Wheeler: The Rise and Fall of Accuracy-first Epistemology

by Yang Liu

The Rise and Fall of Accuracy-first Epistemology
Gregory Wheeler (Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich)
4:10 pm, October 31, 2014
Room 2, Faculty House, Columbia University

Abstract.  Accuracy-first epistemology aims to supply non-pragmatic justifications for a variety of epistemic norms. The contemporary basis for accuracy-first epistemology is Jim Joyce’s program to reinterpret de Finetti’s scoring-rule arguments in terms of a “purely epistemic” notion of “gradational accuracy.” On Joyce’s account, scoring rules are taken to measure the accuracy of an agent’s belief state with respect to the true state of the world, where accuracy is conceived to be a pure epistemic good. Joyce’s non-pragmatic vindication of probabilism, then, is an argument to the effect that a measure of gradational accuracy satisfies conditions that are close enough to those necessary to run a de Finetti style coherence argument. A number of philosophers, including Hannes Leitgeb and Richard Pettigrew, have embraced Joyce’s program whole hog. Leitgeb and Pettigrew, for instance, have argued that Joyce’s program is too lax, and they have proposed conditions that narrow down the class of admissible gradational accuracy functions, while Pettigrew and his collaborators have sought to extend the list of epistemic norms receiving an accuracy-first treatment, a program that he calls Epistemic Decision Theory.

In this talk I report on joint work with Conor Mayo-Wilson that challenges the core doctrine of Epistemic Decision Theory, namely the proposal to supply a purely non-pragmatic justification for anything resembling the Von Neumann and Morgenstern axioms for a numerical epistemic utility function. Indeed, we argue that none of the axioms necessary for Epistemic Decision Theory have a satisfactory non-pragmatic justification, and we point to reasons why to suspect that not all the axioms could be given a satisfactory non-pragmatic justification. Our argument, if sound, has consequences for recent discussions of “pragmatic encroachment”, too. For if pragmatic encroachment is a debate to do with whether there is a pragmatic component to the justification condition of knowledge, our arguments may be viewed to address the true belief condition of (fallibilist) accounts of knowledge.