The aim of Patrick Bondy’s Epistemic Rationality and Epistemic Normativity is to explain the nature and the normative force of epistemic reasons and rationality, from the perspective of access-internalist evidentialism about epistemic rationality. The two central questions the book addresses are: why are epistemic reasons evidential? And, what explains the normative force of epistemic reasons and rationality?
Bondy’s initial strategy for answering the two central questions of the book proceeds on the basis of an evaluation of what he calls the Guidance and Transparency principles. Guidance is the principle that normative reasons for belief or action must be able to guide subjects in their deliberations about whether to have the belief or perform the action in question; Transparency is the principle that we can only consider what we take to be evidence for p in deliberating about whether to believe p. The conjunction of these principles seems a good path to answers about why epistemic reasons are evidential. However, Bondy accepts Guidance but rejects Transparency, and so he argues that this strategy fails. So another path must be cut for the explanation.
Bondy argues in defense of a direct form of acceptance-voluntarism. This stands in contrast to belief-voluntarism. Belief involves a kind of feeling or a disposition to feel that a proposition is true, or probably true; so, since feelings are not directly subject to the will, belief is not directly subject to the will. Acceptance, however, involves taking up or being willing to take up a proposition as true in one’s deliberations, and that is subject to the will. Belief and acceptance normally go hand-in-hand, but they can come apart, and when they do, acceptance is what we should be interested in, from an epistemic point of view.
With the acceptance-voluntarism in place, Bondy considers another path to the evidential nature of epistemic reasons. He sets out the instrumental conception of the nature of epistemic rationality, according to which beliefs are epistemically rational just in case holding them is an appropriate means to take for achieving some epistemic goal, such as the goal of achieving true beliefs and avoiding false beliefs. Despite the fact that this program seems very appealing, Bondy argues against the instrumental approach to epistemic rationality. Bondy argues that the instrumental approach to the nature of epistemic rationality fails to get the extension of epistemically rational and irrational beliefs right, and that the view generates vicious regresses of instrumentally rational beliefs in every case in which a subject has a rational belief or performs a rational action. The question remains: how can evidentialism be true?
To close, Bondy proposes a deflationary explanation of why epistemic reasons are evidential. Briefly, the explanation is that to every category of reasons, there corresponds a kind of rationality; evidential reasons are one kind of reason; so there is an evidential kind of rationality, which we call “epistemic rationality.” In this regard, Bondy’s argument is a modified form of the instrumental model of the normativity of epistemic rationality. The epistemic rationality of our beliefs does not depend on the goals that anyone has or ought to have, but whether we ought to have the beliefs that our epistemic reasons support does depend on whether we have normative reason to get to the truth with respect to the propositions in question. Normally we have such a normative reason, but sometimes we don’t.