Evidentialism and Moral Encroachment

  • Georgi Gardiner
Part of the Synthese Library book series (SYLI, volume 398)


Moral encroachment holds that the epistemic justification of a belief can be affected by moral factors. If the belief might wrong a person or group more evidence is required to justify the belief. Moral encroachment thereby opposes evidentialism, and kindred views, which holds that epistemic justification is determined solely by factors pertaining to evidence and truth. In this essay I explain how beliefs such as ‘that woman is probably an administrative assistant’—based on the evidence that most women employees at the firm are administrative assistants—motivate moral encroachment. I then describe weaknesses of moral encroachment. Finally I explain how we can countenance the moral properties of such beliefs without endorsing moral encroachment, and I argue that the moral status of such beliefs cannot be evaluated independently from the understanding in which they are embedded.


The ethics of belief Epistemic duty Epistemic partiality Epistemic permissibility Epistemic normativity Moral encroachment 



Many thanks to Rima Basu, Renee Bolinger, Jon Garthoff, Sa’eed Husaini, Kevin McCain, Jessie Munton, Ted Poston, Susanna Schellenberg, Paul Silva, and Ernest Sosa for valuable comments on an earlier draft of this essay. Thanks also to Mike Ashfield, Natalie Ashton, John Bengson, Amy Floweree, Christopher Humphreys, Hilary Kornblith, Clayton Littlejohn, Sarah Moss, David Plunkett, Regina Rini, Cat Saint-Croix, and Mark Schroeder for helpful discussion about these ideas. Many thanks to audiences at Western Washington University, Australian National University, Cologne University, and the 2018 Joint Session for useful feedback. Finally, thanks to Mark Alfano, Scott Aikin, Jennifer Saul and several active members of the Facebook group Board Certified Epistemologists for drawing my attention to relevant literature.


