If You Can't Change What You Believe, You Don't Believe It

Noûs 54 (3):501-526 (2018)
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I develop and defend the view that subjects are necessarily psychologically able to revise their beliefs in response to relevant counter-evidence. Specifically, subjects can revise their beliefs in response to relevant counter-evidence, given their current psychological mechanisms and skills. If a subject lacks this ability, then the mental state in question is not a belief, though it may be some other kind of cognitive attitude, such as a supposition, an entertained thought, or a pretense. The result is a moderately revisionary view of belief: while most mental states we thought were beliefs are beliefs, some mental states which we thought were beliefs are not beliefs. The argument for this view draws on two key claims: First, subjects are rationally obligated to revise their beliefs in response to relevant counter-evidence. Second, if some subject is rationally obligated to revise one of her mental states, then that subject can revise that mental state, given her current psychological mechanisms and skills. Along the way to defending these claims, I argue that rational obligations can govern activities which reflect on one’s rational character, whether or not those activities are under one’s voluntary control. I also show how the relevant version of epistemic ‘ought’ implies ‘can’ survives an objection which plagues other variants of the principle.

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Grace Helton
Princeton University

Citations of this work

The Trinity and the Light Switch: Two Faces of Belief.Neil Van Leeuwen - forthcoming - In Eric Schwitzgebel & Jonathan Jong (eds.), The Nature of Belief. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Imaginative Beliefs.Joshua Myers - forthcoming - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy.
Implicit bias.Michael Brownstein - 2017 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Symbolic belief in social cognition.Evan Westra - 2023 - Philosophical Perspectives 37 (1):388-408.

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