The ethics of belief: A Kantian duty to humanity

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Committee Member

Harvey Siegel - Committee Chair


The ethics of belief is the insistence that there is a moral obligation to believe evidentially, i.e., to believe propositions there is reason to think true. The very act of adopting a nonevidentialist policy of belief-management is itself contrary to an antecedent moral obligation and so (on those grounds) morally forbidden. The content of this antecedent moral obligation is the Kantian respect for humanity.Nonevidential belief-management is wrong---uncontroversially epistemically, on my view morally---should belief-formation follow what the believing agent judges to be evidence insufficient to support the proposition believed. The wrongness inheres primarily in the clash between, on the one hand, the moral obligation to preserve and promote autonomy and, on the other, the deleterious effects on that particular agent's autonomy of a policy of nonevidentialism.Insofar as one's character, one's personality emerges out of (possibly is in large part constituted by) the total corpus of one's beliefs, there is a nontrivial sense in which one alters the person one is, one's self, as (and to the extent that) one's beliefs change. Rewriting, as it were, oneself without due attention to reality is a kind of self-termination. That is, with every ungrounded proposition admitted to one's doxastic structure one, in principle, succeeds in severing the person whose belief it is from the world that belief purports to represent. But human existence just is existence in the world; eliminate that person's contact with reality, and one thereby diminishes, in measure, the person whose existence it is. However pleasant the interior life of the autistic man, his life of isolation serves to remove him from the community of fellow persons. This is a tragic state of affairs. But, to choose to cut the lines that tether one to reality is willingly to forego participation in the community of fellow persons and thus is, as Clifford dramatically notes, "one long sin against mankind."



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