  1. Adler, J. (2002). Belief’s own ethics. Cambridge, MA: Bradford/MIT.Google Scholar
  2. Aikin, S. (2006). Modest evidentialism. International Philosophical Quarterly, 46(3), 327–343.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Aikin, S. (2008). Evidentialism and James’s argument from friendship. Southwest Philosophy Review, 24(1), 173–180.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Alfano, M. (2013). Character as moral fiction. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Anderson, E. (2010). The imperative of integration. Princeton: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Appiah, K. A. (1990). Racisms. In D. Goldberg (Ed.), Anatomy of racism (pp. 3–17). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Pres.Google Scholar
  7. Armour, J. (1994). Race ipsa loquitur: Of reasonable racists, intelligent bayesians, and involuntary negrophobes. Stanford Law Review, 46(4), 781–816.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Arpaly, N. (2003). Unprincipled virtue: An inquiry into moral agency. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Arpaly, N., & Schroeder, T. (2014). In praise of desire. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Ashton, N. (2015). Appropriate belief without evidence. Teorema, 34(2), 7–28.Google Scholar
  11. Ashton, N., & McKenna, R. (forthcoming). Situating feminist epistemology. Episteme.Google Scholar
  12. Basu, R. (Submitted-a). The wrongs of racist beliefs.Google Scholar
  13. Basu, R. (Submitted-b). What we epistemically owe to each other.Google Scholar
  14. Basu, R. (Submitted-c). The moral stakes of racist beliefs.Google Scholar
  15. Basu, R. (Submitted-d). ‘Motivating ethical demand on belief’ presentation at Athena-in-Action, Princeton University, August 2016.Google Scholar
  16. Basu, R., & Schroeder, M. (forthcoming). Doxastic wrongings. In B. Kim & M. McGrath (Eds.), Pragmatic encroachment in epistemology. Routledge.Google Scholar
  17. Begby, E. (2013). The epistemology of prejudice. Thought, 2(2), 90–99.Google Scholar
  18. Bolinger, R. (Submitted). The rational impermissibility of accepting (some) racial generalizations.Google Scholar
  19. Buchak, L. (2014). Belief, credence, and norms. Philosophical Studies, 169, 285–311.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Chignell, A. (2010). The ethics of belief. In E. N. Zalta (Ed.), Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy.Google Scholar
  21. Clough, S., & Loges, W. E. (2008). Racist value judgment as objectively false beliefs: A philosophical and social-psychological analysis. Journal of Social Philosophy, 39(1), 77–95.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Conee, E., & Feldman, R. (2004). Evidentialism. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Conee, E., & Feldman, R. (2011). Replies. In T. Dougherty (Ed.), Evidentialism and its discontents (pp. 283–322). Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Crawford, L. (forthcoming). Believing the best: On doxastic partiality in friendship. Synthese.Google Scholar
  25. DeRose, K. (2011). Questioning evidentialism. In T. Dougherty (Ed.), Evidentialism and its discontents (pp. 137–146). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  26. Dotson, K. (2008). In search of Tanzania: Are effective epistemic practices sufficient for just epistemic practices? The Southern Journal of Philosophy, 46, 52–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Dotson, K. (2014). Conceptualizing epistemic oppression. Social Epistemology, 28(2), 115–138.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Dretske, F. (1970). Epistemic operators. Journal of Philosophy, 67(24), 1007–1023.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Eaton, D., & Pickavance, T. (2015). Evidence against pragmatic encroachment. Philosophical Studies, 172, 3135–3143.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Enoch, D. (2016). What’s wrong with paternalism: Autonomy, belief, and action. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 116(1), 21–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Fantl, J., & McGrath, M. (2002). Evidence, pragmatics, and justification. The Philosophical Review, 111(1), 67–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Franklin, J. H. (2005). Mirror to America: The autobiography of John Hope Franklin. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.Google Scholar
  33. Fricker, M. (2007). Epistemic injustice: Power and the ethics of knowing. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Fritz, J. (2017). From pragmatic encroachment to moral encroachment. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, 98(1), 643–661.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Gardiner, G. (2015). Normalcy and the contents of philosophical judgements. Inquiry, 58(7), 700–740.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Gardiner, G. (forthcoming). The burden of proof and statistical evidence. In D. Coady & J. Chase (Eds.), Routledge handbook of applied epistemology. Routledge.Google Scholar
  37. Gardiner, G. (Submitted). Profiling and proof: Are statistics safe?Google Scholar
  38. Gendler, T. (2011). On the epistemic costs of implicit bias. Philosophical Studies, 156, 33–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Gerken, M. (Submitted). Pragmatic encroachment and the challenge from epistemic injustice.Google Scholar
  40. Gordon, L. (1995). Bad faith and antiblack racism. Atlantic Highlands: Humanities Press.Google Scholar
  41. Gordon, L. (2000). Existentia Africana: Understanding Africana existential thought. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  42. Grimm, S. (2011). On intellectualism in epistemology. Mind, 120(479), 705–733.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Guerrero, A. (2007). Don’t know, don’t kill: Moral ignorance, culpability, and caution. Philosophical Studies, 136, 59–97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Harman, G. (1968). Knowledge, inference, and explanation. American Philosophical Quarterly, 5(3), 164–173.Google Scholar
  45. Hájek, A. (2007). The reference class problem is your problem too. Synthese, 156(3), 563–585.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Hawthorne, J. (2004). Knowledge and lotteries. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  47. Hazlett, A. (2013). A luxury of the understanding. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Hazlett, A. (2016). Intellectual loyalty. International Journal for the Study of Skepticism, 6, 326–350.Google Scholar
