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

guest
12 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Eric Walker
Eric Walker
4 years ago

I was quite relieved when I found good reason to abandon the metaphilosophical beliefs (1) that philosophy must proceed as Kuhnian normal science proceeds, (2) that there are criteria — to which I was not privy but other philosophers were — for what counts as philosophical explanation, justification, and evidence, and (3) that the philosophical context in which philosophical beliefs are formed, articulated, and evaluated is not importantly different from any other context in which beliefs are formed, articulated, and evaluated.
Report

Tristan Haze
Reply to  Eric Walker
4 years ago

So, re. (3), how *is* the philosophical context importantly different in your view? I’m sympathetic to the idea that it is, and curious what you think the difference is.Report

Eric Walker
Eric Walker
Reply to  Tristan Haze
4 years ago

Tristan, that’s a hard question to respond to in a blog post. But if you and I have similar sensibilities, the following cryptic remark may nonetheless be leading: I find the difference between non-philosophical and philosophical projects, and the peculiar difficulties attending the latter, to be analogous to the difference between understanding the nature of things and understanding the nature of understanding things, and the peculiar difficulties attending the latter.Report

recent grad
recent grad
4 years ago

Relief: that God doesn’t exist.

Relunctance: that physicalism might well be false.Report

Michael Bench-Capon
4 years ago

I think I was quite relieved when I came around the idea that the sceptical arguments are mostly right and nobody knows anything. Before that I’d mostly had to resort to the “there must be a response” response, which wasn’t terribly satisfying. It was Peter Adamson’s podcast’s treatment of the ancient sceptics that brought me round, if anyone else is having the same trouble.Report

Alan White
Alan White
4 years ago

“What philosophical beliefs do you unwillingly hold?”
Thanks to Neil Levy, a second-order one that luck pretty well prevails in most matters, including most likely my unwillingness to believe things.
“What philosophical beliefs have you been relieved to have found reason to abandon?”
My previous first order belief that luck had only a minor part to play in life.Report

Owen Schaefer
4 years ago

A fun exercise! Unwilling belief: Buying meat produced in factory farms is morally wrong. I still harbor a deep gustatory love for meat, which makes avoiding its consumption all the more frustrating. (Though maybe disliking the costs of living up to one’s moral obligations isn’t really in the spirit of the question? I’ll have another go just in case…)

Second unwilling belief: There’s at least one good thing about leveling down. Even though that good thing is typically outweighed by the costs of leveling down, it still seems super-weird to say there’s a single positive thing about it. But it is implied by the egalitarianism to which I am firmly committed.

Relieved abandonment: Libertarianism about free will. Growing up Catholic, I always took Libertarianism about free will more or less on faith. Philosophical challenges to Libertarianism about free will were incredibly compelling, though, and served as a troubling challenge to my faith. I was much relieved to discover that Compatibilism is, well, perfectly compatible with Christianity – indeed, I have become convinced, *more* compatible than Libertarianism.Report

PeterJ
PeterJ
4 years ago

What philosophical beliefs do you unwillingly hold? None. What philosophical beliefs have you been relieved to have found reason to abandon? The idea that philosophy cannot produce secure results. Report

Kyle Ferguson
Kyle Ferguson
4 years ago

One belief I unwillingly hold is that there is no will to believe. Report

JT
JT
4 years ago

I’m, on most days, an unwilling naturalist. On the days when I say ‘fuck it all’, my ontology is wonderfully wacky.Report

Doc F Emeritus
Doc F Emeritus
4 years ago

I have forever unwillingly held the belief that reason and logic account for everything, and those things they cannot account for are meaningless. The old positivist view I was taught in grad school in the 60-70’s. I still tend to have this as my default position.

I was happy to abandon part of the above, namely that logic tells us claims are either true or false. Fuzzy logic told me this was just not the case, some things are, indeed, more or less true or false.Report

James Goetsch
James Goetsch
4 years ago

What philosophical beliefs do you unwillingly hold? That metaphysics in the traditional sense is impossible.
What philosophical beliefs have you been relieved to have found reason to abandon? Hegelianism!Report