Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-59b7f5684b-npccv Total loading time: 0.443 Render date: 2022-10-05T08:40:31.734Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "useRatesEcommerce": false, "displayNetworkTab": true, "displayNetworkMapGraph": false, "useSa": true } hasContentIssue true

Article contents

No Epistemic Norm or Aim Needed

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 September 2020

Marianna Bergamaschi Ganapini*
Union College and Montreal AI Ethics Institute, Montreal, Canada


Many agree that one cannot consciously form a belief just because one wants to. And many also agree this is a puzzling component of our conscious belief-forming processes. I will look at three views on how to make sense of this puzzle and show that they all fail in some way. I then offer a simpler explanation that avoids all the pitfalls of those views, which is based instead on an analysis of our conscious reasoning combined with a commonly accepted account of the concept of belief. I conclude that no epistemic norm or aim is actually needed to explain why we cannot deliberatively believe whatever we want.

Episteme , Volume 19 , Issue 3 , September 2022 , pp. 337 - 352
Copyright © The Author(s), 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Adler, J.E. (2002). Belief's Own Ethics. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Archer, S. (2017). ‘Defending Exclusivity.’ Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 94, 326–41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Atkinson, C.J. (Forthcoming). ‘Weighing Aims in Doxastic Deliberation.’ Synthese.Google Scholar
Bergamaschi Ganapini, M. (2019). ‘Belief's Minimal Rationality.’ Philosophical Studies. Scholar
Boghossian, P. (2003). ‘Blind Reasoning.’ Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volumes 177, 225–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Boghossian, P. (2008). ‘Epistemic Rules.’ Journal of Philosophy 105, 472500.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Boghossian, P. (2014). ‘What is Inference?’ Philosophical Studies 169, 118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bratman, M.E. (1992). ‘Practical Reasoning and Acceptance in a Context.’ Mind 101, 1–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Broome, J. (2013). Rationality Through Reasoning. Oxford: Wiley Blackwell.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Brown, J. (2008). ‘Knowledge and Practical Reason.’ Philosophy Compass 3, 1135–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Buleandra, A. (2009). ‘Doxastic Transparency and Prescriptivity.’ Dialectica 63, 325–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Coltheart, M. (2017). ‘Confabulation and Conversation.’ Cortex 87, 62–8.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Cresto, E. (2010). ‘Comments and Criticism on Reasons and Epistemic Rationality.’ Journal of Philosophy 107, 326–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Currie, G. and Ravenscroft, I. (2002). Recreative Minds: Imagination in Philosophy and Psychology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Efferson, C., McKay, R. and Fehr, E. (2020). ‘The Evolution of Distorted Beliefs vs. Mistaken Choices under Asymmetric Error Costs.’ Evolutionary Human Sciences 2, E27. doi: 10.1017/ehs.2020.25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Engel, P. (2000). ‘Is Truth a Norm?’ In Pagin, P., Segal, G. and Kotatko, P. (eds), Interpreting Davidson. Stanford, CA: CSLI.Google Scholar
Engel, P. (2004). ‘Truth and the Aim of Belief.’ In Gillies, D. (ed.), Laws and Models in Science, pp. 7797. London: King's College.Google Scholar
Engel, P. (2013). ‘In Defense of Normativism about the Aim of Belief.’ In Chan, T. (ed.), The Aim of Belief, pp. 32–63. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Fantl, J. and McGrath, M. (2010). Knowledge in an Uncertain World. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Frankish, K. (2004). Mind and Supermind. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gibbard, A. (2005). ‘Truth and Correct Belief.’ Philosophical Issues 15, 338–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ginet, C. (1985). ‘Contra Reliabilism.’ Philosophical Studies 68, 175–87.Google Scholar
Gopnik, A. (2000). ‘Explanation as Orgasm and the Drive for Causal Knowledge: The Function, Evolution, and Phenomenology of the Theory Formation System.’ In Keil, J.C. and Wilson, R.A. (eds), Explanation and Cognition, pp. 299323. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
