Why, when asking oneself whether to believe that p, must one immediately recognize that this question is settled by, and only by, answering the question whether p is true? Truth is not an optional end for first-personal doxastic deliberation, providing an instrumental or extrinsic reason that an agent may take or leave at will. Otherwise there would be an inferential step between discovering the truth with respect to p and determining whether to believe that p, involving a bridge premise that (...) it is good (in whichever sense of good one likes, moral, prudential, aesthetic, allthings-considered, etc.) to believe the truth with respect to p. But there is no such gap between the two questions within the first-personal deliberative perspective; the question whether to believe that p seems to collapse into the question whether p is true. (shrink)
Believing that p, assuming that p, and imagining that p involve regarding p as true—or, as we shall call it, accepting p. What distinguishes belief from the other modes of acceptance? We claim that conceiving of an attitude as a belief, rather than an assumption or an instance of imagining, entails conceiving of it as an acceptance that is regulated for truth, while also applying to it the standard of being correct if and only if it is true. We argue (...) that the second half of this claim, according to which the concept of belief includes a standard of correctness, is required to explain the fact that the deliberative question whether to believe that p is transparent to the question whether p. This argument raises various questions. Is there such a thing as deliberating whether to believe? Is the transparency of the deliberative question whether to believe that p the same as the transparency of the factual question whether I do believe that p? We will begin by answering these questions and then turn to a series of possible objections to our argument. (shrink)
Belief is generally thought to be the primary cognitive state representing the world as being a certain way, regulating our behavior and guiding us around the world. It is thus regarded as being constitutively linked with the truth of its content. This feature of belief has been famously captured in the thesis that believing is a purposive state aiming at truth. It has however proved to be notoriously difficult to explain what the thesis really involves. In this paper, I begin (...) by critically examining a number of recent attempts to unpack the metaphor. I shall then proceed to highlight an error that seems to cripple most of these attempts. This involves the confusion between, what I call, doxastic and epistemic goals. Finally, having offered my own positive account of the aim-of-belief thesis, I shall underline its deflationary nature by distinguishing between aiming at truth and hitting that target (truth). I end by comparing the account with certain prominent inflationary theories of the nature of belief. (shrink)
We explore the possibility of characterizing belief wholly in terms of its first-order functional role, its input (evidence) and output (further beliefs and actions), by addressing some common challenges to the view. One challenge concerns the fact that not all belief is evidence-sensitive. In response to this, normativists and teleo-functionalists have concluded that something over and above functional role is needed, a norm or a telos. We argue that both allow for implausibly much divergence between belief and evidence. Others have (...) suggested that belief should be saved as the evidence-sensitive attitude, by making it share its motivational role with an unrecognized state: alief. We argue that the appeal to alief faces a dilemma: Either explanation of intentional action by means of alief is a species of intentional explanation, in which case it becomes hard to distinguish alief from (irrational) belief, or alief is sufficiently different from belief, but then neither the explanation nor the explanandum (action) are recognizably intentional any longer. We conclude that the most promising way forward is an account of belief that makes use of the full functional role of belief, including its role in theoretical reasoning. (shrink)
We argue that an expressivist interpretation of "The Will to Believe" provides a fruitful way of understanding this widely-read but perplexing document. James approaches questions about our intellectual obligations from two quite different standpoints. He first defends an expressivist interpretation of judgments of intellectual obligation; they are "only expressions of our passional life". Only then does James argue against evidentialism, and both his criticisms of Clifford and his defense of a more flexible ethics of belief presuppose this independently-defended expressivism. James (...) puts forward his ethics of belief as healthy or appropriate, rather than as correct. (shrink)
This dissertation investigates the plausibility of metaethical relativism, or more specifically, what I call “moral truth-value relativism”: the idea that the truth of a moral statement or belief depends on who utters or has it, or who assesses it. According to the most prevalent variants of this view in philosophical literature – “standard relativism” – the truth-values are relative to people’s moralities, often understood as some subset of their affective or desirelike attitudes. Standard relativism has two main contenders: absolutism (...) – the view that the truth-values of moral statements and beliefs do not vary in that way – and non-cognitivism – the view that moral judgements do not have truth-values, since they express affective or desire-like attitudes rather than beliefs. Almost the entire dissertation concerns the plausibility of standard relativism in contrast to absolutism. Part 1 examines first the two main arguments for standard relativism: that it accounts for the connection between moral judgements and motivation (chapter 2), and for the prevalence of diversity of moral opinion (chapter 3). Then the most common objection is considered: that it is inconsistent with the existence of genuine moral disagreements (chapter 4). I argue that these arguments are inconclusive. Both relativism and absolutism can account for the features discussed. Part 2 focuses on the fact that different people have different strongly held intuitions about the relative or absolute nature of morality. I argue that given a common methodological approach in philosophy and metaethics, which takes such intuitions as evidence of correct analyses, this difference in intuitions suggests that neither a relativist nor absolutist analysis can be correct for everyone’s moral judgements. I argue that this result holds both given semantic internalism (chapter 6) and given semantic externalism (chapter 7). To get one single analysis of everyone’s moral judgements we would have to abandon the intuitionbased methodology. In chapter 8, however, I argue that we can maintain this methodology if we accept analysis pluralism, the view that different analyses hold for different people’s moral judgements. (shrink)
continent. 1.2 (2011): 78-91. This article consists of three parts. First, I will review the major themes of Quentin Meillassoux’s After Finitude . Since some of my readers will have read this book and others not, I will try to strike a balance between clear summary and fresh critique. Second, I discuss an unpublished book by Meillassoux unfamiliar to all readers of this article, except those scant few that may have gone digging in the microfilm archives of the École normale (...) supérieure. The book in question is Meillassoux’s revised doctoral dissertation L’Inexistence divine (or The Divine Inexistence ), with its seemingly bizarre vision of a God who does not yet exist but might exist in the future. Without literally accepting this view, I will claim that it is philosophically interesting in ways that even a hardened sceptic might be able to appreciate. Third and finally, I will speculate on the possible future of Meillassoux’s speculative materialism itself. And here I mean its future development not by Meillassoux, but by those readers who might be inspired by his book. Plato could never have predicted the emergence of Aristotle’s philosophy, despite the obvious debt of the latter to the former. Nor could Descartes have predicted Spinoza and Leibniz, nor Kant the German Idealists, and neither could Husserl in 1901 have foreseen the later emergence of Heidegger. How are the works of interesting philosophers transformed by later thinkers of comparable importance? While it may seem that there are countless ways to do this, I think there are only two basic ways in which this happens: you can radicalize your predecessors, or you can reverse them. I will close this article with a few words about these two methods, and try to imagine how Meillassoux might be radicalized or reversed by some future admirer. My view is that the more important thinkers are, the easier they are to radicalize or reverse. This helps explain why the great philosophers of the West have so often appeared in clusters, succeeding one another at relatively brief intervals during periods of especial ferment. 1. After Finitude After Finitude is unusually short for such an influential book of philosophy: running to just 178 pages in the original French, and an even more compact 128 pages in the English version, despite the introduction of roughly eight pages of new material for the English edition. Rather than summarizing Meillassoux’s book in the order he intended, I will focus on six points that strike me as the pillars of his debut book. Along the way, I will offer a few criticisms as well. The first pillar of the book is Meillassoux’s own term “correlationism.”1 Although he introduces this term as the name for an enemy, it is striking that Meillassoux remains impressed by correlationism much more than his fellow speculative realists are. This continued appreciation for his great enemy influences the shape of his own ontology. Is there a world outside our thinking of it, or does the world consist entirely in being thought? Traditionally, this dispute between realism and idealism has been dismissed in continental philosophy as a “pseudo-problem,” in a strategy pioneered by Husserl and extended by Heidegger. We cannot be realists, since following Kant we have no direct access to things-in-themselves. But neither are we idealists, since the human being is always already outside itself, aiming at objects in intentional experience, deeply engaged with practical implements, or stationed in some particular world-disclosing mood. The centuries-old dispute between realism and idealism is dissolved by saying that we cannot think either real or ideal in isolation from the other. There is neither human without world nor world without human, but only a primordial correlation or rapport between the two. This is what “correlationism” means: philosophy trapped in a permanent meditation on the human-world correlate, trying to find the best model of the correlate: is it language, intentionality, embodiment, or some other form of correlation between human and world? Among other problems, this generates some friction between philosophy and the literal meaning of science. When cosmologists say that the universe originated 13.5 billion years ago, they do not mean “13.5 billion years ago for us ,” but literally 13.5 billion years ago, well before conscious life existed, and thus at a time when there was no such thing as a correlate. Meillassoux also coins the term “ancestrality” (10) for the reality that predated the correlate, and later expands this term to “dia-chronicity,” (112) to refer to events occurring after the extinction of human beings no less than to those occurring before we existed. Up to this point, Meillassoux’s focus on ancestral entities existing prior to consciousness might seem like a straightforward realist who wants to unmask correlationism as just another form of idealism. Yet Meillassoux also admires the correlationist maneuver, which can obviously be traced back to Kant. Unlike a thinker such as Whitehead, Meillassoux feels no nostalgia for the pre-critical realism that came before Kant: “we cannot but be heirs of Kantianism,” he says (29). What impresses Meillassoux about correlationism is something both simple and familiar. If we attempt to think a tree outside thought, this is itself a thought . Any form of realism which thinks it can simply and directly address the world the way it is fails to escape the correlational circle, since the attempt to think something outside of thought is itself nothing other than a thought, and thereby collapses back into the very human-world correlate that it pretends to escape. For Meillassoux this step, suggested by Kant but first refined by the ensuing figures of German Idealism, marks decisive forward progress in the history of philosophy that must not be abolished. Any attempt to break free from the correlate must first acknowledge its mighty intellectual power. Realist though he may seem, Meillassoux’s works are filled with praise of such figures as Fichte and Hegel, not of so-called “naïve realists.” It is also the case that for Meillassoux, not all correlationisms are the same. The second pillar of his book is a distinction between various positions that I have termed “Meillassoux’s Spectrum,” though of course he is never so immodest as to name it after himself. He distinguishes between at least six different possible positions, and perhaps we could add even subtler variations if we wished. But in its simplest form, Meillassoux’s Spectrum allows for just four basic outlooks on the question of realism vs. anti-realism. Three of these are easy to understand, since we have already been discussing them. At one extreme is so-called “naïve realism,” which holds that a world exists outside the mind, and that we can know this world. Meillassoux rejects this naïve realism as having been overthrown by Kant’s critical philosophy. At the other extreme is subjective idealism, in which nothing exists outside the mind. For to think a dog outside thought immediately turns it into a thought, and therefore there cannot be anything