Project Details


Modern philosophy is often said to privilege rationality over received wisdom, but to some extent this is an ideal which we must pursue with a measure of uncertainty. It is not always obvious what rationality requires. Nor is it clear how rationality is to be traded against other ideals. This dissertation seeks to clarify both questions as they pertain to the rationality of belief. The choice of topic is apposite, since many argue that the case of belief illustrates that what is rational and what there is most reason to do is one and the same thing. In particular, so-called evidentialists often argue that to believe what the evidence indicates is both to believe rationally and to believe what one has most reason to believe, since (i) rationality consists in responding to reasons, and (ii) only evidence that p can be a reason to believe that p.

My first objective is to challenge this thesis. I do so by arguing that the class of reasons that rationalise a belief does not coincide with the class of reasons there are to have the belief all things considered. To equate the two classes would be to conflate the psychological issue of how we respond to reasons with the ontological issue of what reasons there are. My case against evidentialism does not depend on pragmatism being true, however. Even if Pascal was wrong to claim that the expected benefit of believing can be a reason to believe, it does not follow that evidentialism is true. Some non-pragmatic form of anti-evidentialism may still be true.

The latter half of the dissertation explores this possibility in greater detail. There I argue that there is at least one class of beliefs which is not subject to common evidentiary strictures. When we use practical reasoning to form intentions about what to do in the future, we typically also form beliefs about what we will do. Yet, those beliefs are not based on evidence about what we will do, I argue. Typically, we do not predict what we do based on what we intend to do. Nor should we. When it is up to us whether we will perform an action, our intentions do to not carry enough weight as evidence that we must use them to predict what we will do. In the last part of the dissertation, I use this point to elucidate how we acquire self-knowledge and how belief relates to truth.
Effective start/end date11/10/109/10/15


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