F/M argue for the Equivalence Thesis, the claim that you are justified in believing something iff you have knowledge-level justification for it. I’ve argued against this thesis here, so I was especially interested in how they argue for it in Chapter 5. They argue for it relying on the claim that you are justified in believing something iff you are required to believe it. They note, in footnote 6 on p. 131, that the argument could be weakened slightly by relying instead on the claim that you are justified in believing p iff of the three attitudes of belief, withholding, and disbelief, belief is the one you should have. The difference here isn’t important for the issue I want to raise, so I’ll ignore it.
I wonder why epistemologists think that we are always, usually, or even sometimes, under an obligation to believe. I think it is obvious that certain attitudes are forbidden (given the relevant state of information one is in), but given the obvious point that the denial of a forbidding is a permission, I wonder why we we’d want something more. I suspect the answer is that we think of belief on the model of action, and we are clearly under moral requirements to do certain actions at certain times, so perhaps we should expect something similar in the domain of belief.
But here I balk. First, there’s a bevy of worries about too much analogizing between belief and action. Most important here is that, with respect to action, there is nothing like the Quine/Duhem issue to be found. With respect to justified or rational belief, the introduction of new information that requires accommodation in some fashion always (nearly always?) leaves open a variety of ways in which to accommodate the new information in a way that preserves justification. Nothing similar seems to be true about what is required of us in terms of action: change the relevant circumstances, including what one is aware of, and there will still, at least typically, be some specification action type required of one. Or, to put the point differently, though Buridan’s Ass situations are possible in the case of rational or moral action, they are rare in comparison with the implication of the Quine/Duhem thesis that every change in state of information leaves open a variety of ways of accommodating the new information.
So, call Restrictivism the view that, given that one takes an attitude toward a proposition in a given total epistemic context, there is exactly one attitude that one may take toward that proposition in that context. And call Optionalism the view that there is always more than one attitude one may take toward a given proposition in a given context. Perhaps both positions are false, but given the Quine/Duhem point, it seems to me that Optionalism has to be closer to the truth. Yes?
One counterargument below the fold.
One may think, however, that this is too cavalier in how to handle the Q/D point. So suppose one has a total set of cognitive attitudes, all of which are justified, and one learns some new information that forces a change in total noetic structure. The Q/D point allows options for change here, but not without making additional adjustments. To put the point precisely, we had an original state of information S, which changes to S’ when the new information is learned. S’ lacks the coherence needed for the total set to remain justified, and so adjustment is necessary. The Q/D point allows various options here, but the important point to note is that taking any of the options requires another change in total noetic structure. To simplify, suppose there are exactly two options to restore justification to the total set of attitudes. Taking the first option will replace S’ with some other total state of information S”, and taking the second option will replace it with S”’. And that leaves open endorsing Restrictivism relative to each of these options, compatible with acknowledging the truth of the Q/D thesis.
The central point needed here for rescuing Restrictivism is questionable. The central point we might call “the 3 stages” reply: it insists that there is an initial state of information S, the middle state of information S’, and the resolution state (either S” or S”’), and that Restrictivism holds relative to each such state.
The 3 stages reply is correct, but irrelevant. The Q/D thesis is about how to accommodate new evidence, and one’s total evidence is typically not one’s entire system of information. So while the 3 stages point is clearly correct about one’s total states of information, it isn’t correct about one’s total evidence. Limited to that subset of one’s total state of information, the Q/D point is that one’s total evidence can initially be E, and when it changes to E’, one has options with respect to the changes in the remainder of one’s total noetic structure. And this interpretation is a better one of the real Q/D point that the one that insures that the 3 stages reply works.
So, the bottom line, I think, is that Restrictivists must reject the Q/D thesis.