outside; the very notion is meaningless. In between these two is what we have called correlationism. And here comes a crucial moment for Meillassoux, since he distinguishes between the two forms of “weak” and “strong” correlationism, and chooses the strong form as the launching pad for his own philosophy. Weak correlationism is easy to explain, since we all know it from the philosophy of Kant. The things-in-themselves can be thought but not known. They certainly must exist, since there cannot be appearances without something that appears. And we can think about them, which idealism holds to be impossible. They are simply unknowable due to the finitude of human thought. Strong correlationism is the new position introduced by Meillassoux (though he sees it at work in numerous twentieth century thinkers), midway between weak correlationism and subjective idealism. The major difference between the three positions is as follows. Weak correlationism says: “The things-in-themselves exist, but we cannot know them.” The subjective idealist says: “This is a contradiction in terms, since when we think the things-in-themselves, we already turn them into thoughts.” But the strong correlationist says: “Just because ‘things-in-themselves’ is a meaningless notion does not mean that they cannot exist. No one has ever traveled to the world-in-itself and come back to make a report on it. Thus, the fact that we cannot think things-in-themselves without contradiction does not prove that they do not exist anyway. There may be things-in-themselves, we simply are not capable of thinking them without contradiction form within the correlational circle.” This step is crucial for Meillassoux, since strong correlationism is the position he attempts to radicalize into his own new standpoint: speculative materialism. As I see it, this step of the argument fails. Strong correlationism cannot avoid collapsing into subjective idealism, since the statements of the strong correlationist are rendered meaningless from within. All three of the other positions in the Spectrum make perfectly good sense even for those who disagree with them. The naïve realist says that things-in-themselves exist and we can know them; the meaning of this statement is clear. The weak correlationist can say that things-in-themselves exist but lie forever beyond our grasp; this too makes perfect sense, even though the German Idealists try to show a contradiction at work here. We can also understand the claim of the subjective idealist that to think anything outside thought turns it into a thought, and that for this reason we cannot think the unthought. The strong correlationist, alone among the four, speaks nonsense . This person says “I cannot think the unthought without turning it into a thought, and yet the unthought might exist anyway.” But notice that the final phrase “the unthought might exist anyway” is fruitless for this purpose. For we have already heard that to think any unthought turns it into a thought. But now the strong correlationist wants to do two incompatible things simultaneously with this unthought. On the one hand, he neutralizes the unthought by showing that it instantly changes into just another thought. But on the other hand, he wants to appeal to the unthought as a haunting residue that might exist outside thought, thereby undercutting the absolute status of the human-world correlate found in idealism. But this is impossible. If you accept the argument that thinking the unthought turns it into a thought, you cannot also add “but maybe there is something outside that prevents this conversion from being absolutely true,” because this “something outside” is immediately converted into nothing but a thought for us. In short, Meillassoux here seems to be offering a kind of Zen koan: his “strong correlationism” is reminiscent of the gateless gate, or the sound of one hand clapping, or the command to punch Hegel in the jaw when meeting him on the road. We cannot at the same time both destroy the realist challenge of the things-in-themselves in order to undercut realism and reintroduce that very realist sense in order to undercut idealism. In a world where everything is instantly converted into thought, we cannot claim that there might be something extra-mental anyway, because this “might be something” is itself converted into a thought by the same rules that condemned dogs, trees, and houses to the idealist prison. This brings us to the third pillar of Meillassoux’s argument, which is the key to all the rest: the necessity of contingency. His strategy is to transform our supposed ignorance of things-in-themselves into an absolute knowledge that they exist without reason, and that the laws of nature can change at any time for no reason at all. In this way the cautious agnosticism of Kantian philosophies is avoided, but so is the collapse of reality into thought as found in German Idealism. Meillassoux does try to prove the existence of things-in-themselves existing outside thought; he simply holds that they must be proven after passing through the rigors of the correlationist challenge, not just arbitrarily decreed to exist in the manner of naïve realism. As he puts it, “Everything could actually collapse: from trees to stars, from stars to laws, from physical laws to logical laws; and this not by virtue of some superior law whereby everything is destined to perish, but by virtue of the absence of any superior law capable of preserving anything, no matter what, from perishing” (53). If idealism thinks that the human-world correlate is absolute, for Meillassoux it is the facticity of the correlate that is absolute. He tries to show this with a nice brief dialogue between five separate characters (55-59) which is covered in detail in my forthcoming book,2 but which I will simplify here for reasons of time. In this simplified version, we first imagine a dogmatic realist arguing with a dogmatic idealist. The realist says that we can know the truth about the things-in-themselves; the idealist counters that we can only the truth about thought, since all statements about reality must be turned into statements concerning our thoughts about reality. Here the correlationist enters and proclaims that both of these positions are equally dogmatic. For although we have access to nothing but thoughts, we cannot be sure that these thoughts are all that exist; there could be a reality outside thought, there is simply no way to know for sure. And this latter position is the one that Meillassoux attempts to transform from an agnostic, skeptical point into an ontological claim about the contingency of everything. Consider it this way. How does the correlationist defeat the idealist? The idealist holds that the existence of anything outside thought is impossible. The correlationist, by contrast, holds that something might exist outside the human-world correlate. But this “something might” has to be an absolute possibility. It cannot mean that “something outside thought might exist for thought ,” because that is what the idealist already says. No, the correlationist must mean that something might exist outside thought quite independently of thought. In other words, the correlationist says that idealism might be wrong, and this means it is absolutely true that idealism might be wrong. Thus, correlationism is no longer just a skeptical position. It holds that all the possibilities of the world are absolute possibilities. We have absolute knowledge that any of the possibilities about the existence or non-existence of things-in-themselves might be true, and this means that correlationism flips into Meillassoux’s own position: speculative materialism. As Meillassoux sees it, there are only two options here. Option A is to absolutize the human-world correlate, which is what the idealist does: there absolutely cannot be anything outside thought. Option B, by contrast, is to absolutize the facticity of the correlate: its character of simply being given to us, without any inherent necessity. The correlationist cannot have it both ways by saying: “there absolutely might be something outside thought, yet maybe this is absolutely impossible.” In other words, once we escape dogmatism we can only be idealists or speculative materialists, not correlationists. The human-world correlate is merely a fact, not an absolute necessity. But this facticity itself cannot be merely factical: it must be absolute. Here Meillassoux coins the French neologism factualité , which has been suitably translated into the English neologism “factiality.” (7, 122-3) Factialty means that for everything that exists, it is absolutely possible that it might be otherwise, not just that we cannot know whether or not it might be otherwise. Just as Kant transformed philosophy into a meditation on the categories governing human finitude, Meillassoux wishes to turn philosophy into a meditation on the necessary conditions of factiality, which he calls “figures”—a new technical term for him. (80) One such figure is that the law of non-contradiction must be true, and for an unusual reason. Since everything is proven to be contingent, nothing that exists can be contradictory, for whatever is contradictory has no opposite into which it might be transformed, and thus contingency would be impossible.3 Another such figure is that there must be something rather than nothing: for since contingency exists, something must exist in order to be contingent. It is a daring high-wire act, one that sacrifices realism to the correlational circle in order to rebuild it from out of its own ashes. Some might conclude that the lack of reason in things is a byproduct of the ignorance of finite humans, Meillassoux is making precisely the opposite point. For in fact, the doctrine of finitude usually leads directly to belief in a hidden reason. The fact that it lies beyond human comprehension merely increases our belief in this arbitrarily chosen concealed ground. By defending anew the concept of absolute knowledge Meillassoux evacuates the world of everything hidden. The reason for things having no reason is not that the reason is hidden, but that no reason exists. Thus, even while insisting on the necessity of non-contradiction, he rejects the other Leibnizian principle: sufficient reason. Everything simply is what it is, in purely immanent form, without deeply hidden causes. Or as Meillassoux puts it: “There is nothing beneath or beyond the manifest gratuitousness of the given—nothing but the limitless and lawless power of its destruction, emergence, or persistence” (63).The world is a “hyper-chaos”(64). But this is not the same thing as flux. For the chaos of the world is such that stability might occur just as easily as constant, turbulent change. Let’s now digress a bit, and return to the question of ancestrality, which Meillassoux transforms later in the book into “dia-chronicity.” Correlationism holds that all talk of a world outside the correlate is immediately recuperated by the correlate. The phrase “13.5 billion years ago” becomes “13.5 billion years ago for us ,” and the phrase “the universe following the extinction of humans” becomes “the universe following the extinction of humans for humans .” But notice that whether we talk about the world before or after humans, in both cases it is time that is used to challenge the correlate. Meillassoux has no interest in challenges that might be posed by space. For example, what about a vase in a lonely country house that topples to the floor and smashes when no one is there to watch it? Isn’t this also a challenge to correlationism, no less than the Big Bang or the heat death of the universe long after humans have vanished? In an eight-page supplement to the English translation of After Finitude ,4 possibly in response to my own 2007 review of the French original,5 Meillassoux bluntly denies that space is of any relevance to the question. Spatial distance is a merely harmless challenge to the human-world correlate. After all, even though no one is there in the lonely country house to witness the shattering of the vase, we can say that had there been an observer , that observer would have witnessed the toppling and destruction of the vase. For this event still occurs in a world in which the human-world correlate already exists, whereas the diachronicity of events both before and after the existence of humans makes it impossible to say that had there been an observer they would have witnessed the Big Bang occurring in such and such a fashion. However, it seems to me that Meillassoux merely asserts that the temporal simultaneity of our existence with that of the vase in the lonely country house is enough to render it harmless. It is true that the house does not exist prior to the correlate, but nonetheless it exists outside the correlate, and that is enough to make the same challenge. It is difficult to see why the “had there been an observer” maneuver succeeds in the case of a vase in the countryside in April 2011 but fails in the case of the Big Bang. This is not just a matter of nitpicking Meillassoux’s argumentative style: the fact that he bases his argument on time has at least two important consequences for his position. For in the first place, even though Meillassoux insists that the laws of nature are absolutely contingent, this turns out to be true only in a temporal sense. That is to say, it is a paradoxical feature of Meillassoux’s philosophy that he does allow for the existence of laws of nature, and simply believes that they can change at any moment without reason. Within any given moment, laws of nature do exist. He never suggests that different parts of the universe can have different laws at the same time, nor does he have any interest in the laws of part/whole composition that take place within any given instant. Could it be the case that rather than being made of gold atoms, a small chunk of gold could be made of silver atoms, cotton, horses, or that this same small piece of gold could be made of gigantic vaults filled with even more gold? These are not topics that draw Meillassoux’s attention, since he is focused solely on how the laws of nature might change or endure from one moment to the next . Another