In several papers, I’ve made use of what I call the James-Rudner-Douglas (JRD) thesis: “Anytime a scientist announces a judgement of fact, they are making a tradeoff between the risk of different kinds of error. This balancing act depends on the costs of each kind of error, so scientific judgement involves assessments of the value of different outcomes.”
I have a paper forthcoming in Episteme which explores this theme as well as other issues in William James’ “The Will to Believe.” I just sent off my final draft and brought the version on my website up to date.
I’ve given a couple of talks in which I mull over possible counterexamples to the thesis. I recently wrote that as a paper, I’ve now posted a draft. Comments are welcome.
In his PhD thesis, Stijn Conix briefly considers the suggestion “that it does not make sense to think of values and epistemic standards as taking priority over each other.”1 In a footnote, he cites Matthew Brown “who refers to Magnus making a similar remark in personal communication.”
That’s cool, because I have made such a remark. I have a draft paper in which I defend it.
Frustratingly, today I got another rejection notice for that paper. I’ll take a day to cool off before looking at the referee comments again, and then I’ll decide on my next move. The most effective strategy for disseminating ideas might be to just talk to Matt Brown more often. Alas, that’s hard to document on my CV.
Abstract: Scott Aikin and Robert Talisse have recently argued strenuously against James’ permissivism about belief. They are wrong, both about cases and about the general issue. In addition to the usual examples, the paper considers the importance of permissiveness in scientific discovery. The discussion highlights two different strands of James’ argument: one driven by doxastic efficacy and another driven by inductive risk. Although either strand is sufficient to show that it is sometimes permissible to believe in the absence of sufficient evidence, the two considerations have different scope and force.