Tuesday, 30 June 2020

The Epistemic Innocence of Irrational Beliefs

Here I am briefly presenting my new book, The Epistemic Innocence of Irrational Beliefs, out today in the UK with Oxford University Press. Research culminating in this book was conducted for several projects that contributed to this blog, including project PERFECT, the Costs and Benefits of Optimism project, and the Epistemic Innocence of Imperfect Cognitions project.


Book cover

In 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 and optimistically biased.

In this book, I argue 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.

Here is a brief explanation of epistemic innocence:



Six philosophers in the Imperfect Cognitions Research Network, all researching aspects of belief and rationality, have agreed to participate in a virtual book launch for this monograph with the following video presentations:


You are warmly encouraged to watch the videos, and then leave comments and ask questions about the book to them or to me here or on Twitter using the hashtag #EpistInnocence2020.