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Episode transcript here. This month, we talk to Kent Bach (San Francisco State University) about his picture of how beliefs relate to particular thoughts. Click here to listen to our conversation.

In this episode, Kent Bach discusses two of his big ideas at the border between the philosophy of mind and epistemology. The first is that when someone is engaged in everyday, commonsense reasoning, the fact that that person isn’t thinking about irrelevant distractions irrelevant can in and of itself be evidence that those consideration are indeed irrelevant. For instance, if I’m trying to remember which presidents were carved into Mount Rushmore, the fact that I’m not even considering Ronald Reagan or George H. W. Bush can actually serve as evidence that they aren’t worth considering as possibilities. (Assuming my ability to make accurate snap judgments is in order.) Adopting this perspective on fast, everyday reasoning means taking seriously a lot of what we do subconsciously. Snap judgments can carry real evidential weight, not just in the conclusions they reach, but in what they exclude from consideration.

This tendency to take subconscious reasoning processes seriously leads our guest to offer a promising approach to the traditional philosophical problem of self-deception. The problem of self-deception is: if I know that XYZ is the case, how is the idea of tricking myself into thinking it’s not the case even coherent? The whole notion of tricking seems to presuppose that the tricker knows something the trick-ee does not. Bach’s move here is to develop a conception of belief as the disposition to have particular thoughts. This allows him to say that self-deception doesn’t literally involve tricking yourself. Rather, it’s the act of trying to sabotage your natural tendency to think about things you believe.

Tune in as our guest unravels these complicated philosophical questions using some good, old-fashioned common sense!

Matt Teichman