The Practical Foundations of Epistemology

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Asbjørn Steglich-Petersen


Aarhus University


DKK 805,583




Monograph Fellowships


I aim to write a book entitled The Practical Foundations of Epistemology. We all make normative appraisals, not only of people’s actions, but also of people’s beliefs. For example, we not only criticize parents for not letting their children vaccinate, but also criticize the underlying beliefs, such as the belief that vaccines carry significant risks. Given the evidence, such a belief seems irrational or ungrounded. Epistemology studies the ‘epistemic norms’ governing such assessments. But epistemic norms also raise foundational questions about their source and validity: in virtue of what do they hold? Are they objective or subjective? Do they depend on the interests of the believer? Etc. The aim is to develop a theory of epistemic norms as species of the practical norms governing action.


There are considerable theoretical benefits to understanding epistemic norms as species of practical norms: it would achieve theoretical unity between two domains of normativity traditionally thought to be distinct, and at times in conflict: it would allow a robustly realist understanding of epistemic norms: and it would ground epistemic norms in concrete, practical concerns of humans, rather than in abstract epistemic values. Although theoretical in focus, the book also has important practical and societal ramifications. In recent years, we have witnessed increased pressure on certain natural ideas about what it takes to form and communicate beliefs in a responsible manner. By grounding these ideas in practical rather than abstract values, it will provide them a more robust foundation.


The book will be a contribution an extensive existing literature on the nature of epistemic norms. After introducing the topic, the book will thus turn to consider and criticize the main rival theories. In the central chapters, a new theory will be sketched, according to which epistemic norms are understood in terms of certain widely accepted principles governing instrumental action. The theory is then tested, both in terms of its own conceptual coherence and theoretical virtues, and in terms of its ability to explain a host of intuitive cases involving epistemic assessments. Its final chapters relate the theoretical concerns of the book to practical and societal questions about the importance of respecting epistemic norms.

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