Tuesday, March 13, 2007


Akrasia of Belief and Rational Dialetheism

I'm currently reading R. Jay Wallace's 'Normativity, Commitment, and Instrumental Reason', and he discusses some issues which reminded me of some tricky issues Bryan Frances raised a while ago in this interesting post. In a discussion of disanalogies between practical and theoretical reason, Wallace raises the question of whether there can be 'strong akrasia of belief' (12); that is, cases in which 'one judges that a given conclusion--say, p--is true, and yet one consciously and without self-deception believes that not-p'. As Wallace notes, Scanlon argues in What We Owe to Each Other that this is a pretty common phenomena, but he's not convinced by Scanlon's purported examples. In fact, Wallace takes strong akrasia of belief to be ruled out (13).

Whether or not akrasia of belief is commonplace, given the way Wallace has described the phenomena, it looks like he has to say that Graham Priest doesn't have the range of beliefs concerning the Liar sentence (etc.) that he claims to have. I don't how on Earth we might begin to settle the question of what beliefs to ascribe to dialetheists, but let me make a couple of observations. Firstly, it's hard not to feel Wallace hasn't quite managed to put his finger on the phenomena in question; intuitively, even if we do attribute clear-eyed inconsistent beliefs to Graham, this isn't a case of strong akrasia of belief (update: what seems to be missing is something like the belief that these are incompatible attitudes). Yet it counts as such given the above characterization. So let us assume for the moment that akrasia of belief is a somewhat different phenomena to mere clear-eyed judging that p is true while believing not-p. My second observation is this; even under this assumption, it seems like it's going to be very hard to find arguments which rule out the possibility of akrasia of belief but which leave open the possibility that one might while clear-eyed judge that p is true while believing not-p. That is, although these seems like different phenomena, one has to wonder if they aren't sufficiently similar to make it extremely difficult to offer considerations which discriminately tell against the possibility of one but not the other.

If that hunch is correct, the upshot is that denying the possibility of akrasia of belief might be very difficult indeed, since it might involve getting mired in a debate concerning what beliefs we can/should attribute a self-confessed dialetheist. At any rate, the going will have to be slower than Wallace seems to envisage.

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