Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Beliefs and Aliefs

In this video between Eric Schwitzgebel and Tamar Gendler, we have Gendler arguing for her famed distinction between beliefs and aliefs. Schwitzgebel argues that the distinction if a false dichotomy and that real beliefs are too complex, nuanced, and that there are too many gray areas between Gendler's beliefs and her aliefs to be so analysed. I am convinced that Gendler's analysis is insightful and useful to epistemology. But Schwitzgebel does make some interesting points. One thought experiment that I thought up that may help his case is the following:

Regina is a scientist who knows all about zombies in her post apocalyptic zombie infested world. She has a sister whom she loves dearly called Clair. Clair is bitten by a zombie and will turn into one herself soon (as the virus causing zombihood is highly contagious). Regina knows all about this and knows (a fortiori believes) that Clair will turn to a zombie. Clair does and Regina is faced with a harrowing moment where her sister is coming after her to eat her brains. Regina can either shoot the zombie that was at one time her sister knowing full well that that is not her sister but a zombie. She is not not under a delusion nor is she suffering from any other form of psychological pathology but she can not shoot the zombie because of the zombies likeness to her sister. The zombie kills and eats Regina's brain.

When a dramatic example like this is given, it would seem to my intuitions (and I would imagine many others) that it is indeterminate whether Regina believes in a robust sense of the word whether her sister is a zombie even though Regina is a scientist of zombies and knows all about them.

Though Gendler's examples are cherry-picked or "idealized" in her own words (and this example does seem to show a cherry-picked example on the other extreme), I still think that the belief-alief distinction is insightful.

My review of In Praise of Blame

By George Sher here.