How can I be sure about what I believe?

Philosopher's reply

Dear Evie,

Your question is interestingly ambiguous. It could be about whether you can be sure things are as you think, or whether you can be sure you yourself believe that they are that way. I’ll address the latter. The first thing to note is that many beliefs are transparent to the world: I can come to know I believe 2+2=4 by asking what’s 2+2 – the very fact I answer ‘4’ shows I believe it. But it’s not always as easy. Our conscious verdict don’t always determine our beliefs, which can lie deeper in our dispositions. If I ask myself if flying is safe or skin colour irrelevant, I’ll answer “yes”, but there is room for doubt whether I believe these things. I would propose that the test for whether you really believe something is whether you act as if it’s the case. You can only be sure you believe flying is safe if you unhesitatingly board the plane and that you believe race doesn’t matter if you really treat people the same way – and you might not be the best judge of that yourself.

Antti Kauppinen – University of Helsinki

Philosopher's profile

Antti Kauppinen

University of Helsinki, Finland

Iris Murdoch made a significant contribution to our understanding of what it means to be ethical. She rejected the modern notion of the moral agent as a heroic figure who projects value onto the world by her will. Instead, she held that ethics is primarily about seeing others for what they are, and responding accordingly. Vision precedes choice, and loving attention is the only cure for our natural bias towards the self. For me, Murdoch is a deep and stimulating thinker who continues to inspire.

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