Hypotheses that attribute false beliefs: A two‐part epistemology

Mind and Language 36 (5):664-682 (2020)
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Is there some general reason to expect organisms that have beliefs to have false beliefs? And after you observe that an organism occasionally occupies a given neural state that you think encodes a perceptual belief, how do you evaluate hypotheses about the semantic content that that state has, where some of those hypotheses attribute beliefs that are sometimes false while others attribute beliefs that are always true? To address the first of these questions, we discuss evolution by natural selection and show how organisms that are risk-prone in the beliefs they form can be fitter than organisms that are risk-free. To address the second question, we discuss a problem that is widely recognized in statistics – the problem of over-fitting – and one influential device for addressing that problem, the Akaike Information Criterion (AIC). We then use AIC to solve epistemological versions of the disjunction and distality problems, which are two key problems concerning what it is for a belief state to have one semantic content rather than another.

Author Profiles

William Roche
Texas Christian University
Elliott Sober
University of Wisconsin, Madison


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