Monday, March 10, 2014

A counterexample to evidentialism?

Consider Williamson-style beliefs that obviously have the property that they have to be correct if they are believed. For instance, if I believe that I have a belief, then that belief is guaranteed to be correct. Call beliefs like this obviously self-guaranteeing.

Suppose now that I am unable to introspect my beliefs and am not a sufficiently good observer to gain evidence as to what I believe on the basis of my behavior. Unsure whether I have any beliefs, but thinking that true beliefs are valuable to have although false ones are valuable to avoid, I try to will myself to believe that I have a belief, because it is clear to me that that claim will be true if I believe it. (You might ask: If I do that, don't I already believe something, namely that the belief will be true if I believe it? Maybe, but that's beside the point, since I am unable to tell that I believe it.) I don't know if I will succeed—and even if I do succeed, I won't know that I have succeeded—since willing myself to have a belief is a notoriously shaky thing. There seems to be nothing incompatible with the love of truth in willing myself to believe that I have a belief, indeed there seems to be nothing epistemically bad. But I am (a) willing myself to believe something I now do not have evidence for, and (b) if I do come to believe it, I will believe it without any evidence for it. If indeed there is nothing epistemically bad here, then (b) gives a counterexample to synchronic evidentialism and (a) gives a counterexample to diachronic evidentialism.

But perhaps there is something perverse here. See tomorrow's post.


Heath White said...

I think the evidentialist should just grant you the exception of self-verifying beliefs.

There is a strong analogy between this sort of case, and Austin's use of performatives as counterexamples to the verification theory of meaning.

Alexander R Pruss said...

How about somewhat weaker cases of self-verification? For instance, suppose you have strong but defeasible evidence that you can jump over the crevasse iff you believe you can jump over it. So you try to believe it.

Thanks for the connection to performatives!