A defence of biological answers to philosophical questions about belief

Ema Sullivan-Bissett

Lecturer in Philosophy, University of Birmingham

I argue that a biologically informed non-normative approach to belief and its formation is better placed to do the explanatory work in which philosophers are interested. In addition, such an approach has the further virtue of casting light on descriptive, functional, and mechanistic questions about belief which interest researchers in other areas. As an explanatory case study I look at a feature of belief formation which has interested philosophers: the phenomenon of transparency. There are two accounts in the philosophical literature which seek to explain this phenomenon: aim and norm accounts. After showing they fail to explain transparency I’ll suggest moving away from thinking about belief to thinking about believers. In particular, thinking about the particular (biological) circumstances of believers, and how they might contribute to the nature of belief and its formation. I suggest that such an approach can not only do the philosophical work in this case, but is better placed to be a fruitful approach to belief and its formation when we turn to questions about belief as they occur in other disciplines.