THE DIARY PROBLEM
In rummaging through my attic, I find an unusual diary that I have not looked at since I last wrote in it five years ago. In it is an extensive list of propositions that I then believed. As I look through the list, I see that many of the propositions are ones that I still believe, but some of the entries surprise me. I had forgotten that I ever had such opinions. The diary does not provide information about why I had these opinions or the conditions under which I formed them. All it tells me is that these were my opinions at the time. As I consider the entries, I wonder whether they have any epistemic relevance for me now. Does the fact that I believed these propositions five years ago give me a reason to alter my current opinions? If so, why? Call this “the diary problem.”
The diary problem raises the question of how, if at all, one's own past opinions should figure in deliberations about what now to believe, and does so in a way that focuses attention on the intellectual authority of one's own past self. The paradigmatic issues of intellectual authority concern other people. However, questions of authority can arise about one's past self as well, and as I discuss in Chapter 6, they can also arise about one's own future self.
CLASSICAL FOUNDATIONALISM AND INTELLECTUAL TRUST
To what extent should we intellectually trust ourselves? Questions of trust arise about our opinions, and they also arise about the faculties, practices, and methods that generate these opinions. Moreover, there is a relation between the two. If I have trust in the reliability of my faculties, practices, and methods, I will tend also to have trust in the overall accuracy of my opinions, and vice-versa. Trust in one tends to transfer to the other.
Questions of intellectual trust also arise about other people's opinions and faculties, and they can even arise about one's own past or future opinions and faculties. Moreover, there is a relation between these questions and question of self-trust, for whenever one's current opinions conflict with those of others, or with one's own past or future opinions, there is an issue of whom to trust: one's current self, or the other person, or one's past or future self? However, one of the central claims of this work is that there is also an interesting theoretical relation between the two sets of questions. I argue in Part Two that the trust it is reasonable to have in one's current opinions provides the materials for an adequate account of the trust one should have in the opinions of others and in one's own past and future opinions. But in Part One, my focus is more limited.
EPISTEMIC EGOTISM AND EPISTEMIC EGOISM
When you tell me that something is the case, there are two kinds of questions for me to face. First, there are questions about your sincerity. Do you really believe what you are telling me, or are you trying to mislead me, and how can I tell the difference? Second, there are questions that presuppose that I can reliably determine whether or not you actually believe what you are telling me and that then go on to ask how, if at all, your opinion should affect my opinion.
Questions of the first sort are concerned with the sincerity or character of those providing the testimony rather than their reliability as inquirers. Politicians, salespersons, and lovers sometimes deny what they know to be true or assert what they know to be false, and virtually everyone stretches the truth from time to time. Given the extent to which we rely on others for information, it is important that we be able to determine reliably whether or not someone is sincerely trying to convey information.
Nevertheless, I will be principally concerned with questions of the second sort, which strip worries about sincerity from the problem of testimony and thereby focus attention on the intellectual authority of other people. Questions about the intellectual authority of others are, in turn, entangled with questions of self-trust.
CONFIDENCE AND DEPTH
Part of the appeal of classical foundationalism is that it purported to provide the tools for a refutation of skepticism. With the fall of classical foundationalism, we can no longer pretend that such a refutation is possible. We must instead acknowledge that skeptical worries cannot be utterly banished and, as a result, inquiry always involves an element of trust, the need for which cannot be eliminated by further inquiry, whether it be scientific or philosophical.
The trust need not be and should not be unrestricted, however. Unquestioning faith in our faculties and in the opinions they generate is naïve and also risky, given what we know about our own fallibility. Thus, among the most pressing questions for epistemology are ones concerning the limits of self-trust. What degree of intellectual self-trust is it appropriate for us to have in our opinions and faculties, insofar as our goal is to have accurate and comprehensive beliefs? And, what kinds of considerations can undermine this trust?
An approximate answer to the first of these questions, I argue, is that trust in one's opinions ought to be proportionate to the degree of confidence one has in them and to what I call the ‘depth’ of this confidence. Correspondingly, trust in one's intellectual faculties, methods, and practices ought be proportionate to the degree of confidence one has in their reliability and to the depth of this confidence.
EPISTEMIC ULYSSES PROBLEMS
How should future opinion when known affect current opinion? If I discover that in one year I will believe P, how should this affect my current belief about P?
Ulysses cases offer a compelling way of addressing these questions. Recall the story of Ulysses and the Sirens. The Sirens had the power of so charming sailors by their songs that the sailors were irresistibly drawn to throw themselves overboard, where they drowned in the strong currents surrounding the island where the Sirens lived. Although Ulysses was warned by the sorceress Circe about the Sirens, he nonetheless wanted to hear their songs. Following instructions from Circe, he took steps to protect himself. He had his men stop their ears with wax, so that they would not be able to hear the Sirens, and had himself tied to the mast, so that upon hearing the Sirens sing, he would not be able to throw himself overboard.
The problem that confronted Ulysses, most generally expressed, was that of how to take his future wants and values into account in his current deliberations about what to do. Problems of this sort are especially pressing when the future wants and values are at odds with one's current wants and values. Ulysses, for example, knew that the Sirens' songs would alter his wants in ways he currently did not approve. Epistemic Ulysses problems are the counterparts of these problems within epistemology.
Issues of intellectual trust, both in ourselves and in others, are of fundamental importance for how we conduct our intellectual lives, but in general these issues have not received the attention they deserve from epistemologists, in large part because of the influence of classical foundationalists, whose aim was to develop an epistemology that would provide guarantees that our beliefs are generally accurate. Within such an epistemology, there is no need for, and indeed no room for, a basic trust in one's intellectual faculties and the opinions they generate. However, the classical foundationalist project has failed. There are no non-question-begging assurances that our faculties and opinions are largely reliable. As a result, all of our intellectual projects require a significant leap of intellectual faith in ourselves, the need for which cannot be eliminated by further argumentation or inquiry.
With the fall of classical foundationalism, the way was cleared for a greater appreciation of this point, but various trends in contemporary epistemology continue to mask the importance of intellectual self-trust. Some epistemologists take for granted that the theory of natural selection is capable of providing us with assurances that our opinions are largely reliable. Others try to provide assurances of reliability by arguing that skeptical hypotheses are necessarily self-refuting.
STUDIES DOCUMENTING OUR TENDENCIES TO MAKE ERRORS
In the context of an epistemological inquiry into our role as inquirers, worries about the reliability of our faculties and opinions arise naturally. We wonder whether our cognitive equipment and our ways of employing this equipment are sufficiently well suited for our environment as to be reliable. The most extreme version of these worries can be illustrated by skeptical thought experiments, which entertain the possibility that an evil demon is deceiving us perceptually, or that we are in fact dreaming when we take ourselves to be awake, or that we are brains-in-a-vat.
These thought experiments, which have been widely discussed by epistemologists, raise questions about the degree of trust it is appropriate to place in our faculties and opinions. It is less frequently noted but no less true that empirical studies also have the capacity to raise such questions. Data about the way we make judgments and inferences can reveal that we are less than ideally reliable in certain kinds of situations and, thus, may provide grounds for not placing much confidence in the opinions we form in those situations.
Consider an example. In a wide range of studies, short personal interviews, typically one hour, have been proven unhelpful in improving the accuracy of predictions about the future accomplishments or behavior of the interviewees.
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