Saturday, December 17, 2022

Variation in priors and community epistemic goods

Here is a hypothesis:

  • It is epistemically better for the human community if human beings do not all have the same (ur-) priors.

This could well be true because differences in priors lead to a variety of lines of investigation, a greater need for effort in convincing others, and less danger of the community as a whole getting stuck in a local epistemic optimum. If this hypothesis is true, then we would have an interesting story about why it would be good for our community if a range of priors were rationally permissible.

Of course, that it would be good for the community if some norm of individual rationality obtained does not prove that the norm obtains.

Moreover, note that it is very plausible that what range of variation of priors is good for the community depends on the species of rational animal we are talking about. Rational apes like us are likely more epistemically cooperative than rational sharks would be, and so rational sharks would benefit less from variation of priors, since for them the good of the community would be closer to just the sum of the individual goods.

But does epistemic rationality care about what is good for the community?

I think it does. I have been trying to defend a natural law account of rationality on which just as our moral norms are given by what is natural for the will, our epistemic norms are given by what is natural for our intellect. And just as our will is the will of a particular kind of deliberative animal, so too our intellect is the intellect of a particular kind of investigative animal. And we expect a correlation between what a social animal’s nature impels it to do and what is good for the social animal’s community. Thus, we expect a degree of harmony between the norms of epistemic rationality—which on my view are imposed by the nature of the animal—and the good of the community.

At the same time, the harmony need not be perfect. Just as there may be times when the good of the community and the good of the individual conflict in respect of non-epistemic flourishig, there may be such conflict in epistemic flourishing.

I am grateful to Anna Judd for pointing me to a possible connection between permissivism and natural law epistemology.

1 comment:

Mikhail said...
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