Friday, August 30, 2019

Credence and belief

For years, I’ve been inclining towards the view that belief is just high credence, but this morning the following argument is swaying me away from this:

  1. False belief is an evil.

  2. High credence in a falsehood is not an evil.

  3. So, high credence is not belief.

I don’t have a great argument for (1), but it sounds true to me. As for (2), my argument is this: There is no evil in having the right priors, but having the right priors implies lots high credences in falsehoods.

Maybe I should abandon (1) instead?


Heath White said...

Does it matter if we distinguish between "evil" as (1) moral flaw and (2) suboptimal state of affairs?

If you want to say (with Descartes) that false belief is a moral flaw, presumably it is avoidable. But given incomplete information (which is nobody's fault), high credences in falsehoods are not avoidable. So high credences in falsehoods are not moral flaws and thus high credence is not belief.

If you want to say that false belief is merely suboptimal, an aspect of a fallen creation, then it follows that unfallen or restored creation involves no false beliefs. If false beliefs are just high credences in falsehoods, prelapsarian Adam, and the saints in heaven, have no high credences in falsehoods. That would indicate that they have no incomplete information. This seems dubious.

Personally, I think I would give up (at least) the equation of belief with high credence.

Walter Van den Acker said...


I really have no idea what else belief is if it's not high credence.

Bogdan Faul said...

Maybe it would be useful to distinguish moral and metaphysical evils here. It is morally good for an agent to have justified beliefs (and sometimes we have high credence and justification of falsehoods), but we can't say that it is always morally good for an agent to have true beliefs, because ought implies can, and sometimes we are not in an epistemic position to have true beliefs. But we know that falsehoods are deficient in some sense, so we can classify them as metaphysically worse then truths, as metaphysically evil.

So, sometimes we have beliefs which are morally good (justified), but metaphysically bad/evil (false).

Your argument might be reformulated as follows, and this reformulation seems to be invalid:

1. False belief is metaphysically evil.
2. High credence in a falsehood is not always morally evil.
3. So, high credence is not belief.

Michael Gonzalez said...

Belief, as it is usually deployed in normal English, refers either to taking something to be true in a case in which you do not know ("I believe they had a baby boy, but I'm not sure...") or else underwriting or putting your stamp on something ("I believe..." can mean "I endorse...").

I'm not sure what credence is, and don't normally hear it in conversation. The dictionary just equates it with belief. So, high credence might be equated with strongly held or very confident belief, I guess.

To your argument: I don't know why we should accept (1). If you have lots of reasons that persuade you that something is true then you should believe it (and give credence to it; whatever that means). And I'm having a hard time constructing a statement about the evil of false belief where I couldn't replace it with some phrase about "giving credence to" without significant change.

Alexander R Pruss said...


Not every suboptimal state is bad. There are subnormal states, normal states and supernormal states. The optimal state is often supernormal. But the normal states, though suboptimal, aren't bad.