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Pragmatic Encroachment

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-P079-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 2019
Retrieved June 21, 2024, from

Article Summary

When Pascal entreats us to ‘Wager, then, without hesitation that He is’ upon consideration of the potential gains (all) and losses (nothing) of such a wager, we recognise that he is offering a pragmatic defence of belief in God. Similarly, when Linus inquires of Lucy, ‘Why should I believe you?’ and she responds ‘I’ll give you five good reasons’ while folding each of her fingers into a fist, we understand that she is providing a decidedly practical, non-epistemic reason for Linus to believe her. While our practical interests and circumstances are potentially relevant to the practical rationality of our doxastic attitudes, it is harder to see how such concerns could bear on the distinctively epistemic evaluation of our beliefs. According to the stance of epistemic purism (also intellectualism), practical considerations cannot make a difference when it comes to whether or not an agent’s belief that p is epistemically rational, epistemically justified, or involves her knowing that p.

According to the thesis of pragmatic encroachment (a term coined by Jonathan Kvanvig), the pragmatic ‘encroaches’ on the epistemic: practical considerations such as the potential costs of acting on p if p is false or the benefits of acting on p if p is true can make a genuine epistemic difference. Two subjects in different practical circumstances can differ with respect to whether they are epistemically justified in believing that p even though they are the same with respect to all truth-relevant, intellectual factors, such as the quantity and quality of their evidence for and against p, the reliability of the methods they rely on in forming their attitudes towards p, etc. Sometimes more evidence is needed to know or to be epistemically justified in believing as the stakes get higher and the odds longer. On the face of it, such a thesis seems quite counterintuitive. We are not inclined to think that a sudden loss of a comfortable fortune or conversion to a devil-may-care attitude will immediately undermine or enhance our ability to know. Knowledge is supposed to be ‘tied down’ to the truth − not the sort of thing that might come and go over time or across worlds with mere changes in practical interests and circumstances. A number of compelling considerations help to counter these misgivings.

Citing this article:
Ganson, Dorit. Pragmatic Encroachment, 2019, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-P079-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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