Motto : Crapula ingenium offuscat. Traduction : "le bec du perroquet qu'il essuie, quoiqu'il soit net" (Pascal, Pensées, L : 6/107).


Ce blog est ouvert pour faire connaître les activités d'un groupe de recherches, le Séminaire de métaphysique d'Aix en Provence (ou SEMa). Créé fin 2004, ce séminaire est un lieu d'échanges et de propositions. Accueilli par l'IHP (EA 3276) à l'Université d'Aix Marseille (AMU), il est animé par Jean-Maurice Monnoyer, bien que ce blog lui-même ait été mis en place par ses étudiants le 4 mai 2013.


Thèmes de recherche : Métaphysique analytique, Histoire de la philosophie classique, moderne et contemporaine,

Métaphysique de la perception et de la cognition. Austrian Philosophy. Méta-esthétique.

Philosophie du réalisme scientifique.



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samedi 11 février 2017

Are Epistemic Reasons Perspective-Dependent?




Davide Fassio



From the Philosophy Symposium in Gordes – 5 November 2016
Draft version – Please do not cite without permission


Introduction

In recent years, the notion of reason has attracted great interest in several domains of normative philosophy. Many philosophers take reasons to be the fundamental building bocks of normativity,[1] and traditional debates framed in terms of reasons helped to illuminate long-standing issues in practical philosophy, epistemology, and other normative domains. A common distinction in the philosophical literature is that between explanatory (or motivating) reasons and normative (or justificatory) reasons: we appeal to the former when we attempt to explain actions and attitudes (e.g., the reason why the policeman shouted at the prisoner is that the prisoner was trying to escape); we appeal to the latter to justify them (e.g., a reason to believe that the suspect is the culprit is that his finger-prints are on the gun). The focus of the present paper is on normative reasons. Normative reasons (hereafter simply reasons) are considerations that count in favour of or against a certain attitude or action. They contribute to determine what a subject is permitted, ought or ought not to do, believe, desire, feel, admire and so on.
This paper is concerned with a specific subset of reasons, namely, epistemic reasons, reasons to believe. The main question I investigate in this paper is the following: which set of entities can count as epistemic reasons? Some possible answers given by philosophers are that epistemic reasons are the set of known facts, facts that a subject is in a position to know, propositions that a subject rationally believes, or a subset of one’s mental attitudes (beliefs, rational beliefs…). In order to simplify the discussion, I shall assume factualism about normative reasons, the view according to which normative reasons are facts or true propositions.[2] This is the most popular view in contemporary philosophy. We can thus reformulate our question in factualist terms. We ask: which set of facts can count as reasons to believe (epistemic reasons)? All facts or only those dependent on the perspective of the subject? The actual perspective of the subject or the potential one?
Skorupski in The Domains of Reasons argues that epistemic reasons are facts that belong to the epistemic field of the subject, where a fact belonging to the subject’s epistemic field is one dependent on the potential perspective of the subject. In this paper, I compare Skorupski’s view to other contemporary views holding that facts that can count as epistemic reasons belong to narrower sets than a subject’s epistemic field. I provide arguments which seem to favour Skorupski’s view over these alternatives. However, against Skorupski, I also tentatively argue that the set of facts that can count as epistemic reasons might be even wider than the facts in the epistemic field of the subject, including facts which do not even belong to the potential perspective of the subject.
This is the plan of the paper. In §1, I briefly introduce Skorupski’s view about epistemic reasons, with a focus on the notion of Epistemic Field. In §2, I introduce and challenge two alternative views. These views are: i) that reasons are actual-perspective dependent facts and ii) that they are facts that the subject is in a position to know. I also show that the view of Skorupski seems to be able to overcome these objections. However, in §3, I consider possible problems for Skorupski’s view, and tentatively argue that epistemic reasons can also be facts not belonging to the subject’s epistemic field. In particular, I argue that epistemic reasons are true propositions not necessarily belonging to the epistemic field of a subject.




 1. Skorupski on epistemic reasons


According to Skorupski, epistemic reasons are “reasons to believe – think, judge, conclude, and so on” (2010, 36). Epistemic reasons are distinct from practical and evaluative reasons (reasons to act and to feel). These three kinds of reasons are irreducible and constitute an exhaustive trichotomy (i.e., there are no other kinds of reasons). As I said before, Skorupski takes epistemic reasons to be facts, where this term is interpreted in the nominal sense: a fact is a true proposition, or the truth of a proposition. He distinguishes this sense from a more substantive one.
Examples of epistemic reasons considered by Skorupski are the following:

The fact that the freezer door is open is a reason to think the ice cream will melt.
The fact that the governing party is alienating so many interest groups gives one reason to believe that it will not be re-elected.
All the components we've had so far from that supplier have had this particular flaw, so there's some reason to conclude that all of them have it.
Data gathered from underwater sea currents give us some reason to believe that global warming is taking place.

Reasons are facts standing in a specific relation, that Skorupski calls reason relation. Reason relations can be thought as having five places (2010, 36-37): A fact (p), a time (t), a reason of degree of strength d, a subject (or actor) for which that fact is a reason (x), and a response φ (an Action, Belief, Feeling):

R(p, t, d, x, φ) – p is at time t a reason of degree d for x to φ.

According to Skorupski, epistemic reasons have a special feature that distinguishes them from other kinds of reasons: they must be knowable facts (2010, 41). More precisely, Skorupski argues that there is a restriction on the facts that can constitute epistemic reasons for a subject. These facts must be in the epistemic field of the subject for which they constitute reasons:

“The facts that are knowable by an actor x, and can thus be epistemic reasons for x at a time t are limited by what x could at t know of by reflection or by further (physically possible, spatio-temporal) inquiry, or just by ‘stumbling across’ them. These are the facts that are epistemically accessible to x at t: x could come to know them by skill or by luck. Call them x's epistemic field at t.” (2010, 43)

Skorupski defines epistemic field as follows: x's epistemic field at t, ex,t, is the set of facts that are accessible to x at t—that x can come to know, discover, at t, whether or not x has come to know them.[3] The following example well illustrates how Skorupski conceives the epistemic field:

“Suppose the fact that there are small and distinctive scratches on the window sill, together with other facts which a careful inspection of the scene of the crime would reveal, is a reason to think that the criminal escaped through the window. Sherlock Holmes says to Watson ‘Well, I think there's some reason for us to conclude that the criminal escaped through the window, don't you?’ But Watson is baffled, because he hasn't noticed those highly significant scratches. Nevertheless, Holmes is quite right to speak in the first-person plural. Those scratches are a reason for Watson to think the criminal went that way; Watson could have noticed them if he'd been more careful or lucky—the fact that he hasn't noticed them just is the fact that he’s missed a reason for concluding something about the criminal's escape route” (2010, 43).

Skorupski gives three arguments for the existence of such an accessibility constraint on epistemic reasons:

If epistemic reasons are not restricted to the epistemic field of the subject, “what gives me reason to believe that p obtains could be just that fact, the fact that p—unrestrictedly for any fact at all. […] But in many cases our reason for believing some fact to obtain can only be inferential. In these cases the fact itself is not a reason for believing that it obtains” (2010, 43).

