Giving Up the Enkratic Principle. Forthcoming in Logos & Episteme. [Pre-Print]
AbstractThe Enkratic Principle enjoys something of a protected status as a requirement of rationality. I argue that this status is undeserved, at least in the epistemic domain. Compliance with the principle should not be thought of as a requirement of epistemic rationality, but rather as defeasible indication of epistemic blamelessness. To show this, I present the Puzzle of Inconsistent Requirements, and argue that the best way to solve this puzzle is to distinguish two kinds of epistemic evaluation – requirement and appraisal. This allows us to solve the puzzle while accommodating traditional motivations for thinking of the Enkratic Principle as a requirement of rationality.
Anti-Exceptionalism About Requirements of Epistemic Rationality. Acta Analytica, 2020. [PDF]
AbstractI argue for the unexceptionality of evidence about what rationality requires. Specifically, I argue that, as for other topics, one’s total evidence can sometimes support false beliefs about this. Despite being prima facie innocuous, a number of philosophers have recently denied this. Some have argued that the facts about what rationality requires are highly dependent on the agent’s situation, and change depending on what that situation is like (Bradley, 2019). Others have argued that a particular subset of normative truths, those concerning what epistemic rationality requires, have the special property of being ‘fixed points’ – it is impossible to have total evidence that supports false belief about them (Smithies, 2012; Titelbaum, 2015). Each of these kinds of exceptionality permit a solution to downstream theoretical problems that arise from the possibility of evidence supporting false belief about requirements of rationality. However, as I argue here, they incur heavy explanatory burdens that we should avoid.
- Is normative uncertainty like factual uncertainty? Should it have the same effects on our actions? Some have thought not. Those who defend an asymmetry between normative and factual uncertainty typically do so as part of the claim that our moral beliefs in general are irrelevant to both the moral value and the moral worth of our actions. Here I use the consideration of Jackson cases to challenge this view, arguing that we can explain away the apparent asymmetries between normative and factual uncertainty by considering the particular features of the cases in greater detail. Such consideration shows that, in fact, normative and factual uncertainty are equally relevant to moral assessment.
- Can we make mistakes about what rationality requires? A natural answer is that we can, since it is a platitude that rational belief does not require truth; it is possible for a belief to be rational and mistaken, and this holds for any subject matter at all. However, the platitude causes trouble when applied to rationality itself. The possibility of rational mistakes about what rationality requires generates a puzzle. When combined with two further plausible claims – the enkratic principle, and the claim that rational requirements apply universally – we get the result that rationality generates inconsistent requirements. One popular and attractive solution to the puzzle denies that it is possible to make rational mistakes about what rationality requires. I show why (contra Titelbaum (2015b), and Littlejohn (2015) this solution is doomed to fail. Consequently, we are left with the surprising result that solving the puzzle will require pursuing one of three highly unintuitive solutions that have so far not proved popular – we must accept that rationality sometimes generates dilemmas, reject the enkratic principle, or defend a conception of rationality for which the requirements of rationality do not apply universally.
Works in Progress
Unexceptional False Beliefs About Logic
- Arché Logical Disagreement Workshop, St Andrews. 17 April 2020.
Risk, Recklessness, and Longtermism
- I examine a tension between the idea that recklessness about moral value is blameworthy, and that risk aversion is irrational. This tension has implications for what we should think about longtermism. On the one hand, because of the epistemic difficulties of predicting the far future, acting to bring about long term outcomes is more risky than acting to bring about short term outcomes. So, being a longtermist would seem to be morally reckless. However, reasoning irrationally when making moral decisions is plausibly also reckless, and something we are under a moral obligation to avoid. If risk aversion is irrational, then perhaps longtermism is not morally reckless after all.
- Global Priorities Institute, Oxford. 16-17 March 2020. Rescheduled to 7-9 Dec 2020.
Ignorance (Only) Sometimes Excuses
Factual and moral ignorance are often thought to differ in their potential to excuse wrongdoing. I argue that this is mistaken, and we can see this by paying closer attention to the epistemic situations of wrong done from ignorance. I defend the view that ignorance (factual or moral) can excuse when the agent lacked the epistemic capacity to avoid the ignorance (the Epistemic Capacity Account). This view supports intuitively compelling judgments about various cases of wrong done from ignorance, and avoids commitment to an implausible asymmetry between factual and moral ignorance.
