DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-L135-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 2001
Retrieved April 21, 2021, from

6. Epistemic and semantic normativity

Oddly enough, there are less explicitly normative areas of philosophy where it is easier to see what the sources of their respective subjects’ normativity must be. For example, epistemology is normative in so far as it is concerned with norms for belief (see Normative epistemology). Suppose we ask what the source of epistemic normativity is. It follows from the very nature of belief that a belief is correct – one we ought (objectively) to have – only if it is true, and that a belief is one we ought subjectively to have only if we have evidence of its truth (see Belief). It seems to be part of the criteria for identifying a representative state as a belief, rather than as, say, an imagining or an assumption, that it is appropriately responsive to evidence and truth. To be a belief just is to be a state that ought to be true (Velleman 1996: 707–14). Since this is so, we can easily draw certain conclusions about what we should believe. For example, we should not believe two contradictory propositions because they could not both be true.

Similarly, consider Kripke’s claim that ‘the relation of meaning and intention to future action is normative, not descriptive’ in the context of his critique of naturalistic, dispositional theories of meaning (see Meaning and rule-following). Here again, the force of the point seems to be that we will not count a mental state as meaning something by some symbol unless we hold it responsible to a norm of correctness. ‘The point is not that, if I meant addition by ‘‘+’’, I will answer ‘‘125’’, but that … I should answer ‘‘125’’ ’ (Kripke 1982: 37).

Now although truth is normative for belief, truth is not itself a normative concept; in particular, it is distinct from the concept of what we ought to believe. The claim that we ought to believe what is true is not the tautology that we ought to believe what we ought to believe. There is thus a normative ‘goal’ for belief that can itself be expressed in non-normative terms. Analogous points could be made about meaning. When someone uses a symbol meaningfully, there will be a non-normative way of stating the standard (say the rule for addition) to which we hold the use responsible.

Citing this article:
Darwall, Stephen. Epistemic and semantic normativity. Normativity, 2001, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-L135-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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