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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.
11. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 45 > Issue: 2
Luvell Anderson Hermeneutical Impasses
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When people respond to chants of “Black lives matter” with “All lives matter” or excoriate Colin Kaepernick for being “anti-military” or “anti-American” when he sits or kneels during the playing of the national anthem, there appears to be a break in understanding. BLM protestors and Kaepernick understand their actions and messages in one way, detractors in quite a different way. This seems to present what we might refer to as an interpretive challenge.In this essay, I aim to explore the nature of this interpretive challenge by illuminating the various obstacles that leave us without understanding. I will refer to such breaks in understanding as hermeneutical impasses. First, I sketch a taxonomy of hermeneutical impasses. I then discuss various ways of describing the notion of ‘understanding’ that may be at issue in impasses. Next, I discuss the relation between power and hermeneutical impasses, showing some of the ways power relations constrain our discursive practices. I conclude by arguing the structures of our environment make hermeneutical impasses difficult to avoid, if not inevitable.
12. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 45 > Issue: 2
Keota Fields Intensional Liar
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I propose to downgrade the Liar paradox from what Quine called an antinomy to a much weaker veridical paradox. I then apply Quine’s strategy of rejecting veridical paradoxes by exposing an unacceptable premise to the Liar. I argue that upon analysis the intension of a standard Liar sentence presupposes the existence of a non-empty empty set; and that since such an object is impossible this presupposition may be rejected, downgrading the Liar. I then briefly argue that Dialetheism can be motivated without supposing the existence of a non-empty empty set.
13. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 45 > Issue: 2
Justin Khoo Code Words in Political Discourse
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I argue that code words like “inner city” do not semantically encode hidden or implicit meanings, and offer an account of how they nonetheless manage to bring about the surprising effects discussed in Mendelberg 2001, White 2007, and Stanley 2015 (among others).
14. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 45 > Issue: 2
Carlotta Pavese A Theory of Practical Meaning
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This essay introduces the notion of practical meaning by looking at a certain kind of procedural system—the motor system—that plays a central role in computational models of motor behavior. I suggest that a semantics for motor commands has to appeal to a distinctively practical kind of meaning. Defending the explanatory relevance of motor representation and of its semantic properties in a computational explanation of motor behavior, my argument concludes that practical meanings play a central role in an adequate explanation of motor behavior that is based on these computational models. In the second part of this essay, I generalize and clarify the notion of practical meaning, and I defend the intelligibility of practical meanings against an important objection.
15. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 45 > Issue: 2
Jennifer M. Saul Racial Figleaves, the Shifting Boundaries of the Permissible, and the Rise of Donald Trump
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The rise to power of Donald Trump has been shocking in many ways. One of these was that it disrupted the preexisting consensus that overt racism would be death to a national political campaign. In this paper, I argue that Trump made use of what I call “racial figleaves”—additional utterances that provide just enough cover to give reassurance to voters who are racially resentful but don’t wish to see themselves as racist. These figleaves also, I argue, play a key role in shifting our norms about what counts as racist: they bring it about that something which would previously have been seen as revealing obvious racism is now seen as the sort of thing that a nonracist might say. This gives them tremendous power to corrupt not just our political discourse but our culture more broadly.
16. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 45 > Issue: 2
Eric Swanson Omissive Implicature
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In some contexts, not saying S generates a conversational implicature: that the speaker didn’t have sufficient reason, all things considered, to say S. I call this an omissive implicature. Standard ways of thinking about conversational implicature make the importance and even the existence of omissive implicatures somewhat surprising. But I argue that there is no principled reason to deny that there are such implicatures, and that they help explain a range of important phenomena. This paper focuses on the roles omissive implicatures play in Quantity implicatures—in particular, in solving the symmetry problem for scalar implicatures—and on the political and social importance of omissions where apologies, objections, or other communicative acts are expected or warranted.
17. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 45 > Issue: 2
Lynne Tirrell Toxic Speech: Toward an Epidemiology of Discursive Harm
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Applying a medical conception of toxicity to speech practices, this paper calls for an epidemiology of discursive toxicity. Toxicity highlights the mechanisms by which speech acts and discursive practices can inflict harm, making sense of claims about harms arising from speech devoid of slurs, epithets, or a narrower class I call ‘deeply derogatory terms.’ Further, it highlights the role of uptake and susceptibility, and so suggests a framework for thinking about damage variation. Toxic effects vary depending on one’s epistemic position, access, and authority. An inferentialist account of discursive practice plus a dynamic view of the power of language games offers tools to analyze the toxic power of speech acts. A simple account of language games helps track changes in our discursive practices. Identifying patterns contributes to an epidemiology of toxic speech, which might include tracking increasing use of derogatory terms, us/them dichotomization, terms of isolation, new essentialisms, and more. Using this framework, I analyze some examples of speech already said to be toxic, working with a rough concept of toxicity as poison. Finally, exploring discursive toxicity pushes us to find ways that certain discursive practices might “inoculate” one to absorbing toxic messages, or less metaphorically, block one’s capacity to make toxic inferences, take deontic stances that foster toxicity, etc.
symposium on two dimensional semantics
18. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 45 > Issue: 2
Una Stojnić On the Connection between Semantic Content and the Objects of Assertion
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The Rigidity Thesis states that no rigid term can have the same semantic content as a nonrigid one. Drawing on Dummett (1973; 1991), Evans (1979; 1982), and Lewis (1980), Stanley (1997a; 1997b; 2002) rejects the thesis since it relies on an illicit identification of compositional semantic content and the content of assertion (henceforth, assertoric content). I argue that Stanley’s critique of the Rigidity Thesis fails since it places constraints on assertoric content that cannot be satisfied by any plausible notion of content appropriately related to compositional semantic content. For similar reasons, I also challenge a recent two-dimensionalist defense of Stanley by Ninan (2012). The moral is far-reaching: any theory that invokes a distinction between semantic and assertoric contents is unsatisfactory unless it can plausibly explain the connection between them.
19. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 45 > Issue: 2
Brian Rabern A Bridge from Semantic Value to Content
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A common view relating compositional semantics and the objects of assertion holds the following: Sentences φ and ψ expresses the same proposition (in a context) iff φ and ψ have the same modal profile (in context). Following Dummett (1973), Evans (1979), and Lewis (1980), Stanley (1997) argues that this view is fundamentally mistaken (and thus blocks Kripke’s modal objection to descriptivism). According to Dummett, we must distinguish the semantic contribution a sentence makes to more complex expressions in which it occurs from its assertoric content. Stojnić (2017) insists that views which distinguish the roles of content and semantic value must nevertheless ensure a tight connection between the two. But, she contends, there is a crucial disanalogy between the views that follow Lewis and the views that follow Dummett. Stanley’s Dummettian view is argued to contain a fatal flaw: On such views, there is no way to secure an appropriate connection between semantic value and a theoretically motivated notion of assertoric content. I will review the background issues from Dummett, Evans, Lewis, and Stanley, and provide a principled way of bridging the gap between semantic value and a theoretically motivated notion of assertoric content.
20. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 45 > Issue: 1
Richard Fumerton Epistemology and Science: Some Metaphilosophical Reflections
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This paper is a metaphilosophical investigation into the relationship between science and epistemology. I defend the rather radical view that philosophical questions in epistemology can be answered either a priori or “from the armchair.” In making that case I suggest parallels between how I think one should conceptualize the study of ethical philosophy and how I think one should conceptualize the study of epistemology.