An Essay on Belief and Acceptance

An Essay on Belief and Acceptance

An Essay on Belief and Acceptance

An Essay on Belief and Acceptance


In this incisive new book one of Britain's most eminent philosophers explores the often overlooked tension between voluntariness and involuntariness in human cognition. He seeks to counter the widespread tendency for analytic epistemology to be dominated by the concept of belief. Is scientific knowledge properly conceived as being embodied, at its best, in a passive feeling of belief or in an active policy of acceptance? Should a jury's verdict declare what its members involuntarily believe or what they voluntarily accept? And should statements and assertions be presumed to express what their authors believe or what they accept? Does such a distinction between belief and acceptance help to resolve the paradoxes of self-deception and akrasia? Must people be taken to believe everything entailed by what they believe, or merely to accept everything entailed by what they accept? Through a systematic examination of these problems, the author sheds new light on issues of crucial importance in contemporary epistemology, philosophy of mind, and cognitive science.


In the preparation of this book I have been much helped by discussions which took place on various occasions during 1988-91 after I had read papers connected with the book's topic -- in particular at Columbia, Illinois (Champain-Urbana), McGill, New York, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Oxford, Rutgers, Toronto, and York Universities at the Cambridge Applied Psychology Unit, at a workshop on the Philosophy of Probability in Paris, at a conference on Knowledge in Ankara, at the Turing commemorative colloquium in Sussex University, at a conference on Decision and Inference in Litigation at Yeshivah University (Cardozo School of Law), and at the 18th World Congress of Philosophy in Brighton.

I am also very grateful to Neil Cooper, Robert Gay, Margaret Gilbert, John Hyman, Peter Lamarque, James Logue, Ian Maclean, Alvin Plantinga, and Adrian ckerman for many helpful comments and criticisms on earlier drafts of substantial parts of the book. I am especially indebted to Jonathan Adler for being able to talk over so many of the issues with him. the reader for Oxford University Press made a number of valuable suggestions about the substance of the book, and the Press's copy-editor (Mrs Dorothy McCarthy) supplied a lot of useful advice on points of style. Finally I must acknowledge my appreciation of the great care with which successive parts of the book were typed by Pat Lloyd and Ann Shackle.

For stylistic considerations, and where the intended sense is quite clear, I have sometimes avoided drawing an explicit distinction between the use and the mention of a term. Also, unless there are contextual reasons to suppose otherwise, the pronoun 'he' is to be understood in the text as meaning 'he or she', the pronoun 'him' as meaning 'him or her', and the pronoun 'his' as meaning 'his or her'.

I published an earlier version of some of the ideas in the book in Belief and Acceptance, Mind 98 (1989), pp. 367-89. Parts of §19-20 appeared in 'Should a Jury Say what it Believes or what it Accepts, Cardozo Law Review 13 (1991), pp. 465-83.

L. J. C.

28 November 1991 . . .

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