My disagreement mainly has to do with the 'phone book agent' not being epistemically rational. When knowledge is gained it is either intentionally searched for, or, it is accidentally stumbled across (I think that distinction is very important). When you unintentionally come across knowledge it can be done by maybe accidentally overhearing something in a conversation, or seeing something, or maybe learning something new by just hearing something on the radio which you just had in the background. However, when you actively search for a piece of information (knowledge) that you want, then you have a goal in question and employing the correct epistemic norms becomes relevant to you if you want to attain that information.The goal(s) of epistemic rationality
One problem facing the notion of epistemic rationality is that to say that this form of rationality is concerned with true belief doesn’t tell us all that much since we still need to know exactly how it is concerned with true belief. As we will see, explaining how epistemic rationality is concerned with true belief is harder to do than it might initially appear. Let’s start with perhaps the most natural way of understanding epistemic rationality. If true belief is the goal of an epistemic rationality, then the obvious way of understanding this claim is to demand that one should maximise one’s true beliefs (i.e. try to believe as many truths as possible). With this account of epistemic rationality in mind, we could explain the rationality of the non-coin-tossing judge in terms of the way in which she formed her judgement on the grounds that evaluating all the evidence in a careful and objective manner (i.e. without allowing oneself to be swayed by the emotion of the case) is a good way of getting to the truth in this regard. In contrast, while the coin-tossing judge may well end up delivering the same verdict as our rational judge, we would not count her as rational because the method she is using to form her belief is not likely to lead to the truth. There are problems with the maximising conception of epistemic rationality, however. For example, if this account of epistemic rationality just means that we should try to have as many true beliefs as possible, then it is open to some fairly straightforward counter-examples. After all, memorising names and addresses from the phone book may well lead me to have thousands of true beliefs, but the beliefs in question wouldn’t be of any consequence. Indeed, we would usually regard this sort of truth-seeking behaviour as very irrational. Even setting this problem to one side, however, there remains the fundamental difficulty that the best way to maximise the number of one’s true beliefs might well be to believe just about anything, since this would ensure that one has the most chance of believing the truth. Crucially, of course, this sort of truth-seeking strategy would lead one to form lots of false beliefs as well, and that is hardly desirable. One way of dealing with this latter problem (we will come back to the former problem in a moment) might be to modify our conception of epistemic rationality so that it demands not that one maximises truth in one’s beliefs, but rather that one minimises falsehood. That way we would be able to treat any agent who simply believes as many things as possible as irrational on the grounds that this will not be the best way of minimising falsehood. The problem with this suggestion, however, is that the best way of minimising falsehood in one’s beliefs is surely not to believe anything (or at least believe as little as possible), but this would mean that one would have very few true beliefs either, if any. What is needed then is some way of balancing the goal of maximising truth in one’s beliefs with the related goal of minimising falsehood. We want agents to take some risks regarding the falsity of their beliefs, and so we don’t want them to be overly cautious and not believe anything; but equally neither do we want agents to go ‘all out’ for the truth at the expense of widespread falsity in their beliefs. Specifying just how we should understand this ‘balanced’ conception of rationality is, however, quite hard to do.
The (un)importance of epistemic rationality
Moreover, don’t forget that we still have the outstanding problem of specifying epistemic rationality such that it doesn’t count someone who merely aims to believe lots of trivial truths (such as names in a phone book) as epistemically rational. One way of responding to this problem is to deny that there is any challenge here to respond to. In this view, such beliefs are entirely epistemically rational, and that’s the end of the matter. Proponents of this line of thought will concede, of course, that there is something irrational about this way of forming one’s beliefs, but will claim that the irrationality in question is not epistemic (recall that we noted above that there may be other types of rationality besides epistemic rationality).That is, they will argue that this person has rather trivial goals, and that this is to be deplored, but that, from a purely epistemic point of view, there is nothing wrong with forming one’s beliefs in this way. The problem with this line of thought is that it has the unfortunate consequence of trivialising the importance of epistemology, since the specifically epistemic rationality that we are interested in as epistemologists does not turn out to be all that rational, generally speaking. I’m not sure that we should be persuaded all that much by considerations such as this, however, since, after all, there is a lot more to life than gaining true beliefs, and one could well argue that this way of dealing with the problem in hand simply recognises this fact. Put another way, we are interested in gaining knowledge, and thus true beliefs, because we have all sorts of other goals that this knowledge can be utilised in the service of, such as furthering our relationships, our career, and our interests.A life purely devoted to gaining true beliefs might not be a life that we are interested in leading. Others are not so sanguine in the face of this objection, however, and I’m inclined, on balance, to agree with them. One way of resisting the pessimistic line of argument just sketched is to claim that, contrary to first appearances, the agent in the ‘phone book’ case, and others like her, are not epistemically rational after all.This way of responding to the problem is not nearly as hopeless as it might at first sound. After all, the thing about important truths is that they beget lots of other truths. If I come to have true beliefs about the ultimate physics of the universe, for example, then I will thereby acquire many other true beliefs about related matters. Learning names from the phone book is not like that, since these truths are pretty much self-standing – in acquiring these true beliefs you are unlikely to acquire many others. Thus, if your goal is to maximise true belief, while minimising false beliefs, then you would be wise to aim at those true beliefs of substance and set such trivial goals as memorising names in a phone book to one side. If this is right, then epistemic rationality is rescued from the grip of this objection. There is thus some room for manoeuvre when it comes to this objection to epistemic rationality: one can either accept it while maintaining that its importance can be easily overestimated, or else one can resist it and claim that the cases offered for thinking that being epistemically rational can result in trivial true beliefs are based on a mistake.
Suppose that you want to solve a math-problem, then focusing on how to mathematically work it out -(using the correct mathematical rules) - to conclude what the answer is would be the best way form a true belief about what the answer is. However, if your goal still was to solve the mathematical equation and you started reading a book about botany then you would probably gain many true beliefs (about plants) and minimize false beliefs (about plants), as this book informs you about common myths surrounding botany, but I still wouldn't call this behavior epistemically rational since it is irrelevant to your goal of solving the mathematical equation (or gaining a true belief about its answer).
Therefore I think that an adjustment needs to be made, because epistemic rationality should be more than minimizing false beliefs and maximizing true ones, it should be about: maximizing true beliefs regarding the specific information which you seek to attain, while also minimizing false beliefs about it . I think this definition fits better to the examples of epistemic rationality previously given in the text-book.
I think the phone-book agent is epistemically rational, she just has a very trivial goal and is searching for trivial knowledge, I don't see how that invalidates it from being epistemically rational, it is still knowledge that she is gaining and she's using a correct method for gaining true beliefs about it. Why is it relevant if she "begets lots of other truths" if those aren't truths she is interested in seeking or keeping. I don't see how this trivializes epistemology either, just because you can be epistmically rational about something trivial doesn't you can't be epistemically rational about something that's actually more important. It does in no way negate the fact that employing the correct epistemic norms is still relevant for more important issues.