Evans and First Person Authority

Abstracta 5 (1):3-15 (2009)
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In The Varieties of Reference, Gareth Evans describes the acquisition of beliefs about one’s beliefs in the following way: ‘I get myself in a position to answer the question whether I believe that p by putting into operation whatever procedure I have for answering the question whether p.’ In this paper I argue that Evans’s remark can be used to explain first person authority if it is supplemented with the following consideration: Holding on to the content of a belief and ‘prefixing’ it with ‘I believe that’ is as easy as it is to hold on to the contents of one’s thoughts when making an inference. We do not, usually, have the problem, in going, for example, from ‘p’ and ‘q’ to ‘p and q’, that one of our thought contents gets corrupted. Self-ascription of belief by way of Evans’s procedure is based on the same capacity to retain and re-deploy thought contents and therefore should enjoy a similar degree of authority. However, is Evans’s description exhaustive of all authoritative self-ascription of belief? Christopher Peacocke has suggested that in addition to Evans’s procedure there are two more relevant ways of self-ascribing belief. I argue that both methods can be subsumed under Evans’s procedure.
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