Evading the Doxastic Puzzle by Deflating Epistemic Normativity

In Scott Stapleford & Kevin McCain (eds.), Epistemic Duties: New Arguments, New Angles. Routledge. pp. 44-62 (2021)


What I call the Doxastic Puzzle, is the impression that while each of these claims seems true, at least one of them must be false: (a) Claims of the form ‘S ought to have doxastic attitude D towards p at t’ are sometimes true at t, (b) If Φ-ing at t is not within S’s effective control at t, then it is false, at t, that ‘S ought to Φ at t’, (c) For all S, p, and t, having doxastic attitude D towards p at t is not within S’s effective control at t. All three natural replies to the puzzle have been pursued. Some have claimed that doxastic attitudes like believing that p are, in fact, within our effective control, or sufficiently so. Others have claimed that doxastic ought-claims, strictly speaking, are always false. And some have denied that effective control is required for the adequacy of doxastic ought-claims in general. I here pursue and examine a different strategy. In the first part of this paper, I argue that these claims are not only each true but actually not in tension with each other in the first place. Instead of attempting to dispel the puzzle, this solution proposes to evade it instead: to solve it by properly understanding, and by thereby accepting without contradiction, all of its constitutive claims. In the second part of the paper, I argue that the evasive strategy forces us to re-think our understanding of the place of normative reasons in epistemology. More exactly, it seems to come at the cost of one central way of thinking about our reasons for having doxastic attitudes, one where such reasons are good-standing exemplars of normative reasons in general. The evasive strategy, that is, threatens to lead us very quickly to a deflationary picture of epistemic normativity: it rescues normative talk, but sacrifices normative substance. I conclude by explaining why I think this is more consequential than some have made it out to be, and by suggesting that these consequences are welcome nonetheless.

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Luis R. G. Oliveira
University of Houston

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