  49. Heil, J. (1983). Believing what one ought. The Journal of Philosophy, 80(11), 752–765.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Ichikawa, J., & Jarvis, B. (2009). Thought-experiment intuitions and truth in fiction. Philosophical Studies, 142, 221–246.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Ichikawa, J., Jarvis, B., & Rubin, K. (2012). Pragmatic encroachment and belief-desire psychology. Analytic Philosophy, 53(4), 327–343.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Ikuenobe, P. (2011). Conceptualizing racism and its subtle forms. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 41(2), 161–181.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. James, W. (1956/1896). The will to believe and other essays in popular philosophy. New York: Dover.Google Scholar
  54. Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking fast and slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.Google Scholar
  55. Kawall, J. (2013). Friendship and epistemic norms. Philosophical Studies, 165(2), 349–370.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Keller, S. (2004). Friendship and belief. Philosophical Papers, 33(3), 329–351.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Kelly, T. (2002). The rationality of belief and some other propositional attitudes. Philosophical Studies, 110, 163–196.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Kim, B. (2017). Pragmatic encroachment in epistemology. Philosophy Compass, 12(5), 1–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Kunda, Z. (1990). The case for motivated reasoning. Psychological Bulletin, 108(3), 480–498.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Kyburg, H. E., Jr. (1961). Probability and the logic of rational belief. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press.Google Scholar
  61. Lengbeyer, L. (2004). Racism and impure hearts. In M. Levine & T. Pataki (Eds.), Racism in mind: Philosophical explanations of racism and its implications. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  62. Leslie, S.-J. (forthcoming). The original sin of cognition: Fear, prejudice and generalization. Journal of Philosophy. Google Scholar
  63. Lewis, D. (1996). Elusive knowledge. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 74, 549–567.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Littlejohn, C. (2012). Justification and the truth-connection. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Marušić, B. (2015). Evidence and agency: Norms of belief for promising and resolving. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. McCain, K. (2014). Evidentialism and epistemic justification. New York: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. McCormick, M. (2015). Believing against the evidence: Agency and the ethics of belief. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  68. Memmi, A. (2014). Racism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  69. Mills, C. (1997). The racial contract. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  70. Mills, C. (2003). ‘“Heart” attack: A critique of Jorge Garcia’s volitional conception of racism’ The Journal of Ethics 7(1), 29–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Mills, C. (2007). White ignorance. In S. Sullivan & N. Tuana (Eds.), Race and epistemologies of ignorance (pp. 11–38). Albany: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  72. Moss, S. (forthcoming). Probabilistic knowledge. Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  73. Munton, J. (Submitted). The epistemic flaw with accurate statistical generalizations.Google Scholar
  74. Nelkin, D. (2000). The lottery paradox, knowledge, and rationality. Philosophical Review, 109(3), 373–409.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Pace, M. (2011). ‘The epistemic value of moral considerations: Justification, moral encroachment, and James’ ‘will to believe”. Noûs 45(2): 239–268.Google Scholar
  76. Piller, C. (2016). Evidentialism, transparency, and commitments. Philosophical Issues, 26, 332–350.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Preston-Roedder, R. (2013). Faith in humanity. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 87(3), 664–687.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Reichenbach, H. (1949). The theory of probability. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  79. Riggs, W. (2003). Balancing our epistemic goals. Noûs, 37(2), 342–352.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Rinard, S. (2015). Against the new evidentialists. Philosophical Issues, 25(1), 208–223.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Rinard, S. (2017). No exception for belief. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 94(1), 121–143.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Ross, J., & Schroeder, M. (2014). Belief, credence, and pragmatic encroachment. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 88(2), 259–288.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Ryan, S. (2015). In defense of moral evidentialism. Logos and Episteme, 6(4), 405–427.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Schroeder, M. (forthcoming). Rational stability under pragmatic encroachment. Episteme. Google Scholar
  85. Shah, N. (2006). A new argument for evidentialism. The Philosophical Quarterly, 56, 481–498.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Shelby, T. (2002). Is racism in the “heart”? Journal of Social Philosophy, 33(3), 411–420.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Shelby, T. (2016). Dark Ghettos. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Smith, M. (2010). What else justification could be? Noûs, 44(1), 10–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. Stanley, J. (2005). Knowledge and practical interests. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  90. Stanley, J. (2015). How propaganda works. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  91. Stroud, S. (2006). Epistemic partiality in friendship. Ethics, 116(3), 498–524.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  92. Thomson, J. J. (1986). Liability and individualized evidence. Law and Contemporary Problems, 49(3), 199–219.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  93. Venn, J. (1866). The logic of chance. London: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  94. Westfall, S. S. (2014). The Obamas: How we deal with our own racist experiences. People Magazine. Google Scholar
  95. Worsnip, A. (2015). Two kinds of stakes. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, 96, 307–324.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Georgi Gardiner
    • 1
  1. 1.Oxford UniversityKnoxvilleUSA

Personalised recommendations