My work on unendorsed beliefs is part of a broader research agenda on the nature of beliefs that I aim to pursue over the following years. My main objective is to advance a non-dispositionalist notion of belief, according to which a belief’s normative aspects develop from its psychological structure. I currently hold that belief is a representational mental state that disposes an individual to act in certain ways, but whose nature is identified by its constitutive functions. Beliefs’ constitutive functions are aspects of their psychological structure, and some functions are themselves normative aspects of beliefs. Arguably, two of these constitutive functions are: to produce true representations and to be sensitive to reasons. A belief fulfills its functions if it is true and if it correctly responds to reasons. Development of this research objective dialogues with much-debated questions concerning norms of beliefs.
I consider that questions about the nature of beliefs are directly connected to questions about norms of rationality, and thereby to further normative issues: e.g., those normative issues surrounding mental agency. We are in a position to form and to modify our beliefs by reasoning with and about them. Thus, there seem to be overlapping issues connecting the type of agency we are able to exercise over our beliefs and standards of good reasoning.
The recent debate on epistemic akrasia, to which I also contributed, deals with such issues. How is it possible that an individual can reason from a set of evidence, conclude that the evidence supports a belief that P, but fail to form a corresponding belief that P? In addition to a published manuscript on this topic (2014c), I have been working with my colleague Yannig Luthra (UCLA) on a joint paper on the possibility of epistemic akrasia.
Another research project, ‘The Fragmented Mind’ (of which I am co-author and a core member), explores a complementary set of issues related to beliefs — without reducing to my personal research. The objective of the project is to explore the idea that our entire belief system is divided into separate belief fragments. The notion of belief fragmentation is explained more clearly in works by David Lewis (1982), Robert Stalnaker (1984), and more recently, in works developed by Agustín Rayo (2013) and Adam Elga (e.g., 2015). The idea of fragmentation was proposed to make sense of a series of cases in which an individual holds inconsistent beliefs and/or does not draw some obvious inferences from her held beliefs. My core dissonance cases are notable examples; however, the notion of belief fragmentation also covers simpler cases, in which holding inconsistent beliefs does not clearly entail any type of irrationality. Because these cases are so ubiquitous, the hypothesis of fragmentation, still under scrutiny, proposes that a better picture of our minds is one according to which a single subject has separate belief systems. This project’s development also draws from empirical research on the mind, proposing that a focus on memory can help us better understand the belief fragmentation hypothesis.
The Fragmented Mind project team — composed of Marian David (the project leader), Dirk Kindermann and myself — has planned to produce a series of papers on the topic. We are currently working on a joint paper that explores the notion of fragmentation and its relationship to different conceptions of belief. The paper maps onto recent discussion about fragmentation of mind, examining positions held by Stalnaker, Elga, Rayo, Cherniak, and Davidson. For more information on the fragmentation project, please visit our website: fragmentationproject.com