implication for Meillassoux’s system is that his concept of things-in-themselves turns out to be to be inadequate. For when he proves that things-in-themselves can exist without humans, this turns out to be true only in a temporal sense as well. Namely, things-in-themselves existed ten billion years ago, and they will continue to exist after all humans have succeeded in exterminating themselves. However, being able to exist before our births and after our deaths is just one small part of what it means to be a thing-in-itself. The more important part is that even if a thing is sitting on a table right now, in front of me, even if I stroke it lovingly or press my face up against it directly, I am still dealing only with a phenomenal version of the thing; the thing-in-itself continues to withdraw from all access. Yet no such thing is acknowledged by Meillassoux. For him finitude is a disaster, and absolute knowledge is in fact possible. Meillassoux’s thing-in-itself exists in independence only of the human lifespan , not of human knowledge. The fifth pillar of Meillassoux’s argument is his use of Cantor’s transfinite mathematics to show that even if the laws of nature are contingent, they need not be unstable, and thus we cannot use the apparent stability of nature to disprove his metaphysics of absolute contingency. What Cantor showed is that there are different sizes of infinity, and that all these infinities cannot be totalized in a single infinite number of infinities. Meillassoux sees this as crucial, since it allows him to discredit any “probabilistic” argument against his theory. The probabilistic argument (as defended quite clearly by Jean-René Vernes)6 would say this: given that the laws of nature seem so stable, it it is extremely improbable that there is no hidden reason for their remaining so stable. As Meillassoux sees it, probability is of value only when we can index an accessible total of cases. These can even be infinite: for example, there are an infinite number of points where a rope can break when stretched tight, but this does not stop us from calculating probabilities for various sections of the rope to break. By contrast, there is no way to sum up the number of possible laws of nature. For here there is no way to totalize; we cannot stand outside of nature and calculate the possible number of laws so as to determine the probabilities that any one of them might change. Therefore, although we can speak of probability when dealing with intraworldly events such as elections, horse races, and coin-flips, we cannot use the words “probable” or “improbable” when describing alterations at the level of nature as a whole. Rather than commenting on the validity of this argument and its use of Cantor, let me simply note that it once again creates a dualistic ontology. We already saw that Meillassoux treats time differently from space. In analogous fashion, he now treats the level of world differently from that of intraworldly events. The emergence of worlds is purely contingent and virtual and governed by no probability at all, while events within the world necessarily follow laws (even if these laws can change at any moment without reason), and thus their probabilities can be calculated. It is a strategy deeply reminiscent of Badiou’s (2005) own dualism between the normal “state of the situation” and the rare and intermittent “event.” The sixth and final pillar of Meillassoux’s book can be dealt with briefly, since we have already touched on it elsewhere. It comes at the very beginning of the book, when Meillassoux says that we must revive the distinction between primary and secondary qualities, and that the primary qualities are the ones that can be mathematized. He admits that he has not yet published a proof of this idea, though in fact it is already known as one of his primary doctrines. And here we encounter the familiar problem with Meillassoux’s inadequate conception of things-in-themselves. “Primary qualities” refers to those qualities that a thing has independently of its relations with us or anything else. But if the primary qualities can be mathematized, this means that they are not entirely independent of us, since our knowledge can get right to the bottom of them. The mathematized qualities of things are independent of us only in Meillassoux’s sense that they will still have those qualities even when all humans are dead. But to repeat, autonomy from the human lifespan is not the same as autonomy from human access. Here once more Meillassoux is concerned only with independence from the human-world correlate across time, not in any given instant. 2. L’Inexistence divine In 1997, the same year in which he turned thirty years old, Meillassoux earned his doctorate at the École normale supériuere with a brazen dissertation entitled L’Inexistence divine ( The Divine Inexistence ). The work was substantially revised in 2003. But even then, with typical fastidiousness, Meillassoux decided that the work was not yet ready for press. It has now been scrapped in favor of some future, multi-volume work bearing the same title. While writing my book on Meillassoux for Edinburgh University Press, I was permitted to translate excerpts from this unpublished work for use as an appendix in my own book; in total, the appendix contains approximately twenty percent of Meillassoux’s 2003 manuscript, the first time any of it will be published in any language. Nonetheless, a portion of the argument was already tested in the article “Spectral Dilemma,” published in English in the journal Collapse (2008: 261-75). There the philosophical motives for the virtual God are already made clear. What troubles us most are early deaths, brutal deaths, deaths of especial injustice– the sorts of deaths in which the brutal twentieth century was so abundant. And here, neither the atheist nor the believer can help us. The atheist can offer nothing but a sad and cynical resignation when reflecting on the victims of these terrible crimes. The believer does little better, being unable to explain how God could have allowed such things to happen, due to the famous intractability of the problem of evil. The solution offered to this dilemma by Meillassoux is bold, and all the more so given that he emerges from such a deeply Leftist, materialist, and unreligious background. His solution is that God does not yet exist, and therefore is not blameworthy for these catastrophes. Given that everything is contingent in Meillassoux’s philosophy, this God and divine justice might never exist, but they can at least exist as an object of hope. Let’s begin by jumping to the end of L’Inexistence divine , where the alternatives are laid out so nicely. There are four basic attitudes that humans can have towards God, Meillassoux says. First, we can believe in God because he exists. This is the classical theist attitude, rejected for the simple reason that it would be amoral and blasphemous to believe in a God who allows children to be eaten by dogs, to use Dostoevsky’s example. Second, we can disbelieve in God because he does not exist: the classical atheist attitude. But this leads to sadness, cynicism, and a sneering contempt for the greatness of human capacity. The third option, rather more complex, is to disbelieve in God because he does exist: in other words, to exist in rebellion against God as the one who must be blamed for the evils of the earth. The examples here might range from Lucifer himself, to the more human figure of Captain Ahab in Melville’s Moby-Dick , to Werner Herzog’s even more recent catchphrase, “Every man for himself, and God against all.” That leaves only the fourth option: believing in God because he does not exist. Meillassoux closes his book by saying that the fourth option has now been tried (namely, in the course of his own book), and that now that all four have been specified, we must choose. The first reaction to this theory of the inexistent God will be laughter. Few readers will ever be literally convinced by it, and probably none will immediately be convinced by it. But if we ask ourselves why we laugh, the answer is because it sounds so improbable that an inexistent God might suddenly emerge and resurrect the dead. It obviously sounds more like a gullible theology than a rigorous piece of philosophical work. Yet two things need to be kept in mind. First, Meillassoux’s theories are hardly more unlikely than those of great philosophers of the past such as Plato, Plotinus, Avicenna, Malebranche, Spinoza, Leibniz, Nietzsche, or Whitehead. We read the great philosophers not because their systems are plausible in commonsense terms that can be measured by the laws of probability. Instead, we read them precisely because they shatter the existing framework of common sense and open up new window on the universe. Second, and even more importantly, Meillassoux has already rejected probability as a valid measuring stick in philosophy. Or rather, he accepts probability in the intra-worldly realm (where it is linked with potentiality), and rejects it at the level of the world itself (where potentiality is replaced with what he calls virtuality). The virtual God can appear at any moment for no reason at all, just as any other new configuration of laws of nature can appear: in a manner that the laws of probability cannot calculate. Responding to those who might ridicule the idea of a sudden emergence of God and a resurrection of the dead, Meillassoux cites Pascal, who asserts that the resurrection of the dead would be far less incredible than the fact that we were born in the first place. This shifts philosophy onto new ground. Rather than concerning ourselves with what is likely to happen in the world as we know it, we focus instead on the most important things that could happen. For this reason, the expected objection that a virtual God is no more likely to appear than a virtual unicorn or a virtual flying spaghetti monster misses the point. Unicorns and spaghetti monsters could also appear, just like any other non-contradictory thing. But these would just be novel bizarre entities among others, not the heralds of completely new worlds. For Meillassoux, the emergence of matter, life, and thought have been the three truly amazing advents of the world so far, each of them dependent on the advent(s) preceding them. As he sees it, there can be no greater intraworldly entity than the human beings who already exist, since nothing in the world is better than the absolute knowledge of which humans alone are capable. This means that the next great advent must be something that perfects human beings rather than superseding them. And this can only be the world of justice, in which the dead are resurrected and their horrible deaths partially cancelled (Meillassoux never considers the possibility of a God who would literally erase the pre-divine past so that it never happened at all). The only immortality worth having is an immortality of this life, not an existence in some ill-defined afterworld. Human existence, he holds, must always be governed by a “symbol” that gives us the “immanent and comprehensible inscription of values in a world.” And just as cosmic history made the three great contingent leaps of matter, life, and thought, with a leap to justice as the only one still to come, a similar structure occurs within human culture and its symbols, which consist so far of the cosmological, naturalistic, and historical symbols, with a “factial” symbol still to come. We can review each of these symbols briefly. The cosmological symbol refers to the ancient dualism between the terrestrial and celestial spheres. Here below everything is conflict, corruption, and decay; but in the heavens nothing is perishable, all movement is circular, and everything is arranged in mutual harmony. This symbol is ended by modern physics when Galileo discovers such blemishes as sunspots and craters on the moon, and when Newton integrates both celestial and terrestrial movement into a single gravitational law. Next comes the naturalistic or romantic symbol, in which perfection comes not from the sky but from nature itself. The world is filled with pretty flowers (Meillassoux claims that the ancients never discussed the beauty of flowers until Plotinus in the third century) and with living creatures naturally moved by pity, at least until society corrupts them. This symbol collapses in the face of reality as we know it, since pity is no more common than war, corruption, and violence. This brings us to the historical symbol, which only now is passing away. Bad things may happen, but history has an inner logic of its own, such that everything works out in the end. The ultimate form of the historical symbol is the economic symbol, whether in a Marxist or neo-liberal form. Just as the Marxist holds that the inner economic logic of the capitalists will inexorably lead them to self-destruction, the neo-liberal assumes that the sum total of individual selfish actions will lead, in the long run, to the greatest possible good. We worship the economy and let it guide history for us, just as the ancients worshipped celestial bodies and held them to be free from blemish. The final remaining symbol is the factial symbol, which Meillassoux hopes will now emerge. Factiality, we recall, is his term for the absolute contingency of everything that exists. Once we have grasped this absolute contingency, we are free to expect the dramatic advent of the coming fourth World: the world of justice, inaugurated by a virtual God and even mediated by a messianic human figure. There is the added feature, however, that this messiah must abandon all claims to special status once the messianic realm of justice is achieved. The messianic figure will then be no more special than any person on the street, since a reign of human equality will have arisen. Although this focus on human being might seem like a return to standard humanism, Meillassoux holds that human pre-eminence has never truly been maintained. Previously, humans have been treated as special only because they contemplate the Good, because they resemble their omnipotent creator, or because they happen to be the temporary victors in a cruel Darwinian death-match between millions of living species. For Meillassoux, by contrast, humans have value because they know the eternal. But it is not the eternal that is important, since this merely represents the blind, anonymous contingency of each thing. What is important is not knowledge of the eternal , but knowledge of the eternal. We should not admire Prometheus for stealing fire from the gods; Prometheus is simply as bad as all the gods, no matter how much he increased our power. Feuerbach and Marx were wrong to say that God is a projection of the human essence, since for Meillassoux the usual concept of God represents the degradation of the human essence. If the traditional God was allowed to inflict plagues and tsunamis on the human race, the Promethean human of the twentieth century simply assumes the right to inflict death camps and atomic fireballs instead. In this respect, we have simply begun to imitate the degradation of humanity that was formerly invested in an omnipotent and arbitrary God. In response to charges that absolute contingency might lead to political quietism, Meillassoux counters that the World of justice would mean nothing unless we had already hoped for it beforehand. A World of justice that came along at random would merely be an improved third World of thought: indeed, a perfect one. But it would have satisfied no craving, and would therefore have no redemptive power. For this reason, we must actively hope for the fourth World of justice for such a fourth World ever to arise. Not only justice, but beauty is dependent on such hope: for Meillassoux, who is here somewhat dependent on Kant, beauty means an accord between our human symbolization and the actual world, which could never be present in a World of the blessed any more than justice could. And just as a messianic figure is needed to incarnate our hope and then abandon power once the World of justice is realized, it is the figure of the child whose fragile contingency shows us a dignity and a demand for justice beyond all power. 