Permission not to believe?

In a previous post (“Permission to believe?”), I briefly discussed a question that arises from a proposal made by Seyed Ali Kalantari and Michael Luntley (and in different forms by others) about a norm governing believing (and, in particular, believing qua believing, in the course of deliberation). The norm that they propose is, in one formulation, the following:

(1) For any S, p: it is permitted for S to believe that p only if p is true. [Their (12).] (Kalantari and Luntley, 2013: 422)

Now one comment that arose from the previous post concerned precedence: it was suggested by Clayton Littlejohn that he, and others, had proposed the same, or very similar, norms as governing believing. I don’t know the relevant literature well enough to comment in detail. But discussion with Kalantari suggested the following perhaps distinctive feature of his own proposal: his view is that (1) is the only norm included in the very concept of belief. (We can leave open for present purposes precisely what inclusion in a concept amounts to.) So, insofar as others who have proposed analogues of (1) held that this was either only one norm amongst others included in the concept of belief, or held that the norm was not included in the concept of belief, their positions are significantly different than Kalantari’s. Now, assuming that that makes it so that (1) is the only norm governing believing per se, there will be further consequences. In particular, because, in that case, no other norm would be available to rule out believing in cases in which p is true, it will follow that where p is true, one is permitted to believe. Slightly more formally, we will have (2) in addition to (1):

(2) For any S, p: it is permitted for S to believe that p if p is true. [Their (12).] (Kalantari and Luntley, 2013: 422)

But crucially—another potential difference between Kalantari’s position and others—(2) is not included in the concept of belief. Rather, (2) is a consequence—albeit an immediate consequence—of the inclusion of (1) in the concept of belief, together with the fact that (1) is the only norm included in the concept of belief.

So construed, the proposal raises a further question. (1) tells us, in effect, that if our deliberations indicate to us that it’s not the case that p, then we are not permitted to believe that p. That is, in those circumstances, we are prohibited from believing that p. But what should we do in case we discover that p is true? In that case, (2) permits us to believe that p. But nothing requires us to believe p. Thus, (1) (even when conjoined with (2)) appears to leave it open that we might discover that p is true, and yet take it that we are not thereby required to believe that p. Moreover, we might do so while perfectly adhering to all the demands set by the concept of believing. In an earlier post (“Remarks on the transparency of belief”), I suggested that we might sometimes find ourselves in that position. The question raised by the proposal that (1) exhausts the norms determined by the concept of believing is whether it’s right to think that there’s nothing special about being in that position: whether, that is, the concept of believing allows that we might perfectly adhere to its demands while consistently withholding belief in the face of discoveries that so believing would be believing truly.


Kalantari, S. A. and Luntley, M. (2013). ‘On the logic of aiming at truth.’ Analysis 73(3): 419–422.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: