Date of Award

Fall 2012

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




David Hitchcock


Mark Vorobej



Committee Member

Brian Garrett


The instrumental conception of epistemic rationality is the view according to which beliefs, or doxastic states generally, are epistemically rational insofar as they promote the achievement of an epistemic goal, and they are epistemically irrational to the extent that they fail to promote such a goal. The thesis that I defend here is that the instrumental conception is not satisfactory as a general account of epistemic rationality.

I proceed by examining a number of reasons one might offer for accepting the instrumental account, and I find them wanting. I also consider various ways of formulating the epistemic goal, attempting to determine the best one, in order to show the instrumental conception in its best light. I consider and reject the attempt to ground the instrumental conception on the proper function of our cognitive systems. Finally, I consider three arguments against the instrumental conception of epistemic rationality, and some objections to them. I conclude that, even shown in its most favourable light, the instrumental conception cannot give us a satisfactory general account of epistemic rationality.

McMaster University Library

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