3. Meillassoux Radicalized or Reversed Given the promising reception of Meillassoux’s first book, it would not be groundless to engage in early speculation about what it might take to earn him a place in the history of philosophy. Maybe this will never happen—who knows?—but quite possibly it will: his lucid argumentative methods and sheer philosophical imagination at least make him a good candidate to be read well into the future, especially following further elaboration in print of his mature system. Philosophy is often practiced as thought it were nothing more than the amassing of “knockdown arguments.” But this is no more insightful than saying that good architecture is the amassing of steal beams. It is true that poorly constructed building cannot stand for long, but sound construction is merely the first, indispensable step in building. In fact, I am inclined to say that what really makes a philosopher important is not being right, but being wrong . I mean this in a very specific sense. I once heard the interesting remark about twentieth century culture that “you have to remember that the sixties really happened in the seventies.” That is to say, it was in the 1970’s rather than the more honored 1960’s that civil rights, free love, long hair, and the rock and roll drug culture really took root. With respect to the history of philosophy, we might just as easily say: “you have to remember that Plato really happened in Aristotle,” that “Kant really happened in Hegel” or “Hume really happened in Kant,” or that “Husserl’s phenomenology first achieved its truth in Heidegger.” One becomes an important philosopher not by being right, but by attracting rebellious admirers who tell you that you are wrong , even as their own careers silently orbit around your own. To recruit faithful disciples may be comforting and flattering, but the greatest thinkers have generally had to experience refutation at the hands of their most talented heirs. For this reason, I would propose that we size up the magnitude of living thinkers not by deciding how many times they are right and wrong, but by asking instead: who would take the trouble to refute this author? For this reason I do not ask: “Is Meillassoux right?”, since I do not believe in the virtual God myself, nor am I convinced by any important aspect of Meillassoux’s philosophy. Instead, I ask if there are interesting ways to overturn him. Only by being overturned, by no longer remaining a contemporary, does one become a classic. Let’s begin with a simple model of refutation, which can be refined further at a later date once the basic point is established. One kind of refutation simply consists in saying: “This author is a complete idiot.” The refuter now walks away in celebration, and no link between the present and the future is built; all is reduced to rubble. But this sort of mediocre triumphalism is generally practiced by those who achieve little of their own, and is not especially interesting. Much more interesting is the sort of refutation that does not take its target to be a complete idiot. I would like to suggest that there are just two basic ways in which this can be done: radicalization and reversal . It has not escaped my notice that this is a fairly good match for the Deleuzian distinction between irony and humor. Whereas irony critiques and adopts the opposite principle of what it attacks, humor accepts what it confronts but pushes it into highly exaggerated form. The ironist is like the worker who sows chaos by rebeling and contradicting the boss, while the humorist is like the worker who follows orders to an absurdly literal degree, with equally chaotic results. Let’s start with a few examples. In Aristotle’s treatment of Plato, and Heidegger’s of Husserl, we find reversal. Plato’s eidei are transformed by Aristotle into mere secondary substances, and the individual worldly things despised by Plato become what is primary. For Husserl what is primary is whatever is present to consciousness, while for Heidegger this is precisely what is secondary, since the primary stuff of the world withdraws from any form of presence at all. As for radicalization, it is most easily found in the transformation of Kant by German Idealism: “Kant was right to wall off the things-in-themselves from human access, and simply should have realized that the thought of the Ding an sich is also a thought, and thereby the noumena are just special cases of the phenomena,” with much following from this discovery. It would also be easy to read Spinoza as a radicalizer of Descartes, and Berkeley and Hume as radicalized versions of Locke. Perhaps the distinction is now sufficiently clear. Admiring refutations are not those that say “Professor X is an idiot,” which is merely the flip side of the eager disciple’s fruitless “Professor X got everything right.” Instead, it will be some variant of one of the following two options: “Professor X is important, but got it backwards,” or “Professor X is important, but didn’t push things far enough.” In the history of philosophy these two latter cases have often been painful in purely human terms: Aristotle expresses sadness at refuting Plato, Kant is openly annoyed at Fichte, and Husserl feels betrayed and used by Heidegger. Rude handling from later figures almost seems to be the sine qua non of being a great philosopher. Now, it has already been claimed that Meillassoux is an emerging philosopher of the first importance, and by no less a figure than Alain Badiou: “It would be no exaggeration to say that Quentin Meillassoux has opened up a new path in the history of philosophy…” (Preface, vii). But rather than taking Badiou’s word for it, or rejecting his word, we might experiment by asking how Meillassoux could be radicalized or reversed. Are there interesting ways of doing this that might launch whole new schools of philosophy, unexpected or even condemned by Meillassoux himself? While no one can see the future, the present is poor when it is not riddled with virtual futures. The relation between philosophers and their predecessors and successors is always somewhat complicated, of course. But generally there is one central divergence at stake, which might be taken as the key to all the others. On this basis we could say that new thinkers primarily radicalize or primarily reverse the main ideas of their chief philosophical forerunner. There may be specific historical conditions and perhaps even personality traits connected with these two types, but this question can be left aside for now. More important for us is that radicalizers will generally be followed by reversers, and vice versa. Consider the textbook example of a reversal in the history of philosophy: Kant’s Copernican Revolution, which inverts the so-called dogmatic tradition that addresses the world itself, and makes the world revolve instead around the conditions by which it is known. While it is not completely impossible that Kant’s successors might have re-reversed this principle back into a new and stronger dogmatic realism, conditions were premature for such a move. Anyone doing this too early would likely have been an angry anti-Kantian reactionary rather than an original thinker in command of a genuinely new realist principle. The far more likely outcome is the one that actually happened: Kant’s reversal of his predecessors was viewed as incomplete, or as retaining lamentable bits of the traditional view, which despite his admirable breakthrough he was unable to shake off. This was the view of German Idealism, anyway. In similar fashion, Spinoza could also be viewed as a radicalizer of Descartes, who is equally accused of preserving various Scholastic dogmas in an otherwise radical project of philosophical reversal. The point is this: reversals in the history of thought tend to be followed soon thereafter by radicalizations of those reversals. The same may hold true in reverse: radicalizations might generally be followed by reversals, given that it is not always possible to be more radical than the radicals have already been. Consider the case of Husserl, who radicalizes Brentano’s early vagueness about what lies beyond immanent objectivity, and Twardowski’s assertion that there must be an external object lying outside the intentional content, by collapsing everything into the intentional sphere: there is no difference between the Berlin in my consciousness and the actual Berlin that is home to millions of people. It is difficult to see how one could be even more radical than Husserl’s idealist turn here. And thus the road is paved to Heidegger’s reversal of classical phenomenology, in which the key point is what lies deeper than any presence to consciousness: the Sein whose power and obscurity cannot be made exhaustively present, but only sends itself in historical epochs. In similar fashion we might also read Leibniz as a reverser of Spinoza’s radicalization, retrieving a strong sense of individual substance and a certain validity of what the Scholastics had said. Returning to Meillassoux, we might ask which kind of philosopher he is: a radicalizer or a reverser? At present, Meillassoux looks to me like a radicalizer (though for now his future remains shrouded in mist). He takes the correlationist tradition, which allows us to speak only of the relation between human and world, and tries to raise it into an even more extreme claim about the absolute contingency of everything. But whereas German Idealism did this by trying to collapse the distinction between thought and world entirely into the “thought” side, Meillassoux does it by trying to shift the non-absolute contingency of the thought-world correlate from epistemology to ontology. It is no longer a question of the inability of human knowledge to know what lies outside the correlate, but the inability of reality itself to be rooted in any definite laws. Furthermore, if we look at the various features of Meillassoux’s philosophy identified earlier tonight, all but one are already so radical that there is no obvious way to push them further. The one exception would be his claim that the world as a whole can change for no reason at any moment, coupled with the inconsistent claim that within a given world there are laws of nature that everything must follow. If gravitational attraction between all masses is a current law in our world, then for Meillassoux there can be no exceptions to this law for as long as it remains in force. A toppled vase will fall to the floor every time for sure,unless there is a cosmic change by which the laws of nature as a whole have altered. (This is reminiscent of the late medieval distinction between the absolute and ordained power of God, according to which God has the power to set or change the laws of nature, but not to contravene those laws locally once they are set.) On this point, to radicalize Meillassoux would simply be to say: there are no laws of nature even in the local sense. Everything that happens, even in the world here and now, is purely contingent and not governed by even a trace of law. And while this would be a more consistent development of Meillassoux’s thoughts on contingency, it is difficult to see how it could lead to a new philosophy. Instead, the admiring successors of Meillassoux are more likely to reverse one of his already sufficiently radical points. At least four candidates come to mind: *First, we have seen that Meillassoux thinks correlationism is challenged by a time before or after consciousness, but not by a space lying outside it. Perhaps this could be reversed into saying that spatial exteriority is the really crucial point. The arguments on this point are perhaps the least convincing in After Finitude (and do not even occur in the original French edition), and therefore it might be a candidate for the “blind spot” of which no philosopher is ever free. *Second, Meillassoux uses Cantor to claim that the contingency of laws of nature would not entail that they are unstable. A successor of Meillassoux might claim that it does make them unstable, and celebrate this fact. This person would then have to explain why common sense seems to encounter a relatively stable world despite its truly rampant