Disbelief is a distinct doxastic attitude

Synthese 198 (12):11797-11813 (2020)
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While epistemologists routinely employ disbelief talk, it is not clear that they really mean it, given that they often equate disbelieving p with believing ¬p. I argue that this is a mistake—disbelief is a doxastic attitude of rejection and is distinct from belief. I first clarify this claim and its opposition, then show that we must distinguish disbelieving p from believing ¬p in order to account for the fact that we continue to hold doxastic attitudes toward propositions that we reject. After defending this argument against some possible objections, I examine several cases that reveal disbelieving p to be not only non-identical to believing ¬p, but independent of that attitude as well. Finally, I sketch some immediate and potential consequences of recognizing disbelief as a distinct doxastic attitude, particularly for work on epistemic rationality.

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Joshua Smart
Southern Illinois University Edwardsville


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