What is Responsible Belief?

May 09, 2017
Posted by Administrator

In 2017, Oxford University Press published Responsible Belief: A Theory in Ethics and Epistemology by Rik Peels. Peels is an assistant professor at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, the Netherlands. His primary research interests are the ethics of belief, ignorance, scientism, and various issues in the philosophy of religion, such as whether God has a sense of humor.

From the publisher’s description for Responsible Belief:

What we believe and fail to believe has a great impact on what we do. This is true for extreme beliefs, such as fundamentalist beliefs, but also more mundane beliefs. Hence, if we want to act responsibly, we should believe responsibly; however, it seems we lack the kind of control over our beliefs that such responsibility requires: we cannot choose our beliefs. The book evaluates several responses to this so-called problem of doxastic involuntarism, and finds that each of them fails, including the currently popular response that we are responsible for our beliefs to the extent that they are reason-responsive. There is an alternative solution. We lack control over our beliefs, but we can influence them: we can choose to perform certain actions that, as a matter of fact, make a difference to what we believe. We have influence on our beliefs in virtue of our control over our belief-forming mechanisms, our evidence base, and our intellectual virtues and vices. We have a wide variety of moral, prudential, and epistemic obligations to perform such belief-influencing actions. The book also considers in detail when we are excused for a belief: we can still believe responsibly if we are excused for our belief by force, ignorance, or luck. A careful consideration of these excuses teaches us, respectively, that responsible belief entails that we could have believed otherwise, that responsible belief is radically subjective, and that responsible belief is compatible with its being a matter of luck that we hold that belief.

In August 2017, Synthese published Peels’ article, “Responsible belief and epistemic justification.”