“Furthermore, we take it for granted that there can be propositions that are true even though there is no reason to believe that they are true. So in the case of any such true proposition that p, which there is no reason for us to believe, the fact that p cannot itself be a reason to believe that p” (ibid.).

“Facts that one cannot know cannot be reasons to believe”. Consider, for example, the fact that exactly three gulls died on the West Beach at St Andrews on 26 June 56 bce. This fact cannot itself be a reason for me now to believe that three gulls died on that beach then, for the simple fact that I cannot know it. (Ibid.)

Personally, I don’t find convincing any of these arguments. For what concerns 1, there may well be cases in which the reason to believe p is p itself (for example, the fact that it is sunny now is a reason for me to believe that it is sunny). Furthermore, that p is a reason for believing p doesn’t exclude that other facts can be reasons for believing it as well. And the reasons to believe p that we actually possess may not include p itself. Therefore, the fact that p itself can be a reason to believe p even though we don’t possess it, and thus cannot believe p for that reason. Argument 2 assumes that there are cases in which there can be propositions that are true even though there is no reason to believe that they are true. This is not obvious, and should be distinguished from the much more plausible claim that there can be propositions that are true even though we have no reason to believe that they are true. Argument 3 presupposes that we can know every fact that can be a reason to believe. I seriously doubt the validity of this accessibility constraint, and I will come back to this point in §3.2. However, observe that even if all facts that are epistemic reasons can be known, this still doesn’t imply that all these facts are in the epistemic field of a subject. Facts in the epistemic field of someone are a subset of those that it is possible to known.[4]    



2. Two alternative views and why Skorupski’s view is better

In this section, I introduce and challenge two alternative views to Skorupski’s one. These views are: i) that reasons are actual-perspective dependent facts and ii) that they are facts that the subject is in a position to know. The two views are introduced in §2.1. In §2.2 I provide several objections to these views. In §2.3 I show that the view of Skorupski is apparently untouched by these arguments.

2.1 Two alternative views

Skorupski’s view is not amongst the most popular ones in contemporary epistemology. The main contemporary views hold that epistemic reasons are things within the actual perspective of the subject, not merely its potential one. If we assume that reasons are facts, an instance of this view, defended amongst others by philosophers such as Tim Williamson and Clayton Littlejohn, is that:

(ERK) epistemic reasons are known facts

Known facts are a subset of the facts that are in the epistemic field of a subject. If S knows p, then p is also in the epistemic field of the subject; but that q is in the epistemic field of the subject doesn’t imply that S knows q.
According to another, slightly less popular view, certain facts are epistemic reasons even if the subject doesn’t possess (know or believe) them. But the subject must be in a position to know these facts, where being in a position to know involves the possession of attitudes that provide propositional justification for the subject (Gibbons, 2013; Lord, 2015; Schroeder, manuscript; Smithies, 2012):

(ERPK) epistemic reasons are facts that the subject is in a position to know

For example, according to Smithies:

“One is in a position to know a proposition just in case one satisfies all the epistemic, as opposed to psychological, conditions for knowledge, such as having ungettiered justification to believe a true proposition. By contrast, one knows a proposition just in case one satisfies not only epistemic, but also psychological, conditions for knowledge, such as believing a true proposition on the basis of one’s ungettiered justification to believe it.” (2012, 268)

Consider some example: a creationist teacher has sufficient justification to make assertions from evolutionary theory, although she does not know evolutionary theory because she does not even believe it for religious motivations (Smithies 2012, 268-9). This teacher is in a position to know what she asserts – for example, she has just to abandon “bad reasons” and take at face value only evidence. Here it is another example: the perception of an object, in absence of defeaters, provides sufficient reasons to believe that there is an object even though the subject doesn’t form that belief – for example, because she is distracted by other thoughts.[5]
Again, facts that one is in a position to know are a subset of the facts that are in the epistemic field of a subject. If S is in a position to know p, then p is also in the epistemic field of the subject; but that q is in the epistemic field of the subject doesn’t imply that S is in a position to know q. Smithies’s quote well illustrates this point. One is in a position to know p if one has an ungettiered justification to believe p, and one has such justification if one knows other facts or perceives things from which it is legitimate to conclude that p. Being in a position to know presupposes that the subject can come to know from his own mental states by simple reflection or self inquiry, or by abandoning ‘bad reasons’. But p can be in the epistemic field of a subject even if this subject doesn’t possess mental states from which she might come to know that p by simple reflection or self-inquiry. Both p and other reasons to believe that p can be completely unpossessed by the subject, though easily accessible (e.g., by inquiring further).[6]
An example well illustrates the above difference:[7] suppose that Silvie believes on good evidence (the testimony of Mary) that there are five people at the party, but also believes that Jack told her that Mary is unreliable on these matters (an undercutting defeater of the former evidence), and she also believes that Jack is very reliable. As a matter of fact, Mary is very reliable but Jack is not. In this scenario, the defeater (Jack’s testimony) is sufficient for Silvie not being in a position to know that there are five people at the party. But the fact that there are five people at the party may still be in the epistemic field of Silvie. For example, suppose that the party is just next-door of Silve’s house and she can easily go to check how many people are at the party.  


2.2. Arguments against reasons as known facts

I will now introduce five arguments against the view that reasons are known facts. The same arguments can extend to every view holding that reasons are entities dependent on the actual perspective of the subject (believed propositions; beliefs…).


Argument 1 – epistemic reasons shouldn’t depend on our actual information set

If all epistemic reasons are facts dependent on the actual perspective of the subject for which they constitute reasons, we could modify the set of reasons there are for us to believe simply by modifying our information set. This is obviously problematic, as illustrated by the following example:

(Wishful Thinking) A mother is presented with overwhelming decisive evidence that her son committed a crime. However, if she manages to forget this evidence, as well as evidence that there is this evidence, there is absolutely no reason for her to believe that her son is culpable.

This conclusion sounds seriously counterintuitive. It seems obvious that the mother cannot get full epistemic justification to believe what she wants simply by cancelling from her mind the evidence supporting the unwanted conclusion. Notice that we are here concerned with a strictly epistemic assessment of the mother in the present circumstance. Maybe by inducing herself to forget evidence this mother is doing something good or beneficial for her from a prudential point of view. This is utterly irrelevant from an epistemic perspective. In other words, we are here interested in what are the epistemic reasons of the mother (as opposed to prudential, moral, aesthetic…). If we assume that only known facts can constitute epistemic reasons, the answer is straightforward: the mother’s efforts to forget good evidence succeed in substantially modifying her set of epistemic reasons. They succeed to the point that for the mother now there is no reason at all to believe that her son is culpable, and she is fully justified to believe that he is not. I hope you will agree with me that this conclusion is deeply implausible. It seems obvious that there are reasons for the mother to believe that her son is culpable also after having forgotten the facts constituting evidence for the relevant proposition.
The (Wishful Thinking) case exemplifies a situation in which by subtracting knowledge we change the set of epistemic reasons for a subject. There are also cases in which we can reach equally counterintuitive consequences by adding new evidence/knowledge rather than subtracting it. Here it is an example:

(Justified Irrationality) Jacques’s schoolteacher told him that the Modus Ponens rule [A; A->B |– B] is actually a fallacy. For all Jacques knows, this rule is invalid. Jacques knows that p, knows that p implies q, considers whether q. However, if reasons depend on the subject’s actual perspective, there is absolutely no reason for Jacques to believe q.[8]

This conclusion sounds absurd: it seems that deducing q from the known premises p and p -> q is a disposition constitutive of epistemic rationality. There seems always to be epistemic reasons for an epistemic agent to deduce a conclusion that follows by modus ponens from known premises. However, if all epistemic reasons are actual-perspective dependent (e.g., known facts), our partial (possibly misleading) information fully determines the set of reasons there are for us to believe.


