he knows or should know something.

    Assumption #2b: Epistemic Failure. The relevance of what a person knows or the criterion for what a person should know depends on an epistemic norm.

    Premise (P3) rests on these assumptions.

    Assumption #3a: Epistemic Norm Basic. If an epistemic norm is basic, then purism is true. Purism is false.

    Assumption #3b: Moral Norm Basic. If a moral norm is basic, then there is no explanation for the moral relevance of what an agent knows or should know.

    Part Three: How Case Might Respond

    Case is likely to object that epistemic norms and moral norms depend on each other and that this is unproblematic. He might explain that this is similar to how consent depends on rights (valid consent waives a right) and rights depend on consent (a person has those rights he has not waived). He might also note that this is similar to how moral responsibility, particularly praise and blame, depend on what someone had a fair opportunity to avoid. What someone had a fair opportunity to avoid depends on when he would be blameworthy for not avoiding. Consider, for example, manipulation cases that happened in the distant past.

    Such an objection fails. The metaphysical justification here cannot be circular in this way or the metaphysical justification of moral blame would justify itself. Something cannot justify itself unless it is a foundational justification.

    This can be seen in that the above examples fail to illustrate what they are supposed to illustrate. Metaphysically, consent depends on rights. For example, consent is defined in terms of rights. Rights, though, do not depend on consent, even though they are affected by it. For example, rights are not defined in terms of consent. Also, if blameworthiness depends on what someone has a fair opportunity to avoid and what someone has a fair opportunity to avoid depends on what would make him blameworthy, then, in this context, either blameworthiness or fair opportunity does no work.

  2. Entanglement Misalignment

    One more thing is worth mentioning here. There is an issue as to what an epistemic norm is. Let us assume that epistemic norms are understood in deontic terms that include epistemic duties and permissions. It is hard to understand what these might consist of other than unconditional moral duties or hypothetical imperatives. Similar to a legal obligation that is not a moral obligation, the idea of an epistemic obligation that is not a moral obligation is murky. If an epistemic norm just is a moral norm, then Case’s argument would need to focus more on why epistemic realism is true. If the epistemic norm is a hypothetical imperative, then Case’s argument does not succeed because unconditional moral duties likely will not entangle with epistemic norms in the way Case suggests.

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