One challenge for philosophers who want to maintain an equivalency thesis (e.g., Kearns and Star 2008, 2009) between normative reasons and evidence is that evidence is non-controversially regarded as always-factive whereas reasons are controversially regarded as always-factive. For Michael Smith and Jonathan Dancy a normative (justifying) reason for p does not require p to be true (Hornsby 2007: 294 n. 8). Jennifer Hornsby argues, along with Clayton Littlejohn (2010) in his Notre Dame book review of Fantl and McGrath (2009), that normative reasons are factive. By contrast, I’m not aware of anyone who argues that evidence is non-factive. Beliefs about evidence might be fallible, but evidence is almost always regarded as facts that are true.
A move an equivalency theorist might make is to claim evidence justifies belief with regard to truth-directedness. A belief p is justified in relation to normative reasons for holding p. From a third-person perspective only reasons that are true will justify belief. Such reasons align with evidence because their justificatory power derives, in part, from their factivity. This, however, is not a move an equivalency theorist will be comfortable with. There are also subjective reasons, and these reasons are not always factive. Such a theorist posits a symmetry thesis:
- Symmetry: Normative reasons and evidence are symmetrical with regard to subjectivity and objectivity.
According to Symmetry one can speak of subjective reasons and subjective evidence along with objective reasons and objective evidence. What is objective is always factive and what is subjective is not always factive (or, is non-factive). One problem with this neat division is that cases (like the Coop-Petrol case) apply pressure to this divide. It seems that normative reasons must always be factive. Littlejohn (2010) mentions that Fantl and McGrath (2009) are committed to saying:
(1) What justified Coop in giving Audrey the toxic stuff was that there was gin and tonic in that glass.
And, (1) entails (3):
(3) Coop was justified in giving Audrey the toxic stuff (in part) because there was gin in the glass.
A factive theorist can point out that (1) entailing (3) is only a problem if p is true and q is true. That is, Coop was only justified in his reason for acting as he did if there was gin, and not petrol, in the drink he gave Audrey. However, there was not gin in the drink, so it’s not true that ‘p because q’ is true. Thus, Coop was not justified in his action. Fantl and McGrath try to block (1) entailing (3) by resorting to subjectively-based (2):
(2) What justified Coop in giving Audrey the toxic stuff was that there was gin and tonic in that glass, as he thought at the time.
I agree with Littlejohn that (2) doesn’t block the entailment. That Coop thought that the clear stuff was gin and tonic doesn’t prevent the implication in (1) that there was gin and tonic in the glass and this reason justified Coop in acting as he did. So, it does not block (1) from entailing (3). If one takes Littlejohn’s suggestion that normative reasons are factive, the next question becomes whether evidential beliefs must be true. Timothy Williamson thinks evidential beliefs must be true, whereas Jim Joyce (2004) argues against this idea.
For Williamson, “If e is evidence for h, then e is true” (2000: 201). If something is inconsistent with the facts, then it’s not evidence because, “No true proposition is inconsistent with my evidence, although I may think that it is” (2000: 201). According to Joyce, Williamson holds his factivity view because he conflates subjective and objective senses of justification. Williamson is only focusing on the objective (third-person) form of justification, so it’s no wonder that beliefs justified by evidence must always be true. Evidence is always factive for Williamson, so that which it justifies must also be factive.
Joyce, like Fantl and McGrath, ask us to consider the subjective sense of ‘justifies’ in terms of a subject’s reasons that she possesses for a belief. These justifying reasons need not always be factive, and, as Joyce points out, an agent will only mistakenly consider evidence justifying a belief if there’s a false belief present. For instance, this occurs when a juror holds the false belief that a witness is reliable and believes based on that false belief that the witness’ testimony is evidence for the innocence of the defendant even though the witness is lying.
I’ll close by pointing out a couple of assumptions underlying the Joyce and Fantl-McGrath response. These assumptions might be undermined as a way of arguing for the factivity of normative reasons and evidence.
- Assumption 1 (AS1): ‘Objective’ goes with ‘factive’, whereas ‘subjective’ goes with ‘non-factive’.
(AS1) implies that ‘objective’ is agent-neutral (applying to external facts), whereas ‘subjective’ is agent-relative. Another way of understanding ‘objective’ is in terms of ‘abstraction’. Even if something is abstracted away from an agent it may none-the-less be relative to an epistemic situation and by implication be relative to the mental state of a (hypothetical) agent. So, ‘objective’ can still be agent-relative in that sense. It might be that an actual agent can inhabit such an epistemic state. What matters is that an actual agent is not required to inhabit such a state for there to be evidence or reasons.
- Assumption 2 (AS2): An agent only has (possesses) evidence or reasons subjectively. Objective evidence (or reasons) is evidence there is, where subjective evidence is evidence an agent has.
Contrary to (AS2) it’s possible to argue that subjective access to evidence, through armchair reflection, is not required for evidence possession. If evidence is factive, then an agent may possess such evidence even though an agent is not subjectively able to recall or grasp that evidence.