We are like American robins

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


This chapter constructs and considers arguments for the commonly held idea that we have specifically epistemic duties relating to what we believe. It is argued that epistemic duties cannot be generated by appeal to belief’s standard of correctness, normativism about belief, or the rational nature of human believers. The chapter overviews a biological account of belief on which there are only standards derived from biological norms, which do not generate duties to follow the pronouncements of those standards. Finally, the chapter turns to arguments which claim that the existence of epistemic duties is supported by inference to the best explanation. It is argued that the biological account of belief can accommodate the explananda these arguments appeal to without letting duties in. The conclusion reached is that we are yet to be given a reason for thinking that there are irreducible distinctly epistemic duties. Rather if we ought to do anything epistemically, this is only in the sense that an American robin ought to build a nest.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEpistemic duties
Subtitle of host publicationnew arguments, new angles
EditorsKevin McCain, Scott Stapleford
Place of PublicationNew York
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9780429030215
ISBN (Print)9780367141103
Publication statusPublished - 11 Oct 2020

Publication series

NameRoutledge Studies in Epistemology


  • Epistemic duties
  • Epistemic obligations
  • Biological function
  • Reasons to believe


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