Argument 2 – The view doesn’t square well with a range of data.

If we hold that epistemic reasons are limited to facts dependent on the actual perspective of subjects, we find difficulties in explaining a range of data about evidence possession, defeaters and knowledge. Consider in particular the following points:

Unpossessed evidence. As many philosophers pointed out, in our ordinary talks we often use a notion of evidence that is ‘unpossessed’ by subjects. Consider the following example from Skorupski (2010, 46): there was enough evidence available for the police to have made a case against a suspect (e.g., if they had conducted a disciplined inquiry), but this evidence went unnoticed to the police. If, as it seems very plausible, evidence constitutes epistemic reasons, then we must admit that there are epistemic reasons that we don’t possess.

Unknown defeaters. Similarly, many philosophers have argued that some of the facts that constitute epistemic defeaters are not facts that we know.[9] These defeaters are reasons not to believe a certain proposition. For example, the mere presence of many fake barns in a countryside constitutes a reason not to believe that the barn that I see in front of me is a real barn, even if I’ve no idea that there are fake barns around. The view that reasons are only known facts cannot accommodate the existence of unknown defeaters. On the contrary, if we assume that epistemic reasons are not limited to facts we know, we would have an intuitive and straightforward explanation.

Forgetting reasons for which one believes doesn’t destroy knowledge. We forgot the reasons for which we believe many things we know. For example, I have long forgotten the reason on the basis of which I believe that America was discovered in 1492ac. If we think that only known facts can constitute epistemic reasons, we should conclude that in all such cases we have knowledge without reasons – or alternatively, that we lose knowledge of such things in the moment in which we forget the reasons for which we believe them. Both these claims are problematic. It seems perfectly possible to know such things, even though we don’t know anymore the reasons for which we came to believe them. If reasons do not depend on their possession (viz., their knowledge), then we can maintain that there are reasons to believe such things that the subject doesn’t actually possess (though once possessed).


Argument 3 - From epistemic modals to perspective-independence of ER

A very popular view in epistemology is that evidence supporting the truth of some proposition constitutes reason to believe that proposition. That the suspect’s fingerprints are on the knife is evidence that the suspect committed the crime, and also a reason to believe that the suspect committed the crime.
Another claim on which epistemologists and semanticists widely agree is that epistemic modals such as ‘must’ and ‘might’ quantify over a domain of possibilities compatible with one’s evidence – or, in different terms, that evidence constitutes the base of epistemic modals. For example, if I say that tonight it might snow, I am saying that it is compatible with the evidence that tonight it will snow; or alternatively, that given the evidence there is a chance that tonight it will snow.    
Now, many have observed that some epistemic modals have a more expansive base than total knowledge of a subject or a group (e.g., Hacking 1967; Anderson 2014). For example sometimes we include in the base of an epistemic modal also merely knowable truths. According to Anderson (2014, 600):

“As examples already present in the literature suggest, the relevant epistemic base can extend beyond what is known by the relevant group to include what would be known were proper attention given to the available evidence. Consider this case from Ian Hacking:

Imagine a salvage crew searching for a ship that sank a long time ago. The mate of the salvage ship works from an old log, makes some mistakes in his calculations, and concludes that the wreck may be in a certain bay. It is possible, he says, that the hulk is in these waters. No one knows anything to the contrary. But in fact, as it turns out later, it simply was not possible for the vessel to be in that bay; more careful examination of the log shows that the boat must have gone down at least thirty miles further south. (1967, p. 14)

Many find it intuitive that although no one in the relevant group knew ~p, it was false for the mate to assert ‘Might p’ because ~p was available in some important sense to the relevant group.  This is evidence that there is a use of the epistemic modal such that the relevant base is a more expansive base than the total knowledge of the relevant group.”

As Hacking’s example and Anderson’s discussion well illustrate, the set of facts relevant to the base of epistemic modals is not exhausted by facts dependent on the actual perspective of one or more subjects, such as the set of the propositions a subject actually knows. The widest set of epistemically relevant circumstances can transcend the actual perspective of the subject.
Form the above considerations it is possible to build the following argument supporting the perspective independence of epistemic reasons:

1) Bases of epistemic modals are constituted by evidence (either total evidence or subsets of it).

2) Bases of epistemic modals can include facts beyond the subject’s perspective.

3) Total evidence includes facts beyond the subject’s perspective (from 1 and 2).[10]

4) Evidence supporting the truth of some proposition constitutes reasons to believe that proposition.[11]

C) Epistemic Reasons include facts beyond the subject’s perspective (from 3 and 4).



Argument 4 – From excusable ignorance

In order to introduce the present argument, let me first provide a rough characterisation of the notions of justification and excuse. It is commonly held that an excuse is the type of defense that admits the violation of some relevant undefeated norm and the consequent absence of sufficient reasons to φ, but points to factors that rationalize the subject’s norm violation, explaining why the subject φ-ed. On the contrary, a justification is a defence that points to conditions indicating that the subject complied with the relevant norms in her context, i.e., she φ-ed for sufficient reasons or didn’t φ impermissibly.[12]
The present objection relies on the observation that knowledge-denials are often used as excuses, including as excuses for believing something. This fact is at odds with the view that the reasons there are for a subject to believe something are all and only the things she knows. According to this view, if something is not known, it cannot constitute a reason to believe. Thus knowledge-denials would deny the existence of a sufficient reason to believe. This type of defence would indicate that the subject was right to believe a certain proposition and should be counted as justified. On the contrary, a knowledge-denial couldn’t count as an excuse for believing something; this would involve an admission that there were sufficient reasons for the subject not to believe a certain thing, but the subject was not aware of them. However, if epistemic reasons are known facts, there cannot be epistemic reasons one is not aware of.
The following case provides an example of a knowledge-denial used as an excuse:

(Hangzhou Meeting)
Matteo and Xi should attend an important meeting in Hangzhou. Matteo must go to Hangzhou from Rome. In Rome there are flights only to Shanghai and to Beijing. Matteo ignores that [Hangzhou is closer to Shanghai than to Beijing] (q). For all he knows, the opposite is true. His secretary, who is usually quite reliable, told him that Beijing is closer, and this is all he knows about the matter. On that basis, Matteo forms the belief that he can reach Hangzhou faster if he flies to Beijing (p), and flies to Beijing. As a result, he arrives late at the meeting. At his arrival Xi, informed of the misunderstanding and quite upset for the delay, engages in the following dialogue with Matteo:

Xi: Why did you believe that you could reach Hangzhou faster by flying to Beijing? This is obviously not the case!

