The epistemic domain is evaluative. It contains normative facts: you should think Trump is a toss-up to win re-election; reasons: your reason to believe Stephen Miller’s couldn’t write a traffic ticket; evaluative claims: knowing Donald Jr. was too ignorant to engage in criminal conspiracy is better than merely believing he was; normative properties: the property of being justified in your belief that all of this is simultaneously seriously troubling and wildly entertaining; and so on.
Other evaluative domains include the moral, aesthetic, instrumental, and the etiquettical. It’s increasingly common to think there are interesting ways in which evaluative domains interact. In particular, it’s increasingly common to think the epistemic domain sometimes interacts with other evaluative domains. I find it helpful to think of proponents of views in this area as comprising three non-mutually exclusive, probably not exhaustive, sorts: effecters, encroachers, and eliminators.
Effecters think a non-epistemic domain sometimes has an effect on the epistemic domain. One version of this idea is that although (say) one’s moral reasons aren’t ever themselves epistemic reasons, they can have an effect on one’s epistemic reasons. Encroachers think a non-epistemic domain sometimes moves over to or intrudes on the epistemic domain. One version of this idea is that (say) one’s pragmatic reasons are themselves sometimes one’s reasons for belief; pragmatic reasons can constitute epistemic reasons. Eliminators think the epistemic domain can be eliminated in favor of a non-epistemic domain. One version of this idea is that (say) epistemic reasons are instrumental reasons. Hence we can eliminate the idea of a distinctive class of epistemic reasons.
In previous work I’ve been by turns an effecter, an encroacher, and an eliminator. This has always puzzled me. Granted, the views might not be mutually exclusive; but why don’t I settle on one? Putting aside more compelling autobiographical explanations, I have a new hypothesis: it’s because I don’t have any kind of grip on what distinguishes evaluative domains one from another. In particular: What distinguishes the epistemic domain from non-epistemic domains?
This is a question about how to think about boundariesbetween evaluative domains, between evaluative types. Contrast two approaches. The first thinks about evaluative boundaries as mind-independent features of the evaluative world. Our activity is then understood in terms of the metaphors of discovery, perception, or carving evaluative reality at its joints; call this evaluative type realism. The second approach thinks about evaluative boundaries as mind-dependent features of the evaluative world. Our activity is then understood in terms of the metaphors of construction, projection, or carving evaluative reality — but, crucially, not at any joints! Call this evaluative type anti-realism.
Don’t confuse these approaches with metanormative realism and anti-realism. Metanormative and evaluative type (anti-) realism target separable questions. Metanormative realists can accept evaluative type anti-realism and metanormative anti-realists can accept evaluative type realism. (The latter view would admittedly be an odd duck.) Still, the views share a lot in common; we’re on familiar ground. I’m tempted by evaluative type anti-realism.
Evaluative type realism faces analogues of familiar worries, among which are Mackie’s worries about disagreementandqueerness. Assume metanormative realism is true. This ensures we’re not mixing up intuitions about Mackie’s worries targeting thatrealist view with how those worries apply in the present case, with respect toevaluative type realism.
First, disagreement. In the present context, the Mackian thought is that there is widespread, systematic, disagreement over the boundaries of evaluative domains. For instance, some philosophers think the epistemic domain includes what others insist belongs to morality, or to prudence. This systematic disagreement presumably militates in favor of thinking we’re not in the business of tracing lines antecedently laid down in evaluative reality.
Next, queerness. Mackian queerness comes in two sorts: metaphysical and epistemic. Focus on the former. In the present context, the Mackian thought is that evaluative reality’s having natural joints would be a metaphysically odd feature for evaluative reality to have. Why odd? Because even if you think value is mind-independent, it’s odd to go on to think that that value comes with edges, or specific boundaries at which it makes sense to say one type of value ends and another begins. Even among mind-independently real entities, this just doesn’t seem to be how boundaries between types work. An analogy can help.
