Thursday, November 26, 2009

Bookclub: Pedersen on Wright's Entitlement

This latest installment is about Nikloj Pedersen's recent Synthese article on Crispin Wright. Pedersen criticizes (correctly in my opinion) certain possible motivation for Wright's idea that we are entitled to assume certain "cornerstone" propositions (like 'I'm not a brain in a vat') just because assuming these is requisite for getting any substantative theory of a given area off the ground. (You can't just point out that accepting ~BIV leads you to have many and no fewer true beliefs than the skeptic if BIV is true, and no fewer true beliefs if BIV is false. For, avoiding false beliefs is presumably also epistemically important, and assuming ~BIV imposes a risk of having many more false beliefs)

Instead he proposes that such cornerstone assumptions have "teleological value" insofar as they are aimed at something of value (namely, true belief), whether or not they actually succeed in producing such true beliefs. But this seems to immediately generalize to all beliefs - not just cornerstone ones.

For, what beliefs aren't aimed at the truth? It's just as true of the person who assumes the existence of a massive conspiracy as of the person who assumes the existence of the external world that they aim at having many true beliefs. Indeed, many people would say that it's a necessary truth, part of what it means for something to be a belief, that in believing that P one is trying to believe the truth.

With the possible exception of cases like the millionaire who bribes you to believe some proposition, all beliefs would seem to aim at truth. Hence it seems that all beliefs inherit teleological justification in Pedersen's sense.

One might be able to make this into an interesting view - all beliefs (not just cornerstone ones) are warranted until one gets active reason to doubt them. Such a position is remeniscent of conservitivism and coherentism. But, from the article Pedersen shows no sign of intending to say that all beliefs are default justified.

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