Bayesian Variations: Essays on the Structure, Object, and Dynamics of Credence

Dissertation, London School of Economics (2018)
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Abstract
According to the traditional Bayesian view of credence, its structure is that of precise probability, its objects are descriptive propositions about the empirical world, and its dynamics are given by conditionalization. Each of the three essays that make up this thesis deals with a different variation on this traditional picture. The first variation replaces precise probability with sets of probabilities. The resulting imprecise Bayesianism is sometimes motivated on the grounds that our beliefs should not be more precise than the evidence calls for. One known problem for this evidentially motivated imprecise view is that in certain cases, our imprecise credence in a particular proposition will remain the same no matter how much evidence we receive. In the first essay I argue that the problem is much more general than has been appreciated so far, and that it’s difficult to avoid without compromising the initial evidentialist motivation. The second variation replaces descriptive claims with moral claims as the objects of credence. I consider three standard arguments for probabilism with respect to descriptive uncertainty—representation theorem arguments, Dutch book arguments, and accuracy arguments—in order to examine whether such arguments can also be used to establish probabilism with respect to moral uncertainty. In the second essay, I argue that by and large they can, with some caveats. First, I don’t examine whether these arguments can be given sound non-cognitivist readings, and any conclusions therefore only hold conditional on cognitivism. Second, decision-theoretic representation theorems are found to be less convincing in the moral case, because there they implausibly commit us to thinking that intertheoretic comparisons of value are always possible. Third and finally, certain considerations may lead one to think that imprecise probabilism provides a more plausible model of moral epistemology. The third variation considers whether, in addition to conditionalization, agents may also change their minds by becoming aware of propositions they had not previously entertained, and therefore not previously assigned any probability. More specifically, I argue that if we wish to make room for reflective equilibrium in a probabilistic moral epistemology, we must allow for awareness growth. In the third essay, I sketch the outline of such a Bayesian account of reflective equilibrium. Given that this account gives a central place to awareness growth, and that the rationality constraints on belief change by awareness growth are much weaker than those on belief change by conditionalization, it follows that the rationality constraints on the credences of agents who are seeking reflective equilibrium are correspondingly weaker.
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