Epistemically useful false beliefs

Duncan Pritchard*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
22 Downloads (Pure)


Our interest is in the possibility of there being a philosophically interesting set of useful false beliefs where the utility in question is specifically epistemic. As we will see, it is hard to delineate plausible candidates in this regard, though several are promising at first blush. We begin with the kind of strictly false claims that are said to be often involved in good scientific practice, such as through the use of idealisations and fictions. The problem is that it is difficult to see that there would be any epistemic utility in believing such claims, as opposed, say, to merely accepting them. Next we turn to the challenge posed by epistemic situationism, which when embedded within a plausible form of virtue epistemology appears to show that sometimes purely situational factors can play a significant explanatory role in one’s cognitive success. But again it is hard to see how the role that these epistemically beneficial situational factors contribute can be cashed out in terms of epistemically useful false beliefs on the part of the subject. Finally, we turn to the Wittgensteinian conception of hinge commitments, commitments that are held to be epistemically useful even if false. While the epistemic utility of these commitments is defended, it is argued that one cannot make sense of these commitments in terms of belief. Support is thus canvassed, albeit in a piecemeal fashion, for the thesis that the prospects for there being philosophically interesting cases of epistemically useful false belief are poor.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4-20
Number of pages17
JournalPhilosophical Explorations
Publication statusPublished - 24 Mar 2017
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2017. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • belief
  • epistemic situationism
  • epistemic utility
  • hinge commitments
  • scientific idealisations


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