there_are_no_norms_of_belief.doc

If we view our commitment to 3 in this light then it

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If we view our commitment to (3) in this light, then it should be clear that it carries no universal prescriptive consequences. There are plenty of other cases where our evolved biological design forces us to do things, even when they are of no value. I cannot help blinking when an object moves quickly towards my eye, nor cannot I stop myself breathing after holding my breath for two minutes. These are good habits as a general rule, which is why evolution has instilled them in us. But there can be cases where nothing of value flows from their exercise. Imagine that you can win a valuable bet by not blinking, and that circumstances are arranged so that no harm will come to you if you don’t. Even so, you can’t help yourself. You have no choice but to blink. But this doesn’t mean that you ought to blink. Insofar as prescriptive talk has a grip here, you surely ought not to blink. (‘Ought’ may or may not imply ‘can’. But it is clear that ‘can’t not’ does not imply ‘ought’.) I think that the unavoidability of (3) is entirely analogous. Evolution has instilled in us the habit of matching our beliefs to the evidence. (It needs to be a habit, not a matter of choice, for the reasons given two paragraphs back.) This is a good habit as a general rule, because it conduces to successful action. But there are cases where nothing of value will flow from its exercise, as with the blades of grass, or the kings of Assyria, or John’s cancer. Even so, we can’t help ourselves. We have no choice but to match our beliefs to the evidence. But this doesn’t mean that we ought so to match our beliefs. If nothing of moral or personal or aesthetic value would be lost, then there would be nothing wrong with ignoring the evidence, even if we can’t. References Boghossian, P. 2003 ‘The Normativity of Content’ Philosophical Issues 13, 31–45 Bykvist, K. and Hattiangadi, A. 2007 ‘Does Thought Imply Ought?’ Analysis 67, 277–85. Glüer, K. and Wikforss, Å. 2009 ‘Against Content Normativity’ Mind 118, 31–70 Glüer, K. and Wikforss, Å. 2010 ‘The Truth Norm and Guidance: a Reply to Steglich- Petersen’ Mind 119, 757-62 Kelly, T. 2003 ‘Epistemic Rationality as Instrumental Rationality: A Critique’ Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 66, 612–40 Macdonald, G. and Papineau, D. 2006 ‘Introduction’ in Macdonald, G. and Papineau, D. (eds) E ssays on Teleosemantics Oxford: Oxford University Press McGinn, C. 1989 Mental Content Oxford: Basil Blackwell. Millikan, R. 1993 White Queen Psychology and other Essays for Alice Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press. Millar, A. 2004 Understanding People: Normativity and Rationalizing Explanation Oxford: Oxford University Press. 13
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Steglich-Peterson, A. 2010 ‘The Truth Norm and Guidance: a Reply to Glüer and Wikforss’ Mind 119,749-56. Wedgwood, R. 2002 ‘The Aim of Belief’ Philosophical Perspectives 16, 267-97 Whiting, D. 2010 'Should I Believe the Truth?' Dialectica 61, 213-24 Williams, B. 1970 ‘Deciding to Believe’ in his Problems of the Self Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 136-51 14
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