Discussion Note: Selim Berker’s Combinatorial Argument against Practical Reasons for Belief
In a recent paper, Selim Berker (Analytic Philosophy, 59, 427-470, 2018) develops an abductive argument against practical reasons for belief that exploits an alleged difference between epistemic and practical reasons. According to Berker, epistemic reasons for belief balance to suspension. If I have equally strong epistemic reasons to believe and disbelieve some proposition, I lack sufficient reason either to believe or disbelieve it. Rather, I have decisive reason to suspend judgment. In contrast, practical reasons balance to permission. If I have equally strong practical reasons to φ or ψ (and there are no other reasons on the scene), I have sufficient reason to do either. Given this difference, Berker argues that defenders of practical reasons for belief cannot offer a plausible explanation of how practical and epistemic reasons interact in order to yield all-things-considered normative verdicts. In this essay, I defend a non-interactionist “pure” form of pragmatism against Berker’s objection. I outline a pure pragmatist theory, recapitulate why Berker thinks it also falls prey to his objection, and explain why the objection fails to undermine pure pragmatism. Finally, I consider an additional reason Berker’s argument might seem persuasive and show that it depends on conflating Berker’s objection and a separate challenge to pure pragmatism. Once these distinct challenges are disambiguated, it is easier to see why Berker’s objection is not a significant concern for pure pragmatists.
KeywordsEthics of belief Pragmatism Evidentialism Weighing Reasons for belief Epistemic normativity Selim Berker
Special thanks to Daniel Star and two anonymous referees at Philosophia for written comments that greatly improved the paper. I would also like to thank David DiDomenico, Becca Fink, Walter Hopp, Berislav Marušić, Miriam McCormick, Susanna Rinard, Sebastian Schmidt, Jack Woods, and especiallySelim Berker for helpful conversations.
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