I’m an animal realist: animals’ existence doesn’t depend on any mindly facts. I bet you’re an animal realist too. But it’d be quite odd to go on to accept animal type realism, the view that typesof animals are a mind-independent feature of reality we aim to accurately represent in our thinking about the animal kingdom. That is clearly false, and it’s not in any way motivated by our shared commonsensical animal realism. There are no metaphysically real divisions among different types of animals that exist independently of our mindly activity of categorization thereof. This is not to say that there are no divisions it’s more or less ‘natural’ to draw among animals. I’m not inclined to group toads with gazelles, or E. coli with sparrows. But that there are boundaries we’re more or less inclined to accept is not probative with respect to the claim that there are mind-independently real boundaries we’re aiming to trace, and to which our inclinations are responsive. I agree gazelles go more naturally with deer than with toads. That does not involve any commitment on my part to some mind-independently real category C such that deer and gazelles are necessarily C and toads are not. Indeed: ‘real’ mind-independent boundaries between types of animals would be metaphysically quite queer: what sort of thing would such a boundary comprise? Would it be a bit of DNA (no), a shape (no), environment (no), some shared ability (no)? There just isn’t any mind-independently real relation or quality for the specific boundaries between different types of animals to be. Of course, we can posit that nevertheless there aresuch boundaries. But then such boundaries are, metaphysically speaking, queer. Instead, we should think that boundaries between types of animals are like boundaries between nation-states: they exist, but only because and to the extent we say so. Such borders depend on us.
The same goes for value. Values (we’re supposing) exist independently of any mindly activity. But this is neither here nor there when it comes to the question of whether ‘real’ mind-independent boundaries between kinds of value exist. There are no metaphysically real boundaries between different types of value. This is not to say that there are no divisions it’s more or less ‘natural’ to draw among values. I’m not inclined to group great art with great persons. But that there are boundaries we’re more or less inclined to accept is not probative with respect to the claim that there are real boundaries we’re aiming to trace, and to which our inclinations are responsive. I agree kindness goes more naturally with compassion than with truth. That does not involve any commitment on my part to some mind-independently real category of ‘moral value’ such that kindness and compassion are necessarily moral values and truth is not. Indeed: ‘real’ mind-independent boundaries between types of value would be metaphysically quite queer: what sort of thing would such a boundary comprise? We should think that boundaries between types of value are like boundaries between types of animals and between nation-states: they exist, but only because and to the extent we say so. Such borders depend on us.
There are ways for the realist to respond. Judging from the literature, the likely reply will be either that (i) there’s a single object (e.g., belief) or collection of objects (e.g., doxastic attitudes) such that these and only these objects are the appropriate objects of a type of evaluation (e.g., epistemic) or that (ii) there’s a single value (e.g., truth) or collection of values (e.g., knowledge, truth, understanding) such that these and only these values uniquely determine a type of evaluation (e.g., epistemic). Such replies shift the question without answering it. We shall now want to know why theseattitudes are the exclusive domain of thisevaluation. (Equivalently: what distinguishes the doxasticfrom the non-doxastic?) We can certainly stipulate that epistemic evaluation is evaluation that turns on a connection to truth, or some other plausibly epistemic value, such as ‘knowledge’ or ‘understanding’. But such stipulation is question-begging in the present context, since we shall want to know why ‘truth’ but not ‘promoting my desires’ is an epistemicvalue. (A variation on this theme is the idea that particular domains involve certain reactive attitudes, but not others. You can see why this too is running in place.)
I think these considerations militate in favor of an anti-realist approach. I don’t have anything like the space to go into detail here, so I’ll just say something suggestive and RIP inbox. We should be functionalistsabout types of evaluation. Evaluative types are functional types, defined by what they’re in the business of doing. The central idea is familiar from a range of other disputes in and outside philosophy. Biological functionalism: hearts are forpumping blood. Mental state functionalism: beliefs are forserving as maps to our environments. Evaluative type functionalism: epistemic evaluations are forsome purpose; moral evaluations are forsomething else. Evaluative types are defined by their roles. I have views about what those roles are, at least in the epistemic case, but I’m already over-limit.