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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Belief in context Clarke, Roger


I argue for a view I call sensitivism about belief. According to sensitivism, belief is sensitive to just those factors of context which epistemic contextualists claim are relevant to the semantics of words like "know": in particular, whether an agent believes p depends on the not-p alternatives salient to the agent, and the practical importance of p for the agent. I argue for sensitivism about both outright belief and partial belief, and outline a sensitivist formal model of belief. In chapter 1, I make a preliminary case for sensitivism, and for interest in sensitivism. After surveying some similar views in the literature, I present a scenario which is nicely explained by sensitivism, and which gives the view some intuitive plausibility. I also argue for the relevance of sensitivism to the debate over epistemic contextualism. In chapter 2, I argue that we need sensitivism about outright belief if we want to maintain both a Stalnakerian picture of how assertion works, and the principle that an assertion that p is sincere if and only if the assertor believes that p. I then outline a sensitivist formal model of outright belief. In chapter 3, I present a solution to the preface paradox which this model of belief makes available, and argue that it is more intuitively appealing than the more popular probabilistic solutions. In chapter 4, I argue that we should extend sensitivism to credences as well as outright belief. In particular, I advance the following two theses: (CONTEXT) Degrees of belief change from context to context, depending on the space of alternative possibilities. (UNITY) Outright belief is belief to degree 1. I claim that (UNITY) solves the usual paradoxes to which threshold views of outright belief fall prey, and (CONTEXT) undermines the usual reasons given for rejecting (UNITY).

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