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Professor Barish, this achievement comes after 20 years of hard work, uncertainties and challenges. This is what research is all about, but what was the most challenging thing you had to overcome over this long period?
The experimental confirmation of the existence of gravitational waves has a very profound impact on the future of astrophysics and gravitational physics. What do you think are the most important consequences of your discovery?
At the seminar at CERN you were welcomed and thanked like a star. It was a great honour for the CERN audience to have you in person giving the talk just after your colleagues had made the announcement in the US. What are you bringing back from this experience?
If believing p is, roughly, treating p as if one knew p, then knowing is in that sense central to believing. Knowledge sets the standard of appropriateness for belief. [...] Knowing is in that sense the best kind of believing. Mere believing is a kind of botched knowing. In short, belief aims at knowledge (not just truth) (Williamson 2000, p. 47).
While a lottery proposition is something of a close miss, Hawthorne et al. (2016: p. 1400) mention cases where a rational belief may be way off the mark set by anything like knowledge. For Hawthorne et al. (2016), it is perfectly possible that one rationally believes that a certain race horse which is the clear favorite will win even when its chances of winning are below \(50\%\).
In the light of this, one may suspect that knowledge is strong whereas belief is weak: the epistemic standard required by knowledge is higher than the epistemic standard one should take oneself to satisfy for rationally believing. If one takes rationality to come in degrees, belief being weak would mean that one can be fully rational in believing a proposition without taking oneself to know.
If successful belief is weaker than what knowledge requires, is the knowledge norm for belief just false? This seems to be what McGlynn (2013) and Whiting (2013) think. Hawthorne et al. (2016) concur, provided the knowledge norm is concerned with our ordinary notion of belief. But they also suggest that the knowledge norm could be construed in terms of a technical notion of belief:
However, it may seem that being concerned with a technical notion of belief would bereave the knowledge norm of much of its interest. The purpose of this paper is to show that this is not so. It can make sense to work with a theoretical notion of belief in philosophy just like it can make sense to work with a theoretical notion of mass in physics. What is true, however, is that responding to the worries about the knowledge norm with a technical notion of belief raises important challenges.
Knowledge implies belief, or so I shall assume for the purposes of this paper (for opposition, see Radford 1966 and Myers-Schulz and Schwitzgebel 2013). But if belief is weak, knowledge will imply more than just (weak) belief. If I know of a given lottery ticket that it lost, I am in a stronger belief state than when I merely believe this on probabilistic grounds alone.
To vary this thought, suppose I believe that the favorite in the Kentucky Derby is Morning Star, and the odds show her far ahead of the competition. However, given the total size of the competition, the chances of Morning Star winning the Derby may still only be around \(50\%\). If belief is weak, my belief that Morning Star will win may well be rational despite falling short of knowledge by a large margin. So, when I actually come to know that Morning Star will win, either because I witnessed the race or was told about the outcome, I will continue to have the same belief but I am now entitled to be much more confident about it.
From this, I think, one can infer that knowledge implies strong belief. By this I mean that the kind of belief state implied by knowledge is a belief state one is only entitled to if one is in a stronger epistemic position than what entitles one to ordinary weak belief. In other words, the belief state implied by knowledge is a belief state which requires a stronger justification than ordinary weak belief.
A second aspect of the proposal is that it proceeds in terms of implication. Belief states of various strength are compatible with knowledge. So, there is no single kind of belief so that all instances of knowledge are accompanied by a belief state of that strength. For this reason, the idea behind the proposal is to look at the minimal strength a belief state must have for the belief state to count as knowledge. The strongest belief state implied by knowledge is a belief state minimally required by knowledge.
The present proposal presupposes that belief states can be ranked according to their strength. One may naturally ask what kind of strength is in play here. As the proposal would gain from staying as neutral on the nature of ordinary belief as possible, the strength of belief states should be given, I think, only a minimal account (for a more substantive proposal, see Schulz (forthcoming). One way of staying largely neutral in this regard would be to say that the strength of a belief corresponds to the strength of the epistemic standard one must satisfy for the belief to be properly held. Some may wish to understand epistemic standards in terms of justification. Others would perhaps like to draw on probability or reliability. But in order to characterize a notion of outright belief, it might be best to leave this as a substantial question whose answer is not backed into the notion itself.
The present proposal also presupposes that we have a grip on what a belief state is. It is important for this proposal that belief states are what we intuitively take them to be. It would be fatal if true belief or justified belief or even belief constituting knowledge could turn out to be a belief state, because then the strongest belief state implied by knowledge would not be the kind of outright belief I take it to be.Footnote 6
If one ties all this together, one may be able to offer an alternative formulation of what it is to outrightly believe. One would outrightly believe a proposition p iff one is in a belief state which is subject to an epistemic standard S, where S is the strongest epistemic standard imposed by knowledge. Knowledge would be taken to require a certain epistemic standard. Belief states would be taken to vary according to which epistemic standard they are subject to. Outright belief would be identified as the belief state which is subject to the (strongest) epistemic standard required by knowledge.
A potential objection to the present proposal could be that it might look as if it trivializes the knowledge norm for belief. If one characterizes outright belief in terms of knowledge, is it still informative to say that outright belief aims at knowledge?
It seems clear, though, that this question should be answered affirmatively. For most philosophers, knowledge implies belief. Still, many also think that belief does not aim at knowledge but rather at truth (see e.g. Whiting 2012). Thus, it is perfectly coherent to hold that belief is implied by knowledge but does not aim at knowledge. The coherence of this claim does not go away if instead one were to hold that the strongest belief state implied by knowledge does not aim at knowledge (but, say, at truth). Thus, characterizing outright belief in terms of knowledge does not trivialize the claim that outright belief aims at knowledge.
What the proposal does, however, is to take one reason for rejecting the knowledge norm away. If one rejects the knowledge norm solely on the grounds that belief is weak, then one no longer has a reason to reject the knowledge norm when it is cast in terms of outright belief.
The second of these two sentences combines an assertion of p with a denial that one knows p. It is commonly considered to be an incoherent thing to say (Unger 1975: Chap. VI; Williamson 1996, 2000). At the same time, the first of the two sentences sounds fine, or at least much better (Whiting 2013). If belief is weak, this is what one would expect as one could rationally believe p while believing or even knowing that one does not know p.
Thus, if belief is weak, we do not share or express our beliefs when we assert something. Or at least, expressing a weak ordinary belief would not fully capture the mental state that we express when we make an assertion. In asserting something, we would present ourselves to be in a stronger state than what is required by a weak ordinary belief. Moreover, satisfying the standards for proper belief would in general be insufficient for proper assertion. That is, what Hawthorne et al. (2016: p. 1394) dub entitlement equality would be false: one is not entitled to belief iff one is entitled to assertion.
If this is so, then there is a theoretical gap in our account of assertion. What kind of mental state do we express when we make an assertion? What kind of mental state could satisfy the thesis of entitlement equality? I contend that the notion of outright belief naturally fills this gap (cf. Adler 2002: p. 231, although Adler does not seem to think that our ordinary notion of belief is weak). On the present proposal, outright belief could be the subjective attitude we express when we make an unqualified assertion. 041b061a72