Monday, November 7, 2016

The direction of fit for belief

It’s non-instrumentally good for me to believe truly and it’s non-instrumentally bad for me to believe falsely. Does that give you non-instrumental reason to make p true?

Saying “Yes” is counterintuitive. And it destroys the direction-of-fit asymmetry between beliefs and desires.

But it’s hard to say “No”, given that surely if something is non-instrumentally good for me, you thereby have have non-instrumental reason to provide it.

Here is a potential solution. We sometimes have desires that we do not want other people to take into account in their decision-making. For instance, a parent might want a child to become a mathematician, but would nonetheless be committed to having the child to decide on their life-direction independently of the parent’s desires. In such a case, the parent’s desire that the child become a mathematician might provide the child with a first-order reason to become a mathematician, but this reason might be largely or completely excluded by the parent’s higher-order commitment. And we can explain why it is good to have such an exclusion: if a parent couldn’t have such an exclusion, she’d either have to exercise great self-control over her desires or would have to have hide them from their children.

Perhaps we similarly have a blanket higher-order reason that excludes promoting p on the grounds that someone believes p. And we can explain why it is good to have such an exclusion, in order to decrease the degree of conflict of interest between epistemic and pragmatic reasons. For instance, without such an exclusion, I’d have pragmatic reason to avoid pessimistic conclusions because as soon as we came to them, we and others would have reason to make the conclusions true.

By suggesting that exclusionary reasons are more common than I previously thought, this weakens some of my omnirationality arguments.


Michael Gonzalez said...

If a parent really wants a child to be a mathematician, they often do indeed have to exercise great self-control so as not to influence them in that direction.

But, with regard to the main point, I don't see why making a belief true is a good thing. Is "believing truly" necessarily a good? Isn't it more "apprehending correctly"? In the latter case, making the belief into truth wouldn't change anything....

Heath White said...

I would say that true belief is a non-instrumental good because (and to the extent that) it is a belief that is responsive to the way things are. That is proper functioning. If you go around fixing the world to make my silly beliefs true, I am not functioning any better than if you did not.

On this view, merely accidentally true belief is not a non-instrumental good for me. I think I am willing to stick by that.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Relatedly, the knowledge-first people have a nice way out: it's knowledge that's valuable, not true belief, and it's hard to construct a case where you make someone know by making the proposition true.

Hard, but is it impossible? I am not sure. Suppose you promise me that you'll pray for me tonight. I form the belief that you'll pray for me. Along comes tonight, and now you're thinking whether to pray for me. You now have *two* reasons to pray for me (in addition to the usual reasons to pray for everyone):
1. you promised; and
2. if you keep your promise, my belief that you're praying for me will be knowledge.
Being a decent chap, (1) is a sufficient reason. But if knowledge is valuable, it seems (2) is also a reason. But that gets the direction of fit wrong.

The odd thing, though, is that if you pray for me *only* on account of (2), then my belief that you're praying for me isn't knowledge. So (2) is an odd sort of reason that only works if you have another reason alongside it that's good enough to do the work by itself. So maybe this story doesn't work.

Note that in this story, which may or may not work, my belief is not accidentally true.

Alexander R Pruss said...

On the other hand, I have an argument that knowledge isn't valuable. Suppose I misspoke and said something I didn't know to be true. You come to believe it on my testimony, me being an expert in the relevant area. You're now Gettiered. I reflect and realize that although I misspoke, what I said was in fact true. If I tell you that I misspoke but what I said was in fact true, then I render your justified true belief knowledge. But it seems pointless to speak.

Heath White said...

I think knowledge, like true belief, is still too "thin" to be non-instrumentally valuable. You can get a lot of knowledge just by listening to others but I don't think such knowledge is particularly valuable.

What is of value is proper epistemic functioning, or the exercise of epistemic virtues, or anyway something that expresses a fairly good epistemological constitution.

In your last case, it would be pointless to speak because the hearer's epistemological character isn't affected by whether the informant knows what he's talking about.

Alexander R Pruss said...

When I seek truth, though, I seek true belief. I don't seek the exercise of epistemic virtues.

Michael Gonzalez said...

You may be seeking the truth, but that doesn't make acquisition of truth a non-instrumental good. The non-instrumental good may have more to do with proper cognitive function or other such epistemic virtues.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I seek truth non-instrumentally. If truth is not a non-instrumental good, I am confused in my search.

Michael Gonzalez said...

Usually we don't seek truth, simpliciter. We seek the truth about particular things. And isn't that usually in order to accomplish something else? Even in the case of trivia; a person usually accumulates it for a purpose.

But, even if someone just wants to make sure that what they believe is true, are they not really trying to make sure they have no been deceieved (an epistemic virtue) or that they haven't rushed to judgment (ditto), etc?

Heath White said...

I would say that most of the truths I seek are at about the level of "where are my keys?" and there is nothing non-instrumentally valuable about having those true beliefs. They are valuable for the obvious instrumental reasons.

In my deeper inquiries about God or morality or philosophical topics, or history or science, what I am seeking is more like understanding, which is not only knowledge-that but knowledge-why, and can't really be had without good epistemic functioning. That I believe is non-instrumentally valuable.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I think there is nothing so trivial that knowledge of it isn't non-instrumentally valuable.

Here's a theistic argument: Every truth reflects something about God.

Michael Gonzalez said...

I don't think the point is whether it is so trivial as to fail to have non-instrumental value. It could just be that that's the sort of thing it is. Knowledge of a given fact may have only instrumental value without being trivial at all (it may save my life or someone else's, but that in itself is an instrumental sort of value).

Even if we grant that there is non-instrumental value to having true belief or knowledge, it could still be that that value only has to do with our ability to apprehend correctly or judge rationally.

Even in saying that each truth reflects something about God, you are (1) using the truth instrumentally (to draw closer to God), and (2) grounding the value in something else which is akin to an epistemic value.

Heath White said...

The theistic argument suggests a way to respond to the OP. If I can act so as to make one of your beliefs true, I can act so as to make you reflect more of God. That seems like a great benefit to you, so surely I have reasons of love to act so as to make as many of your beliefs true as possible.

But that seems to me like a reductio of the premise.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Yeah, that's a problem.

Maybe there is an exclusionary reason that excludes this.

I have an even stronger intuition that it's always non-instrumentally bad to have a false belief. That is all that's needed for my line of thought.