Belief’s Own Ethics


The fundamental question of the ethics of belief is "What ought one to believe?" According to the traditional view of evidentialism, the strength of one’s beliefs should be proportionate to the evidence. Conventional ways of defending and challenging evidentialism rely on the idea that what one ought to believe is a matter of what it is rational, prudent, ethical, or personally fulfilling to believe. Common to all these approaches is that they look outside of belief itself to determine what one ought to believe.

In this book Jonathan Adler offers a strengthened version of evidentialism, arguing that the ethics of belief should be rooted in the concept of belief—that evidentialism is belief's own ethics. A key observation is that it is not merely that one ought not, but that one cannot, believe, for example, that the number of stars is even. The "cannot" represents a conceptual barrier, not just an inability. Therefore belief in defiance of one's evidence (or evidentialism) is impossible. Adler addresses such questions as irrational beliefs, reasonableness, control over beliefs, and whether justifying beliefs requires a foundation. Although he treats the ethics of belief as a central topic in epistemology, his ideas also bear on rationality, argument and pragmatics, philosophy of religion, ethics, and social cognitive psychology.

Table of Contents

  1. Preface
  2. Introduction
  3. 1. Getting Off the Wrong Track
  4. 2. Can One Will to Believe?
  5. 3. Normative Epistemology: The Deceptively Large Scope of the Incoherence Test
  6. 4. Evading Evidentalism and Exploiting "Possibility": Strategies of Ignorance, Isolation, and Inflation
  7. 5. Testimony: Background Reasons to Accept the Word of Others
  8. 6. Tacit Confirmation and the Regress
  9. 7. Three Paradoxes of Belief
  10. 8. Constraints on Us to Fully Believe
  11. 9. Interlude-Transparency, Full Belief, Accommodation
  12. 10. The Compatibility of Full Belief and Doubt
  13. 11. Prospects for Self-Control: Reasonableness, Self-Correction, and the Fallibility Structure
  14. Notes
  15. References
  16. Index