In this paper I am concerned with the question of whether degrees of belief can figure in reasoning processes that are executed by humans. It is generally accepted that outright beliefs and intentions can be part of reasoning processes, but the role of degrees of belief remains unclear. The literature on subjective Bayesianism, which seems to be the natural place to look for discussions of the role of degrees of belief in reasoning, does not (...) address the question of whether degrees of belief play a role in real agents’ reasoning processes. On the other hand, the philosophical literature on reasoning, which relies much less heavily on idealizing assumptions about reasoners than Bayesianism, is almost exclusively concerned with outright belief. One possible explanation for why no philosopher has yet developed an account of reasoning with degrees of belief is that reasoning with degrees of belief is not possible for humans. In this paper, I will consider three arguments for this claim. I will show why these arguments are flawed, and conclude that, at least as far as these arguments are concerned, it seems like there is no good reason why the topic of reasoning with degrees of belief has received so little attention. (shrink)
We often evaluate belief-forming processes, agents, or entire belief states for reliability. This is normally done with the assumption that beliefs are all-or-nothing. How does such evaluation go when we’re considering beliefs that come in degrees? I consider a natural answer to this question that focuses on the degree of truth-possession had by a set of beliefs. I argue that this natural proposal is inadequate, but for an interesting reason. When we are dealing with all-or-nothing belief, (...) high reliability leads to high levels of truth-possession. However, when it comes to degrees of belief, reliability and truth-possession part ways. The natural answer thus fails to be a good way to evaluate degrees of belief for reliability. I propose and develop an alternative method based on the notion of calibration, suggested by Frank Ramsey, which does not have this problem and consider why we should care about such assessments of reliability even if they are not tied directly to truth-possession. (shrink)
People often act in ways that appear incompatible with their sincere assertions. But how might we explain such cases? On the shifting view, subjects’ degrees of belief may be highly sensitive to changes in context. This paper articulates and refines this view, after defending it against recent criticisms. It details two mechanisms by which degrees of beliefs may shift.
There has been much discussion about whether traditional epistemology's doxastic attitudes are reducible to degrees of belief. In this paper I argue that what I call the Straightforward Reduction - the reduction of all three of believing p, disbelieving p, and suspending judgment about p, not-p to precise degrees of belief for p and not-p that ought to obey the standard axioms of the probability calculus - cannot succeed. By focusing on suspension of judgment (agnosticism) rather (...) than belief, we can see why the Straightforward Reduction is bound to fail. I argue that, in general, suspending about p is not just a matter of having some specified standard credence for p, and in the end I suggest some ways to extend the arguments that will put pressure on other credence-theoretic accounts of belief and suspension of judgment as well. (shrink)
Starting from John MacFarlane's recent survey of answers to the question ‘What is assertion?’, I defend an account of assertion that draws on elements of MacFarlane's and Robert Brandom's commitment accounts, Timothy Williamson's knowledge norm account, and my own previous work on the normative status of logic. I defend the knowledge norm from recent attacks. Indicative conditionals, however, pose a problem when read along the lines of Ernest Adams' account, an account supported by much work in the psychology of reasoning. (...) Furthermore, there seems to be no place for degrees of belief in the accounts of belief and assertion given here. Degrees of belief do have a role in decision‐making, but, again, there is much evidence that the orthodox theory of subjective utility maximization is not a good description of what we do in decision‐making and, arguably, neither is it a good normative guide to how we ought to make decisions. (shrink)
A framework of degrees of belief, or credences, is often advocated to model our uncertainty about how things are or will turn out. It has also been employed in relation to the kind of uncertainty or indefiniteness that arises due to vagueness, such as when we consider “a is F” in a case where a is borderline F. How should we understand degrees of belief when we take into account both these phenomena? Can the right kind (...) of theory of the semantics of vagueness help us answer this? Nicholas J.J. Smith defends a unified account, according to which “degree of belief is expected truth-value”; this builds on his Degree Theory of vagueness that offers an account of the semantics and logic of vagueness in terms of degrees of truth. I argue that his account fails. Degree theories of vagueness do not help us understand degrees of belief and, I argue, we shouldn’t expect a theory of vagueness to yield a detailed uniform story about this. The route from the semantics to psychological states needn’t be straightforward or uniform even before we attempt to combine vagueness with probabilistic uncertainty. (shrink)
What propositions are rational for one to believe? With what confidence is it rational for one to believe these propositions? Answering the first of these questions requires an epistemology of beliefs, answering the second an epistemology of degrees of belief.
