SOPhiA 2022

Salzburgiense Concilium Omnibus Philosophis Analyticis

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Programme - Talk

On the Belief Condition in Thomas Reid's Theory of Action
(Epistemology, English)

One peculiar implication of Thomas Reid's theory of action is a belief condition: one can only do what one believes one can do. The peculiarity is that while Reid is a staunch defender of common sense, this belief condition runs afoul of common sense. Many seem able to do things even when they are agnostic about whether they can. For instance, in climbing Mount Everest, many who reach the summit start only with the hope of success. This raises an interpretive challenge in the form of two questions. Why does Reid let his theory of action imply such a belief condition? And does Reid's theory of action need the belief condition?

In this paper, I argue for a novel reading of Reid that answers these two questions. On this reading, Reid's theory of action is an account of causation. Roughly, doing or acting amounts to causing. Reid's analysis of causation in terms of action relies on the concept of an "active power". One's active powers constitute one's ability to do and thereby cause. Active powers are known through their three essential properties: mind-dependence, controllability, and intelligibility. It is their intelligibility that implies the belief condition. After all, if one understands that one can, then one believes that one can. Reid has an epistemic and a moral goal in thinking of active powers as intelligible and hence maintaining the belief condition. The epistemic goal is to render causation qua action intelligible. The moral goal is to enable moral responsibility by rendering unintelligible action impossible. To achieve these goals, Reid needs the belief condition. This answers the first interpretive question. Yet I argue that achieving these goals isn_t necessary for Reid_s theory of action. Reid would be coherent to defend his theory of action without the belief condition. This answers the second interpretive question.

Key words: Thomas Reid, active powers, causation, beliefs

Chair: Leon Assaad
Time: 15:20-15:50, 09. September 2022 (Friday)
Location: SR 1.003
Remark: (Online Talk)

Mete Han Gencer 
(Simon Fraser University, Canada)

Testability and Meaning deco