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Title: The Ethics of Disbelief
Authors: Gordon-Smith, Eleanor
Advisors: McGrath, Sarah
Contributors: Philosophy Department
Subjects: Philosophy
Issue Date: 2023
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Early on in Descartes’ Meditations, the meditator assures himself that his program of far-reaching doubt cannot go too terribly wrong. He writes, “no danger or error will result from my plan, and I cannot possibly go too far in my distrustful attitude. This is because the task now in hand does not involve action, but merely the acquisition of knowledge” (1641/1986, 15).Like the meditator, philosophers and epistemologists have often thought of doubt or withholding belief as relatively safe options. It’s widely thought that withholding belief does not carry serious costs, or at minimum, that its costs are systematically less serious than those associated with false belief. My aim in this dissertation is to trouble this picture. I argue that not only can doubt carry serious costs, it can carry moral costs. Consequently, we can have moral reason against doubt or withholding belief. This is a fairly radical result. However, I suggest, it turns out to already be in the background of much accepted moral theory. I examine how the possibility of moral reasons against doubt might affect our existing epistemic commitments. I ask this question in three separate domains: the normativity of belief, our models of doxastic deliberation, and the permissibility of re-opening inquiry about an existing belief. In each case I show that attending to the possibility of morally deleterious doubt can help improve our epistemic theorizing, in some cases exposing independent reason to throw out some widely held views.
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Philosophy

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