"Don't accept the testimony of unreliable witnesses." "Avoid having contradictory beliefs." "Discard beliefs all of the justification for which has been undercut." "Accept the best available explanation that is not absurd." "If you assigned a probability to a hypothesis H, and then you received evidence E, you should now assign probability P(H|E)=P(E|H)P(H)/P(E) to the hypothesis."
But why? Well, if I don't follow these injunctions, then I am less likely to achieve knowledge, comprehensiveness, understanding, true belief, etc., and more likely to be ignorant and to believe falsely. Moreover, following these injunctions will develop habits in me that are more likely in the future to lead me to gain knowledge, comprehensiveness, understanding, true belief, etc., and to avoid ignorance and false belief.
But if that is all there is to it, then epistemic injunctions run the danger of not being norms at all. Rather, they seem to be disguised conditionals like:
- If you accept the testimony of unreliable witnesses, you are likely to gain false beliefs.
- If you don't accept the best available explanation that is not absurd, you're unlikely to gain comprehensiveness in your beliefs.
- If you don't raise your right arm, at most one of your arms will be raised
This is unless knowledge, comprehensiveness, understanding, true belief, etc. are worth having, unless they are good. If they are good, then they are to be pursued, and their opposites are to be avoided. But now we see that the force of epistemic norms just comes down to the fact that, as Aquinas put it, "good is to be done and pursued, and evil is to be avoided". But the pursuit of the good and the avoidance of the bad is what morality is. Hence, the imperative force of epistemic norms--that which makes them be genuinely normative--is the same as the imperative force of moral norms. Epistemic norms just are moral norms, but moral norms concerning a particular, and non-arbitrary, subset of the goods and bads, namely the epistemic goods and bads. Likewise, there is a subset of moral norms dealing with goods and bads that come up in medical practice, and we call that "bioethics", and there is a subset of moral norms dealing with goods and bads to the agent, and we call these "norms of prudence", and so on. Non-communal epistemological norms are, in fact, a subset of the norms of prudence. Any subset of the goods and bads defines a subset of morality.
One might object that only some goods and bads fall in the purview of morality. Thus, while good is to be pursued and evil avoided, only in the case of the moral goods is this a moral injunction. But I find quite implausible the idea of identifying specifically "moral" goods. I will argue against the distinction between epistemic and moral goods in two parts. The first part of the argument will establish, among other things, that epistemic norms are a species of prudential norms. The second part will argue that prudential norms are a species of moral norms.
To help someone learn something--i.e., to help her gain certain instances of epistemic goods--for the sake of her learning is to benefit her, and can be just as much an instance of kindness or charity as relieving her pain. (Of course, not every instance of teaching is kind or charitable, just as not every relieving of pain is kind or charitable--the parallel continues to hold.) To distinguish helping others attain epistemic goods from helping others attain non-epistemic goods and to say that only the latter is moral, is to take an unacceptably narrow view of morality--indeed, I think the only major moral view that makes such a claim is hedonistic utilitarian, and its making this claim is a count against it. But if there is no difference in regard to whether we are acting in accordance with morality whether we help others achieve epistemic or non-epistemic goods, why should there be a difference in our own case? The epistemic goods in our own case are not different in kind from the epistemic goods in the case of others. If pursuit of the human good of others involves helping them achieve epistemic goods, so too the pursuit of the human good of ourselves involves helping ourselves achieve epistemic goods. But pursuit of our own human good is what prudence calls us to. Hence, epistemic norms are a species of moral norms. It is no less a part of prudence to strive for true belief than it is to surround oneself with beauty or to keep one's body healthy; it is just as much a duty of prudence to keep from false beleif as it is to avoid promoting ugliness in one's environment and disease in one's body.
Now, one might say that there is a defensible distinction between the agent's goods and the goods of others, and it is only the pursuit of the goods of others that morality is concerned with. But this is mistaken. It is an essential part in learning to be moral to realize that I am (in relevant respects) no different from anybody else, that I shouldn't make an exception for myself, that I am one of many, that if others are cut, they bleed just as I do. Utilitarianism and Kantianism recognizes this. Aquinas recognizes this in respect of charity (he thinks we owe more charity to ourselves, because we owe more to those who are closer to us, but there is no difference in the kind of duty; in charity we love people because the God whom we love loves them, and so we love ourselves in charity for the same reason that we love others in charity). And a theistic ethics that grounds our duties to people in their being in the image of God, or in God's loving them, will just as much yield duties in regard to one's own goods as duties in regard to the goods of others, since the agent is in the image of God and loved by God just as others are. And if we have duties to our friends, and our friends are in morally relevant respects "other selves", then we likewise have duties to ourselves (Aristotle would certainly endorse this). It is true that some social-contract accounts of morality do not recognize this, but so much the worse for them.
Prudential norms and prudential virtues, then, are a species of moral norms and moral virtues. And epistemic norms and epistemic virtues are a species of prudential norms and prudential virtues.