Matteo: You are right. My apologies. I should have not believed that. I didn’t know that Hangzhou is closer to Shanghai. For all I knew, the opposite was true...

Matteo’s reply to Xi clearly sounds like an apology, an implicit confession of and excuse for some wrong. Matteo seems to beg for excuses adducing an explanation that rationalizes why he acted wrongly (namely, that she inadvertently and blamelessly ignored the relevant information). However, if epistemic reasons depend on the actual perspective of subjects, Matteo’s response to Xi should not sound as an excuse, but rather as a full justification. After all, Matteo is claiming that he didn’t know that Hangzhou is closer to Shanghai than to Beijing (q). So this proposition is not a reason for him to believe not-p, and should thus be irrelevant for his justificatory or exculpatory status. According to the view under consideration, assuming that there are no other facts known to Matteo indicating that not-p, there are no sufficient reasons for Matteo to believe that not-p, and there are sufficient reasons to believe p (namely, the known fact that his secretary told him so). Matteo’s beliefs are in perfect conformity to his reasons (i.e., coherent with all and only the facts he knew). Contrary to the intuition about the case, the present view predicts that Matteo should be fully justified to believe p, and shouldn’t apologize. However, since Matteo’s excuses for believing p are perfectly in order in this circumstance, we should conclude, by modus tollens, that he is not fully justified to believe p, and thus that there are sufficient reasons for him to refrain from believing p and to believe not-p in the circumstance.[13] Therefore, epistemic reasons cannot be limited to facts that Matteo knows. Actual-perspective views of epistemic reasons are false.
A related problem for the ‘reasons = knowledge’ view is that Matteo seems to adduce as excuses facts unrelated to (what this view counts as) reasons whether to believe p, such as the ignorance of q (“I didn’t know that Hangzhou is closer to Shanghai”).[14] According to this view, in order to count as excuses, Matteo’s defences should point to a rationalizing explanation of why he didn’t believe in accordance to the sufficient reasons there were for him to believe. Since according to this view reasons are only known propositions, an excuse for believing for insufficient reasons would amount to an excuse for not believing compatibly to what Matteo knows. An instance of such an excuse would be a reasonable explanation why he didn’t draw proper conclusions from things he already knew. Unfortunately Matteo cannot make use of this type of excuses, since his belief that p was perfectly coherent with all what he knew about whether p. In short, according to this view, on the one hand, ignorance of q cannot count as an excuse for not believing p; thereby Matteo’s reply should sound as inappropriate and insufficient to excuse him. On the other hand, there cannot be considerations Matteo could avail himself of in his circumstances which could count as excuses.[15] 


Argument 5 – Argument from the Unity Thesis

Recently several philosophers have been interested in principles connecting different kinds of reasons. In particular, some have argued more or less explicitly for claims entailing or supporting the following principle

(Unity Thesis) A fact can count as an epistemic reason if and only if it can count as a practical reason.

The Unity Thesis expresses the thought that the set of facts that can potentially be practical reasons for a subject (i.e., which would be reasons provided the existence of some act for which these facts would be normatively relevant) is identical to the set of facts that can potentially be epistemic reasons (again, which would be reasons provided the existence of some content to the truth of which these facts would provide epistemic support). If a certain fact can count in favor of forming a belief for a certain subject at a certain time, it can also count in favor of performing an action for the same subject at the same time, and vice versa. For example, that the ground is wet is both a reason for someone to believe that it is raining and to take an umbrella (provided that one doesn’t want to become wet). The Unity Thesis implies that the only feature distinguishing a practical reason from an epistemic one is the type of thing that a fact supports (whether it is a belief or an action). Other features, such as the epistemic standing that a subject has with respect to a fact, are irrelevant to that distinction.
Philosophers provided very different arguments in support of this thesis. Some of them point to our ordinary habits of deliberation. Fantl and McGrath (2009, 74-75) observe that we don’t segregate reasons by whether they are available for drawing practical or theoretical conclusions. Such segregation would be irrational and ‘barmy’. In a similar vein, Littlejohn (2014) observes that it would be akratic to seclude types of reasons, i.e., to take a consideration to potentially support a belief but not an action, and vice versa. Others defend versions of the Unity Thesis pointing to considerations of theoretical simplicity and coherence: endorsing the Unity Thesis would provide a general unified account of reasons, leading to a general theory of normativity valid for all normative domains (Alvarez, 2010; Gibbons, 2010: 335; Kearns & Star, 2009). Many also support this thesis on the ground that it is implied by specific accounts of reasons, accounts reducing practical reasons to epistemic ones (e.g., Kearns & Star, 2009; Thomson, 2008), or vice versa (e.g., Steglich-Petersen, 2011).[16] Specific arguments for principles connecting epistemic and practical reasons provide at least indirect support for the Unity Thesis (e.g., Kiesewetter, 2016; Littlejohn, 2014; Way & Whiting, 2016).
A second premise in the argument is another very popular view in contemporary philosophy, namely, the idea that practical reasons are facts not dependent on the actual perspective of the subject they constitute reasons for. They are possibly unknown facts.[17] According to this view, certain facts count as considerations for performing or refraining from performing a certain act even in contexts in which a subject is unaware of these reasons. In particular, there are reasons for someone not to perform certain actions regardless of whether she possesses (knows or believes) such reasons or not. For example, there are moral reasons not to torture and kill innocent people irrespective of one’s epistemic position (e.g., whether there are reasons for Hitler to kill millions of innocent people doesn’t depend on what he knows or believes) and there are prudential reasons for someone not to start smoking (e.g., that smoking will cause negative health effects) regardless of whether one is actually aware of these reasons or not.
From these two premises it is possible to mount an argument for the claim that epistemic reasons are not dependent on the actual perspective of subjects for which they constitute reasons. The argument is quite straightforward. If practical reasons are not dependent on the actual perspective of the subject, and every fact that can count as a practical reason can also count as an epistemic reason (from the Unity Thesis), Then also epistemic reasons are not dependent on the actual perspective of the subject.



2.3. Against reasons as facts one is in a position to know

In the previous section I considered five objections to the view that reasons are known facts. The same objections also apply to every view holding that reasons are entities dependent on the actual perspective of the subject (believed propositions, beliefs…). In this subsection I will briefly show that variants of these arguments can be directed against the view that epistemic reasons are facts that the subject is in a position to know (ERPK). For presentational purposes, I will assume here a notion of ‘being in a position to know’ restricted to what a subject can come to know by simple reflection or self-inquiry into her own mental states or by abandoning ‘bad reasons’ (e.g., misleading presuppositions, prejudices…). Similar objections apply to slightly different characterisations of this notion.

