Wednesday, September 28, 2016

New Essay in Draft: The Pragmatic Metaphysics of Belief

Available here.

As always, comments and criticisms welcome, either by email to my address or in the comments section on this post.


Suppose someone intellectually assents to a proposition but fails to act and react generally as though that proposition is true. Does she believe the proposition? Intellectualist approaches will say she does believe it. They align belief with sincere, reflective judgment, downplaying the importance of habitual, spontaneous reaction and unreflective assumption. Broad-based approaches, which do not privilege the intellectual and reflective over the spontaneous and habitual in matters of belief, will refrain from ascribing belief or treat it as an intermediate case. Both views are viable, so it is open to us to choose which view to prefer on pragmatic grounds. I argue that since “belief” is a term of central importance in philosophy of mind, philosophy of action, and epistemology, we should use it to label most important phenomenon in the vicinity that can plausibly answer to it. The most important phenomenon in the vicinity is not our patterns of intellectual endorsement but rather our overall lived patterns of action and reaction. Too intellectualist a view risks hiding the importance of lived behavior, especially when that behavior does not match our ideals and self-conception, inviting us to noxiously comfortable views of ourselves.

The Pragmatic Metaphysics of Belief (in draft)

(I'll be giving a version of this paper as talk at USC on Friday, by the way.)

Related Posts:

On Being Blameworthy for Unwelcome Thoughts, Reactions, and Biases (Mar 19, 2015)

Against Intellectualism about Belief (Jul 31, 2015)

Pragmatic Metaphysics (Feb 11, 2016)


howie berman said...

Let's suppose first thing in the morning, I say I don't want to go to work- but at work I warm up to the idea, and this happens everyday- do I like work?
Or I like a friend but when we get together I feel bored or resentful?
I like your direction of analysis- but an analysis should be built bottom up, from concrete examples, so something more strange, more like a theory of family resemblance as in Wittgenstein would be devised.
I pick these examples, not just from introspection, but that they feel (I Haven't thought the whole thing through) a bit an uneasy fit with your approach.
I think you have to focus on the dynamic interplay between beliefs as in psychoanalysis and setting as in social psychology.
Still, of course, your point is well taken

George Gantz said...

Eric - I would argue that the word "belief" strongly implies a cognitive assent to the content of the belief. Your proposed use of the word is therefore likely to be more confusing that clarifying. I think you need a new word. Since you are driving at the basis for unreflective or habitual behaviors perhaps you could use a term such as "implicit belief" - suggesting that the behavior implies some kind of subconscious rational basis. However, random / spontaneous / creative / imaginative motivation may have little or no rational basis - so it's hard to say they are based on "beliefs."

Good luck.

Carrie Figdor said...

I think relativists about truth (along with skeptics, maybe) are particularly egregious in claiming that there is no truth (only "truth") and acting in ways that show they quite clearly believe, as indexed by how they behave, that some things are true and others false.

Unknown said...

...Are beliefs only resistances of the mind. Are pragmatics resistances of the mind to metaphysics...
...That everything in ones view is ready to be drafted, already a source of energy for living....

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks for the comments, folks!

Howie: It seems like you could analyze at two temporal grains. At a big temporal grain, you're in-between; moment to moment you change.

George: I agree that non-in-between cases of belief require cognitive assent to the content of the belief. So Daniel's case, for example, is an in-between case. I'd rather not devalue my preferred usage of the term "belief" by calling it implicit. It's definitely not part of model that we have subconscious implicit beliefs, like little stored representations or something, that are the rational basis of our imaginings and such.

Carrie: Yes, I agree! Bryan Frances (2016) also discusses metaphysicians who think that all claims about macroscopic objects are false, and I discuss the "trembling Stoic" (2010) who affirms that death is not bad but doesn't live that way. This is an interesting class of cases, where philosophical doctrine and practical belief appear to diverge.

Unknown: I'm not quite sure what you're getting at, I'm afraid!

Unknown said...

When drafting-writing about metaphysics, 'diverging' to write in the first person may help...
"I'm afraid" is a good example...I am afraid too, but trying to allow it, to see it...

Anonymous said...

I have some doubts about the sense of foundational at play here. This presumably would not be the only sense of belief relevant in our explanations of human life and behavior. It sounds like you're interested in a shift in topic or subject matter, that the primary object of study for Philosophers with respect to cases of belief should be belief in this broader sense, but might other senses of belief be foundational or fundamental in an explanatory sense? On the other side of that issue, I'm worried that it might build in definitionally a solution to certain philosophical problems in which some other notion of belief is at play in posing them. Spirit of this worry: the pragmatic-based choice may not answer our theoretical demands or needs.

I was also wondering what you think about an inverse Daniel sort of case. Couldn't we imagine someone who truly seems to believe that ex. the less well off are worthy of respect if we were to peer into their inner life, someone who is in fact very self-conscious and who feels anguish about their poor behavior, someone who knows it to be true but who struggles to shift their deeply ingrained habits, acts badly, repents, etc... It just seems strange (but maybe this just means I need to reconsider my concepts!) to say that this person does not believe that the less well off are worthy of respect. Maybe their anguish is enough in this case for your account? As a small side note, this also made me wonder if your account of belief is going to conflict with standard norms of attributing beliefs on the basis of testimony (this is not a developed thought.) Sorry, that was a lot - I don't have specific criticisms in mind, just a lot of questions!