Dissertation, King's College London (2017)

Charles Cote-Bouchard
Université de Montréal
Epistemology is widely seen as a normative discipline like ethics. Just like moral facts, epistemic facts – i.e. facts about our beliefs’ epistemic justification, rationality, reasonableness, correctness, warrant, and the like – are standardly viewed as normative facts. Yet, whereas many philosophers have rejected the existence of moral facts, few have raised similar doubts about the existence of epistemic facts. In recent years however, several metaethicists and epistemologists have rejected this Janus-faced or dual stance towards the existence of moral and epistemic facts. As recent developments in metaethics and normativity theory have made clear, objections to the existence of moral facts really are metanormative objections that target the existence of normative facts more generally. But since epistemic facts are no less normative than moral facts, the argument goes, the existence of the former is equally threatened by metaethical objections. In this thesis, I argue that this rejection of the dual stance fails because epistemic facts are not normative facts. Although they imply norms, they do not imply genuine normativity since the epistemic norms of belief that they imply lack necessary normative authority or force. Unlike moral norms and just like e.g. norms of etiquette and the law, there is not automatically a normative reason to conform to epistemic norms. Therefore, even if metaethical objections target all normative facts, it does not follow that they also target epistemic facts. I offer a two-part abductive argument in favour of that conclusion. First, I argue that epistemic facts lack five commonly cited features of normative facts (but not of merely norm-implying facts). Then, I argue that this is best explained by the thesis that epistemic facts are merely norm-implying and not genuinely normative. I end by exploring the potential consequences of this conclusion for epistemology and metaethics.
Keywords Epistemic Normativity  Metaepistemology  Normativity  Metanormativity  Epistemic Norms  Epistemic Reasons  Epistemology  Ethics of Belief  Metaethics  Epistemic Rationality
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