SOPhiA 2019

Salzburgiense Concilium Omnibus Philosophis Analyticis

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Programme - Talk

Normativity as a kind of conformity: Towards a naturalistic account of epistemic normativity. A critique of Ema Sullivan-Bissett's 'Biological function and epistemic normativity''
(Epistemology, English)

There seem to be things we ought not to believe and others we are permitted to believe. Belief is treated as a normative phenomenon both in everyday and academic discourse. At the same time, normativity can be seen as a threat to a naturalistic understanding of the world. Whilst naturalistic claims are of descriptive nature, norms are prescriptive. It is usually held that they cannot be reduced to statements of fact. This problem is also pertinent to the normativity of belief. How is such a phenomenon to be understood within a naturalist framework?

Sullivan-Bissett provides a naturalistic account of epistemic normativity. She claims that beliefs standard of correctness should be understood in relation to a first biological (etiological) function of belief-producing mechanisms, which is to produce true beliefs. Furthermore, Sullivan-Bissett's account is error-theoretic: She argues that we mistake mere doxastic strategies to be categorical epistemic norms. I will call the mistake we commit the normative pull [NP]: The fact that we believe that or feel as though there are categorical epistemic norms we ought to follow. The disposition to form the NP is brought about by a second function belief-producing mechanisms serve: to effectively organize the individual.

In continuation of Sullivan-Bissett's account, I draw attention to one of the belief-producing mechanisms which is responsible for bringing about the NP. I claim that normative conformity -- a social-learning mechanism -- brings about our beliefs in the existence and categorical validity of epistemic norms. Keeping with the evolutionary perspective, I answer questions about 1st the function and 2nd the phylogeny of our mistaken beliefs in epistemic normativity by means of normative conformity and in line with Sullivan-Bissett's account.

Regarding the first question, I will argue that the function of normative conformity is to make individuals conform to adaptive behavior. For the epistemic case, this is doxastic behavior which fulfils the first proper function of belief-producing mechanisms.

For the second question, I will argue that the disposition to form the NP arises because of the importance of accurate beliefs of individuals for their respective social groups. The NP was needed because false beliefs were costly for the group and in turn also for the individual.

Time: 15:20-15:50, 18 September 2019 (Wednesday)
Location: HS E.002

Basil Müller 
(University of Zurich, Switzerland)

I am a 25-year old master's-student in philosophy from the University of Zurich. I received a bachelor's degree in philosophy and history from the University of Basel in the summer of 2018. My philosophical interests lie mainly in the philosophy of mind, epistemology and the intersections of the two fields.

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