Belief gambles in epistemic decision theory

Philosophical Studies 178 (2):407-426 (2021)
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Don’t form beliefs on the basis of coin flips or random guesses. More generally, don’t take belief gambles: if a proposition is no more likely to be true than false given your total body of evidence, don’t go ahead and believe that proposition. Few would deny this seemingly innocuous piece of epistemic advice. But what, exactly, is wrong with taking belief gambles? Philosophers have debated versions of this question at least since the classic dispute between William Clifford and William James near the end of the nineteenth century. Here I reassess the normative standing of belief gambles from the perspective of epistemic decision theory. The main lesson of the paper is a negative one: it turns out that we need to make some surprisingly strong and hard-to-motivate assumptions to establish a general norm against belief gambles within a decision-theoretic framework. I take this to pose a dilemma for epistemic decision theory: it forces us to either make seemingly unmotivated assumptions to secure a norm against belief gambles, or concede that belief gambles can be rational after all.
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