- London Mind Group, November 2019
- Roots of Responsibility Group. February 2020
Explaining (Away) the Irrationality of Epistemic Akrasia
- Epistemic Akrasia is very often thought to be necessarily irrational. Here, I argue that this is a mistake. I evaluate the explanations on offer for the irrationality of epistemic akrasia and conclude that they show only that it is usually a good idea, epistemically speaking, to avoid epistemic akrasia, and not that epistemic akrasia is irrational in all possible cases. There are some possible, albeit out of the ordinary, cases that are not shown to be irrational by these traditional explanations. We are left with no reason to think that epistemic akrasia is always, rather than usually, irrational. Furthermore, I argue that there is reason to think that finding any such explanation is highly unlikely.
- Oxford Epistemology Group, February 2020
- Relcalcitrant Emotions, Birkbeck. Dec 2019
Blame and Neurodiversity
- Diversity in how people think and process information can make some people more prone to normative mistakes about morality than others. In particular, people whose psychological make-up means that they find it difficult to understand the emotions of others will find it more difficult to respond appropriately to moral reasons when those reasons involve the emotions of others. This lack of empathy is very often seen as a moral failing deserving blame, on the grounds that it involves a blameworthy character or poor quality of will towards others (see Nomy Arpaly, Elizabeth Harman, Peter Strawson). However, in so far as a lack of empathy can be attributed to diversity in how people think, there is reason to think that blame on such grounds constitutes discrimination. I examine this tension, and argue that agents deserve blame only when they fail to do at least what it is reasonable to expect of them in responding to their reasons. Furthermore, we can determine which reasons it is reasonable to expect an agent to respond to, and the steps she can be expected to take in responding to them through consideration of her epistemic capacities.
- LSE, November 2019
The Moral Worth of Actions Contrary to Duty (with Stefano Lo Re)
Against the Moral Significance of De Re Motivation
- This paper rejects the significance for appraisal of a particular kind of reason, normative moral reasons de re. I offer an alternative account of appraisal according to which what makes an agent’s responsiveness to reasons significant is not their content, as is commonly supposed (see Michael Smith, Nomy Arpaly, Elizabeth Harman), but rather whether it was reasonable to expect her to respond to those reasons. I argue that this account deals better with cases involving neuroatypical agents. Two important consequencesof the account are that normative mistakescan sometimes excuse, and that what it is reasonable toexpect of agents is sometimes much more than we typically do expect.
- The 12th Annual Mark L. Shapiro Graduate Conference, Brown University, November 2017
- Notre Dame-Northwestern Epistemology Graduate Conference. April 2017
- The Joint Session, University of Edinburgh. July, 2017.
Bridge Principles and Purely Epistemic Norms, with Bruno Jacinto.
- This paper argues that the question of whether logic is normative for belief is an epistemic question, although it has rarely been thought of as such. The typical approach has been to compare comparative advantages of bridge principles connecting logical truths to claims about what we should believe(seeJohn MacFarlane). We propose an alternative approach that uses a model-theoretic framework able to represent both epistemic norms and truths of logic. We then investigate the relations that hold between the various elements of the model, beginning from epistemic norms that have independent plausibility and using the framework to determine bridge principles consistent with those epistemic norms. In this way, we argue that logical normativity can be reduced to epistemic normativity.
- Normativity of Logic, University of Bergen. June 2017.
Normative Ignorance: Epistemic and Moral
- This paper argues against the applicability to the epistemic domain of some arguments from the moral domain against the ability ofnormative mistakes to excuse. These arguments are not transferable to the epistemic domain because the epistemic interpretation we would need to give them in order for them to go through is implausible. This means that even if we were accept these arguments in the moral domain, they would give us no reason to think that epistemic normative ignorance could not excuse, since we should not accept their epistemic equivalents.
- New Trends in Epistemology, University of Pavia. June 2017.
Drafts are available on request, feel free to email me: claire.a.field [at] gmail.com.
- Susanne Mantel, Determined By Reasons. Ethics, April 2019.
- Julia Staffel, Unsettled Thoughts. Forthcoming in Mind.
- Brian Weatherson, Normative Externalism. Forthcoming in Philosophy.