Argument 1* - According to argument 1, if all epistemic reasons are facts dependent on the actual perspective of the subject, we could modify the set of reasons there are for us to believe simply by modifying our information set. This may happen either by subtracting or by adding knowledge. The problem, illustrated by problematic cases such as (Wishful Thinking) and (Justified Irrationality), also applies to every view according to which epistemic reasons are facts indirectly dependent on our actual information set, such as the view that reasons are facts we are in a position to know. The problem can be illustrated by a variant of (Wishful Thinking). Suppose that the mother who manages to forget her evidence that her son committed a crime is not in a position to retrieve the lost information from what she knows. This implies that she is not in position to know the forgotten information about her son’s culpability. According to (ERPK), we should then conclude that there is no reason for her to believe that her son is culpable. As in the original case, this conclusion sounds seriously counterintuitive. It seems obvious that the mother cannot get full epistemic justification to believe what she wants simply by forgetting evidence supporting the unwanted conclusion. Similarly, in (Justified Irrationality) imagine that for all Jacques is in a position to know, the Modus Ponens rule is invalid. Again, even though Jacques knows that p, knows that p implies q, and considers whether q, if (ERPK) is right, there is absolutely no reason for Jacques to conclude that q. The lesson is, once again, that if all epistemic reasons are depend on our actual set of mental states, our partial information fully determines the set of reasons there are for us to believe, with obviously counterintuitive consequences.
Argument 2* - (ERPK) has the same difficulties of (ERK) in accounting for the existence of unpossessed evidence. Recall Skorupski’s police example in §2.2: there may have been evidence available for the police to make a case against a suspect even though the police was not in the position to know that evidence by simple reflection or self-inquiry. If evidence constitutes epistemic reasons, then (ERPK) is false. (ERPK) has also difficulties accounting for knowledge based on forgotten reasons, as long as these reasons are definitively forgotten facts, ones that one is not in a position to know by simple reflection or self-inquiry.
Argument 3* - It is easy to see that the argument from epistemic modals to perspective-independence of epistemic reasons applies equally well to (ERPK). Consider Hacking’s example quoted in the previous section: in that example, more careful examination of the log is required to verify that the boat must have gone down at least thirty miles further south. Therefore, the mate of the salvage ship was not in the position to know that only on the basis of what he was in a position to know (e.g., by mere reflection or self-inquiry about what he knew). This indicates that evidence constituting the base of epistemic modals can include facts which go beyond what a subject is in a position to know. If evidence supporting the truth of some proposition constitutes reasons to believe that proposition, then epistemic reasons include facts that the subject is not in a position to know.
Argument 4* - It is also easy to verify that the argument from excusable ignorance applies to (ERPK). According to (ERPK), knowledge-denials could excuse a belief only if the subject is in a position to know the relevant information. Otherwise these denials can only justify the belief. However, as the (Hangzhou Meeting) example shows, there can be cases in which knowledge-denials can excuse a belief that p even if one is not in a position to know p. In that example, for all Matteo is in a position to know, Hangzhou is closer to Beijing than to Shanghai, and on that basis he should be fully justified to believe that he can reach Hangzhou faster if he flies to Beijing, not merely excused. This contrasts with the clear intuition that Matteo’s apologies are perfectly in order. Furthermore, if (ERPK) were right, Matteo’s ignorance of the fact that Hangzhou is closer to Shanghai could never count as an appropriate excuse. The only type of considerations that would count as excuses for Matteo’s belief should point to a rationalizing explanation of why he didn’t believe in accordance to what he was in a position to know.
Argument 5* - A variant of the argument from the Unity Thesis applies to (ERPK). First, notice that the standard view in contemporary practical philosophy is that practical reasons for a subject are facts potentially independent of what that subject is in a position to know. There are reasons for one (not) to perform certain actions regardless of whether one is in a position to know such reasons. For example, despite the fact that for all Hitler was in a position to know it was perfectly right to torture and kill millions of innocent people, there were no reasons for Hitler (or for anybody) to do that. Now, if practical reasons are not dependent on what the subject is in a position to know, and every fact that can count as a practical reason can also count as an epistemic reason (from the Unity Thesis), also epistemic reasons are not dependent on what the subject is in a position to know.



2.4. Skorupski’s view avoids problems 1-5 and 1*-5*

In the previous subsections I have shown that two alternative views to Skorupski’s, (ERK) and (ERPK), are affected by five problems. In this subsection I will show that the view of Skorupski is apparently untouched by these arguments.
For what concerns arguments 1 and 1*, these arguments rely on the thought that epistemic reasons shouldn’t depend on our information set, neither the actual one, nor the one we are in a position to know. Skorupski’s view seems not affected by this problem, at least prima facie. To see this, observe that in (Wishful Thinking), even if the mother manages to forget her evidence that her son is culpable, we can imagine that she may easily acquire again that or similar evidence which is still in her epistemic field. For example we can imagine that she can receive again the same information about her son’s culpability from the police. The same point applies to arguments 2 and 2*: as long as unpossessed or fogotten evidence is somewhat available to the subject (i.e., it is in her epistemic field), it can count as epistemic reasons. Even though the police was not in the position to know the evidence speaking for the suspect’s culpability, they can easily discover the available clues that the suspect was the author of the crime.
Skorupski’s view also avoids problems 3 and 3*. While it seems obvious that we are not in a position to know some of the evidence constituting the base of epistemic modals, it is far more contentious that this evidence can transcend our epistemic perspective to the extent that is not even in our epistemic field. Consider again Hacking’s example, since more careful examination of the log would have been sufficient for the mate to see that the boat must have gone further south, that evidence belongs to the facts in the mate’s epistemic field. This type of cases doesn’t show that the base of epistemic modals includes facts which are not in the epistemic field of the subject.
Skorupski’s view seems also to be able to avoid the argument from excusable ignorance. According to this view, knowledge-denials can excuse a belief even if the subject is not in a position to know the relevant information. It is sufficient that facts within one’s epistemic field support that belief. In the (Hangzhou Meeting) example, we can imagine that Matteo could have known that Hangzhou is closer to Beijing than to Shanghai by engaging in further inquiry, for example by checking this information on his iPhone. Thus this fact was in the epistemic field of Matteo, and thus it is relevant for epistemic assessments and can count as an epistemic reason. According to this view, while Matteo’s belief that he can reach Hangzhou faster if he flies to Beijing is fully reasonable and excusable, it falls short of justification.
It seems slightly more difficult for Skorupski’s view to avoid argument 5*. A version of this argument applying to Skorupski’s view requires the following premise: that practical reasons are not dependent on the epistemic field of the subject for which they constitute reasons. Now, in principle we can imagine that nothing in Hitler’s epistemic field spoke against torturing and killing millions of innocent people. But of course this requires a certain imaginative effort, and is not so intuitive as the cases supporting the independence of practical reasons from what the subject is in a position to know. I will come back to this point in the next section.



