Responsible belief and epistemic justification

Research paper by Rik Peels

Indexed on: 13 Feb '16Published on: 13 Feb '16Published in: Synthese


For decades, philosophers have displayed an interest in what it is to have an epistemically justified belief. Recently, we also find among philosophers a renewed interest in the so-called ethics of belief: what is it to believe (epistemically) responsibly and when is one’s belief blameworthy? This paper explores how epistemically justified belief and responsible belief are related to each other. On the so-called ‘deontological conception of epistemic justification’, they are identical: to believe epistemically responsibly is to believe epistemically justifiedly. I argue that William Alston’s criticism of a deontological conception of epistemic justification in terms of our influence on our beliefs is unconvincing. Moreover, such a conception meets three criteria that one might put forward in order for an account of epistemic justification to be plausible: it shows a concern with the Jamesian goal of having true rather than false beliefs, it is relevantly similar to accounts of justification in non-doxastic realms, such as action, and there is good reason to think that, if spelled out in sufficient detail, it may well provide a necessary condition for knowledge. I conclude that the deontological conception of epistemic justification is stronger than is often thought: it is worth exploring whether epistemically justified belief is epistemically responsible belief.