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Finkelstein on the Distinction between Conscious and Unconscious Belief

  • Byeong D. Lee (a1)

In a recent article, D. H. Finkelstein offers a new proposal about the distinction between conscious and unconscious belief. On his proposal, someone's belief is conscious if he has an ability to express it simply by self-ascribing it; and someone's belief is unconscious if he lacks such an ability. In this article, I argue that his proposal is inadequate, and then offer a somewhat different proposal. On my proposal, someone's belief is conscious if he has self-ascribed this belief without recourse to any evidence about his behaviour, and someone's belief is unconscious; if it is not conscious.


Dans un récent article, D. H. Finkelstein propose une nouvelle distinction entre croyance consciente et inconsciente. Suivant cette proposition, la croyance de quelqu'un est consciente s'il a la capacité de l'exprimer tout simplement en se l'attribuant; sa croyance est inconsciente s'il n'en a pas la capacité. Dans cet article, je fais valoir que cette proposition est inadéquate, et je propose ensuite une nouvelle distinction. Suivant cette distinction, la croyance de quelqu'un est consciente s'il s'attribue cette croyance sans s'appuyer sur aucun ilement depreuve au sujet de son comportement; sa croyance est inconsciente si elle n'est pas consciente.

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1 Hamlyn D. W., The Theory of Knowledge (New York: Doubleday, 1970), p. 98.

2 Finkelstein David H., “On the Distinction between Conscious and Unconscious States of Mind,” American Philosophical Quarterly, 36 (1999): 79100.

3 Ibid., pp. 92–93.

4 Ibid., p. 92.

5 Lee Byeong D., “Moore's Paradox and Self-Ascribed Belief,” Erkenntnis, 55 (2001): 359–70. See also my Shoemaker on Second-Order Belief and Self-Deception,” Dialogue, 41, 2 (Spring 2002): 279–89.

6 Shoemaker Sydney, “Moore's Paradox and Self-Knowledge,” in his The First-Person Perspectives and Other Essays (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996), p. 78.

7 A belief is discursively justified when there is some pre-established belief on whose basis the belief is evidentially supported. On the other hand, presumptive justification does not require such a pre-established belief for its defence. A belief is presumptively justified when there is a standing presumption in its favour and no pre-established reason to the contrary. It is similar to a case in which a defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

8 Finkelstein, “On the Distinction between Conscious and Unconscious States of Mind,” p. 93.

9 Ibid., p. 92.

10 Ibid., pp. 94–95.

11 Lycan William G., “Tacit Belief,” in Belief: Form, Content, and Function, edited by Bogdan Radu J. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), p. 64.

12 Finkelstein, “On the Distinction between Conscious and Unconscious States of Mind,” p. 97.

13 Ibid., p. 82.

14 Perhaps there might be someone who is so irrational that he cannot help but continue his previous behavioral pattern despite the fact that he has already realized that “not-P” is true. In such a case he may still say:” ‘not-P’ is true but I have this crazy unconscious belief that P.”

15 Finkelstein, “On the Distinction between Conscious and Unconscious States of Mind,” p. 94.

16 Stich Stephen, “Beliefs and Subdoxastic States,” Philosophy of Science, 45 (1978): 499518, esp. pp. 506–11.

17 Lycan William G., Consciousness and Experience (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1996), p. 25.

18 I would like to thank two anonymous referees for this journal for their helpful comments on an earlier version of this article.

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Dialogue: Canadian Philosophical Review / Revue canadienne de philosophie
  • ISSN: 0012-2173
  • EISSN: 1759-0949
  • URL: /core/journals/dialogue-canadian-philosophical-review-revue-canadienne-de-philosophie
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