instability. Whereas Meillassoux’s problem is to show how stability might exist despite contingency, this successor’s problem would be slightly different: to show why actual, full-blown instability might have the appearance of stability. *Third, Meillassoux claims that the primary qualities of things are those that can be mathematized. He might be reversed by a successor who says the opposite: the mathematizable qualities are the secondary ones, and the primary ones are those that elude symbolic formulation. While this is a perfectly valid possible objection to Meillassoux, it is one that is made in advance by some of his predecessors and is still made by some of his peers, making it less interesting for futurology than some of his other points. *Fourth and finally, whereas Meillassoux claims that God does not exist but might exist in the future, a successor might argue even more bizarrely that God has always existed but might vanish in the future. Let’s arbitrarily select the first of these possibilities, and imagine briefly where it might lead, if pursued in the future by admiring detractors. Meillassoux comes from the circle of Badiou, and some of Badiou’s most ardent admirers are found in Latin America. So, let’s imagine that towards mid-century some ingenious reversers of Meillassoux emerge in that portion of the Spanish-speaking world. Just for fun, let’s call them Castro and Chávez. And in order to avoid any confusion with the present-day politicians of those names, we will stipulate that Meillassoux’s great successors are both women. The philosopher Castro (we will suppose she comes from Peru) reverses Meillassoux’s argument that the ancestral or diachronic are what most threaten the human-world correlate. Instead, she claims that the diachronic does not threaten the correlate at all, and that we must instead look at space as what ruins the correlate and demands a strange new realism. What would such a philosophy look like? In order to determine this, we might ask what price Meillassoux pays for doing it the opposite way. As I see it, he pays in two separate ways. One is that laws of nature for him are contingent over time . The laws of nature apply to the universe as a whole at any given moment, and would be changed globally if they are ever changed at all. The second price he pays is that Meillassoux has no mereology , or theory of parts and wholes. Everything for him is on the level of the given, or immanent in experience, with the sole proviso that the laws governing this immanence might change without notice at any given moment. In reversing Meillassoux, Castro makes the following claims in the preface to her stunning debut book of 2045, The Cosmos and its Neighborhoods , rapidly translated from Spanish into all the languages of the world: Despite his brilliant analysis of the contingency of laws of nature over time, Meillassoux gets two important assumptions wrong. First, he allows for only one set of contingent laws to govern nature as a whole. Second, he allows laws to govern only the world that is immanent in experience, and thereby fails to explore the contingency among part-whole relations. In this book I will argue, first, that the laws of nature vary in any given instant between one region of the universe and the next; and second, that the world is made up of layers of parts and wholes that are also contingent with respect to one another. Those are the words of Castro. This may sound like a hopeless free-for-all of chaos, yet the book somehow succeeds in drawing some compelling deductions about how laws must vary from one place or level in the world to the next. Trapped in the limited horizon of 2011, and not yet inspired by the heavily balkanized political and technological situation of 2050 that somehow lends additional credence to Castro’s vision, we can only vaguely grasp what such a philosophy might look like. After this reversal of Meillassoux by Castro, the usual pattern leads us to expect a radicalization by Chávez, a young Argentine student of Castro. How could the already strange theories of Castro be radicalized? Perhaps as follows, in a disturbing new book entitled The Implosion of the Neighborhoods , which argues as follows: Castro was right to shift the Meillassouxian framework of contingency from time to space. However, in this respect she retained a surprisingly traditional opposition between the two. In this book I will show that time and space collapse into one another. This may sound too much like the discredited four-dimensional block universe of twentieth century physics and philosophy. However, the four-dimensional universe is a model biased in favor of space, merely adding an extra dimension to the commonsense spatial continuum while stipulating that the serial passage of time is an illusion. In this book I will argue instead for a one-dimensional space-time modeled after our experience of time, in which there is no simultaneous co-existence at all between different parts of the universe, or ‘neighborhoods’ as my esteemed teacher Castro has called them. Instead, the various portions of the universe link to one another by succession rather than by coexistence. Buenos Aires, New York, and Amsterdam do not exist simultaneously in the same landscape, but one after the other in the mind of some observer, and this observer can only be an observer much larger than any human. Against Meillassoux’s notion of a virtual God that does not exist now but might exist in the future, I will argue for an actual God that surveys the universe in sequence, thereby generating the illusion of spatial diversity and even the illusion of individual minds located within that diversity. Once this divine observer dies, the universe as a whole must perish. Again, these ideas are so bizarre that we of 2011 can barely comprehend them, just as Aristotle would have had a difficult time grasping the theories of Descartes. We could then perhaps imagine a further reversal of this theory, emanating from the intellectually resurgent Philippines of the twenty-second century. The Filipino School might argue that the universe is already dead, given the collapse of its spatial richness into the serial observations of a flimsy and mortal God. The virtual universe does not yet exist, but might exist in fully spatial form in the future, and this would require the death of God and the resulting liberation of God’s succession of images as independent, spatially situated realities. With a bit of sharpening, we might be able to make all of these imaginary thinkers more intuitively clear. Along with the history of philosophy, there might arise a new discipline generating imaginary futures for philosophy. The richness of Meillassoux’s system comes not from the fact that he is plausibly right about so many things, but because his philosophy offers such a treasury of bold statements ripe for being radicalized or reversed. He is a rich target for many still-unborn intellectual heirs, and this is what gives him the chance to be an important figure. NOTES 1. Quentin Meillassoux, After Finitude . Trans. R Brassier. (London: Continuum, 2008.) Page 5. The word “correlationism” does not appear in his doctoral thesis. As Meillassoux informed me in an email of February 8, 2011, he first coined this term in 2003 or 2004, while editing for publication a lecture he had given at the École normale supérieure on a day devoted to the theme of “Philosophy and Mathematics,” an event including Alain Badiou as one of the participants. 2. Graham Harman, Quentin Meillassoux: Philosophy in the Making . (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, forthcoming 2011). 3. In an email of December 6, 2010, Meillassoux clarifies that in After Finitude he only deduces the impossibility of a “universal contradiction,” not of a determinate contradiction. In the same email he suggests that he can also prove the latter, though the proof is somewhat lengthier than the one found in After Finitude . 4. After Finitude (18-26), in the passage falling between the two sets of triple asterisks. These pages were sent by Meillassoux to translator Ray Brassier (in French) during the translation process, and do not appear in the original French version of the book. 5. Graham Harman, “Quentin Meillassoux: A New French Philosopher.” Philosophy Today 51.1 (2007): Pages 104-117. The passage where I raise the question of space can be found in the first column of page 107. 6. Vernes is first cited on p. 95 of After Finitude . See Jean-René Vernes, Critique de la raison aléatoire, ou Descartes contra Kant . (Paris: Aubier, 1982).  . (shrink)
We accomplish three things in this paper. First, we provide evidence that the motivational internalism/externalism debate in moral psychology could be a false dichotomy born of ambiguity. Second, we provide further evidence for a crucial distinction between two different categories of belief in folk psychology: thick belief and thin belief. Third, we demonstrate how careful attention to deep features of folk psychology can help diagnose and defuse seemingly intractable philosophical disagreement in metaethics.
We distinguish between two categories of belief—thin belief and thick belief—and provide evidence that they approximate genuinely distinct categories within folk psychology. We use the distinction to make informative predictions about how laypeople view the relationship between knowledge and belief. More specifically, we show that if the distinction is genuine, then we can make sense of otherwise extremely puzzling recent experimental findings on the entailment thesis (i.e. the widely held philosophical thesis that knowledge entails belief). We also suggest that the (...) distinction can be applied to debates in the philosophy of mind and metaethics. (shrink)
This is a survey of recent debates concerning the normativity of belief. We explain what the thesis that belief is normative involves, consider arguments for and against that thesis, and explore its bearing on debates in metaethics.
Does belief have an aim? According to the claim of exclusivity, non-truth-directed considerations cannot motivate belief within doxastic deliberation. This claim has been used to argue that, far from aiming at truth, belief is not aim-directed at all, because the regulation of belief fails to exhibit a kind of interaction among aims that is characteristic of ordinary aim-directed behaviour. The most prominent reply to this objection has been offered by Steglich-Petersen (Philos Stud 145:395–405, 2009), who claims that exclusivity is in (...) fact compatible with belief’s genuinely having an aim. I argue, based on consideration of what is involved in pursuing an aim, that Steglich-Petersen’s reply fails. I suggest that the defender of the idea that belief has an aim should instead reject the claim of exclusivity, and I sketch how this can be done. (shrink)
Recently, there has been a debate focusing on the question of whether groups can literally have beliefs. For the purposes of epistemology, however, the key question is whether groups can have knowledge. More specifi cally, the question is whether “group views” can have the key epistemic features of belief, viz., aiming at truth and being epistemically rational. I argue that, while groups may not have beliefs in the full sense of the word, group views can have these key epistemic features (...) of belief. However, I argue that on Margaret Gilbert's infl uential “plural subject” account of group belief, group views are unlikely to be epistemically rational. (shrink)
Theistic metaethics usually places one key restriction on the explanation of moral facts, namely: every moral fact must ultimately be explained by some fact about God. But the widely held belief that moral truths are necessary truths seems to undermine this claim. If a moral truth is necessary, then it seems like it neither needs nor has an explanation. Or so the objection typically goes. Recently, two proponents of theistic metaethics — William Lane Craig and Mark Murphy — have argued (...) that this objection is flawed. They claim that even if a truth is necessary, it does not follow that it neither needs nor has an explanation. In this article, I challenge Craig and Murphy’s reasoning on three main grounds. First, I argue that the counterexamples they use to undermine the necessary truth objection to theistic metaethics are flawed. While they may provide some support for the notion that necessary truths can be explained, they do not provide support for the notion that necessary moral truths can be explained. Second, I argue that the principles of explanation that Murphy and Craig use to support theistic metaethics are either question-begging (in the case of Murphy) or improperly motivated (in the case of Craig). And third, I provide a general defence of the claim that necessary moral truths neither need nor have an explanation. (shrink)
In everyday discourse groups or collectives are often said to believe this or that. The author has previously developed an account of the phenomenon to which such collective belief statements refer. According to this account, in terms that are explained, a group believes that p if its members are jointly committed to believe that p as a body. Those who fulfill these conditions are referred to here as collectively believing* that p. Some philosophers – here labeled rejectionists – have argued (...) that collective belief* is not belief but rather acceptance. This paper presents several arguments against rejectionism. One has to do with the proper methodology for arriving at an account of belief. Two address rejectionist claims to the effect that collective beliefs* lack key features of belief in general, the features in question being “aiming at truth” and having a particular relation to the will. A fourth notes that there is a phenomenon more apt for the label of “collective acceptance” than is the phenomenon of collective belief*. (shrink)
