Is it OK to make mistakes? : appraisal and false normative belief

  • Claire Anne Field

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


Sometimes we make mistakes, even when we try to do our best. When those
mistakes are about normative matters, such as what is required, this leads to a
puzzle. This puzzle arises from the possibility of misleading evidence about what
rationality requires. I argue that the best way to solve this puzzle is to distinguish
between two kinds of evaluation: requirement and appraisal. The strategy I
defend connects three distinct debates in epistemology, ethics, and normativity:
the debate over how our theories of epistemic rationality should accommodate
misleading evidence, the debate over the relationship between complying with
requirements and deserving particular appraisals, and the debate over whether
normative ignorance can excuse. Part 1 shows how three apparently plausible
claims about epistemic rationality generate a puzzle when agents have
misleading evidence about what rationality requires. Part 2 solves this puzzle by
distinguishing between evaluations of requirement and appraisal and rejecting
the idea that one is required to conform to the Enkratic Principle. I argue instead
that complying with the Enkratic Principle provides defeasible evidence that the
agent should be positively appraised. One of the consequences of this solution is
that false normative beliefs can sometimes excuse agents from negative appraisal
they would otherwise deserve for violating requirements. Part 3 defends the view
that false normative belief can sometimes excuse against the rival views that false
normative belief always excuses, and that false normative belief never excuses. I
argue that false normative belief can sometimes excuse violations of
requirements, when it is the case that the agent has done what it is reasonable to
expect of her.
Date of Award27 Jul 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorJessica Anne Brown (Supervisor) & Justin Snedegar (Supervisor)

Access Status

  • Full text open

Cite this