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Philosophy Blog

Life at the thought-face.

Wednesday, August 14, 2002

Here is a question to test your epistemological intuitions: is it possible to have a belief which is totally unjustified but which one has, even after sustained reflection, no reason to reject? Example: you come to believe something for very bad reasons, later you retain the belief but not the reasons, and have no new reasons available (for or against the belief).

Gilbert Harman, and many others, appear to think that if you have no reason to reject the belief, you must be justified in continuing to believe. But the only thing that could provide the justification is the mere fact that you previously believed it. The alternative is to separate the question of when you do or do not have reasons to *change* your beliefs from the question of justification. This may be linked to the possibility of non-aetiological justifications, which are the big white hope for self-knowledge and a priori knowledge.

.: posted by Tom Stoneham 11:31 AM

Monday, August 12, 2002

Humpty-Dumpty was wrong: we cannot make our words mean whatever we want them to. There have to be some rules for language to work, even if those rules are just fleeting agreements between two people. As Dummett put it:

The paradoxical character of language lies in the fact that while its practice must be subject to standards of correctness, there is no ultimate authority to impose those standards from without.

In the States a fierce public debate is currently raging between, to caricature, relativists and conservatives. What seems to be missing from the debate is an attempt to apply Dummett's thought about language to other areas which have normative structure, like politics and personal behaviour. The conservatives are right that human flourishing, on both the individual and the social level, requires acting out of a sense of right and wrong: morals maketh man. The relativists are right that there is no external authority which determines what is right and wrong: man maketh morals.

It is the main public task facing analytic philosophy to show how these two thoughts can be consistent. Unfortunately the ideas needed to do this are not sexy and require the grasp of some pretty subtle 'technical' concepts.

.: posted by Tom Stoneham 9:44 AM

Friday, August 09, 2002

Yesterday I was asked (by the new VC) what is the hottest area in Philosophy right now. I said Rationalism, on the grounds that its high-profile comeback is so surprising that it will certainly generate interest. Three years ago I thought it was Quietism, but that fashion is fizzling out \o/.

.: posted by Tom Stoneham 9:50 AM