Degrees of belief are familiar to all of us. Our conﬁdence in the truth of some propositions is higher than our conﬁdence in the truth of other propositions. We are pretty conﬁdent that our computers will boot when we push their power button, but we are much more conﬁdent that the sun will rise tomorrow. Degrees of belief formally represent the strength with which we believe the truth of various propositions. The higher an agent’s degree of (...)belief for a particular proposition, the higher her conﬁdence in the truth of that proposition. For instance, Sophia’s degree of belief that it will be sunny in Vienna tomorrow might be .52, whereas her degree of belief that the train will leave on time might be .23. The precise meaning of these statements depends, of course, on the underlying theory of degrees of belief. These theories offer a formal tool to measure degrees of belief, to investigate the relations between various degrees of belief in different propositions, and to normatively evaluate degrees of belief. (shrink)
The main question of this paper is: how do we manage to know what our own degrees of belief are? Section 1 briefly reviews and criticizes the traditional functionalist view, a view notably associated with David Lewis and sometimes called the theory-theory. I use this criticism to motivate the approach I want to promote. Section 2, the bulk of the paper, examines and begins to develop the view that we have a special kind of introspective access to our (...)degrees of belief. I give an initial assessment of the view by examining its compatibility with leading theories of introspection. And I identify a challenge for the view, and explain why I’m optimistic that the view can overcome it. (shrink)
What is the relationship between degrees of belief and all-or-nothing beliefs? Can the latter be expressed as a function of the former, without running into paradoxes? We reassess this “belief-binarization” problem from the perspective of judgment-aggregation theory. Although some similarities between belief binarization and judgment aggregation have been noted before, the literature contains no general study of the implications of aggregation-theoretic impossibility and possibility results for belief binarization. We seek to fill this gap. This paper (...) is organized around a “baseline” impossibility theorem, which we use to map out the space of possible solutions to the belief-binarization problem. The theorem shows that, except in simple cases, there exists no belief-binarization rule satisfying four initially plausible desiderata. A surprising finding is that this result is a direct corollary of the judgment-aggregation variant of Arrow's classic impossibility theorem. (shrink)
Is it possible to give an explicit definition of belief in terms of subjective probability, such that believed propositions are guaranteed to have a sufficiently high probability, and yet it is neither the case that belief is stripped of any of its usual logical properties, nor is it the case that believed propositions are bound to have probability 1? We prove the answer is ‘yes’, and that given some plausible logical postulates on belief that involve a contextual (...) “cautiousness” threshold, there is but one way of determining the extension of the concept of belief that does the job. The qualitative concept of belief is not to be eliminated from scientific or philosophical discourse, rather, by reducing qualitative belief to assignments of resiliently high degrees of belief and a “cautiousness” threshold, qualitative and quantitative belief turn out to be governed by one unified theory that offers the prospects of a huge range of applications. Within that theory, logic and probability theory are not opposed to each other but go hand in hand. (shrink)
Probabilism is committed to two theses: 1) Opinion comes in degrees—call them degrees of belief, or credences. 2) The degrees of belief of a rational agent obey the probability calculus. Correspondingly, a natural way to argue for probabilism is: i) to give an account of what degrees of belief are, and then ii) to show that those things should be probabilities, on pain of irrationality. Most of the action in the literature concerns stage (...) ii). Assuming that stage i) has been adequately discharged, various authors move on to stage ii) with varied and ingenious arguments. But an unsatisfactory response at stage i) clearly undermines any gains that might be accrued at stage ii) as far as probabilism is concerned: if those things are not degrees of belief, then it is irrelevant to probabilism whether they should be probabilities or not. In this paper we scrutinize the state of play regarding stage i). We critically examine several of the leading accounts of degrees of belief: reducing them to corresponding betting behavior (de Finetti); measuring them by that behavior (Jeffrey); and analyzing them in terms of preferences and their role in decision-making more generally (Ramsey, Lewis, Maher). We argue that the accounts fail, and so they are unfit to subserve arguments for probabilism. We conclude more positively: ‘degree of belief’ should be taken as a primitive concept that forms the basis of our best theory of rational belief and decision: probabilism. (shrink)
