Pragmatism, Pluralism, and Reasons for Belief
In our ordinary lives, we often do well to believe what is true. Having true beliefs about the locations of the table and chairs in the kitchen allows us to sit down and eat a meal without either ourselves or our food ending up on the floor. Having true beliefs about the location of the landing strip allows the airplane pilot to land safely. And having true beliefs about the answers to questions on the test allows us to do well in school.
Yet at other times, what is true and what is good for us or for others comes apart. If I get great pleasure from singing in front of an audience, beieving truly that I have a terrible voice would ruin the fun. Falsely beliving that charities are more efficient than they in fact are may motivate me to give away more of my income than I would if I believed truly, thereby doing more good for others despite the ineffeciency. I may have an illness that I am unlikely to survive, but have better odds of surviving it if I believe that I will. I may have a nicer time talking to my dog if I falsely believe she really understands my problems.
In the philosophical literature on what kinds of considerations count in favour of belief, what philosophers call 'normative reasons for belief', the dominant view of the last 25 years has been that only considerations related to the truth of beliefs are normative reasons for beliefs. These considerations often take the form of evidence for the truth of a belief. But over roughly the last decade there has been a growing body of literature suggesting that the goodness, whether personal or moral, of having a belief also provides normative reasons for that belief. In its most carefully considered form, this more recent develoment has been worked out as a view called 'pragmatism'. Pragmatism is the view that only considerations of the goodness of having a belief provide normative reasons for that beilef.
This project begins by taking seriously the thought that there are goodness based, or pragmatic, reasons for belief. It aims to fill a significant gap in the literature by thoroughly exploring the possibility that there are at root both truth or evidenced based reasons for belief and pragmatic reasons for belief. This view can be called 'pluralism'.
Pluralism has perhaps not been as carefully explored as pragmatism or the view that there are only truth-related reasons for belief because it breaks apart the explanation of why normative reasons for belief are reasons for belief. Some reasons for belief, those that relate to the truth of a belief, have as the source of their normativity truth. Pragmatic reasons for belief, on the other hand, have goodness of some kind as their source of normativity. If the sources of normativity are fragmented, many difficult questions arise. One may wonder why we are entitled to say that both sorts of considerations are the same sort of thing (a normative reason for belief). And, even if they are, one may wonder whether or how they could be compared when the conflict. How does the evidence that my dog neither understands nor would care about what I am telling her about my long day at work get weighed against the happiness I get from believing that she does?
It is therefore one important aspect of this project that a new hypothesis will be proposed and examined. The new hypothesis is that there is in fact only one source of normative reasons: wellbeing. But wellbeing has basic components, one of which is having beliefs that accord with the evidence or other truth-relevant considerations. Informally, the idea is that there is something good for its own sake about being connected to reality, or at least being connected to the indications of what is real. The diversity of basic normative reasons for belief – that there are both truth-related and pragmatic normative reasons for belief – is not explained by there being different basic sources of normativity. Rather, there is one source, and as one might expect of human wellbeing, it is a source with diverse compoments.
The project compares this view, which may be called 'welfare pluralism', to currently popular forms of pragmatism. The working hypothesis is that welfare pluralism may better conform to our intuitions about what kinds of normative reasons for belief there are while still having a unified explanation or ground for its normativity. The project looks at what the consequences would be of accepting welfare pluralism, including an investigation of its significance for other debates concerning the norms and rationality of belief.
About the Project
The project is funded by the Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet)