Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Agential Success and False Beliefs

On 4th and 5th February the project I current lead, PERFECT, hosted a two-day workshop in central London, called "False but Useful Beliefs". The idea was to discuss the costs and benefits of those beliefs that do not correspond to reality or that are not constrained by evidence, but that in one way or another benefit agents. They might increase self-esteem, help support motivation, enhance wellbeing, be biologically adaptive, and so on.

Several talks addressed the relationship of success with rationality and truth. It is not always the case that true and rational beliefs are conducive to agential success, whereas false and irrational beliefs are conducive to agential failure.

For instance, Lubomira Radoilska (University of Kent), in her talk "Could False Beliefs Be Non-Accidentally Conducive to Agential Success?", argued that some false beliefs are useful, not because of their falsity, but because they lead people to act and increase their chances to fulfil their goals in the future. It is their practical dimension that makes such beliefs useful.

Jesse Summers (Duke University), in his talk "Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc: Some Benefits of Rationalisation", was concerned with false explanations or justifications for actions and choices. Although such explanations and justification do not help agents understand why they acted and chose as they did, they still have benefits, as they allow agents to see themselves as providing coherent reasons.

In my talk, on "The Epistemic Innocence of Self-enhancing Beliefs", I related some of the themes from the previous two talks to the phenomenon of positive illusions, when people adopt excessively optimistic beliefs about their own worth and their own capacity to control external events, and make excessively optimistic predictions about their own future. Although such beliefs and predictions are not well supported by evidence, they help people form a sense of themselves as coherent and competent agents, and they support socialisation. The absence of a coherent and competent sense of oneself as an agent and social isolation or withdrawal are symptoms of mental distress and cause the person to lose the motivation to act, making it harder for her to achieve her goals.

No comments:

Post a Comment