Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 68 (2):290–315 (2004)
|Abstract||“It is irrational to believe others are irrational”. I ungratefully said that to a confidant who asserted that I was negotiating with a fool. I now wonder whether I was the real fool. If I believe my friend is irrational (in light of his attribution of irrationality to the recipient of my offers), then my epigram implies I am irrational. To avoid the implication that I am irrational, I must not believe anyone to be irrational. But then my epigram also forbids me from believing that someone else believes someone is irrational. I must instead believe that the non-existence of irrationality is common knowledge! 1. Volcanic rationality Can I simply repudiate my epigram? I hesitate because the epigram is a consequence of the principle of charity. Roughly, this interpretive principle states that all agents are rational agents. The standard reasoning behind the principle is a priori: there is a conceptual connection between regarding someone as an agent and viewing his beliefs and desires as forming a coherent system that makes his actions intelligible. Since errors about central a priori truths indict one’s rationality, failure to believe the principle of charity would be irrational. Consequently, charity implies all agents believe all agents are rational. Charity iterates. Since meta-charity would also be a central a priori truth, meta-charity implies meta-meta-charity. And meta-meta-charity implies meta-meta-meta-charity. And so on. Therefore, if the principle of charity is true, then it is common knowledge. So is meta-charity. And meta-meta-charity. And so on.|
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