Research Description

You believe that your birthday is on March 5.  But what makes it rational for you to believe this? Is it that you remember having celebrated your birthday on that date in the past?  But then what makes it rational for you to treat your memory of those specific celebration events as accurate?  Is it that your memory has almost always been accurate in the past?  But then what makes it rational for you to treat your memory of this track record as accurate?

Arguments for the reliability of our basic belief forming mechanisms (like memory) are known to be epistemically circular – in other words, it is rational for us to accept the premises of those arguments only if we presuppose that their conclusions are true. Epistemically circular arguments are intuitively problematic in the following way:  even when the arguments are sound, and even when the agent rationally believes their premises, it still seems that such arguments cannot help to make an agent rational in believing their conclusions. But if epistemically circular arguments cannot provide for rational belief in their conclusions, then what could make it rational for us to hold any of the beliefs that we hold by means of some basic belief-forming faculty like memory?  We seem to confront a trilemma:  either we must find a reason to accept the reliability of our basic belief-forming faculties without appeal to epistemic circularity, or we must allow that (contrary to appearances) rational belief in the reliability of these faculties can be furnished by epistemically circular arguments, or we must be skeptics.

Hinge-epistemologists propose a way to avoid all three horns of this trilemma:  when we form beliefs by means of our basic belief-forming faculties, we are treating those faculties as reliable, but this “treating as reliable” is something that falls outside the domain of the kind of epistemic appraisal that we apply to beliefs.  Hinge-epistemologists use the term “hinge-commitments” to refer to these relations of “treating as reliable”, and they use the term “hinge-propositions” to refer to the corresponding proposition, viz., that memory is reliable, or that perception is reliable, or that introspection is reliable, etc. Whatever precisely these hinge-commitments are, since they fall outside the domain of the kind of epistemic appraisal that we apply to beliefs, we can avoid all three horns of our trilemma:  it doesn’t need to be rational for us to hold our hinge-commitments in order for it to be rational for us to hold our ordinary beliefs.

In my current research project, I develop a novel hinge-epistemology view according to which: (1) hinge-commitments are not subject to any rational evaluation but are, instead, arational, and (2) hinge-commitments are beliefs which play a special role – that of informing our worldview at its core. I call this view the Arational Beliefs view. While there are hinge epistemologies that accept (1), and there are also hinge epistemologies that accept (2), there is no hinge epistemology that accepts both (1) and (2).  This is because hinge-epistemologists, like virtually all epistemologists, assume that all beliefs must be either rational or irrational. In my research, I challenge this assumption; I argue that beliefs can be rational, irrational, or arational. Our hinge-commitments are beliefs that fall into this last category.  Thus, reflection on our hinge-commitments leads both to a new understanding of the nature of beliefs, as well as a new understanding of the nature of epistemic rationality.

In upcoming work, I will explore different ways in which the Arational Beliefs view impact other debates in philosophy. In particular, I am interested in explaining  why many of our beliefs are essentially subject to evidential norms, why hinge-commitment beliefs are not subject to these norms, and what relation there is between our hinge-commitments and faith.

Current Projects

Ungrounded Beliefs

It is a popular claim that we cannot have justified or rational beliefs in cases where no evidence supports them. However, this view of justification leads us to the result that all of the assumptions underlying our ordinary empirical beliefs are unjustified. Let's call such assumptions hinge-commitments.

In this paper, I have two goals:

1. To argue that the main efforts to show that hinge-commitments are justified don't work.

2. To show that our hinge-commitments that P cannot be supported by any piece of empirical evidence E because this would violate the plausible principle that any piece of evidence E supports a believe that P only if someone who does not already believe P can gain justification to believe P on the basis of E.

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Hinge-epistemology is a family of philosophical views which argue that hinge-commitments are indispensable for some of the practices involved in the exercise of epistemic rationality. They also accept that hinge commitments are not supported by the evidence. In this paper I classify this family of views into two groups that I call the Broad Rationality Group (BRG) and the Narrow Rationality Group (NRG). Proponents within the BRG argue that our hinge-commitments are such that we have some sort of rational warrant for them in the absence of evidence. The proponents of the NRG claim that hinge-commitments are not subject to rational evaluation.
In this paper, I have three main goals:
1. To show that the two main BRG views (Annalisa Coliva’s and Crispin Wright’s) are subject to significant criticisms given their commitment to the claim that we have some sort of epistemic warrant to hold hinge-commitments.
2. To show that the main NRG view (Duncan Pritchard’s) fails to give us an accurate account of the nature of hinge-commitments by claiming that they are not beliefs.
3. To develop an alternative NRG view that is neither subject to the criticisms against Coliva’s and Wright’s views, nor to the criticism against Pritchard’s. On my view, which I will call the Arational Role View, hinge-commitments are beliefs which are not subject to rational evaluations and which play an essential role in making our epistemic practices possible.

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Philosophers who accept that beliefs are at least partly constituted by constitutive norms are called normativists. In the literature, there are two main ways in which normativists have thought about which norms are constitutive of belief. The first and more widely defended normativist view is that beliefs are constituted by input-side norms (or input-side requirements of rationality)—i.e., a requirement to rationally manage our mental states in accordance with some inputs, like our evidence. The second normativist view argues that beliefs are not only constituted by input-side rational norms but also by output-side rational norms—i.e., requirements to proceed in certain rational ways given the mental state we are in.
In this paper I have two main goals:
1. To show that these two approaches are mistaken because hinge-proposition beliefs, like the belief that there is an external world, are not subject to input-side norm requirements — and so such requirements cannot be constitutive of belief.
2. To offer a novel approach to the normativist strategy which does not take any input-side requirement to be a constitutive norm of belief but only output-side requirements, like Instrumental Rationality. This approach will make use of the intuitive idea that beliefs are partly constituted by an agent’s commitment to the truth of a proposition.

 

Future projects

‘What is the rational status of our belief in God?’

Take the concept of theistic faith, understood as a belief in the existence of God. This belief is such that it cannot be supported by any body of ordinary evidence. It is usually thought that a belief that lacks evidential support is irrational. However, religious believers do not thereby commit themselves to the view that it’s irrational to believe in God. How can they reconcile the rational status of theistic faith and its lack of evidential support?

 

In the current literature, there are different attempts to reconcile these two conflicting features of theistic faith and rationality. All of them, however, take for granted that beliefs are irrational whenever they are not sufficiently supported by the evidence, and somewhat artificially, argue for the rationality of faith either by distorting our ordinary notion of knowledge or our ordinary notion of evidence.

I assess whether theism can be a hinge-commitment. If it is, then that would open an alternative path to understanding the rational status of theistic faith. If the belief that God exists is a hinge-commitment, then, according to my view, that would mean that regardless of its lack of evidential support, this is not an irrational belief (nor is it a rational belief).

©2020 by Aliosha Barranco Lopez.