Partial Belief and Flat-out Belief

In Franz Huber & Christoph Schmidt-Petri (eds.), Degrees of Belief. Springer. pp. 75--93 (2009)
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There is a duality in our everyday view of belief. On the one hand, we sometimes speak of credence as a matter of degree. We talk of having some level of confidence in a claim (that a certain course of action is safe, for example, or that a desired event will occur) and explain our actions by reference to these degrees of confidence – tacitly appealing, it seems, to a probabilistic calculus such as that formalized in Bayesian decision theory. On the other hand, we also speak of belief as an unqualified, or flat-out, state (‘plain belief’ as it is sometimes called), which is either categorically present or categorically absent. We talk of simply believing or thinking that something is the case, and we cite these flat-out attitudes in explanation of our actions – appealing to classical practical reasoning of the sort formalized in the so-called ‘practical syllogism’.1 This tension in everyday discourse is reflected in the theoretical literature on belief. In formal epistemology there is a division between those in the Bayesian tradition, who treat credence as graded, and those who think of it as a categorical attitude of some kind. The Bayesian perspective also contrasts with the dominant view in philosophy of mind, where belief is widely regarded as a categorical state (a token sentence of a mental language, inscribed in a functionally defined ‘belief box’, according to one popular account). A parallel duality is present in our everyday view of desire. Sometimes we talk of having degrees of preference or desirability; sometimes we speak simply of wanting or desiring something tout court, and, again, this tension is reflected in the theoretical literature. What should we make of these dualities? Are there two different types of belief and desire – partial and flat-out, as they are sometimes called? If so, how are they related? And how could both have a role in guiding rational action, as the everyday view has it? The last question poses a particular challenge in relation to flat-out belief and desire..



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Keith Frankish
University of Sheffield

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Inquiries Into Truth And Interpretation.Donald Davidson - 1984 - Oxford, GB: Oxford University Press.
Change in View: Principles of Reasoning.Gilbert Harman - 1986 - Cambridge, MA, USA: MIT Press.
Inquiry.Robert C. Stalnaker - 1984 - Cambridge University Press.

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