Epistemic Rationality: Not (Just) Instrumental

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Many epistemologists and philosophers of science, especially those with “naturalist” inclinations, argue that if there is to be any such thing as normativity or rationality in these domains, it must be instrumental—roughly, a matter of goal satisfaction—rather than something involving normative “oughts” that are independent of the satisfaction of our epistemic, cognitive, or other ends. This paper argues that while such an instrumental conception of epistemic rationality is perfectly respectable, even insofar as it concerns specifically epistemic ends, it cannot be the whole story about such normativity. Rather, it must be accompanied by a “categorical,” goal-independent sort of normativity that cannot be reduced to instrumental rationality, both because instrumental rationality itself depends on a noninstrumental relationship between a belief/claim/theory and the evidence that renders it rational, and because the epistemic rationality of many beliefs is independent of the goals of their believers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)608-630
Number of pages23
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 1 2019


  • epistemic rationality
  • evidence
  • instrumental rationality
  • means-ends reasoning
  • naturalism
  • reasons

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy


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