Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Whaddya think?

Whatever the relation is between beliefs fine and coarse, if the posts previous on coarse and fine belief are right, it appears to be a mistake to say that a high level of confidence is as intimately connected to a coarse belief as the redness of this cup is to the instance of scarlet that this particular redness is. This seems to get the metaphysics of these states wrong. States this intimately connected would appear to share normative properties, but in insisting that they share normative properties we not only are committed to apparently mistaken claims about the normative properties of coarse and fine beliefs, we seem to trivialize non-trivial epistemic problems that arise when we try to think of how the normative statuses of fine and coarse beliefs interact. Think of a lottery example. Green owns a ticket in an upcoming lottery and knows that the odds are exceptionally good that he will lose. Knowing this, he still wonders whether he will lose and whether to believe that he will. While he might raise the question 'Given the chances, what should I believe?' it seems that the Lockean attitude is that there is really no question here to settle. Given how confident he is that he will lose, he just does believe. As such, he cannot really deliberate about whether to believe given how confident he is. But, Green knows he does not know whether he will lose, which is why he wonders what to believe. Thus, it seems the Lockean trivializes a non-trivial problem.

This point is one that I believe I owe to Weatherson (see his pragmatic encroachment paper), but I thought it was worth mentioning because there is a second problem related to the one he raises. Not only does the Lockean seem to trivialize a non-trivial epistemic problem, it seems the Lockean view makes problematic epistemic problems that seemed otherwise quite trivial. It is often thought that we have a kind of distinctive authority over our own minds. Suppose Green wonders whether to believe he will lose the lottery because he knows he does not know he will lose. In judging that he does not know he will lose, he takes himself to not believe one way or the other. That is precisely why he is in the epistemic predicament he is. It seems that while Green believes he does not believe he will lose tomorrow's lottery drawing, the Lockean will say that this second-order belief is mistaken. We might allow for the odd mistaken second-order belief that represents oneself as not being in a mental state one is in. (If we think about desires, it would be odd to think that as a matter of course we might believe ourselves to desire things we do not. It is less odd to think that we believe ourselves not to desire things we do. It is comforting, actually, if Freud is right.) What is odd about this is that the Lockean will say that Green is fully aware of his coarse belief since he knows full well that he is extremely confident that his ticket will lose. If Green is fully aware of his coarse belief, why does he believe he has no such belief?

The Lockean can say (rightly) that any one of us can be aware of an F without being aware that it is an F, but the question is not how could Green fail to know what he believes, but how could it be that Green would typically misrepresent his own beliefs in these kinds of situations? It seems we would want not to impute to Green this sort of widespread error, a kind of error that can only be remedied by bringing Green to see the Lockean light, in which case his coarse belief becomes a kind of theoretical entity he believes he has only after having inferred its presence because he first ascertained that he is highly confident that something is so.

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