The Epistemic Innocence of Irrational Beliefs

On 30 June 2020 Lisa Bortolotti's new monograph, The Epistemic Innocence of Irrational Beliefs, was published by Oxford University Press.

The Epistemic Innocence of Irrational Beliefs book coverIn an ideal world, our beliefs would satisfy norms of truth and rationality, as well as foster the acquisition, retention, and use of other relevant information. In reality, we have limited cognitive capacities and are subject to motivational biases on an everyday basis. We may also experience impairments in perception, memory, learning, and reasoning in the course of our lives. Such limitations and impairments give rise to distorted memory beliefs, confabulated explanations, and beliefs that are delusional or optimistically biased.

In the book, Lisa Bortolotti argues that some irrational beliefs qualify as epistemically innocent, where, in some contexts, the adoption, maintenance, or reporting of the beliefs delivers significant epistemic benefits that could not be easily attained otherwise. Epistemic innocence does not imply that the epistemic benefits of the irrational belief outweigh its epistemic costs, yet it clarifies the relationship between the epistemic and psychological effects of irrational beliefs on agency. It is misleading to assume that epistemic rationality and psychological adaptiveness always go hand-in-hand, but also that there is a straight-forward trade-off between them. Rather, epistemic irrationality can lead to psychological adaptiveness, which in turn can support the attainment of epistemic goals. Recognising the circumstances in which irrational beliefs enhance or restore epistemic performance informs our mutual interactions and enables us to take measures to reduce their irrationality without undermining the conditions for epistemic success.

The book is a main output of two externally funded projects, an AHRC Fellowship entitled "The Epistemic Innocence of Imperfect Cognitions" (2013-2014), and a project funded by an ERC Consolidator Grant entitled "The Pragmatic and Epistemic Role of Factually Erroneous Cognitions and Thoughts" (PERFECT, 2014-2019).

Here is a virtual book launch for the book, featuring comments by philosophers interested in belief and rationality.

 Lisa Bortolotti introduces the idea of epistemic innocence in less than 3 minutes!

To find out more, check also open-access papers and resources developed as part of project PERFECT and the epistemic innocence posts on the Imperfect Cognitions blog.

Also, check out the #EpistInnocence2020 hashtag on Twitter: you are welcome to post comments and ask questions.

Contributions from the international community 

Epistemic Innocence and the psychedelic drug-induced states of consciousness

Chris Letheby (University of Western Australia and University of Adelaide, Australia)

The Contexts of Epistemic Innocence

Elly Vintiadis (The American College of Greece, Greece)

Epistemic Innocence and how to weigh irrationality

Anne Meylan (University of Zürich, Switzerland)

Epistemic Benefit: Methodology and Mechanism

Kengo Miyazono (Hiroshima University, Japan)

In Praise of Epistemic Innocence

Keith Frankish (University of Crete,  Greece; Open University and University of Sheffield, UK)

Epistemic Innocence Beyond Beliefs

Anna Ichino (University of Milan, Italy)