What is belief? "Beliefs aim at truth" is the commonly accepted starting point for philosophers who want to give an adequate account of this fundamental state of mind, but it raises as many questions as it answers. For example, in what sense can beliefs be said to have an aim of their own? If belief aims at truth, does it mean that reasons to believe must also be based on truth? Must beliefs be formed on the basis of evidence alone? (...) Is truth the constitutive norm of belief? Does aiming at truth bring in a normative dimension to the nature of belief? How can the aim of truth guide the formation of our beliefs? In what ways do partial beliefs aim at truth? Is truth the aim of epistemic justification? Last but not least, is it knowledge rather than truth which is the fundamental aim of belief? -/- In recent years, pursuing these questions has proved extremely fertile for our understanding of a wide range of current issues in philosophy of mind and action, epistemology, and meta-ethics. The Aim of Belief is the first book to be devoted to this fast-growing topic. It brings together eleven newly commissioned essays by leading authors on the aim of belief. -/- Contributors: Jonathan Adler, Krister Bykvist, Timothy Chan, Pascal Engel, Kathrin Glüer, Anandi Hattiangadi, Michael Hicks, Paul Horwich, David Papineau, Andrew Reisner, Asbjørn Steglich-Petersen, Ralph Wedgwood, Åsa Wikforss, Daniel Whiting. (shrink)
We investigate the logical and conceptual connections between abductive reasoning construed as a process of belief change, on the one hand, and truth approximation, construed as increasing (estimated) verisimilitude, on the other. We introduce the notion of â(verisimilitude-guided) abductive belief changeâ and discuss under what conditions abductively changing our theories or beliefs does lead them closer to the truth, and hence tracks truth approximation conceived as the main aim of inquiry. The consequences of our analysis for some recent discussions concerning (...) belief revision aiming at truth approximation and inference to the best explanation are also highlighted. (shrink)
Explanation and understanding are intimately connected notions, but the nature of that connection has generally not been considered a topic worthy of serious philosophical investigation. Most authors have avoided making reference to the notion of understanding in their accounts of explanation because they fear that any mention of the epistemic states of the individuals involved compromises the objectivity of explanation. Understanding is a pragmatic notion, they argue, and pragmatics should be kept at a safe distance from the universal features of (...) explanation. My main contention in this dissertation is that there is a sense in which it is meaningful and useful to talk about objective understanding, and that to characterize this notion it is necessary to formulate an account of objective explanation that makes reference to the beliefs and epistemic goals of the participants in a cognitive enterprise. ;My account of explanation is based on the belief-doubt model of inquiry first proposed by Peirce. Using the tools provided by decision theory, and the models of belief revision developed by Isaac Levi and by Alchourron, Gardenfors, and Makinson, I analyze the objective and pragmatic conditions that a piece of information must fulfill to be both explanatory and epistemically useful to an inquiring agent. The objective basis for an explanation is provided by the relation of probabilistic relevance that the fact described by the explanans bares to the fact described by the explanandum. But an explanation is much more than its foundation. As an epistemological notion, a potential explanation can only be a bona fide explanation if it becomes part of inquiry, that is, if an agent or a group of agents can see any value in it for their cognitive purposes. I provide a way to evaluate an explanation in terms of its credibility, its content, and its explanatory value. I argue that although an objective measure of the credibility and content of an explanation can be established, in many cases a complete determination of its explanatory value will ultimately depend on the interests and goals of the individual inquirers. (shrink)
Human beings seem to capture time and the temporal properties of events and things in thought by having beliefs usually expressed with statements using tense, or notions such as ‘now’, ‘past’ or ‘future’. Tensed beliefs like these seem indispensable for correct reasoning and timely action. For instance, my belief that my root canal is over seems inexpressible with a statement that does not use tense or a temporal indexical. However, the dominant view on the nature of time is that it (...) forms, with space, a four-dimensional continuum where time does not encompass private perspectives or an absolute, fixed present. This ‘tenseless’ theory of time encounters a challenge in integrating tensed belief, because it cannot easily explain what constitutes a tensed belief in a tenseless world and how such a belief works inside our cognitive network to bring about the actions it does. Providing such an account is the main goal of this dissertation. -/- I argue here that the correct way to proceed would be to utilize philosophical theories dealing with indexicality, as the puzzling features of tensed belief are shared with beliefs expressed by first-person or spatial indexicals. In chapters II and III I expand the dominant theories about indexicality (Lewis, Perry, Kaplan) and apply them to tensed belief. I show that each is in certain respects incomplete or inadequate. -/- My preferred account critiques the preceding theories as mis-attributing the indexicality involved to a fully conceptual element in the way people think about time. I argue that we should instead connect tensed belief to not fully conceptual elements thought. For support I turn to work in perceptual psychology that connects beliefs about space to perceptions of spatial features. In chapter IV I develop an analogous argument about temporal thought and discuss how mental representations involved in perceptions are constitutively related to the formation and preservation of tensed beliefs. Combining this story with a tenseless theory of time should give us a complete, metaphysically uncontroversial, account of the way a tensed belief functions in reasoning and produces timely action. (shrink)
The possibility that nothing really matters can cause much anxiety, but what would it mean for that to be true? Since it couldn’t be bad that nothing matters, fearing nihilism makes little sense. However, the consequences of belief in nihilism will be far more dramatic than often thought. Many metaethicists assume that even if nothing matters, we should, and would, go on more or less as before. But if nihilism is true in an unqualified way, it can’t be the case (...) that we should go on as before. And given some plausible assumptions about our psychology, it’s also unlikely that we would go on as before: belief in nihilism will lead to loss of evaluative belief, and that will lead to loss or deflation of our corresponding subjective concerns. Now if nothing matters, then this consequence also wouldn’t matter. But this consequence will be extremely harmful if we believe in nihilism but things do matter, an asymmetry that gives us, in Pascalian fashion, pragmatic reasons not to believe in nihilism, and reasons not to try to find out whether it is really true. (shrink)
According to recent accounts of the imagination, mental mechanisms that can take input from both imagining and from believing will process imagination-based inputs (pretense representations) and isomorphic beliefs in much the same way. That is, such a mechanism should produce similar outputs whether its input is the belief that p or the pretense representation that p. Unfortunately, there seem to be clear counterexamples to this hypothesis, for in many cases, imagining that p and believing that p have quite different psychological (...) consequences. This paper sets out some central problem cases and argues that the cases might be accommodated by adverting to the role of desires concerning real and imaginary situations. (shrink)
In a series of publications, Tamar Gendler has argued for a distinction between belief and what she calls ?alief?. Gendler's argument for the distinction is a serviceability argument: the distinction is indispensable for explaining a whole slew of phenomena, typically involving ?belief-behaviour mismatch?. After embedding Gendler's distinction in a dual-process model of moral cognition, I argue here that the distinction also suggests a possible (dis)solution of what is perhaps the organizing problem of contemporary moral psychology: the apparent tension between the (...) inherently motivational role of moral judgments and their manifestly objectivistic phenomenology. I argue that moral judgments come in two varieties, moral aliefs and moral beliefs, and it is only the former that are inherently motivating and only the latter that have an objectivistic phenomenology. This serves to both bolster the case for the alief/belief distinction and shed new light on otherwise well-trodden territory in metaethics. I start with an exposition of the moral-psychological problem (?1) and a discussion of Gendler's alief/belief distinction (?2). I then apply the latter to moral judgments in an attempt to dissolve the former (?3). I close with discussion of the upshot for our understanding of moral thought, moral motivation, and moral phenomenology (?4). (shrink)
Belief and Truth: A Skeptic Reading of Plato explores a Socratic intuition about belief, doxa -- belief is "shameful." In aiming for knowledge, one must aim to get rid of beliefs. Vogt shows how deeply this proposal differs from contemporary views, but that it nevertheless speaks to intuitions we are likely to share with Plato, ancient skeptics, and Stoic epistemologists.
According to Allen Wood’s “procedural principle” we should believe only that which can be justified by evidence, and nothing more. He argues that holding beliefs which are not justified by evidence diminishes our self-respect and corrupts us, both individually and collectively. Wood’s normative and descriptive views as regards belief are of a piece with the received view which holds that beliefs aim at the truth. This view I refer to as the Truth-Tracking View (TTV). I first present a modest version (...) of TTV, one which is sensitive to standard criticisms and one which is fully consistent with the procedural principle. I then raise some doubts about TTV by considering both anecdotal cases and empirical studies. These studies suggest that certain types of belief are designed to aim away from truth, in limited, carefully calibrated ways. Moreover, it seems to be the case that selectively aiming away from the truth is important for human well-being and performance. Beliefs that are designed to aim away I dub “Tertullian” beliefs (t-beliefs). I then limn the distinguishing characteristics of t-belief and proceed to evaluate the procedural principle in light of the evidence which suggests that t-belief plays an important role in our cognitive economy. Next I argue that t-beliefs might be essential to the maintenance of self-respect and that they do not corrupt in the way that Wood claims. Finally, I argue that the fate of Wood’s procedural principle will be determined by the results of further empirical research— sociological, psychological, and neuroscientific. (shrink)
In this introductory chapter to the volume The Aim of Belief, the editor surveys the fundamental questions in current debates surrounding the aim of belief, and identifies the major theoretical approaches. The main arguments of the ten contributions to the volume are outlined and located in the context of the existing literature.
This paper is the product of an interdisciplinary, interreligious dialogue aiming to outline some of the possibilities and rational limits of supernatural religious belief, in the light of a critique of David Hume’s familiar sceptical arguments -- including a rejection of his famous Maxim on miracles -- combined with a range of striking recent empirical research. The Humean nexus leads us to the formulation of a new ”Common-Core/Diversity Dilemma’, which suggests that the contradictions between different religious belief systems, in conjunction (...) with new understandings of the cognitive forces that shape their common features, persuasively challenge the rationality of most kinds of supernatural belief. In support of this conclusion, we survey empirical research concerning intercessory prayer, religious experience, near-death experience, and various cognitive biases. But we then go on to consider evidence that supernaturalism -- even when rationally unwarranted -- has significant beneficial individual and social effects, despite others that are far less desirable. This prompts the formulation of a ”Normal/Objective Dilemma’, identifying important trade-offs to be found in the choice between our humanly evolved ”normal’ outlook on the world, and one that is more rational and ”objective’. Can we retain the pragmatic benefits of supernatural belief while avoiding irrationality and intergroup conflict? It may well seem that rationality is incompatible with any wilful sacrifice of objectivity. But in a situation of uncertainty, an attractive compromise may be available by moving from the competing factions and mutual contradictions of ”first-order’ supernaturalism to a more abstract and tolerant ”second-order’ view, which itself can be given some distinctive intellectual support through the increasingly popular Fine Tuning Argument. We end by proposing a ”Maxim of the Moon’ to express the undogmatic spirit of this second-order religiosity, providing a cautionary metaphor to counter the pervasive bias endemic to the human condition, and offering a more cooperation- and humility-enhancing understanding of religious diversity in a tense and precarious globalised age. (shrink)
In this dissertation, I examine three philosophically important concepts that play a foundational role in developmental psychology: theory, representation, and belief. I describe different ways in which the concepts have been understood and present reasons why a developmental psychologist, or a philosopher attuned to cognitive development, should prefer one understanding of these concepts over another.