Haselton, M.G. and Nettle, D. (2006). ‘The Paranoid Optimist: An Integrative Evolutionary Model of Cognitive Biases.’ Personality and Social Psychology Review 10(1), 4766.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Hawthorne, J. and Stanley, J. (2008). ‘Knowledge and Action.’ Journal of Philosophy 105, 571–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hlobil, U. (2014). ‘Against Boghossian, Wright and Broome on Inference.’ Philosophical Studies 167, 419–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Huddleston, A. (2012). ‘Naughty Beliefs.’ Philosophical Studies 160, 209–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ichino, A. (2019). ‘Imagination and Belief in Action.’ Philosophia 47, 1517.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
James, W. (1896 [1956]). ‘The Will to Believe.’ In The Will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy. New York: Dover Publications.Google Scholar
Kelly, T. (2002). The Rationality of Belief and Other Propositional Attitudes. Philosophical Studies 110, 163–96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Leary, S. (2017). ‘In Defense of Practical Reasons for Belief.’ Australasian Journal of Philosophy 95, 529–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Littlejohn, C. (2009). ‘Must We Act Only on What We Know?’ Journal of Philosophy 106, 463–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Locke, D. (2015). ‘Practical Certainty.’ Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 90, 7295.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mandelbaum, E. (2019). ‘Troubles with Bayesianism: An Introduction to the Psychological Immune System.’ Mind and Language 34, 141–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
McCormick, M.S. (2015). Believing Against the Evidence: Agency and the Ethics of Belief. Abingdon: Routledge.Google Scholar
McHugh, C. (2011). ‘What Do We Aim At When We Believe?’ Dialectica 65, 369–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
McHugh, C. (2012). ‘Belief and Aims.’ Philosophical Studies 160, 425–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
McHugh, C. (2013). ‘Normativism and Doxastic Deliberation.’ Analytic Philosophy 54, 447465.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
McHugh, C. (2015). ‘The Illusion of Exclusivity.’ European Journal of Philosophy 23, 1117–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
McHugh, C. and Way, J. (2016) ‘Against the Taking Condition.’ Philosophical Issues 26, 314–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
McHugh, C. and Way, J. (2018). ‘What Is Good Reasoning?’ Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 96, 153–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mercier, H. and Sperber, D. (2011). ‘Why Do Humans Reason? Arguments for an Argumentative Theory.’ Behavioral and Brain Sciences 34, 5774.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Nanay, B. (2016). ‘The Role of Imagination in Decision-Making.’ Mind and Language 31, 127–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Neta, R. (2009). ‘Treating Something as a Reason for Action.’ Noǔs 43, 684–9.Google Scholar
Neta, R. (2013). ‘What is an Inference?’ Philosophical Issues 23, 388407.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Nesse, R. and Williams, G. (1995). Why We Get Sick. New York, NY: Vintage Books.Google Scholar
Nickel, P. (2010). ‘Voluntary Belief on a Reasonable Basis.’ Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 81, 312–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Nisbett, R.E. and Wilson, T.D. (1977). ‘Telling More Than we Can Know: Verbal Reports on Mental Processes.’ Psychological Review 84, 231–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Nolfi, K. (2015). ‘How to be a Normativist About the Nature of Belief.’ Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 96, 181–204.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Noordhof, P. (2001), ‘Believe What You Want.’ Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 101, 247–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
O'Brien, L. (2005). ‘Imagination and the Motivational View of Belief.’ Analysis 65, 5562.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Owens, D. (2003). ‘Does Belief Have an Aim?’ Philosophical Studies 115, 283305.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Pettit, P. (1993). The Common Mind: An Essay on Psychology, Society and Politics. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Ross, J. and Schroeder, M. (2014). ‘Belief, Credence, and Pragmatic Encroachment.’ Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 88, 259–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Scanlon, T.M. (2007). ‘Structural Irrationality.’ In Brennan, G., Goodin, R., Jackson, F. and Smith, M. (eds), Common Minds. Themes from the Philosophy of Philip Pettit, pp. 84103. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Shah, N. (2003). ‘How Truth Governs Belief.’ Philosophical Review 112, 447–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Shah, N (2006). ‘A New Argument for Evidentialism.’ Philosophical Quarterly 56, 481–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Shah, N. and Velleman, J.D. (2005). ‘Doxastic Deliberation.’ Philosophical Review 114, 497534.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sharadin, N. (2016). ‘Nothing but the Evidential Considerations?’ Australasian Journal of Philosophy 94, 343–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sinhababu, N. (2013). ‘Distinguishing Belief and Imagination.’ Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, 94, 152–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Steglich-Petersen, A. (2006). ‘The Aim of Belief: No Norm Needed.’ Philosophical Quarterly 56, 500–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Steglich-Petersen, A. (2008). ‘Against Essential Normativity of the Mental.’ Philosophical Studies 140, 263–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Steglich-Petersen, A. (2009). ‘Weighing the Aim of Belief.’ Philosophical Studies 145, 395405.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sullivan-Bissett, E. (2015). ‘Implicit Bias, Confabulation, and Epistemic Innocence.’ Consciousness and Cognition 33, 548–60.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Sullivan-Bissett, E. (2017). ‘Aims and Exclusivity.’ European Journal of Philosophy 3, 721–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sullivan-Bissett, E. (2018). ‘Explaining Doxastic Transparency: Aim, Norm, or Function? Synthese 195, 3453–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sullivan-Bissett, E. and Noordhof, P. (2013). ‘A Defence of Owens’ Exclusivity Objection to Beliefs Having Aims.’ Philosophical Studies 163, 453–7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sullivan-Bissett, E. and Noordhof, P. (2020). ‘The Transparent Failure of Norms to Keep Up Standards of Belief.’ Philosophical Studies 177, 1213–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Toribio, J. (2013). ‘Is There an ‘Ought’ in Belief?’ Teorema: Revista Internacional De Filosofía 32, 7590.Google Scholar
Tucker, C. (2012). ‘Movin’ On Up: Higher-Level Requirements and Inferential Justification.’ Philosophical Studies 157, 323–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Valaris, M. (2016) ‘What Reasoning Might Be.’ Synthese 194, 2007–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Van Leuween, N. (2009). ‘The Motivational Role of Belief.’ Philosophical Papers 38, 219–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Velleman, D. (2000). The Possibility of Practical Reason. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Weatherson, B. (2005). ‘Can We Do Without Pragmatic Encroachment?’ Philosophical Perspectives 19, 417–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Wedgwood, R. (2002). ‘The Aim of Belief.’ Philosophical Perspectives 16, 268–97.Google Scholar
Wedgwood, R. (2006). ‘The Normative Force of Reasoning.’ Noûs 40, 660–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Wedgwood, R. (2013). ‘The Right Thing to Believe.’ In Chan, T. (ed.), The Aim of Belief, pp. 123–39. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Whiting, D. (2012). ‘Does Belief Aim (Only) at Truth?’ Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 93, 279300.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Whiting, D. (2014). ‘Reasons for Belief, Reasons for Action, the Aim of Belief, and the Aim of Action.’ In Littlejohn, C. and Turri, J. (eds), Epistemic Norms: New Essays on Action, Belief, and Assertion. Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199660025.003.0013.Google Scholar
Williams, B. (1973). ‘Deciding to Believe.’ In Problems of the Self, pp. 136–51. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Williamson, T. (2000). Knowledge and its Limits. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Worsnip, A.L. (MS). Rationality's Demands on Belief. PhD Dissertation.Google Scholar
Zalabardo, J. (2010). ‘Why Believe the Truth? Shah and Velleman on the Aim of Belief.’ Philosophical Explorations 13, 121.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cited by

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

No Epistemic Norm or Aim Needed
Available formats

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

No Epistemic Norm or Aim Needed
Available formats

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

No Epistemic Norm or Aim Needed
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *