No cigar

Religious belief thought experiment still stuck in the same place. The author isn’t dealing with the real objections.

…is it “reasonable” for the fella to believe in the monster (if it is then it shows that epistemic warrant is not a necessary condition of reasonable belief). Too right it is… You say that the perception is real, but it does not follow there’s a physical correlate to that perception. Well, of course, it doesn’t follow (how could it given the possibility of hallucination, etc). Our fella is well aware of this point (he is a good sceptic, after all). But the point is that it also doesn’t follow that something doesn’t exist simply because there is no epistemic warrant to support a belief in its existence. And this, of course, is crucial. Our fella believes because his experience is verdical, the monster is not ruled out by logic, and the belief is of pressing and utmost personal sigificance (he cannot take evasive action unless he believes). This is reasonable – i.e., not contrary to reason.

Suddenly ‘you’ are a fella, which is odd, because in the post ‘you’ are just ‘you.’ But anyway – all of that simply ignores the distinction between whether it is reasonable to believe the monster is real during the experience of its crashing through the bathroom window, and whether it is reasonable to go on believing the monster is real after the experience is over. (We were never told how it ended, by the way. What happened? Did it crash back out the window? Did it fade from view? Did it open the bathroom door and exit, closing the door behind it? Did ‘you’ swoon dead away and awake to find it gone? Did ‘you’ simply close your eyes and open them to find no monster, no broken window, no smell, no nothing? This all makes a difference, frankly.)

Over here, at least, I think we’ve all agreed that it’s reasonable to believe the monster is real while it seems to be sharing the bathroom with you – not that anything really deserving the name ‘belief’ is involved, but call it belief for the sake of argument. We get that. But what we don’t buy is that it goes on being reasonable afterwards. As I said, apart from anything else, it would be a good deal more reasonable to worry about a giant brain tumor and try to find a good neurologist. All the questions about physical evidence and inquiry and what floor the bathroom is on and whether, on reflection, ‘you’ might not wonder if a real monster would have avoided contact – all those have been ignored.

I guess ultimately people might just have different intuitions about what’s reasonable in that situation.

No. It’s not a matter of just having different intuitions – it’s a matter of perfectly reasonable (yes reasonable) questions about physical evidence and objections about believing hallucinations forever as opposed to at the instant they occur.

As a side-note: two or three days ago (I can’t remember if it was before I wrote the first post on this or not) I was reading an old New Yorker from last August and found a Barsotti cartoon that might as well have been done to illustrate the thought experiment. Two little guys are racing down the street followed by a large toothy monster; the guy in front is saying, ‘You’re the therapist – you make it go away.’ Is that apt or what?!

20 Responses to “No cigar”