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Scots Philosophical Association

University of St. Andrews


Moore's Paradox and Epistemic Risk
Author(s): Arthur W. Collins
Source: The Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 46, No. 184 (Jul., 1996), pp. 308-319
Published by: Oxford University Press on behalf of the Scots Philosophical Association and the
University of St. Andrews
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ThePhilosophical
Vol.46, No. 184
Quarterly,
ISSNo' 1-8o)94

July 9f96

MOORE'S PARADOX AND EPISTEMIC RISK


BY ARTHURW. COLLINS

Moore said that assertion of conjunctions of the form 'I believe that p, and
because
-p' would be 'absurd'. He found this absurd and not contradicto?y,
both propositional elements conjoined might be true, and each one by itself
would make an unobjectionable assertion. The idea that there is a paradox,
and the reason for the continuing interest in this topic, is that the deviance
of such conjunctions stands in need of some other explanation, once we
agree that the relevant explanation is not just avoidance of contradiction.
I. THE CLAIM OF THIS DISCUSSION
I say that avoidance of contradiction does suffice to explain what is wrong
with Moore's conjunctions, and that there is no residual absurdity
standing in
need of explanation, and nothing paradoxicalhere. In order to see this, we
have to bear in mind that a speaker S may contradict himself (or herself,
omitted hereafter for simplicity)without uttering any sentence that is contradictory in form. S contradicts himself if S assigns both T and F to the same
proposition, whether or not he does this by asserting a conjunction in what
is itself a contradictory sentence. The resolution of the supposed paradox is
facilitated in what follows by emphasis on the liability for error that is an
ineliminable part of the concept of belief. I call this side of the concept of
belief 'epistemic risk'. The discussion concludes with a statement of the implications of this resolution of Moore's paradox for the philosophy of mind.
II. UNPROBLEMATIC CONTEXTS AND ANALOGIES
It is generally appreciated that the words 'I believe that p, and -p' can be
used without absurdity or deviance of any kind, for example, in conditional
statements, or within the scope of a modal operator, as in 'If I believe that p,
and -p, I am going to look foolish', or 'It is possible that I believe that p, and
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MOORE'S PARADOX AND EPISTEMICRISK

309

-p'. Similarly, past-tense assertions, such as 'I believed that p, and -p' are
unproblematic, and resemble third-person analogues of Moore's deviant
conjunctions such as 'S believes that p, and -p'. The availability of these unproblematic contexts and analogies indicates that the deviance of Moore's
conjunctions is connected with the fact that they are in the first person and
the present tense. This, too, is universally understood.
III. EPISTEMIC RISK
A subject who believes that p stands to be right if p is the case and is mistaken if p is not the case. I call this uncontroversial aspect of the concept of
belief 'epistemic risk'. A cumbersome form of words for expressing belief in
terms of epistemic risk is this:
ER. Ifp I am right about p, and if -p I am mistaken about p.
The third-person parallel ascribing belief that p is
If p, S is right about p, and if -p, S is mistaken about p.
These conjunctive forms are redundant, since the liability for error and the
prospect of being right are essentially correlative. Thus 'If -p, I am mistaken
about p' by itself expresses belief that p. This is reflected in such idiomatic
formulations for making one's belief known as 'Unless I am mistaken, p' and
'p, or I am much mistaken'. S stands to be mistaken ifp is false if and only if
S believes that p.
IV. MOORE'S PARADOX THROUGH THE LENS OF
EPISTEMIC RISK
Since 'If -p, I am mistaken about p' expresses belief that p, Moore's conjunctions can be re-expressed in the form
A. If-p I am mistaken about p, and -p.
Now (A) entails the non-conjunctive
B.

I am mistaken about p.

This curious formula inherits the deviance of Moore's conjunctions. (B), too,
cannot be allowed, in spite of the fact that we are tempted to say that, were
it not 'absurd', (B) might be true, since the speaker may be mistaken about p.
The same unproblematic parallels we found for Moore's conjunctions are
plainly accessible for (B), namely, 'If I am mistaken about p I shall look
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ARTHUR W. COLLINS

310

foolish', 'It is possible that I am mistaken about p', 'I was mistaken about p',
and 'S is mistaken about p'.
The reason for the deviance of Moore's conjunctions emerges when we
contemplate the similar absurdityof (B). Why is it that 'I am mistaken about
p' cannot be used to make an ordinary assertion? Exploring the assertions
made by the unproblematic analogues, we see that 'S is mistaken about p'
means that S takes a stand on p (assigns a truth-value to p), and that whatever truth-value he assigns, p actually has the other truth-value. 'S is mistaken about p' expresses an evaluation of a judgement S makes. As such, it
involves a comparison of twotruth-value assignments, one of them made by
S and the other by the speaker making the evaluation. In just the same way,
'I was mistaken about p' compares two truth-value assignments, in this case
both assignments made by the speaker, the first made during some interval
of past time, the second made at the time at which S is speaking. Plainly, any
evaluation of a judgement or a belief involves the comparison of two assignments of truth-value, one by the believer, the other by the person making
the evaluation. Sometimes both roles are played by the same subject.
V. MOORE'S PARADOX RESOLVED
I am sure that the solution of Moore's paradox is already discerned by the
reader. I want to set out a few points explicitly. The words 'I am mistaken
about p' have the superficial form appropriate for the expression of an evaluation of a judgement or a belief of the speaker. Cannot S evaluate his own
belief? If S believes that Cicero denounced Catiline, cannot S be assailed by
doubts as to whether it was not, perhaps, Catiline who denounced Cicero?
Of course he can. And if he can investigate to find out whether his belief is
correct, does it not follow that one possible outcome is a negative evaluation? Indeed, an evaluation of one's own belief can be negative. Not only
that: in ordinary speech, it is actually possible to say 'Then I am mistaken' in
expressing a negative finding. The speaker is allowed this rhetoric, although
everyone understands that the speaker does not, in fact, takehimselfto be
mistaken.The words, when actually used, really mean 'I was mistaken until
just now'. They do not mean that at present I assign a truth-value to p and
also assign the other truth-value to p, and thus recognize that the first
assignment is wrong. In order to say something that would be literally asserted by 'I am mistaken about p' I would have to assign both T and F to p.
The resulting assertion would not be absurd or paradoxical, for it would
express a self-contradiction. No one finds it puzzling or paradoxical that selfcontradictory speech acts are proscribed.
? Ihe Editorsof 77Te
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MOORE'S PARADOX AND EPISTEMICRISK

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Nothing stands in the way of applying this result to the conjunctions to


which Moore called attention. The third-person 'S believes that p, and -p'
expresses a negative evaluation of S's assignment of T to p. As above, that
evaluation necessarily depends on a comparison of two truth-value assignments, one by the believer and the other by the speaker. For the first-person
past-tense conjunction 'I believed that p, and -p' the comparison of two
assignments of truth-value is still required. Since the speaker is the believer,
both are made by the same person, but the two different truth-value
assignments are not made at the same time. Now we ask why it is that we
cannot allow the first-person present-tense conjunction. It would express an
evaluation of the speaker's present belief by the speaker and would, in
consequence, require that the speaker assign both T and F to p. The impropriety of this is not paradoxical and the conjunction would express a selfcontradiction and not an absurd sentiment. S contradicts himself even
though the sentence S asserts is not itself a formal contradiction.
VI. IMPLICATIONS FOR THE CONCEPT OF A STATE OF BELIEF
According to a widely accepted understanding, the concept of belief is the
concept of an inner state of a subject. Philosophers propose speculative
characterizations of such inner states of belief. The idea that a state of belief
is a neural reality in the believer, or that such a state is a functionally defined
and neurally realized state of the believer, are familiar examples. Such
theses are incompatible with our explanation of Moore's paradox. Thus the
above discussion is an argument against these conceptions of belief.
I want to make clear just what it is that is excluded, if the above points
are accepted. It is not plausible to deny that there are beliefs or that there
are states of belief. The phrase 'state of belief' is not a theoretical or technical term, and the inference from 'S believes that p' to 'S is in the state of
belief that p' is valid in ordinary discourse. This concession has to be
distinguished from the idea that a state of belief that p might have some real
constitution in a believer, which it would have if, for example, states of belief
were realized as neural items in the brains of believers. It is worth noting
that a Cartesian identification of a state of belief with a non-physical reality
in the believer's mind also gives such states a real constitution, and is also
incompatible with our account of Moore's paradox for that reason. Because
most theories about mental states are physicalist nowadays, I shall contemplate only neural constitutions for belief-states in what follows, while
reminding the reader that I am exploring the consequences of assigning any
real constitution at all to states of belief.
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ARTHUR W. COLLINS

