Ernest Sosa, beliefs, judgments and reliability


                    Ernest Sosa

Abstract: Some days ago I read Ernest Sosa’s paper Epistemic Agency and Judgment. Here I show a brief sketch of his interesting ideas about belief, justification and reliability.

Resumen (aragonés): Fa bells diyas leyé l’articlo de Ernest Sosa Epistemic Agency and Judgment. Aquí amuestro un breu esquema d’as suyas intresants ideyas tocants a la creyencia, a chustificación y a confitanza.

Resumen (español): Hace unos días leí el artículo de Ernest Sosa Epistemic Agency and Judgment. Aquí muestro un pequeño esquema de sus interesantes ideas sobre la creencia, la justificación y la confianza.

For Sosa, beliefs that are shared are judgamental beliefs: beliefs that the agent is disposed to state and defend as she thinks they are true. So judgments cannot be arbitrary if we want them to be epistemically rationals: “free judgment is involved in a further epistemic paradox, deriving from a clash between diachronic reliability and synchronic rationality” (174).

While justifying beliefs, reflection comes into play. Nevertheless, when asking what a reflection is, we have two different kinds of reflection: a straight one and a higher-order one that turns back on itself. Moreover, there can be a conscious straight reflection, a conscious higher-order reflection and also both subconscious higher-order reflection and subconscious straight reflection. Anyway, the higher-order is important to manage risks while searching for truth when believing. Beyond a reliable (properly justified, if preferred) belief, there are second-order judgments and reflective competences. However, our everyday knowledge does not have to be always consciously reflective: in fact, that would originate many problems to people. It also should be noted that “conscioussness” emerges in both private an public contexts.

Reflection of the highest degree supposes reflective thought that is both conscious and higher-order: it is reliable enough. Its threat is that it can suppose a vicious circle or regress: requiring second-order endorsement supposes paying attention to the straight first-order belief and its justification resides precisely on the second-order reflection, and so on. Sosa refers to these second-order or higher-order capacities (reflection) like ‘human’ competences in contrast to the first-order capacities (instintive) that he calls ‘animal’ competences. I find the names quite polemic, and I also find that the distinction, thought interesting, is not accepted by everybody.

In his view both suspension of belief and proper reflection are second-order: in cases where suspension and judgment come into play, we have beliefs that obey to second-order intentions (justifications, reflections) that guide the believer implicitly. While suspending judgments, there is a double-omission: the omission of judging now and latter. These intentions may be committed to evidences. Our author also pays attention to a distinction between the act of judgment and the disposition to so judge (on others).

Behind this view of beliefs, judgments and reflection we have a difference between diachronical and synchronical causes while believing:

First, there is the status the belief gains diachronically through the subject’s experience, thought, and memory; no matter how internal such experience, thought, and memory may be over time, nor how internal the subject’s initial data may have been.

Second, there is the status a belief gains synchronically through the support of reasons present to the thinker’s consciousness at that very moment (185).

While considering how to judge, Sosa defends synchronic competences, the present-time-slice: “What you can consciously affirm depends on your synchornic rational basis” (188).

That relates justified judgment, second-order competences (reflection) with the synchronic thought, in order to precisely be able to assess both first-order and second-order competences, because scrutinized beliefs gains their prestige due to reflective, endorsement and current thinking.

References and bibliography

Sosa, E. (2013). Epistemic Agency and Judgment. Epistemic Norms: new essays on action, belief, and assertion (Littlejohn, C. & Turri, J.). Oxford University Press.

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