Schwitzgebel (2001) — henceforth 'S' — offers three examples in order to convince us that there are situations in which individuals are neither accurately describable as believing that p or failing to so believe, but are rather in 'in-between states of belief'. He then argues that there are no 'Bayesian' or representational strategies for explicating these, and proposes a dispositional account. I do not have any fundamental objection to the idea that there might be 'in-between states of belief'. (...) What I shall argue, rather, is that: (I) S does not provide a convincing argument that there really are such states; (II) S does not show, as he claims, that 'in-between states of belief' could not be accounted for in terms of degrees of belief; (III) S’s dispositional account of 'in-between states of belief' is more problematic than the 'degree of belief' alternative. (shrink)
The paper’s target is the historically influential betting interpretation of subjective probabilities due to Ramsey and de Finetti. While there are several classical and well-known objections to this interpretation, the paper focuses on just one fundamental problem: There is a sense in which degrees of belief cannot be interpreted as betting rates. The reasons differ in different cases, but there’s one crucial feature that all these cases have in common: The agent’s degree of belief in a proposition (...) A does not coincide with her degree of belief in a conditional that A would be the case if she were to bet on A, where the belief in this conditional itself is conditioned on the supposition that the agent will have an opportunity to make such a bet. Even though the two degrees of belief sometimes can coincide (they will coincide in those cases when the bet has no expected causal bearings on the proposition A and the opportunity to bet have no evidential bearings on that proposition), it is the latter belief rather than the former that guides the agent’s rational betting behaviour. The reason is that this latter belief takes into consideration potential interferences that bet opportunities and betting itself might create with regard to the proposition to be betted on. It is because of this interference problem that the agent’s degree of belief in A cannot be interpreted as her betting rate for A. (shrink)
The representation theorems of expected utility theory show that having certain types of preferences is both necessary and sufficient for being representable as having subjective probabilities. However, unless the expected utility framework is simply assumed, such preferences are also consistent with being representable as having degrees of belief that do not obey the laws of probability. This fact shows that being representable as having subjective probabilities is not necessarily the same as having subjective probabilities. Probabilism can be defended (...) on the basis of the representation theorems only if attributions of degrees of belief are understood either antirealistically or purely qualitatively, or if the representation theorems are supplemented by arguments based on other considerations (simplicity, consilience, and so on) that single out the representation of a person as having subjective probabilities as the only true representation of the mental state of any person whose preferences conform to the axioms of expected utility theory. (shrink)
The main question of this paper is: how do we manage to know what our own degrees of belief are? Section 1 briefly reviews and criticizes the traditional functionalist view, a view notably associated with David Lewis and sometimes called the theory-theory. I use this criticism to motivate the approach I want to promote. Section 2, the bulk of the paper, examines and begins to develop the view that we have a special kind of introspective access to our (...)degrees of belief. I give an initial assessment of the view by examining its compatibility with leading theories of introspection. And I identify a challenge for the view, and explain why I'm optimistic that the view can overcome it. (shrink)
If we think, as Ramsey did, that a degree of belief that P is a stronger or weaker tendency to act as if P, then it is clear that not only uncertainty, but also vagueness, gives rise to degrees of belief. If I like hot coffee and do not know whether the coffee is hot or cold, I will have some tendency to reach for a cup; if I like hot coffee and know that the coffee is (...) borderline hot, I will have some tendency to reach for a cup. Suppose that we take degrees of belief arising from uncertainty to obey the laws of probability and that we model vagueness using degrees of truth. We then encounter a problem: it does not look as though degrees of belief arising from vagueness should obey the laws of probability. One response would be to countenance two different sorts of degrees of belief: degrees of belief arising from uncertainty, which obey the laws of probability; and degrees of belief arising from vagueness, which obey a different set of laws. I argue, however, that if a degree of belief that P is a stronger or weaker tendency to act as if P, then this option is not open. Instead, I propose an account of the behaviour of degrees of belief that integrates subjective probabilities and degrees of truth. On this account, degrees of belief are expectations of degrees of truth. The account explains why degrees of belief behave in accordance with the laws of probability in cases involving only uncertainty, while also allowing degrees of belief to behave differently in cases involving only vagueness, and in mixed cases involving both uncertainty and vagueness. Justifications of the account are given both via Dutch books and in terms of epistemic accuracy. (shrink)
