The Architecture of Belief: An Essay on the Unbearable Automaticity of Believing

Dissertation, UNC-Chapel Hill (2010)
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Abstract
People cannot contemplate a proposition without believing that proposition. A model of belief fixation is sketched and used to explain hitherto disparate, recalcitrant, and somewhat mysterious psychological phenomena and philosophical paradoxes. Toward this end I also contend that our intuitive understanding of the workings of introspection is mistaken. In particular, I argue that propositional attitudes are beyond the grasp of our introspective capacities. We learn about our beliefs from observing our behavior, not from introspecting our stock beliefs. The model of belief fixation offered in the dissertation poses a novel dilemma for theories of rationality. One might have thought that the ability to contemplate ideas while withholding assent is a necessary condition on rationality. In short, it seems that rational creatures shouldn‘t just form their beliefs based on whatever they happen to think. However, it seems that we are creatures that automatically and reflexively form our beliefs based on whatever propositions we happen to consider. Thus, either the rational requirement that states that we must have evidence for our beliefs must be jettisoned or we must accept the conclusion that we are necessarily irrational.
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