Philosophical Belief, Philosophical Relief


I suppose there are moments in everyone’s life during which they are forced to believe something that they don’t want to believe or don’t think they should have to believe, but I would venture a guess that this happens more frequently, and in regards to more abstract beliefs, to philosophers. Consider the following:

For many years, roughly from 1969 until 1999, I was a semi-unwilling believer in the doctrine of double effect. On the one hand, I felt pulled to accept it because I did not see any other way to explain what seemed to be obvious facts about right and wrong in various cases. But I could not see any general explanation of why an agent’s intentions should have this kind of right-making and wrong-making significance. I also felt challenged by objections to the doctrine of double effect raised by Judith Thomson and Jonathan Bennett, among others. So I was greatly relieved in 1999 when I came to the conclusion that the cases I had been concerned about could all be explained in other ways, which did not depend on the intentions of the agents.

Those are the words of T.M. Scanlon (Harvard) in an interview with Richard Marshall at 3:AM Magazine, explaining the position he sets out in Moral Dimensions. The whole interview is characteristically interesting, but it is hard not to focus on the fact that for 30 years he was in the position of unwilling belief. After such a long time, I suspect that “greatly relieved” is an understatement.

In any event, the passage prompts these inquiries:

What philosophical beliefs do you unwillingly hold?
What philosophical beliefs have you been relieved to have found reason to abandon?

philosophical relief SM

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