Accuracy and Coherence: Prospects for an Alethic Epistemology of Partial Belief [chapter]

James M. Joyce
2009 Degrees of Belief  
Traditional epistemology is both dogmatic and alethic. It is dogmatic in the sense that it takes the fundamental doxastic attitude to be full belief, the state in which a person categorically accepts some proposition as true. It is alethic in the sense that it evaluates such categorical beliefs on the basis of what William James calls the 'two great commandments' of epistemology: Believe the truth! Avoid error! Other central concepts of dogmatic epistemology -knowledge, justification,
more » ... fication, reliability, sensitivity, and so on -are understood in terms of their relationships to this ultimate standard of truth or accuracy. Some epistemologists, inspired by Bayesian approaches in decision theory and statistics, have sought to replace the dogmatic model with a probabilistic one in which partial beliefs, or credences, play the leading role. A person's credence in a proposition X is her level of confidence in its truth. This corresponds, roughly, to the degree to which she is disposed to presuppose X in her theoretical and practical reasoning. Credences are inherently gradational: the strength of a partial belief in X can range from certainty of truth, through maximal uncertainty (in which X and its negation ∼X are believed equally strongly), to complete certainty of falsehood. These variations in confidence are warranted by differing states of evidence, and they rationalize different choices among options whose outcomes depend on X. It is a central normative doctrine of probabilistic epistemology that rational credences should obey the laws of probability. In the idealized case where a believer has a numerically precise credence b(X) for every proposition X in some Boolean algebra of propositions, 1 these laws are as follows:
doi:10.1007/978-1-4020-9198-8_11 fatcat:dyilvqnsb5gr5k3gcu6eecibpy