Manual Philosophers Past and Present: Selected Essays

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"[we] still have with us the problem of understanding ourselves and our relation to the world in a distinctively philosophical way. As a guide to that form of.
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According to Levi, epistemology should not be understood as a discipline that identifies the principles according to which we can decide whether our beliefs are justified or not. He takes from the classical pragmatist in particular from Peirce and Dewey what he calls the principle of doxastic inertia , or doxastic infallibilism cf. The task of epistemology is thus not that of justifying our current beliefs, but rather that of justifying changes in beliefs cf.

In this context, Levi develops an interesting and original perspective which associates infallibilism and corrigibilism. We should be infallibilist about the beliefs we currently hold as true according to Levi, it would be incoherent to hold them to be true and stress that they could be false as fallibilists do.

Nonetheless we can be corrigibilist about our beliefs, because we can held them to be vulnerable to modification in the course of inquiry. According to Levi, this claim could be understood in different ways. On the one hand, it could be read as implying that we should increase the number of beliefs that are acquired through well-conducted inquiry This would be contrary to the principle of doxastic inertia proposed by the classical pragmatism, because we would require a justification for beliefs we already had.

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On the other hand, if warranted assertibility is understood as a specific aim of inquiries we actually pursue where we thus need a justification because we are trying to introduce changes in our beliefs , the simple contention that we should aim at warranted assertibility remains empty if we do not specify which are the proximate aims of the inquiry in question and if we do so, it seems that a central aim of at least some inquiries should be the attainment of new error free information: a goal that Rorty would probably reject as an aim of inquiry cf.

This is the second topic I wish to address. Levi often recognizes his debt to Peirce and Dewey in his account of inquiry cf. He agrees with Peirce that inquiry is the process which allows us to pass from a state of doubt to a state of belief cf. Rather, he understands changes in states of belief as changes in doxastic commitments , where states of belief understood as commitments are to be distinguished from states of belief understood as performances.

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Accordingly, a doxastic commitment identifies the set of beliefs we commit ourselves in a state of full belief. It could be totally different from the views we consciously endorse, which identify our state of doxastic performance cf. A state of belief understood as commitment has then a normative component, because it describes what we should believe and not what we actually believe. Besides identifying the beliefs we are committed to endorse, our state of full belief also decides which are the possible views and theories, on which we might rationally have doubts about In other words, a state of full belief understood as commitment decides the space of serious possibilities we can rationally inquire about Accordingly, inquiry should not be understood as a process that generates changes in doxastic performances which would concern our psychological dispositions and states , but rather as a process which results in changes in doxastic commitments Levi offers us a detailed analysis of the ways in which these changes can be justified.

However, when we expand our state of full belief we can inadvertently generate inconsistencies among our beliefs.

Truth, Meaning and Realism

When we are in this inconsistent state of belief, we cannot but give up some of our beliefs in order to avoid contradictions. In contracting our state of full belief, we have basically three options. We can give up the new belief that generated the inconsistency or we can give up the old belief with which it is in contradiction. Alternatively, we can also suspend judgment between the two.

In all these cases we have a contraction of the state of full belief. In deciding weather to give up either the new or the old belief, X should then take into consideration which retreat would cause the smaller loss of information. If the loss of information would be equal in the two cases, then X should suspend judgment about the two , This account of inquiry and of the way in which it justifies changes in doxastic commitments is part of an elaborate and original approach to epistemology.

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Rather, we should be interested in how the concept of truth is relevant for understanding the way in which we change beliefs through inquiry Levi criticizes those accounts of inquiry which claim that inquiry should not aim at truth but at warranted assertibility e. Toronto, Ontario , Canada.


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Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews. Revised and shortened version of her chapter in The Possibility of Philosophical Understanding Oxford: Oxford University Press.