Plausibility models are Kripke models that agents use to reason about knowledge and belief, both of themselves and of each other. Such models are used to interpret the notions of conditional belief, degrees of belief, and safe belief. The logic of conditional belief contains that modality and also the knowledge modality, and similarly for the logic of degrees of belief and the logic of safe belief. With respect to these logics, plausibility (...) models may contain too much information. A proper notion of bisimulation is required that characterises them. We define that notion of bisimulation and prove the required characterisations: on the class of image-finite and preimage-finite models, two pointed Kripke models are modally equivalent in either of the three logics, if and only if they are bisimilar. As a result, the information content of such a model can be similarly expressed in the logic of conditional belief, or the logic of degrees of belief, or that of safe belief. This, we found a surprising result. Still, that does not mean that the logics are equally expressive: the logics of conditional and degrees of belief are incomparable, the logics of degrees of belief and safe belief are incomparable, while the logic of safe belief is more expressive than the logic of conditional belief. In view of the result on bisimulation characterisation, this is an equally surprising result. We hope our insights may contribute to the growing community of formal epistemology and on the relation between qualitative and quantitative modelling. (shrink)
A springboard for exploring the many approaches to degrees of belief Content Type Journal Article Category Book Review Pages 1-4 DOI 10.1007/s11016-012-9641-x Authors Lyle Zynda, Philosophy Department, Indiana University South Bend, 1700 Mishawaka Ave., P.O. Box 7111, South Bend, IN 46634, USA Journal Metascience Online ISSN 1467-9981 Print ISSN 0815-0796.
Michael G. Titelbaum presents a new Bayesian framework for modeling rational degrees of belief--the first of its kind to represent rational requirements on agents who undergo certainty loss. He compares the framework to alternative solutions, and applies it to cases in epistemology, decision theory, the theory of identity, and quantum mechanics.
The "Dutch Book" argument, tracing back to Ramsey and to deFinetti, offers prudential grounds for action in conformity with personal probability. Under several structural assumptions about combinations of stakes, your betting policy is coherent only if your fair odds are probabilities. The central question posed here is the following one: Besides providing an operational test of coherent betting, does the "Book" argument also provide for adequate measurement of the agents degrees of beliefs? That is, are an agent's fair odds (...) also his/her personal probabilities for those events? We argue the answer is "No!" The problem is caused by the possibility of state dependent utilities. (shrink)
What is the relation between ‘full’ or ‘outright’ belief and the various levels of confidence that agents can have in the propositions that concern them? This paper argues for a new answer to this question. Decision theory implies that in making decisions, rational agents must treat certain propositions as though they were completely certain; but on most forms of decision theory, these propositions are not ones for which any finite agent could have maximal justification – the agent will clearly (...) have less justification for these propositions than for elementary logical truths. Thus, every adequate model of a finite rational agent's belief‐system must involve two set of credences – theoretical credences and practical credences . A full or outright belief in p can be defined as the state of being stably disposed to assign a practical credence of 1 to p, for all normal practical purposes. This definition allows for a kind of reconciliation between the pragmatist and intellectualist approaches in epistemology. (shrink)
The Story of the Hats is a puzzle in social epistemology. It describes a situation in which a group of rational agents with common priors and common goals seems vulnerable to a Dutch book if they are exposed to different information and make decisions independently. Situations in which this happens involve violations of what might be called the Group-Reflection Principle. As it turns out, the Dutch book is flawed. It is based on the betting interpretation of the subjective probabilities, but (...) ignores the fact that this interpretation disregards strategic considerations that might influence betting behavior. A lesson to be learned concerns the interpretation of probabilities in terms of fair bets and, more generally, the role of strategic considerations in epistemic contexts. Another lesson concerns Group-Reflection, which in its unrestricted form is highly counter-intuitive. We consider how this principle of social epistemology should be re-formulated so as to make it tenable. (shrink)