Richard Foley, Intellectual Trust in Oneself and Others.
In this book Richard Foley formulates the problem of the authority of others' testimony, and of the rationality of one's own beliefs, in terms of trust. Part 1 discusses the appropriateness of trust in one's own cognitive faculties and beliefs, while part 2 argues that those assessments provide a basis for trust in others' beliefs as well as those of one's earlier and later selves. He does not offer us an analysis of trust or what it is to speak of trust as rational or reasonable. He simply uses the notion to discuss what is surely one form of the problem of the rationality of belief. Rationality, in this book as in his earlier works, The Theory of Epistemic Rationality and Working Without a Net, is understood from a strict internalist and first-person perspective. Assessments of the rationality of opinions, like assessments of decisions, are claims, from a particular perspective, about how effectively the belief or decision promotes a goal or set of goals. With respect to belief and rational belief, the goal is what Foley calls the traditional "epistemic goal" of accurate and comprehensive beliefs. On his view, the perspective from which the assessment is made is the individual's, taken on reflection. From the start, Foley's understanding of rationality involves the first-person perspective. Rational belief is belief that will stand up to an individual's own self-criticism.
There are numerous objections that an egocentric and internalist position must meet. A significant merit of this book is that Foley takes us through a great many of them. He is, for example, prepared to recognize beliefs as rational, given that they would be invulnerable to the individual's scrutiny, even if the individual's reflective principles differ widely from our own. Chisholm's epistemic principles, reliance on introspection, perception, memory, and coherence of propositions with some antecedent positive epistemic status, are regarded as plausible generalities rather than necessary truths. Many epistentic defects must be regarded as intellectual flaws rather than cases of irrationality. While Foley is surely right in drawing our attention to the different ways we can go wrong, the arena of rational beliefs is severely narrowed. On the egocentric view presented, beliefs that are generated by the individual's emotions, wishes, and desires will not be irrational if they are immune to an individual's self-criticism, because there is a similar (de)formation at the meta-level of reflection.
This work is thick with useful epistemic distinctions, which emerge from issues in theories of inquiry and knowledge, I will note only three: Rational belief is distinguished from responsible belief, where the latter reflects an individual's judgment that an opinion's insignificance makes it reasonable to stop reflecting on the opinion's accuracy, even if further reflection would promote the goal of accurate and comprehensive beliefs. A present-tense epistemic goal distinguishes between beliefs that are sensitive to evidence and those that are intellectually fecund. Confidence in the overall accuracy of one's opinions and methods can reasonably coexist with inconsistency, but it is not to be tolerated in the premises of arguments.
Part 2 of the book is of particular interest, Foley argues that we need no special reasons to trust the beliefs of others. A presumption of trust in others is generated out of self-trust, There is ample criticism of attempts to argue for the authority of testimony on the basis of induction. Arguments that would appeal to some correlation of testimony and truth (or fact) are too meager or are circular. Although trust in the authority of others is part of the fabric of our life, Foley is equally reluctant to take trust in others as merely useful or even necessary to get on with our projects. His own position appeals, with due caution, to a certain demand for consistency. The argument goes like this: given that I trust myself, I should extend my trust to others. My beliefs are generated by certain cognitive faculties: I perceive, I infer, and so on, Also, much of what I believe, if not most, is the result of what people have told me as I went to school, or what I have read in books and newspapers. Other people have similar cognitive abilities and formation. Given that I trust my own beliefs, I should extend that trust to theirs, to others, This is not an argument that establishes that it is rationally necessary to find others credible. I might not accept the proposition that we have similar cognitive abilities, But commonality is a reasonable assumption. Given that, consistency should push me to trust others.
Difficulties in the account emerge in considering the situations in which the opinion of others conflicts with my own. The credibility of others is presumptive because it can be defeated if I have reasons to doubt another's reliability, because of a history of errors, lack of relevant training, or cognitive impairment. It can be undermined, by the fact of conflict. Since trust in myself creates the presumption in favor of another, conflict or disagreement between us defeats the presumption. For "the conflict itself constitutes a relevant dissimilarity between us, thereby undermining the consistency argument that generates the presumption of trust in favor of the person's opinions about the issue" (108). Defeat of prima facie credibility does not mean that I should not, after all, trust another. Additional information about the individual's expertise or reliability may give me special reason to defer to their opinion (109). And conflict with one's epistemic peers may reasonably lead one to suspend judgment.
When we have a conflict in views, and there are no special reasons to doubt or to defer to others' opinions, Foley says disagreement defeats our prima facie trust in others because disagreement itself constitutes evidence of another's dissimilarity and unreliability. But agreement with oneself was not thought by Foley to be evidence either of another's reliability or of similarity with respect to faculties and circumstances. Foley's own criticisms of any argument for the reliability of others based on induction make that clear. The fact of disagreement, or bare disagreement, should not, therefore, undermine the attribution of broad commonalities of faculties and circumstances. The epistemic force of consensus gives us another reason to think that mere conflict does not undermine another's credibility. Suppose that in every simple conflict, the prima facie credibility of another were negated. Then, in the case of a growing opposition, largely or wholly opposed to my own belief, there would be no epistemic weights to add the opposition together to give me pause to rethink. Foley discusses this problem, and believes it is resolved by the need to find an explanation for the numbers of people who oppose my view. But there is no call for explanation of difference of opinion unless I think there is at least some credibility, some reason to think of others that their beliefs are true.
Suppose Foley is descriptively correct, that we trust ourselves, barring special reasons. This should lead us to reconsider both the justification of self-trust and the nature of trust. The ability to win in simple conflict with another's opinion reflects and serves intellectual autonomy. In order to have what we regard as belief, rather than the cognitive equivalent of whim, we need an opinion that does not blow with the wind, that is not deflected by a nay-sayer or conflicting view. It is, of course, important that one be prepared to modify or revise one's beliefs. But one needs to pursue one's belief long enough to see whether it is reasonable to revise it. A modest kind of stubbornness respecting our own beliefs is to be valued not because, in the long run, the agent will have more true beliefs. A stronger commitment to one's own opinions than is strictly warranted is essential to our having beliefs. If this is correct, epistemic rationality may need to be enlarged, in ways that Foley does not consider, to include volitional-emotional elements.
Glendon College, York University
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|Publication:||The Philosophical Review|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Oct 1, 2003|
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