RESPONSIBLE BELIEVING

S. Joel Garver


CHAPTER EIGHT

Responsible Believing:
Intellectual Virtue and Real Existing Knowledge

Section I


Reason does not only consist of its conscious logical tools and manifestations, nor does the will consist only of its deliberate conscious determinations...we must recognize the existence of an unconscious or preconscious which pertains to the s piritual powers of the human soul and to the inner abyss of personal freedom, and of the personal thirst and striving for knowing and seeing, grasping and expressing...

Jacques Maritain
Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry


The basic perspective on human belief and knowledge that I wished to articulate is virtually complete. Before closing these essays we must take some space to draw our conclusions together. The basic point, I hope, is clear: we are, as human subjects, by and large responsible for what we believe and, therefore, for what we know or fail to know. In the opening chapter I set out seven areas of discussion that would have to be dealt with in order to come to our conclusion. Let us review those seven areas, seeing how they were answered, and summarizing what has been argued.

In the opening chapter and throughout the following chapters I attempted to set out examples that would support the contention:

[1] That we regularly evaluate beliefs (including those involved in knowledge) using normative terms...and these terms are prescriptive in emphasis. They are ascriptions of praise, blame, and normativity.

While such evaluations are explicitly made mostly in cases of important epistemic error or failure and unusual epistemic achievement, such evaluations do quite generally apply to beliefs. Most beliefs we have about what we ordinarily perceive and other everyday matters are formed in apparently permissible ways and thus little explicit attention is drawn to that fact.

Nevertheless, a subject is usually to blame epistemically if she, for instance, hastily believes that the bus driver who pulled away actually left her behind on purpose and with malice when it was really because he didn't see her. Or a subject has typically failed epistemically if he does not know that his child isn't doing well in math due to the fact that he never really pays attention when the child tells him what happened in school that day. On the other hand, a subject is to be epistemically praised, if, for instance, he comes to learn his seven-times-table despite his learning disability or if she is able to detect the hints of berry and oak in the '86 Merlot.

I think we recognize such situations obtain in quite a wide range of cases. Further considerations can be incorporated. We can also add the category of permission to those of praise and blame, making way for all those ordinary beliefs which are neither unusual achievements or important failures. We can recognize situations in which our attitude is that of excusing or justifying epistemic behavior (which presupposes general normative prescription). We can take stock of the role that value plays in such ascriptions (e.g., we draw little attention to responsibility for knowledge that is essentially of trivial value to us). In light of these further considerations we can see how such evaluative prescriptive notions at least might extend to all or almost all belief and knowledge, even if that prescription is not explicit.

This brings us to a second point, which follows from the first point:

[2] That these evaluative practices presuppose some degree of control over belief, though it is clear that we have no direct control over belief.

If the evalutive notions that we apply to belief and knowledge are indeed prescriptive in force, then we must be, for the most part, responsible for what we believe. And if we are, in fact, responsible for what we believe and if we can we show that to be the case independently from our claim regarding prescriptive notions, then the fact of responsibility can serve to support our claim regarding normative prescriptions.

It is clear, I argued, that we have no immediate basic or nonbasic control over belief, not due to some conceptual difficulty in the idea of immediate control over belief, but due to psychological facts about human faculties. I also argued that whatever long-term control we may have over our specific beliefs is not sufficient to ground a general account of responsibility. Our responsibility for what we believe, then, is not to be accounted for in terms of specific movements or choices of the will towards particular propositional contents nor it is to be accounted for in terms of meeting any set of epistemic tasks in respect to particular candidates for belief. The realm of responsibility in general, however, is not limited to those sorts of cases in which flip-of-a-switch type choices are made or programs of action are embarked upon.

Responsibility, I argued, quite generally exists in respect to various conditions that obtain or that we undergo which, in themselves, are importantly passive and cannot be easily seen as actions. Such responsibility often involves, not so much doing this or that or having a particular, specific goal in mind, but rather being such and such person with a certain kind of character and possessing more general hierarchies of goods serving as goals. This sort of control over and responsibility for conditi ons is perhaps best thought of as indirect influence. It is also quite consistent--both logically or conceptually and psychologically--with control over and responsibility for at least a wide range of beliefs.

Moreover, this kind of responsibility, I suggested in both the opening chapter and later chapters, is systematically connected with many other aspects of our lives: emotions, various actions, conceptual schemes, hierarchies of value, desires, identifications, preferences, subjective positions, and so on. All of these various factors, which influence and constitute our forms of life most generally and our individual characters, also give shape to our doxastic life. These various factors, though not necessarily entirely consistent within themselves or free from internal tension, are, nevertheless, coordinated, supported, and empowered by what I have referred to as the "heart". Thus, what we believe is very much a function of who we are and, in particu lar, the "state of our hearts."

These last points were examined and explained in some depth in accord with the sixth and seventh areas of discussion I had suggested at the beginning:

[6] That in many (if not all) cases of belief...doxastic practices are closely connected to wider spheres of practice and social structures as well as what I have been calling "issues of the heart" which are more properly ethical.

[7] That the questions regarding voluntary control must take account of the connections in [6].

Let us recall some of the details of how these areas were addressed.

After outlining basic and general considerations regarding doxastic practices we turned to Millar's notion of "quasi-inference." Quasi-inference involves acquired patterns of belief-formation by which a subject moves from certain kinds of inputs (experiences) to certain kinds of belief. I argued that these patterns of quasi-inference (as well as patterns of more overt logical inference) play an important role in perceptual beliefs, interpersonal beliefs, specific person beliefs, and in beliefs formed through trust and testimony. These patterns are, by and large, learned patterns of behavior which are taught, learned, pursued, acquired through imitation, developed, practiced, maintained, and so on. Thus, it seems, they are conditions or functions for which a subject can be responsible and, certainly in many or most cases, is responsible. That is, to an extensive degree we are responsible for which doxastic practices we engage in and, short of that, how we engage in the doxastic practices in which we do engage.

We also examined the various social and political factors of belief-formation by means of Foucault's analysis of what he called "discursive formations." Foucault helped us see how socially established relations of power and desire, teleologies, and valuation contribute to overall patterns and systems of belief-formation. These systems, however, are acquired, maintained, and employed by persons who must adopt them, who make identifications with their values and ends, and yet who are able to question them and change relation to them. Thus, again, it seems that systems of belief-formation, even in their social establishment, are responsibly engaged in and adopted.

Finally, we looked at Stocker's analysis of how the emotions play an important role in belief-formation: having the right sorts of emotions tends to facilitate the acquisition of knowledge and having the wrong sorts of emotions tends to undermine acquisition of knowledge. According to Roberts' sketch of what an emotion is, it turns out that we generally have quite a bit of responsible control, even direct control, over our emotional life. If emotions play the role in belief-formation that Stocker urges, then, once again, it seems that what we come to believe is something for which we can be responsible.

Thus, I have established that what we believe is a complex function of who we are: the shape of our emotional lives, what goals we adopt, what things we value, what we desire, what we have learned and what knowledge we pursue, what habits we acquire and what activities we engage in. Since we are responsible for who we are in all these various respects, we are also, by and large, responsible for what we believe. This was urged not only on the basis of these more "systemic" considerations, but also by the examination of many specific concrete examples: perceptual belief, belief based on various kinds of trust, interpersonal and unique person beliefs, the beliefs of spousal abusers, emotionally facilitated beliefs. Such specific examples could be multiplied and it is not difficult to see how accounts of responsible blieving could be extrapolated from the examples already given. We are, then, responsible for what we believe.


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