 3. More perspective-independence?

In the previous section I provided five arguments against two alternative views to Skorupski’s one, namely, the view that reasons are known facts, and that reasons are facts we are in a position to know. I’ve also suggested that the view of Skorupski is apparently untouched by these arguments. In this section, I will tentatively argue that epistemic reasons extend beyond the facts within the epistemic field of a subject. In §3.1 I will consider some potential problems for Skorupski’s view. In §3.2 I will assess the prospects of a view according to which epistemic reasons are true propositions possibly not included in the epistemic field of the subject, the ER=truths view.


3.1. Possible problems for Skorupski’s view

Consideration 1
A fist set of considerations against Skorupski’s view is that it doesn’t completely avoid complex variants of the arguments considered in §3. Consider first a variant of argument 1*. According to this view, the facts in the epistemic field of a subject fully determine the set of reasons. However, these facts might constitute only partial and possibly misleading information. Consider first a variant of (Wishful Thinking) in which the mother manages not only to forget her actual decisive evidence, but also to exclude every clue that her son is culpable from her epistemic field. For example, she kills the only witness of the son’s culpability, make disappear all traces of the dead body, brainwash her son… and after all this, she forgets her decisive evidence that her son is culpable. Is there really no reason for her to believe that her son is culpable at that point? Or imagine a variant of (Justified Irrationality) in which no facts in Jacques’s epistemic field can incline him to believe that Modus Ponens is a valid rule. Following Skorupski’s view we should conclude that in this case there is absolutely no reason for Jacques to believe q on the basis of her reflection on her beliefs that p and that p implies q.[18]
A variant of argument 2* follows quite closely the modified (Wishful Thinking) case: completely and definitively forgotten information does not belong to the epistemic field of the subject, and thus cannot constitute reasons to believe. But then a subject who learned p on the basis of definitively forgotten data cannot know p for such reasons. Suppose for example that a certain piece of information about an historical event is stored in only one book. Jack learns that information. Then he definitively forgets the reason on the basis of which he came to believe that information. Furthermore the book is destroyed in a fire and nothing remains of that information except in Jack’s memory. As a result, Skoruspki’s view implies one of the following implausible consequences: either Jack knows that information for no reason, or Jack’s loss of memory prevents him from knowing that information. Furthermore, and even less plausibly, according to this view, reasons for Jacques to believe that information cease to be such in the precise moment in which the page of the book in which the information is written gets destroyed in the fire.  
For what concerns argument 4*, we can imagine a variant of (Hangzhou Meeting) in which there are no facts in Matteo’s epistemic field indicating that Shanghai is closer to Hangzhou. For example, a general internet blackout prevents Matteo from having access to that information, some crazy guys burns all maps of China in Rome’s airport, and so on. In these circumstances, Matteo should be fully justified to believe that flying to Beijing is a faster way to reach Hangzhou, not merely excused. His excuses would not make much sense. Furthermore, Matteo’s knowledge-denials would turn from excuses to justifications in the precise moment in which Matteo’s access to the relevant information is prevented (e.g., when the last map of China in the airport is burned). This sounds quite odd. It seems obvious that similar information’s accidental unavailability cannot transform an excuse into a justification.
Consider a variant of argument 5*. Skorupski’s view presupposes an asymmetry in the extension of entities which can count as epistemic and non-epistemic reasons. Some fact can count as a practical reason without being an epistemic reason. For example, that there is a treasure in my courtyard is a reason to dig there. However, suppose that this fact is unknowable to me given the actual circumstances. Therefore, this fact can count as a reason to act but not as a reason to believe. Now, Littlejohn (2014b) observes that it would be akratic to seclude types of reasons depending on whether they are reasons to believe or act. In particular, it is akratic to take a consideration to potentially support an action but not a belief that one should perform that action, and vice versa. For example, it seems akratic to take the fact that there is a treasure in my courtyard as a reason to dig but not as a reason to believe that I should dig, and vice versa.
In order to avoid akrasia, we should take one of two opposite direction: either we consider practical reasons as facts limited to one’s epistemic field, or we extend epistemic reasons beyond facts within one’s epistemic field. I think that the latter option is the less costly. As the treasure in the courtyard example shows, intuitively there are reasons to act which are not in our epistemic field.[19] Here it is another example: Suppose that Mani grew up in a community where people have no clue of the negative effects of smoking. We can imagine, for example, that all members of the society where Mani always lived smoke, and that this society lived in a period in which there was no information about the dangers of smoking. In this context, there are no facts in the epistemic field of Mani indicating that smoking can cause negative health effects. Still, it seems that, as long as smoking causes such effects, this constitutes a prudential reason for Mani not to smoke.


Consideration 2 - Epistemic reasons are not closed under conjunction

Skorupski’s view implies that closure under introduction rule for conjunction fails for epistemic reasons. This is because it is compatible with this view that p and q belong to the epistemic field of a subject S, but p&q does not. If epistemic reasons are only the facts within the epistemic field of a subject, the following rule (Epistemic Field Closure) is invalid (where “EFr” means that r is in one’s epistemic field):

(EFC) EFp, EFq |– EF(p&q)

Consider some examples illustrating the failure of (EFC). From Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, a scientist can easily come to know the position or the wave function of an atomic particle but not both. Similarly, one can easily come to know that p and that [one doesn’t know p], but not their conjunction (Heylen 2016).
Now, if epistemic reasons are restricted to the epistemic field of the subject, then both p and q constitute epistemic reasons for S, but not p&q. The following principle is violated (Epistemic Reasons’ Closure under Conjunction):

(ERCC) If A belongs to the epistemic reasons’ set of S and B belongs to the same set, then A&B belongs to the epistemic reasons’ set of S.

This conclusion will sound problematic to many holding that the set of evidence (epistemic reasons) is closed under conjunction.[20] Furthermore, if we assume a suitable form of evidentialism according to which epistemic reasons are evidence, the failure of (ERCC) is incompatible with an account of evidential support according to which propositions supported by evidence are those most probable on one’s total evidence.[21] This simply follows from the closure under conjunction of one’s total evidence when used as probabilistic base to calculate the likelihood of a proposition. Suppose that S’s evidence includes only p and q. Then the probability of r on S’s total evidence will be P(r|p&q). But p&q may not be part of S’s evidence. And the probability of r can be very different on p&q and on either p or q individually. If one wants to preserve Skorupski’s account of epistemic reasons, one is forced to adopt a compartmentalized model of evidential support, calculating probabilistic support on proper partitions of total evidence that one is in a position to jointly know. But at this point the upholder of this view will face the further problem of determining which subset of evidence is relevant to decide what one should believe.[22]
Furthermore, the closure failure for the first relatum in the epistemic reason-relation can transmit to the second relatum, the supported belief. Suppose that p is the only reason for S to believe r and q is the only reason for her to believe s. In this case, there will be reason for S to believe r and to believe s, but no reason to believe r&s (the only reason to believe this proposition being p&q). If S believes what she has reason to believe, she ends up believing r, believing s, but not believing their conjunction.
This violates plausible principles of rational doxastic closure such as the following:

(RDC) If one rationally believes that A and rationally believes that B, one also rationally believes that A and B.

If something along the lines of (RDC) is right, then someone may be irrational to believe only what she has reason to believe. A rational subject shouldn’t believe only what she has reason to believe. Both these conclusions sound quite problematic.



