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Philosophical Topics

Volume 46, Issue 1, Spring 2018
Can Beliefs Be Wrong?

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1. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 46 > Issue: 1
Rima Basu Can Beliefs Wrong?
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We care what people think of us. The thesis that beliefs wrong, although compelling, can sound ridiculous. The norms that properly govern belief are plausibly epistemic norms such as truth, accuracy, and evidence. Moral and prudential norms seem to play no role in settling the question of whether to believe p, and they are irrelevant to answering the question of what you should believe. This leaves us with the question: can we wrong one another by virtue of what we believe about each other? Can beliefs wrong? In this introduction, I present a brief summary of the articles that make up this special issue. The aim is to direct readers to open avenues for future research by highlighting questions and challenges that are far from being settled. These papers shouldn’t be taken as the last word on the subject. Rather, they mark the beginning of a serious exploration into a set of questions that concern the morality of belief, i.e., doxastic morality.
2. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 46 > Issue: 1
Simon Keller Belief for Someone Else’s Sake
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You care about what others believe about you. What others believe about you determines whether you have a good reputation, whether you have the respect of your peers, and whether your friends genuinely like you. Your caring about others’ beliefs makes sense, because others’ beliefs bear directly upon your level of well-being. Your beliefs can influence others’ well-being, as much as their beliefs can influence yours. How your beliefs influence another’s well-being is a different matter from whether your beliefs are supported by the evidence. Sometimes you can benefit another person by regulating your beliefs in response to considerations of her well-being, not (only) of the evidence. Usually, you do not have strong reasons to regulate your beliefs in response to considerations of the interests of others. But it can be different when the person in question is your friend. Within some perfectly good friendships, the support that each friend provides for the other extends as far as their being willing to regulate their beliefs with the goal of benefiting the other, even if that makes it less likely that their beliefs will be supported by the evidence. Within our friendships, we then have reasons for belief that do not arise directly from, and sometimes compete with, reasons provided by evidence. This claim conflicts with the widespread Aristotelian view that good friendship is oriented to virtue. But it fits with a more plausible view about friendship, on which the function of friendship is to help us cope with the fact that we are not fully virtuous, and to serve needs that we have because we are not fully virtuous.
3. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 46 > Issue: 1
Nomy Arpaly, Anna Brinkerhoff Why Epistemic Partiality is Overrated
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Epistemic partialism is the view that friends have a doxastic duty to overestimate each other. If one holds that there are no practical reasons for belief, we will argue, one has to deny the existence of any epistemic duties, and thus reject epistemic partialism. But if it is false that one has a doxastic duty to overestimate one’s friends, why does it so often seem true? We argue that there is a robust causal relationship between friendship and overestimation that can be mistaken for a constitutive relationship; we also argue that one can still accept some of the normative intuitions that motivate epistemic partialism even if one rejects epistemic partialism itself. Along the way, we consider and reject a watered-down version of epistemic partialism—call it epistemic partialism-light—according to which one has a duty to take steps to create in oneself a disposition to overestimate one’s friends.
4. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 46 > Issue: 1
Kate Nolfi Moral Agency in Believing
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Ordinary moral practice suggests that our beliefs, themselves, can wrong. But when one moral subject wrongs another, it must be something that the first subject, herself, does or brings about which constitutes the wronging: wronging involves exercising moral agency. So, if we can wrong others simply by believing, then believing involves an exercise or expression of moral agency. Unfortunately, it is not at all obvious how our beliefs could manifest our moral agency. After all, we are not (or at least not typically) capable of believing at will, and belief generally seems to be nonvoluntary. Indeed, believing is often nondeliberative, automatic, and reflexive. Belief is a kind of spontaneous and unchosen cognitive response to one’s circumstances; it is the doxastic output of cognitive processing that is often wholly unreflective and subconscious. This paper develops and defends a two-part explanation of how beliefs that are nonvoluntary, automatic, and reflexive can nevertheless manifest our moral agency in a way that can help vindicate the intuitively attractive idea that our beliefs, themselves, can wrong.
5. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 46 > Issue: 1
Sarah K. Paul, Jennifer M. Morton Believing in Others
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Suppose some person ‘A’ sets out to accomplish a difficult, long-term goal such as writing a passable PhD thesis. What should you believe about whether A will succeed? The default answer is that you should believe whatever the total accessible evidence concerning A’s abilities, circumstances, capacity for self-discipline, and so forth supports. But could it be that what you should believe depends in part on the relationship you have with A? We argue that it does, in the case where A is yourself. The capacity for “grit” involves a kind of epistemic resilience in the face of evidence suggesting that one might fail, and this makes it rational to respond to the relevant evidence differently when you are the agent in question. We then explore whether similar arguments extend to the case of “believing in” our significant others—our friends, lovers, family members, colleagues, patients, and students.
6. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 46 > Issue: 1
Berislav Marušić, Stephen White How Can Beliefs Wrong?: A Strawsonian Epistemology
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We take a tremendous interest in how other people think of us. We have certain expectations of others, concerning how we are to figure in their thought and judgment. And we often feel wronged if those are disappointed. But it is puzzling how others’ beliefs could wrong us. On the one hand, moral considerations don’t bear on the truth of a belief and so seem to be the wrong kind of reasons for belief. On the other hand, truth-directed considerations seem to render moral considerations redundant. In this paper, we argue that to understand the possibility of doxastic wronging, we need to understand beliefs, no less than actions, as ways of relating to one another. In particular, how we take account of what others think and say will depend on whether we take up what P. F. Strawson calls the participant stance toward them. We show how this helps to make sense of an example Miranda Fricker identifies as a case of epistemic injustice. We then use the example to spell out the ethical significance of Tyler Burge’s idea that we have a default entitlement to accept at face value what we receive from a rational source.
7. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 46 > Issue: 1
Mark Schroeder When Beliefs Wrong
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Most philosophers find it puzzling how beliefs could wrong, and this leads them to conclude that they do not. So there is much philosophical work to be done in sorting out whether I am right to say that they do, as well as how this could be so. But in this paper I will take for granted that beliefs can wrong, and ask instead when beliefs wrong. My answer will be that beliefs wrong when they falsely diminish. This answer has three parts: that beliefs wrong only when they are false, that beliefs wrong only when they diminish, and that false diminishment is sufficient for wronging. I will seek to elaborate on and defend all three of these claims, but it is the first to which I will give the most attention.
8. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 46 > Issue: 1
Kristie Dotson Accumulating Epistemic Power: A Problem with Epistemology
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On December 3, 2014, in a piece entitled “White America’s Scary Delusion: Why Its Sense of Black Humanity Is So Skewed,” Brittney Cooper criticizes attempts to deem Black rage at state-sanctioned violence against Black people “unreasonable.” In this paper, I outline a problem with epistemology that Cooper highlights in order to explore whether beliefs can wrong. My overall claim is there are difficult-to-defeat arguments concerning the “legitimacy” of police slayings against Black people that are indicative of problems with epistemology because of the epistemic power they accumulate toward resilient oblivion, which can have the effect of normalizing oppressive conditions. That is to say, if one takes the value of lessening oppression as a key feature of normative, epistemological conduct, then it can generate demands on epistemological orientations that, in turn, generate wrongs for beliefs and, more specifically, beliefs as wrongs.
9. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 46 > Issue: 1
Endre Begby Doxastic Morality: A Moderately Skeptical Perspective
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Beliefs can cause moral wrongs, no doubt, but can they also constitute moral wrongs in their own right? This paper offers some grounds to be skeptical of the idea that there are moral norms which operate directly on belief, independently of any epistemic norms also operating on belief. The resultant skepticism is moderate in the following sense: it holds that the motivations underlying the doxastic morality approach should not be dismissed lightly; they are genuine insights and serve to bring to light important new issues concerning the interaction between our notions of moral and epistemic responsibility. Nonetheless, it is also skeptical, in holding that these concerns are ultimately best voiced in more traditional categories which distinguish the epistemology of belief from the morality of action.
10. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 46 > Issue: 1
Ryan Preston-Roedder Three Varieties of Faith
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Secular moral philosophy has devoted little attention to the nature and significance of faith. Perhaps this is unsurprising. The significance of faith is typically thought to depend on the truth of theism, and so it may seem that a careful study of faith has little to offer nonreligious philosophy. But I argue that, whether or not theism holds, certain kinds of faith are centrally important virtues, that is, character traits that are morally admirable or admirable from some broader perspective of human flourishing. I discuss three varieties of faith that a virtuous person has in people: faith in herself, faith in people to whom she bears certain personal relationships, and faith in humanity. Coming to understand the nature of these forms of faith and the roles they play in human life promises to deepen our understanding of aspects of moral life and aspects of human flourishing that are poorly grasped. Beyond this, it makes valuable contributions to the literature on self-trust and the literature on epistemic partiality in friendship, and it helps us better understand the relation between our epistemic and practical ideals.