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Title: Philosophy of rational belief
Author: Mealand, David L.
ISNI:       0000 0001 3390 5808
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 1985
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The problems of characterizing rational belief are fewer than is the case with knowledge, though we presumably believe more things than we know. Knowledge is often defined as a special kind of justified true belief. Fallibilism urges that any of the conditions for knowledge may fail. In the case of rational belief we are dealing with fewer conditions, and withdrawal in the event of failure is less drastic. 2. Talk of beliefs involves problems of intensionality (referential opacity) and intentionality (allusion to believing subjects). But talk of beliefs is not clearly dispensable. Reference both to conscious mental states and to dispositions is needed to account for belief. If belief is to be rational it requires at least adequate evidential support. Belief should largely be determined by evidence but there is a voluntary element which we cannot exclude. Rational belief is not all or nothing acceptance. Paradox results if we do not proportion belief to evidence. 3. We need to consider the rationality of complexes of beliefs. Here two such sets of beliefs are selected for study in their own right, and for purpose of comparison. One comprises beliefs about the historical past, the other, metaphysical theistic beliefs. Mitchell argues for an analogy between them, and that in each case upholders of such beliefs construct a cumulative case in their defence. This raises complex issues of which the most important is that of the criteria to be used. 4. Beliefs about historical events use theory and observation to give an account of what is not directly accessible. Rival theories are assessed by criteria as in other disciplines. The extent to which the criteria used here differ from those used in science is considered in relation to two problems One is the special character of historical explanation. The other is the debate between realists and anti-realists with regard to the historical past, and the role of implicit prediction here. Though there are differences from science, the rational assessment of beliefs about the historical pa3t has identifiable similarities with science in its methods and criteria. 5* In "til© case of metaphysical beliefs examples are selected from recent writing on theistic belief by Swinburne. Some, both theists and non-theists, differentiate sharply between metaphysical and other beliefs. Criticism is here made of those who emphasize incommensurability and commitment as precluding rational scrutiny. Hick's -view is more cautious, and we must admit that people do use rational criteria yet differ in their conclusions. Swinburne is perhaps over-confident in using Bayes' theorem here, with consequential over-emphasis on prior probabilities. 6. We need to consider several criteria and their appropriateness for assessing metaphysical beliefs. i) Internal consistency is one, as is consistency with other beliefs. ii) Swinburne places too much emphasis on simplicity, though it is one criterion amongst others. iii) Explanatory power is also relevant, though gains in explanatory power take different forms, and some gains are of an unusual type. iv) Pruitfulness in making successful prediction plays a large role in science, and is implicit in historical study. It should not he excluded here, though appeal to it requires careful assessment. v) Accuracy is also important, and should be ranked higher than simplicity, though assessing accuracy here has problems of its own. We can therefore use these criteria to assess the rationality of metaphysical as of other beliefs, but in some cases, here as elsewhere, clashes of criteria leave ground for continuing conflict.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Philosophy