3.2. Epistemic reasons = true propositions?

Until now I have considered three views relating epistemic reasons to the perspective of agents, each in a different way and to a different extent. I’ve also considered problems for each of these views. In this section I want to explore the hypothesis that, differently from what these views claim, epistemic reasons are not dependent on the perspective of subjects, neither the actual, nor the potential one. More precisely, I will assess the prospects of the view that the total set of epistemic reasons is constituted by all and only the true propositions, not only those belonging to the epistemic field of the subject. I shall call this view the ER=T view. I will also try to address some potential worries that this view might raise.
The ER=T view avoids all the problems affecting the other considered views. This view obviously and straightforwardly avoids problems 1/1*-5/5*. For example, it allows that amongst the epistemic reasons of the mother in (Wishful Thinking) there are also facts that she has completely and definitively forgotten. This preserves the intuition that she persists having decisive reasons to believe that her son is culpable even when these are forgotten. Similarly, in (Justified Irrationality), even though for all Jacques knows the Modus Ponens rule is invalid, he still has reason to believe in its validity (assuming that this rule is true), and thus to believe that q. According to ER=T, evidence can be unpossessed and definitively forgotten and still be epistemic reasons for which the subject believes (and knows).
The view does not receive more support than Skorupski’s one by the argument from epistemic modals. But it can easily avoid all variants of argument 4. Even if there were no facts in Matteo’s epistemic field indicating that Hangzhou is closer to Shanghai than to Beijing, the latter proposition is true, and thus it is an epistemic reason for Matteo for so believing. As a consequence, while Matteo is fully excusable for ignoring this fact, he is not fully justified and his apologies are in order.
Finally, ER=T avoids problem 5 and its variants in an elegant way: in conformity to the Unity Thesis, it says that every fact that is a reason to act is also a reason to believe and vice versa. That there is a treasure in my courtyard is both a reason for me to dig there and a reason to believe that I should dig, and vice versa; and that smoking is dangerous for health is both a reason to believe it is and to stop smoking. More generally, this view holds that the set of all facts constitute the set of all available reasons for a subject, where these reasons can be taken as epistemic or practical depending on the type of thing they support (an action or a belief).[23]
The ER=T view also avoids the specific problem affecting Skorupski’s view. This view has no problem accommodating reasons’ closure under conjunction: truth is closed under conjunction. In this perspective, if p is a reason for S, and q also is, then p&q is also a reason. As a consequence, we avoid cases in which there is reason for S to believe r and to believe s, but no reason to believe r&s. This view holds that every truth is a reason to believe itself, as well as to believe other propositions it evidentially supports. Within this framework, we will be still able to distinguish the evidential support there is for a proposition from that that a subject has. The latter will be assessed on the basis of the support that a subset of total truths provide to a given proposition, where this subset is constituted by propositions the subject knows or is in a position to know.
One might wonder whether the view I have just sketched in not too extreme. Even assuming that epistemic reasons are facts which can potentially not belong to the epistemic field of a subject, we can think, for example, that epistemic reasons are still restricted to knowable facts, or to facts that one can believe. Knowability and believability include a much wider set of facts than those in the epistemic field of a subject. Such a restriction would constrain epistemic reasons to the potential perspective of the subject. This view would also be motivated by epistemic versions of the ‘Ought’ implies ‘Can’ principle. According to some philosophers, what we ought to do is restricted to what we can do. Similarly, what we ought to believe might be restricted to what we can believe (the ‘ought’ implies ‘can believe’ principle). Assume a case in which the only reason to believe p is r. If r is unknowable, it is also unknowable that we ought to believe p. This violates the ‘ought’ implies ‘can believe’ principle.
I admit that a knowability view is a plausible alternative to the ER=T view. Notice, however, that every view limiting epistemic reasons to facts that the subject can know or have access to is not exempt from the second problem affecting Skorupski’s view. There will be cases in which epistemic reasons will not be closed under conjunction. An obvious example is constituted by the case based on Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, where a scientist can come to know the position or the wave function of an atomic particle but, as a matter of physical necessity, she cannot come to know both. Failure of epistemic closure for epistemic reasons leads to the problems considered at the end of §3.1.
While here I have not the space to fully address potential objections to the ER=T view, let me briefly observe that the very same issues arising for this view also arise for perspective-dependent views of practical reasons (and for normative reasons in general). As there are moral dilemmas and laws requiring impossible things and not accessible to their addressees, so it shouldn’t be surprising that there are unknowable reasons and reasons to believe things that we cannot believe. As I ought to pay taxes even if I don’t have money, it might well be that I have a reason to believe that I should dig in my courtyard even though I cannot know that there is a treasure there. In this perspective, an unknowable reason can still be a reason – though possibly a defective one, one that fails to perform the role of reasons of guiding agents to do or believe what they ought to do or believe. Subjects committed to such reasons can be excusable and blameless (at least under certain conditions and to a certain extent), as would be agents that have no access to or cannot comply with moral, legal or prudential reasons.
We can push the analogy between the practical and epistemic domains even further. As in the practical domain we have reasons to perform uncountable actions, but we cannot do all what we have reason to do (e.g., give some money to every beggar we met on our way, or save the life of every starving child), in a similar way we cannot believe all what we have reason to believe. In the practical domain some reasons are more important, in the sense that it is more urgent to comply with. The same is the case in the epistemic domain. While every truth is a reason to believe, we are more blameworthy and less excusable if we are insensitive to epistemic reasons that are closer to our perspective than to those who are farther. Suppose that I look out the window and I see bright sun. That there is bright sun is a reason to believe that it is not raining. Suppose also that the email I just received is a reason to believe that I must reply to it as soon as possible. But I have not yet opened the email box. While I do not possess this reason now, I can easily come to know it by simply checking my email box. In this situation, I have both reasons to believe that it is not raining and that I should answer the email, but while I would be epistemically blameworthy for not believing the former, I am epistemically excusable for not believing the latter. And I am also fully excusable and totally blameless for not believing that in my courtyard there is a treasure when there is no clue at all that this is true.[24]



5. Conclusion

Skorupski in The Domains of Reasons argues that epistemic reasons are facts in the epistemic field of the subject. In this paper, I introduced Skorupski’s view about epistemic reasons and I compared it to two other views: i) that reasons are actual-perspective dependent facts, and ii) that they are facts that the subject is in a position to know. I provided arguments favouring Skorupski’s view over these alternatives. However, I have also suggested that Skorupski’s view is affected by other problems. I also considered an alternative view according to which epistemic reasons are all the true propositions, including those which do not belong to the epistemic field of a subject. The latter view has its own drawbacks, but it easily avoids the problems of the other views. While the present essay has no pretence to provide a decisive case for the independence of epistemic reasons from the perspective of the subjects, my hope is that it could succeed at least in casting some doubts on the enduring dogma, well entrenched in contemporary epistemology, that epistemic reasons are perspective-dependent entities.