The overall objective of this dissertation is to provide an analysis of the standard of correctness of belief. According to this standard, a belief is correct if and only if the believed proposition is true. My analysis consists in the investigation of a set of aspects and properties of the correctness standard of belief. The main point argued in this dissertation is that the correctness standard of belief is a standard of conformity to the satisfaction conditions of a (...) representational function constitutive of belief. Another relevant conclusionreached in my dissertation concerns the appropriate formulation of the standard in an ought-claim. I argued that the proper way of formulating the standard in an ought-claim is: "for any S, p: it ought to be the case that p, given that S believes that p". (shrink)
This paper explores how the norms of belief relate to the norms of action. The discussion centres on addressing a challenge from positive illusions stating that the demands we face as believers aiming at the truth and the demands we face as agents aiming at success often pull in opposite directions. In response to this challenge, it is argued that the pursuits of aiming at the truth and aiming at success are fully compatible and mutually reinforcing. More specifically, the link (...) between the two takes the form of a two-way connection. In addition to succeeding in virtue of getting it right, it is normatively appropriate to get it right in virtue of succeeding. This two-way connection thesis is supported by a wide scope reading of how the truth norm of belief may be satisfied. On this reading, believing p is permissible both as a result of settling the question of whether p in light of the available evidence and as a result of engaging a believer’s agency in making it the case that p. (shrink)
Stoics and Sceptics distinguish belief (doxa) from a representationally and functionally similar but sub-doxastic state: passive yielding to appearance. Belief requires active assent to appearances, that is, affirmation of the appearances as true. I trace the roots of this view to Plato's accounts of doxa in the Republic and Theaetetus. In the Republic, eikasia and pistis (imaging and conviction) are distinguished by their objects, appearances versus ordinary objects; in the Theaetetus, perception and doxa are distinguished by their objects, proper perceptibles (...) versus ‘commons’, including being. But underlying these ontological distinctions is a psychological one: the lower mental states are confined to their lower objects because they are passive; the higher mental states have access to higher objects because they result from questioning appearances and making active affirmations about how things are. This doctrine of doxa anticipates both the Hellenistic one and modern accounts of belief as ‘aiming at truth’; it also shows Plato's views of doxa to have more in their favour philosophically and to cohere better with one another than generally thought. (shrink)
Michael Ridge’s Impassioned Belief is part of an important new wave in metaethics: hybrid theories. Ridge is a pioneer of hybrid expressivism; his own version is called “ecumenical expressivism.” His book is not only a collection of papers published in the last ten years. It covers more topics, and he also proposes some important improvements to his theory. Ridge’s work is an expansive one; in this review I shall limit myself to present what I consider to be the most important (...) aspects of Ridge’s book.Ridge’s thesis is, in a sense, quite simple: normative judgments express hybrid mental states. According to Ridge, hybrid theories are in better position to explain what looks like both belief-like and desire-like features of normative judgments; these features are responsible for what Ridge calls the Janus-faced aspect of normative judgments. Normative judgments have belief-like features in the sense that it is possible to know that p is wrong, that we can believe that p is wrong, etc. An .. (shrink)
It is shown how the discussion of the semantics of sentences attributing belief, central to the philosophy of language since Frege, may benefit from consideration of pragmatic features of the context of utterance. ;The dissertation begins with a historical introduction to the problem of substitutivity in belief contexts. Traditional solutions advanced by Frege, Russell, and Carnap are reviewed, along with traditional objections to such solutions. It is then suggested that the traditional Quinian approach of declaring belief ascriptions semantically ambiguous (...) might be avoided by appeal to pragmatic considerations. ;Radically divergent appeals to pragmatics are discussed. It is suggested, on one hand, how theories of reference associated with philosophers such as Kripke and Kaplan can benefit from pragmatic analysis, as it is demonstrated that substitution failure in belief ascriptions may be due to pragmatic rather than semantical factors. This is argued for in three ways: it is shown how the result of unacceptable substitution may be pragmatically ambiguous, insufficiently informative, or simply misleading. ;It is also suggested, on the other hand, how some followers of Frege may similarly argue that substitution success may be due to pragmatic rather than semantical factors. That is, it is shown how those who maintain that substitution in belief contexts is not truth-preserving and, roughly, that a sentence attributing a belief to someone is true only if the person would assent to it, can argue that our occasional inclination to accept a belief report to which the believer would not assent may be due to features of the sentence's utterance, rather than its truth conditions. ;After brief speculation on the ramifications of these pragmatic analyses for the semantics of belief, there is a discussion of the principle methodological issues raised by pragmatic analyses, with special attention to the distinction between pragmatic import and semantical meaning. Further discussion of pragmatics comes in the appendix, containing a critical review of various conceptions of pragmatics and of Grice's theory of conversation. (shrink)
The epistemic paradox of 'belief instability' has recently received notable attention from many philosophers. Understanding this paradox is very important because belief is a central notion of psychologically motivated semantic theories in philosophy, linguistics, and cognitive science, and this paradox poses serious problems for these theories. In this dissertation I criticize previous proposals and offer a new proposal, which I call a 'revision theory of belief'. ;My revision theory of belief is in many respects an application of Gupta's and (...) Belnap's revision theory of truth, which is proposed to deal with the Liar paradox. They argue that truth is a circular notion because Tarski biconditionals provide circular, partial definitions of truth. And this circularity of truth is the source of the Liar paradox. I offer a similar proposal for handling the paradox of belief instability. In particular, I argue that our notion of belief involved in the paradox of belief instability is circular, and that is why this paradox arises. ;If the notion of belief involved in the paradox is circular, we have to employ a hypothetical evaluation of the belief predicate, and if we do so through a revision process, we can avoid the contradiction which seems to be generated by some paradoxical belief sentences. But it is not easy to show that our notion of belief is circular. Especially, there is nothing like Tarski biconditionals in the case of belief. Nonetheless, I show in this dissertation that there is a certain schema, which I call the B-schema, whose instances can be taken as circular, partial definitions of a notion of belief, and it is that notion of belief which is involved in the paradox of belief instability. In this dissertation I also show that the revision approach can be extended for handling the Knower paradox. I argue that the Knower paradox arises because our notion of knowledge involved in the paradox is circular. (shrink)
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:Holly Flora’s published dissertation is a critical contribution to scholarship of the origins of the Meditationes Vitae Christi, a text strongly associated with the preaching and prayer habits of the early Franciscan order and perhaps the most representative example of the late-Medieval devotional and pictorial phenomenon often summarized as the “Vita Christi tradition.” For almost a century, art historians have invoked the MVC to explain iconographic innovations in (...) late-Medieval and Renaissance art, in particular the emergence of apocryphal images of the early life of Christ. In contrast to these earlier art-historical uses of this text, Flora advocates for a re-contextualization of the MVC. She joins scholars, in particular Isa Ragusa, who suggest that the didactic content and devotional strategies of the MVC reflect a particularly Franciscan strain of the Vita Christi, one aligned with the cura monialium , and argues that it was probably composed by a Franciscan friar for the spiritual benefit of a Poor Clare. The MVC’s distinctive emphasis on themes of virginity, silence, and enclosure support this interpretation, as do a series of interjected prompts or imperatives for the reader to visualize herself participating in poignant events that underscore the humanity of Christ and promote affective devotion. Flora sees the MVC as an attempt by a friar to reconcile the competing Franciscan notions of the vita activa and vita contemplativa in the interests of a cloistered nun under his care; the performative devotional strategies offered by the MVC would have afforded her the means to engage actively—even if only virtually—in a life of extreme poverty or to engage in charitable public giving as exemplified by the lives of Christ and the Virgin, opportunities Flora suggests were not readily available to a cloistered nun.Association of the MVC with the Poor Clares is bolstered by the manuscript that probably contains the closest witness to the original version of this text . The author’s compelling consideration of the textual, material, and pictorial content of Ms. ital. 115 supports the claim that it was made in Pisa around 1340–50 for the community of Poor Clares at the convent of San Martino. Although written on paper rather than parchment and painted in a humble watercolor technique, Ms. ital. 115 contains the lengthiest extant pictorial cycle of any version of the MVC, a characteristic that agrees with the image-centric devotional practices of medieval nuns. Flora’s comparison of those few MVC manuscripts that contain pictorial cycles of comparable length casts into relief those discrete iconographic characteristics of the Ms. ital. 115 cycle. Most telling are ubiquitous images of women that resemble Poor Clares, regular sewing companions of the Virgin, whose presence indicates the illuminators’ attentions to the interests and identities of their audience.Having established Ms. ital. 115’s Clarissan context, the remainder of the Devout Belief of the Imagination is a consideration of a Poor Clare’s interaction with the manuscript. Flora describes this experience as an intensely emotional didactic process that begins with instruction and culminates in imaginative devotional performances where Mary constitutes the main paradigm for female monastic conduct. The extensive account of the Virgin’s childhood in the Temple, for example, supplies a progressive lesson for a young nun on the virtues of discipline and devotion. The culmination of this spiritual maturation process is the extraordinary text-image structure of the Circumcision of the Christ child by his Mother. Not only does this event resonate with Franciscan typology, but as Flora demonstrates, Mary’s privileged position in sharing the suffering of Christ offers a powerful introduction to the affective devotional strategy that structures the viewer’s experience of the remainder of the manuscript. Extended pictorial sequences that follow metaphorically address the cloistered condition of a Poor Clare viewer and her particular spiritual needs. The Holy Family’s Flight into Egypt and their.. (shrink)
The dissertation is in two parts. ;The first part consists of an extended essay on Saul Kripke's recent reflections on Wittgenstein's discussion of the concepts of meaning and following a rule. It is principally concerned to argue for the following claims: That Kripke is correct in claiming that there is an important sense in which any content property is a normative property. That, contrary to Kripke, recognition of this fact need not lead us to conclude that content properties are (...) metaphysically incoherent; but rather, that content properties are not reducible to purely naturalistic properties. And finally that an instrumentalism or projectivism about content properties is of dubious coherence. ;The second part consists of a critical discussion of Kripke's claim, advanced in his paper "A Puzzle About Belief", that the apparent referential opacity of belief contexts cannot be taken as evidence against a Millian theory of names. (shrink)
Most accounts of Kant's epistemology focus narrowly on cognition and knowledge . Kant himself, however, thought that there are many other important species of assent : opinion, persuasion, conviction, belief, acceptance, and assent to the deliverances of common sense. ;My goal in this dissertation is to isolate and motivate the principles of rational acceptability which, for Kant, govern each of these kinds of assent, instead of focusing merely on cognition and knowledge. Some of the principles apply in the context (...) of everyday assent-formation; others apply in more specific contexts . ;The project is worthwhile for at least two reasons. First, it highlights issues that are both neglected in the literature and yet crucial for understanding Kant's famous claims about the nature and limits of our epistemic access to appearances and things-in-themselves. ;Second, it lays out Kant's sophisticated and largely plausible account of our intellectual obligations and of the various roles that "subjective" considerations play in our practices of assent-formation. Kant charts a viable middle course between the epistemic abstemiousness of Cliffordian evidentialists and the epistemic excess of Jamesian pragmatists. ;I begin with an overview of Kant's pre-critical epistemology, and then provide a broad survey of the ethics of assent in the critical period, noting in particular the way Kant allows for exceptions to his First Principle---the principle that it is rational to assent to proposition only on the basis of sufficient objective grounds. Having sketched the whole picture, I turn to the principles governing knowledge and use a new account of Kant's concepts of objective and subjective justification to solve a perennial interpretive problem regarding the nature of our epistemic access to material objects. I go on to examine Kant's theory of belief ; my central claim there is that Kant is much more liberal regarding belief about things-in-themselves that is based on theoretical grounds than most commentators think. Finally, I consider a number of objections to my "Liberal" interpretation of Kant's ethics of assent, and conclude with a meditation on Kant's view of enlightenment. (shrink)
