Belief and the problem of Ulysses and the sirens

Philosophical Studies 77 (1):7-37 (1995)
This is surely a bit of Socrates' famous irony. He draws the analogy to explain how his friends should regard poetry as they regretfully banish it from the ideal state. But lovers were no more sensible then than they are now. The advice to banish poetry, undermined already by Plato's own delight and skill in drama, is perhaps undermined still further by this evocation of a 'sensible' lover who counts love so well lost. Yet Socrates' image is one of avowed rationality and prudence. The sensible lover imitates the older literary example of Ulysses' tying himself to the mast. (The example belongs therefore to the class of problems treated in Elster (1979)). Both this lover and Ulysses foresee that under certain possible future conditions, their opinions, values and preferences will or would differ from what they are now, in a very definite fashion. To what extent is such foresight possible? Correspondingly (when we do not claim foreknowledge) to what extent is such opinion reasonable, rational, coherent, or consistent in some suitably broad sense? It is not easy to understand exactly what is possible or even logically permissible in this respect. In an earlier paper, "Belief and the Will", I argued for a principle ("Reflection") to govern such deliberation. Here I will both generalize the treatment of opinion in "Belief and the Will" and respond to criticism. Critical examples mainly resembled the story of Ulysses who foresaw a period of dysfunction (at the sound 2 of the sirens) in his epistemic and/or doxastic future. Other criticism focused on the model of opinion used (precise numerical subjective probability) and on the merits of Dutch Book arguments. The present argument will not rely on Dutch Book arguments and strategies, and the Reflection principle will be formulated so as to apply also to vague opinion
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DOI 10.1007/BF00996309
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Jon Elster (1986). Ulysses and the Sirens. Philosophy and Public Affairs 15 (1):82-95.

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