Phil 501

Seminar on Belief and Degree of Belief

The traditional notion of belief and the formal notion of degree of belief have been central concerns of epistemology. It has been traditional to assume that the traditional notion can be dispensed with, and that degree of belief can precisify all of the features that used to be associated with belief. But recently, the relation between the two has come under closer scrutiny. Some authors have thought that the way belief is reduced to degree of belief is somewhat more subtle than historically thought. Recently, many others have argued that neither of the two notions is reducible to the other, but that they are in some way interdependent. Few if any have attempted the reverse reduction.

Most readings are still only tentatively assigned. Many of the dates will change, and some of the readings may as well.

Aug. 30, Introduction

Sept. 6, Belief and Credence


Richard Foley, Working without a Net, 1993. Chapter 4 (11 MB filesize)

Sept. 13, Lotteries and Conjunction


Sharon Ryan, "The Epistemic Virtues of Consistency". Synthese, 1996.

Igor Douven and Timothy Williamson, "Generalizing the Lottery Paradox". British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 2006.

Supplementary Reading:

Dana Nelkin, "The Lottery Paradox, Knowledge, and Rationality". The Philosophical Review, 2000.

Igor Douven and Jos Uffink, "The Preface Paradox Revisited". Erkenntnis, 2003.

Martin Smith, "A Generalised Lottery Paradox for Infinite Probability Spaces". British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 2010.

Sept. 20, Closure Principles


Maria Lasonen-Aarnio, "Single Premise Deduction and Risk". Philosophical Studies, 2008.

John Hawthorne and Maria Lasonen-Aarnio, "Knowledge and Objective Chance". Williamson on Knowledge, 2009.

Sept. 27, Restoring Conjunction via "Probability Cores"


before reading the Van Fraassen, you should read my notes on this paper. They correct a few typos and may help clarify some of the examples he discusses.

Bas Van Fraassen, "Fine-grained Opinion, Probability, and the Logic of Full Belief". Journal of Philosophical Logic, 1995.

Supplementary Reading:

Horacio Arló-Costa and Paul Pedersen, "Belief and Probability: A General Theory of Probability Cores". International Journal of Approximate Reasoning, forthcoming. (A pre-publication version is available on Pedersen's website.)

Hannes Leitgeb, "Reducing Belief Simpliciter to Degrees of Belief". Unpublished. (A version is available on Branden Fitelson's website, for the class on 9/21/11.)

Alan Hájek, "What Conditional Probability Could Not Be". Synthese, 2003.

Bas Van Fraassen, "Science, Probability, and the Proposition". Proceedings of the Philosophy of Science Association, 1994.

Oct. 4, Knowledge of Probability and Probabilistic Knowledge


Sarah Moss, "Epistemology Formalized". Philosophical Review, forthcoming.

Lara Buchak, "Belief and Credence". Unpublished.

Oct. 11, Accepting the Improbable


Mark Kaplan, "A Bayesian Theory of Rational Acceptance". Journal of Philosophy, 1981.

Patrick Maher, "Acceptance without Belief". Proceedings of the Philosophy of Science Association, 1990.

Oct. 18, Pragmatic Encroachment on Belief and Credence


Brian Weatherson, "Can we do without Pragmatic Encroachment?". Philosophical Perspectives, 2005.

Jacob Ross and Mark Schroeder, "Belief, Credence, and Pragmatic Encroachment". Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, forthcoming.

Supplementary Reading:

Weatherson's blog post responding to Ross and Schroeder:

Oct. 25, Reasoning with Credence and Belief


Hanti Lin and Kevin Kelly, "Propositional Reasoning that Tracks Probabilistic Reasoning". Journal of Philosophical Logic, 2012.

Supplementary Reading:

Carlos E. Alchourrón, Peter Gärdenfors and David Makinson, "On the Logic of Theory Change: Partial Meet Contraction and Revision". The Journal of Symbolic Logic, 1985

Nov. 1, The Value of Belief


William Clifford, "The Ethics of Belief". Contemporary Review, 1877. (Available from other sources too - I got it here: )

William James, "The Will to Believe". The New World, 1896. (Available from many sources - a good one appears to be here: )

Nov. 8, Aiming at Truth


Ralph Wedgwood, "The Aim of Belief". Nous, 2002.

Nishi Shah, "How Truth Governs Belief". Philosophical Review, 2003.

Reschedule: November 20, in room THH 111, Accuracy for Credences


James Joyce, "A Nonpragmatic Vindication of Probabilism". Philosophy of Science, 1998.

Supplementary Reading:

James Joyce, "Accuracy and Coherence: Prospects for an Alethic Epistemology of Partial Belief." In Degrees of Belief, ed. Huber, 2009.

Kenny Easwaran and Branden Fitelson, "An 'Evidentialist' Worry for Joyce's Argument for Probabilism". Dialectica, 2012.

Nov. 22, Thanksgiving

No class

Nov. 29, Credence from Belief and Truth


Kenny Easwaran, "Dr. Truthlove, or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Bayesian Probabilities". Unpublished.

Supplementary Reading:

Philip Percival, and reply by Robert Stalnaker, "Epistemic Consequentialism". Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 2002.

Dec. 6, Accuracy, Coherence, and Evidence


Kenny Easwaran and Branden Fitelson, "Accuracy, Coherence, and Evidence". Unpublished. Also, unwritten. This will be presented in class, with Branden Fitelson over video link.

Supplementary Reading:

Niko Kolodny, "How does Coherence Matter?". Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 2007.