Many epistemologists speak of ‘epistemic deontology’, the view that we have a duty to epistemically justify what we believe, and that it is impermissible to believe without proper justification. Some ethicists extend this to morality, claiming that it is morally wrong to believe without justification (Cf. William Clifford). However, unlike deontology that applies to action, epistemic deontology doesn’t seem to have a convincing source of authority: why should I believe with justification when it is sometimes pragmatic to me to believe otherwise (Cf. William James), or when my irresponsible belief never violates Kant’s Universality or Humanity Principle?

Therefore, my question is why and how this epidemic deontology can ever have a normative authority over us and our belief formation, and where exactly this ‘epistemic duty’ comes from. I also hope you could mention some existing literature on this issue for further reference. Thank you!

  • Epistemic deontology could be said to be deep and important if you take a nontrivial example of voting justification such as on this exchange. Not only required for justification of downvote, equally and perhaps more importantly required entry for upvote, you’ll be certain to see how naively amazing and amusing the distribution result would look like and indicating entirely something else on a metalevel … Commented Feb 16, 2023 at 17:54

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Garrath Williams, in his "Kant's Account of Reason", discusses the unity of theoretical and practical reason. He notes that in a footnote to one (relatively short) essay, Kant says:

To make use of one’s own reason means no more than to ask oneself, whenever one is supposed to assume something, whether one could find it feasible to make the ground or the rule on which one assumes it into a universal principle for the use of reason.

Williams observes that this sounds like a categorical imperative. "To rephrase the point: Thinking and judging are activities. If the Categorical Imperative is truly 'categorical' then it applies to all our activities—'theoretical' as well as 'practical.'" And so he goes on to quote Kant regarding another set of such principles:

The precept for reaching [wisdom] contains three leading maxims: (1) Think for oneself, (2) Think into the place of the other [person] (in communication with human beings), (3) Always think consistently with oneself.

Lastly, there is the "public use of reason":

Kant equates reason with full publicity. “To use one’s own reason” is to make a sincere attempt to address all “citizens of the world.” Judgments and principles are only reasonable to the extent that they can be accepted by all. Our actions must respect existing boundaries and governments, because the duty to pursue and maintain peace is categorical. But reason itself aspires to universality. So as citizens of the world, we have another categorical duty: to see ourselves as accountable to every human being, and hence to improve existing institutions so that they recognize the claims of all.

It is Onora O'Neill who Williams mentions in broad connection with these points. For more on the Kantian link between normativity for theoretical assertions and normativity for practical ones, see her "Kant on Reason and Religion".

The SEP also covers a discussion of metaepistemological realism in which one theorist, Terence Cuneo, is cited as proposing an argument jointly grounding a belief in normative facts about moral beliefs and epistemic ones:

  1. If moral facts do not exist, then epistemic facts do not exist.
  2. Epistemic facts exist.
  3. So, moral facts exist.
  4. If moral facts exist, then moral realism is true.
  5. So, moral realism is true.

John Turi, et. al.'s "Virtue Epistemology" goes over an aretaic ethics of belief/knowledge. They give an overview of how this general thesis (more a question, really, rather) can be cashed out more locally:

[Some] think that epistemology should aim to promote intellectual well being. Perhaps an epistemological theory should be “practically useful” in helping us recognize when we do or don’t know something (Zagzebski 1996: 267), or help us overcome “anxieties” due to defective presuppositions about knowledge (McDowell 1994: xi; Pritchard 2016a). Perhaps epistemology should help us appreciate and respond to forms of “epistemic injustice” (Fricker 2007). Perhaps epistemology should inspire us with portraits of intellectual virtues, thereby promoting cultural reformation and intellectual flourishing (Roberts & Wood 2007). Perhaps epistemology should examine intellectual vices and other defects to tell cautionary tales of what not to do and how not to be (Alfano 2015, Battaly 2014, Cassam 2016). Or perhaps practitioners should help redesign educational institutions to help students cultivate intellectual virtues (e.g., the Intellectual Virtues Academy—see Other Internet Resources).

Beyond that, they note the typical division of the thesis into two main camps:

[Virtue epistemology] is standardly divided up into virtue responsibilists and virtue reliabilists (e.g., Axtell 1997). According to this taxonomy, the two camps differ over how to characterize intellectual virtue. Virtue reliabilists (e.g., Goldman, Greco, and Sosa) understand intellectual virtues to include faculties such as perception, intuition, and memory; call these ‘faculty-virtues’. Their view is best understood as a descendant from earlier externalist epistemologies such as simple process reliabilism. Virtue responsibilists (e.g., Battaly, Code, Hookway, Montmarquet, and Zagzebski) understand intellectual virtues to include cultivated character traits such as conscientiousness and open-mindedness; call these ‘trait-virtues’. Their approach is broadly aligned with internalist sympathies in epistemology and deeply concerned with cognition’s ethical dimensions and implications.

Note that even if normativity for beliefs is given, this might be a normativity of permissions more than obligations. Science might be permitted, but a genuine skepticism might be accommodated (i.e. a sincere skepticism, not the selectively convenient paranoia of political agitators on the Internet right now), and perhaps a "disjunctive theology" or religiosity. (We would maintain that it is permissible to believe in disjunctions over different religious propositions, e.g., "Either there is One True God, or there are infinitely many deities, or the world itself is conscious/divine (and there could be an infinite pantheon of world-soul deities in a multiverse), or there are no divine beings, or..." and however large the disjunction ends up being, we are not permitted to eliminate any of its disjuncts by reasoning, but must sustain the disjunction "as is" if we apply our permission to believe in it at all.)

  • Isn't Cuneo's third premise false?... It seems to be a case of Affirming the Consequent. Or have I got that wrong? Commented Feb 12, 2023 at 13:17
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    @Futilitarian I think it's supposed to be modus tollens. If ~A, ~B. B. Therefore ~~A. Therefore A. Since if A were false, then B would be false; so if B is true, A isn't false (or else we would get B&~B). Commented Feb 12, 2023 at 13:22
  • Yeah. I think I strayed when making substitutions for A and B. Commented Feb 12, 2023 at 13:25
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    @Futilitarian FWIW I cited Cuneo primarily as a generic example of someone at the crossroads of epistemic and moral factivity, such as it is. It would be nice to have more than a generic argument for realism, since one can make easily plausible generic arguments for irrealism, too, and nothing is likely to be settled by such appeals, then. Perhaps nothing need be settled, but I think a liberal concept of facts (not politically, but ontologically) is one way to attempt a reconciliation, here. Commented Feb 12, 2023 at 13:30
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    @Futilitarian they do mention modus ponens and tollens and then compare/contrast those with AfC and DtA, but I don't think that means that semantics will decide if the alethic syntax is correct per different cases (at least, not in the logic typical for such low-detail terms). In Cuneo's argument, he has ~~B = B as the turning point, not ~~A. He infers ~~A after he plays his initial card ~~B = B. But it is not yet entirely clear what Cuneo fully thinks that moral/epistemic facts even are. Commented Feb 12, 2023 at 13:37

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