A rude assembly

Seamus Bradley's blog

Ethics in Epistemology

I’ve recently been thinking about a number of ways that debates and concepts in ethics might be of interest to epistemologists. I’m not the only one thinking this: I’ve a number of talks recently that “import” ideas from ethics into epistemology, and chatted to people who say they are interested in similar things.

My aim in writing this post is really just to list a couple of interesting areas of possible interaction. I should start with a couple of caveats. I’m not really working on mainstream epistemology, so there might be gaps in my knowledge. I know even less about ethics.

At FEW, earlier this summer, I saw an interesting talk by Sarah Moss (paper here) about “credal dilemmas”. The idea is that there is an analogue of the ethical concept of a “moral dilemma” that happens in epistemology. Moss then uses ideas from ethics to inform her formulation of a response to credal dilemmas. I have some reservations about her proposal, but that’s a topic for another time. I do like the methodology of trying to import ideas from other subdisciplines in philosophy to help answer your problems.

As an aside, I guess there’s room for a similar sort of thing to happen with importing philosophy of science responses to scepticism into epistemology. (Again, maybe some other time).

The idea of “culpable ignorance” is something that sometimes crops up in discussions in ethics. It seems like there might be something to say about this from an epistemology point of view. It seems epistemologists have views about how belief should respond to evidence, but not what the norms governing the collection of evidence should be.

More generally, ethics and epistemology both deal with norms. Decision theory also deals with norms and arguably has interesting interactions both with ethics and with epistemology. So I guess there’s a question as to what sort of meta-ethical views on norms translate into meta-epistemological views on norms. Again, this is pretty vague because I haven’t really looked into any of this stuff yet.

I vaguely recall that I saw a talk by someone whose name escapes me. The thesis seemed to be that there is an objective standard of goodness, and it is this that we should be trying to maximise in decision theory, not subjective expected utility. This was an ethicists take on decision theory. I’m not sure I’m representing the position adequately, but it is another example of the possible interchange of ideas between the subdisciplines.

So there are some thoughts on overlaps between epistemology and ethics. I’m sure there are people already working on this. That’s the trouble with philosophy, there isn’t enough time to read all the interesting stuff.

In other news: Holy Cow, MCMP is advertising nine more jobs. LMU seems to be trying to singlehandedly fix the dreadful philosophy jobs market. Good work!