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[1] E.g., Alvarez, 2010; Dancy, 2002; Parfit, 2011; Raz, 1999; Scanlon, 1998, 2014; Skorupski, 2010.
[2] Alvarez, 2010; Broome, 2004, 2013; Dancy, 2002; Kolodny, 2005; Littlejohn, 2012; McDowell, 1994; Parfit, 2011; Raz, 1978, 1999, Scanlon, 1998, 2014; Skorupski, 2010.
[3] Skorupski distinguishes epistemic reasons from warranted reasons (or warrants): A Warranted Reason is self-accessible. It is one that a person could come to know that she has it solely by means of normative insight and self-examination, including attention to the way things seem to her (2010, 108; see also 47, 107).
[4] Of course, the truth of this claim depends on the type of possibility we have in mind. However notice that the epistemic field is restricted to those facts that we could know at the present time by reflection, by further inquiry, or by ‘stumbling across’ them. We would need a quite narrow notion of possibility to make it plausible the entailment from ownership to the epistemic field to knowability.
[5] According to Schroeder (manuscript), reasons are either the contents of beliefs or of perceptual experiences.
[6] The notion of being in a position to know is more similar to Skorupski’s warranted reason – though there are important differences. For example warranted reasons are not factive, and they are not facts but intentional objects (2010, §5).
[7] This example is from Lord, 2015.
[8] Similar examples can be reproduced with other rational requirements.
[9] Again, a complete list of the authors defending this claim is impossible. An incomplete list includes Harman, Kelly, Skorupski, Sylvan, Ballantyne, Whiting, Gibbons and Goldberg.
[10] Strictly speaking, 3 doesn’t follow deductively from 1 and 2. For example, one may conceive the extension of facts constituting evidence as context-dependent, and take facts counting as epistemic reasons as varying depending on the context of utterance of epistemic modals. I find this view utterly implausible, since it introduces a dependence of epistemic normative considerations on contextual factors such as interests and conventions of speakers. However, for reasons of space, I cannot discuss further the view and its problems. I will simply assume, for the sake of argument, that the set of facts that count as reasons is not context-dependent in this way. Notice however that even if this view were correct, it would still be true that in some contexts total evidence includes facts beyond the subject’s perspective. This would suffice to refute the view that epistemic reasons are known facts.
[11] It is worth mentioning that Skorupski (2010, §2.5 and ch.3) disagrees with the claim that all evidence constitutes reason to believe. He distinguishes between epistemic reasons and indicative evidence, which may even not be in the epistemic field of the subject. I agree with Skorupski that some evidence is not in the epistemic field of a subject, but I take this to indicate that there can be reasons to believe which do not belong to this field. I will discuss this view in §3.
[12] On the distinction between justification and excuse see, for example, Botterell, 2009; Duff, 2006; Gardner, 2007: ch.4-6; Kelp & Simion, forthcoming; Littlejohn, forthcoming.
[13] Since Matteo’s excuses point to the unknown fact that q, the latter is an obvious candidate to be such a sufficient reason.
[14] Let me remind that in the considered view, q is not a reason to believe p, for q is not known.
[15] Note also that Matteo’s excuses point to the ignorance of q, that Hangzhou is closer to Shanghai than to Beijing. This indicates that q was a reason for Matteo to believe p, even though Matteo didn’t know q and didn’t form any attitude from it. More in general, excuses for not F-ing which point to the ignorance of a proposition r indicate that r was a reason for S to F. The epistemic domain doesn’t seem to constitute an exception to this rule: S’s ignorance of r excludes blameworthiness and makes rational for S to believe as she did, but it doesn’t exclude epistemic norms’ violations and indicates that r was reason about whether to believe the relevant proposition.
[16] Other views which seem to imply the Unity Thesis are those defended by Setiya, 2014 and Way, 2015. See also McHugh, 2014: §VI.
[17] See, for example, Alvarez, 2010; Broome, 2004; Parfit, 2011; Skorupski, 2010. A complete list of authors endorsing this view would be too long to find a place in this paper. Very few philosophers disagree with this view.
[18] A possible reply may be that the Modus Ponens rule is a fact known a priori or necessarily belonging to the epistemic field of the subject. However, this response presupposes quite contentious assumptions about what a subject is able to necessarily know or access.
[19] Some philosopher even holds that there are unknowable practical reasons. See, for example Dutant & Littlejohn, 2016; Sorensen, 1995; Srinivasan, 2015. Consider a specific example in Markovitz (2011, fn 13): “Suppose I love surprise parties, but hate parties I know about in advance. It seems like, if my friends are throwing me a surprise party at their house, it would be best for me to go there.” This case exemplifies a reason to act (to go to the party) which is unknowable, for if known, it would cease to be a reason to go to the party. Another example is the reason to inquire further into a fact which is unknown, where it is in part its being an unknown fact which makes it a reason to inquire further. While I find such kind of examples compelling, my argument does not rely on the claim that there are, or there can be, unknowable reasons. Not being in the epistemic field does not imply unknowability.
[20] Though one may argue here that there are such cases. An example is provided by the preface paradox, in which a subject is in position to know each single sentence in the book but not their conjunction. Notice however that the failure of (EFC) would extend to a multitude of cases having few analogies with the structure of the preface case. If (ERCC) fails also epistemic reasons’ simple closure under modus ponens fails ((Heylen, 2016). (MPC) is false:

(MPC) PKp,  PK (p->q) |–  PKq

If epistemic reasons are facts in the epistemic field of a subject, then there are cases in which p and p -> q are part of S’s epistemic reasons, but q is not.
[21] The idea that probabilistic epistemic support must take into account all the available information is usually associated to Carnap and his Principle of Total Evidence (Carnap, 1950: 211–13; Keynes, 1921: 313).
[22] Skorupski seems to be aware of this problem. See 2010, §2.4.
[23] However this view can preserve a difference between reasons there are for someone to φ and reasons that one has and on the basis of which one φ-s. This view allows for assessments related to the perspective of the agent or the subject. Elsewhere I have argued that at least some of these assessments are instrumental evaluations related to the regulation conditions of reasons and norms, i.e., to the ways in which the subject is sensitive to and tries to follow these reasons and norms. See Fassio, forthcoming, 2014. Other such perspectival assessments concern excusability and blameworthiness. Another interesting feature of the ER=T view is that it considers all epistemic reasons ‘thinker-neutral’. The reasons there are for some subject to believe a proposition are the same there are for all subjects (though the reasons that each subject has are of course different).
[24] The above considerations partially address also a further problem discussed by Bykvist & Hattiangadi, 2007, 2013. There are propositions that it is logically impossible to believe (or rationally believe). Consider the following example:

(UP) A tree is falling in the forest but nobody will ever believe that.

If (i) epistemic reasons are all truths, (ii) each truth constitutes a reason to believe itself, and (iii) there are unbelievable truths such as UP (for those who are not idealists there are such truths), then there are reasons to believe unbelievable propositions. Again, it is unclear whether this is a problem rather than a simple matter of fact: as there are laws requiring people to pay taxes they cannot pay, there are reasons to believe unbelievable propositions such as (UP) (though we are fully excusable for not believing them).

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