Acceptance and the ethics of belief

Philosophical Studies 180 (8):2213-2243 (2023)
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Various philosophers authors have argued—on the basis of powerful examples—that we can have compelling moral or practical reasons to believe, even when the evidence suggests otherwise. This paper explores an alternative story, which still aims to respect widely shared intuitions about the motivating examples. Specifically, the paper proposes that what is at stake in these cases is not belief, but rather acceptance—an attitude classically characterized as taking a proposition as a premise in practical deliberation and action. I suggest that acceptance’s theoretical usefulness in the ethics of belief has been hidden by its psychological obscurity. I thus aim to develop an empirically adequate and mechanistically specific psychological profile of acceptance. I characterize acceptance as centrally involving a cognitive gating function, in which we prevent a target belief state from having its characteristic downstream effects on reasoning, cognition, and action, and restructure those downstream processes. I then argue that there is substantial empirical support for the existence of the cognitive mechanisms needed to instantiate this view, coming from the science of emotion regulation. I argue that acceptance involves deploying the same mechanisms used in emotional response modulation to belief states: acceptance is doxastic response modulation. I then propose that having a better understanding of the psychological profile of acceptance leaves us better positioned to appreciate its potential usefulness for making progress on various puzzles within the ethics of belief.

Author's Profile

Laura Soter
Duke University


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