An Ethics of Philosophical Belief: The case for personal commitments

In Sanford C. Goldberg & Mark Walker (eds.), Attitude in Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press (forthcoming)
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What should we do when faced with powerful theoretical arguments that support a severe change in our personal beliefs and commitments? For example, what should new parents do when confronted by unanswered anti-natalist arguments, or two lovers vexed by social theory that apparently undermines love? On the one hand, it would be irrational to ignore theory just because it’s theory; good theory is evidence, after all. On the other hand, factoring in theory can be objectifying, or risks unraveling one's life, fracturing one's identity or social relations. Sometimes, then, following the evidence where it apparently leads would mean not merely changing what we think but who we are. Some might say that there’s something right about the thought that theory can bear on what we ought to believe, it’s just that when we work with full beliefs, only then do we seriously risk having to substantially alter our doxastic economy when pressed by exceptional theoretical arguments. When we work with partial beliefs, however, this risk is greatly diminished. Others will say that we can advocate or champion revisionary positions whilst rationally retaining our pre-theoretical personal convictions. Still others will argue that we should adopt a Moorean posture towards the revisionary arguments. I argue that each response is inadequate, and argue instead that we are permitted to bracket certain kinds of theoretical evidence against our beliefs because of the personal and ethical risks born out of giving them serious consideration. In turn, some of philosophy's doxastic influence is constrained by its attendant ethical risks: the personal enjoys a partial insulation from the theoretical. I close by addressing what this means for practicing philosophers.

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Christopher Ranalli
VU University Amsterdam


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