How do Beliefs Simplify Reasoning?

Noûs 53 (4):937-962 (2019)
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Abstract

According to an increasingly popular epistemological view, people need outright beliefs in addition to credences to simplify their reasoning. Outright beliefs simplify reasoning by allowing thinkers to ignore small error probabilities. What is outright believed can change between contexts. It has been claimed that thinkers manage shifts in their outright beliefs and credences across contexts by an updating procedure resembling conditionalization, which I call pseudo-conditionalization (PC). But conditionalization is notoriously complicated. The claim that thinkers manage their beliefs via PC is thus in tension with the view that the function of beliefs is to simplify our reasoning. I propose to resolve this puzzle by rejecting the view that thinkers employ PC. Based on this solution, I furthermore argue for a descriptive and a normative claim. The descriptive claim is that the available strategies for managing beliefs and credences across contexts that are compatible with the simplifying function of outright beliefs can generate synchronic and diachronic incoherence in a thinker’s attitudes. Moreover, I argue that the view of outright belief as a simplifying heuristic is incompatible with the view that there are ideal norms of coherence or consistency governing outright beliefs that are too complicated for human thinkers to comply with.

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Julia Staffel
University of Colorado, Boulder

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