The Ethics of Belief: Morality and the Will to Believe describes, investigates, and provides a resolution to a conceptual dilemma at the foundation of most ethics of belief. In the first part of the dissertation this dilemma is thoroughly explored. The following claims are addressed in the first part: that every ethic of belief presupposes that beliefs are appropriate objects of moral 'ought' judgments; that nearly all ethics of belief presuppose that we have control over the voluntary acts of (...) belief formation, belief rejection, belief change, and belief maintenance; that there is a significant conceptual connection between moral 'ought' judgments and the voluntary; and, contrary to these ethics of belief, that we actually lack control of belief formation, belief rejection, belief change, and belief maintenance. The second part of the dissertation describes the variety and scope of the different kinds of ethics of belief that face the dilemma. Historical and contemporary accounts of ethics of belief are considered . The final part of the dissertation provides a novel account of an ethic of belief, one employing social practice theoretic concepts, that avoids the dilemma previously described, even though it presupposes a connection between moral judgments of beliefs and the voluntary. The nature of the connection presupposed by this "Practice" ethic of belief is described and arguments are offered to show that despite the fact that believing is involuntary we can still be justifiably held responsible for our beliefs. (shrink)
We must change our beliefs, and change them in particular ways, in response to new information. But not all changes are created equal: some are rational changes, some not. The Problem of Epistemic Change is the problem of specifying the rational constraints on how the epistemic state of an agent ought to change in the face of new information. This dissertation is about the philosophical and logical investigation of rational belief change. I start by arguing that the familiar foundations---coherence (...) distinction from static epistemology does not adequately carve up the logical space of theories of epistemic change. It is better to think of theories as being loosely ordered along a continuum from more to less foundational. The ordering, however, is "clumpy" in the sense that there are large regions in the ordering which remain unexplored. I then present and develop GDEC which is a new foundations model of belief revision that fills a gap in this ordering of theories of epistemic change. The key insight in GDEC is that belief that...is ambiguous between the attitudes of accept that...and expect that... GDEC respects the difference and how it matters for epistemic change. I show that GDEC is a genuine competitor to the AGM theory of belief revision in the sense that the two approaches are incompatible. The remainder of the dissertation is devoted to exploring the logical dynamics of GDEC and the models I develop here which extend it by applying them to a series of richer epistemic environments. I show how puzzles and paradoxes which confound other theories of belief revision are solved in a unified way by GDEC and its extensions. In particular, I give solutions to Moore's Paradox, Fuhrmann's Impossibility Theorem, the Reduction Problem of Epistemic Conditionals, and the Gardenfors Impossibility Theorem. (shrink)
According to a plausible picture of information, to acquire information is to rule out possibilities. What is the nature of these possibilities? The most natural answer---that they are possible states of the world---seems to be refuted by the existence of informative truths that are necessary, and so don't rule out any real possibilities. This seems to show that informational contents cannot be identified with the real possibilities they eliminate. Real possibilities, it seems, are too coarse-grained to do the work of (...) informational contents. ;In the first part of the dissertation, I look at two defenses of the coarse-grained conception of content. First, Stalnaker has claimed that the informativeness of necessary truths can be explained within a two-dimensional semantic framework, in which necessary truths have contingent metalinguistic contents. In Chapter 1, I argue that this metalinguistic approach misconstrues the content of mathematical truths. Second, Stalnaker has claimed that we have independent reason to adopt a coarse-grained conception of content since naturalistic views of content such as indicator views allow only for coarse-grained contents. In Chapter 2, I argue that both indicator and teleological views allow for more fine-grained contents and that, given certain assumptions, they even require them. Together, these arguments show that the best attempt to explain the informativeness of necessary truths in terms of coarse-grained entities fails, and that naturalism gives us no reason for thinking that some other attempt will succeed. Instead of explaining informativeness in terms of the elimination of real possibilities, I claim, we should explain it in terms of the elimination of more fine-grained epistemic possibilities. ;In the second part of the dissertation, I describe the characteristic features of epistemic possibilities. Chapter 3 clarifies the relevant sense of epistemic possibility by distinguishing it from related senses that have gone under the same name. I argue that P is epistemically possible for a thinker at a time just in case an operative belief that P is compatible with his operative beliefs at this time, where beliefs are called compatible, not if their contents are compatible, but if the beliefs themselves are compatible in the sense that it is possible to have them at the same time. Since epistemic possibility in this sense is a matter of what it is possible to believe, I call it epistemic possibility in the believability sense. ;In Chapter 4, I turn to the question of what sort of thing epistemic possibilities are. I argue that epistemic possibilities can be defined in terms of, but not identified with, a certain kind of fine-grained content. (shrink)
According to the traditional view, beliefs and desires are mental representations that play particular functional roles. A belief that P is state which represents P and plays the belief-role, while a desire that P is a state which represents that P and plays the desire-role. In this dissertation I argue that the traditional view has trouble accounting for (a) role that belief and desire play in the causal and rational explanation of behaviour and (b) our knowledge of our own (...) conscious, occurrent beliefs and desires. In its place I argue for Pure Attitude Representationalism (PAR), which holds that beliefs and desires are not to be distinguished from one another by their functional role, but instead entirely by their representational content. According to PAR, desires are distinct from beliefs not because they do different things, but because desires represent things as being rewarding. Throughout the three papers that comprise this dissertation I argue that PAR provides a better explanation of (a) and (b). (shrink)
The analysis of belief ascriptions has been a central problem in philosophy for the past one hundred years. Working within a direct reference framework, the dissertation begins with a look at several of the most influential analyses of belief ascriptions over this period of time. It is argued that they all suffer from a common defect; they ignore important contextual factors which affect how belief ascriptions are interpreted. To repair this defect it is necessary to enter the realm of (...) pragmatics--the study of linguistic acts and the contexts in which they are performed. It is argued that the information conveyed by an utterance may differ significantly from its literal content. "Information conveyed" is a purely pragmatic concept; an utterance may potentially convey different information for every one of its interpreters, even though it has only one literal content. ;Following the development of the literal content/information conveyed distinction, three recent pragmatic theories of belief ascription are examined. Counterexamples are presented to each of these in turn. Finally, a theory of belief ascription is presented which is based on the literal content/information conveyed distinction. This new theory fits all of the examples that gave the other theories trouble. (shrink)
There is a traditional picture of belief, according to which someone's having a belief is that person's standing in a certain relation to an abstract object, a proposition. My dissertation examines the metaphysical demands that two problems for this picture of belief make on these abstract objects. The first problem comes to us from Frege's "On Sense and Reference," and the second concerns a certain sort of one's beliefs about oneself, which I call "indexical beliefs." ;Frege notes that someone (...) can believe that Hesperus is Hesperus without believing that Hesperus is Phosphorus. It is but a short step from Frege's observation to the claim that the sentence "A believes that Hesperus is Hesperus" could be true while "A believes that Hesperus is Phosphorus" is false. Quine has insisted that we cannot address this problem by taking either of these sentences to express a predication of the referent of both names, the planet Venus, as then both sentences would express the same predication of the same object, and this stands in evident tension with the fact that they can differ in truth value. In a recent response to Frege's problem, Mark Richard has taken exactly the route Quine has warned against. In my first chapter, I show that Richard's response is unsuccessful. I then consider the implications of the failure of his response on his proposed semantics for belief and the philosophical motivation he provides for it. I argue that his semantics for belief ascriptions stands in serious tension with its purported philosophical motivation. ;In the second and third chapters, I turn to the problem about indexical belief. The task of the second chapter is to identify this problem. To this end, I consider three of John Perry's arguments that the traditional picture of belief cannot accommodate indexical belief. I show that even if these arguments are sound, they give us no reason to think that the problem about indexical belief is in any way unique. I then suggest that there is a special problem about indexical belief, despite the failure of these three arguments to isolate it. Special difficulties attend an account of what it is to retain a tensed belief over time, and I suggest that the special problem about indexical belief is, in brief, a generalization of this problem about retention of tensed belief. ;In the third chapter, I raise the problem about indexical belief in a new way, as arising from a tension between several intuitively plausible claims about the relationship between beliefs and desires, on the one hand, and actions, on the other. This presentation of the problem brings out how the problem is special. I survey several solutions to this problem, including one due to Perry. I then argue that Perry's solution cannot characterize the specific kind of similarity between the beliefs of two different people who share an indexical belief. It allows too much to count as shared indexical belief. Thus Perry's solution inadequately addresses what I have suggested is the unique problem about indexical belief. Finally, I suggest that Frege's response to the problem I raise points the way towards an emendation of Perry's account that will enable it to suitably characterize the special way in which different people can share an indexical belief. (shrink)
Most philosophers agree that beliefs and perceptions represent the world to us and that a particular belief or perception is sometimes distinct from another particular belief or perception because what they represent is different; for example, one thing that distinguishes the belief that snow is white from the belief that grass is green is that the former represents snow while the latter represents grass. However, most philosophers of mind hold that a particular belief or perception is sometimes distinct from another (...) particular belief or perception because of how they represent. Indeed, though few philosophers explicitly recognize a distinction between what something represents and how it represents, the view that there is more to belief and perception than what they represent is about as close to philosophical orthodoxy as anything is. In this dissertation, I give a substantive account the relevant notion of representation and the distinction between what something represents and how it represents. I also bring out this hidden orthodoxy and argue that it is mistaken. Contrary to the orthodoxy, I defend the view that belief and perception present a single class of mental phenomena marked by their representational nature and that any mental difference between any two members of the class must be a difference in what they represent. (shrink)
The fact of moral disagreement when conjoined with Conciliationism, an independently attractive view about the epistemic significance disagreement, seems to entail moral skepticism. This worries those who like Conciliationism, the independently attractive view, but dislike moral skepticism. Others, equally inclined against moral skepticism, think this is a reductio of Conciliationism. I argue that they are both wrong. There is no reductio and nothing to worry about.
Children, even very young children, distinguish moral from conventional transgressions, inasmuch as they hold that the former, but not the latter, would still be wrong if there was no rule prohibiting them. Many people have taken this finding as evidence that morality is objective, and therefore universal. I argue that reflection on the phenomenon of imaginative resistance will lead us to question these claims. If a concept applies in virtue of the obtaining of a set of more basic facts, then (...) it is authority independent, and we therefore resist the attempts of authorities to claim that it does not apply. Thus, the moral/conventional distinction is a product of imaginative resistance to claims that a concept does not apply when its supervenience base is in place (or vice versa). All we can rightfully conclude from the fact that children are disposed to make the moral/conventional distinction is that our moral concepts belong to the class of authority-independent concepts. Though the set of basic facts in virtue of which an authority-independent concept obtains must be objective, the concept itself might be conventional, inasmuch as we could easily draw its boundaries wider or narrower, or fail to have a concept that corresponds to these properties at all. (shrink)
Most naturalists think that the belief/desire model from Hume is the best framework for making sense of motivation. As Smith has argued, given that the cognitive state (belief) and the conative state (desire) are separate on this model, if a moral judgment is cognitive, it could not also be motivating by itself. So, it looks as though Hume and Humeans cannot hold that moral judgments are states of belief (moral cognitivism) and internally motivating (moral internalism). My chief claim is that (...) the details of Hume’s naturalistic philosophy of mind actually allow for a conjunction of these allegedly incompatible views. This thesis is significant, since readers typically have thought that Hume’s view that motivation is not produced by representations, coupled with his view that moral judgments motivate on their own, imply that moral judgments could never take the form of beliefs about, or representations of, the moral (virtue and vice). (shrink)