312

Let us use '(BSp)'as an abbreviated means for referring to any such projected neural reality constituting (or realizing) the state of belief that p in S.
In the framework of any theory ascribing such a constitution to a state of
belief, S believes that p if and only if (BSp)exists in S's brain. Therefore the
truth or falsehood of the statements 'S believes that p' and 'I believe that p'
(made by S) turn on whether (BSp)is or is not present in S's brain. Theorists
who contemplate neural constitutions for states of belief do not suppose that
ordinary speakers already know what the neural constitution of their beliefstates is, nor that the man in the street understands that belief-states have
neural constitutions of some kind or other. The idea is that ordinary speakers are able to report their belief-states although they do not know just what
the nature of those belief-states is. On this point, the theorist might appeal to
many analogous precedents. For example, an ordinary speaker can report
the presence of a wart without knowing the real nature of warts, that is, that
they are virus colonies. So philosophers of mind are saying that, whether S
knows it or not, what S asserts in saying 'I believe that p' has the presence of
(BSp)for its truth-condition,just as 'I have a wart' has the presence of a virus
colony for truth-condition, the ignorance of the reporter notwithstanding.
The exclusion of any theory that gives the belief that p a real constitution
can be read off from the fact that 'I believe that p, and -p' could not possibly
express a self-contradiction if any such theory were true. For the purposes at
hand let p = 'The cat is on the mat'. p will be true if the cat is on the mat,
and 'I believe that p' will be true if (BSp)is in my brain. These are simply
two distinct and independent matters of fact. No pair of assignments to
'I believe that p' and to p itself, by the same subject, and at the same time,
can possibly be self-contradictory on this understanding. Adopting the perspective of philosophical theorists, we are free to conjecture that all and only
those who believe that p have a state relevantly like (BSp) in their brains.
Alternatively, if we do not expect a type-theory of belief-states, we may legitimately stipulate that S's state (BSp)will be causally related to S's behaviour
under various stimuli in just the same way as functionally defined states of
belief are supposed to be related to behaviour according to functionalist
theories. Among other things, the presence of (BSp)will cause S to assert p
under appropriate circumstances, and also cause S to report the presence of
the state of belief by asserting 'I believe that p'. As a consequence of these
permissible specifications, we can properly suppose that, when (BSp) is
present, S will never be inclined to report the state of belief and also inclined
to assert -p. Given the posited causal relations, we shall suppose that, unless
S is trying to be deceptive or some other exceptional circumstance obtains, S
will be willing to assert either both or neither of the two propositions 'I
believe that p' and p itself. To this extent, such a theory is compatible with
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MOORE'S PARADOX AND EPISTEMIC RISK

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the fact that Moore's conjunctions are not asserted in ordinary discourse.
But, allowing all of this for the sake of argument, we would still know just
what a speaker would be saying should he say 'I believe that p, and -p'.
Even if no one ever asserted it, merely contemplating such a conjunction
we would have to agree that, if it wereasserted,it would make a straightforward statement, easy to interpret. The first conjunct would turn on the
presence or absence of (BSp)in the speaker's brain (and he mighteven know
of that), and the second conjunct would assert something altogether different, namely, that the cat is not on the mat.
(BSp)is present in my brain and it is not the case that the cat is present
on the mat
is by no means a contradiction, but then it is not absurd or paradoxical
either!
It is not difficult to understand this issue. Once a real constitution (BSp)is
ascribed to S's state of belief that p, it becomes impossible to interpret 'I believe that p' as an expression of an assignment of truth-value to p. For these
words become the assertion of a proposition that is known to have truthconditions other than and contrasting with those of p. Given any such
theory, an ordinary speaker saying 'I believe that p' is taken to report a state
of himself. Of course, such a report will be right if the state is present and
mistaken if it is not present. S's assertion will reveal this liabilityand will
not be a determination of the truth of p, which, as is perfectly clear to all,
has quite different truth-conditions.
It may be worth noting that so-called externalist understandings of the
putative reality that constitutes S's believing that p do not elude the criticisms of theories about the nature of belief that are set out here. All proposals that assign any real constitution at all to S's state of belief that p,
whether physical or spiritual, whether inner or (partly) outer, are the same
in this respect.
This difficulty would immediately infect our understanding of thirdperson ascriptions of belief. If we understand that 'S believes that p' turns on
the presence of something in S's brain, we shall have deleted the force of
these words that enables us to take them as an expression of the idea that S
assigns T to p. For we shall have to concede that S's version of the same
sentiment, 'I believe that p', makes a definite assertion, and thus expresses an
assignment of the truth-value T to a proposition, but not to the proposition
p. Whatever it is that 'I believe that p' does assert, it is clear that that assertion can be relayed by saying of the speaker 'S believes that p'. Therefore, if
S's assertion 'I believe that p' does not express S's assignment T to p, then 'S
believes that p' will not express that idea either. Worse yet, on any such
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314

understanding, should S ask himself the question 'Is it the case that p?' and
resolvejust thatquestion,for example, by examining the concatenated mat, S's
assignment of T to the proposition 'The cat is on the mat' will not be correctly rendered by S's asserting 'I believe that the cat is on the mat'. For
these words formulate a claim that has truth-conditions known to the
speaker (namely, the cat's presence on the mat) which are quite other than
the truth-conditions for 'Such and such a state is present in me'. But the
latter are the truth-conditions for 'I believe that the cat is on the mat', according to any theory that provides a real constitution for the state of belief
that p. Such a theory of belief-states will necessarily introduce a subjectmatter for another proposition different in truth-conditions from p. Within
the framework of a theory that envisages such a real constitution, S will
certainly express the idea that he assigns T to this other proposition by
saying 'I believe that p'.
As we have already conceded, even if the theory is correct, the uninformed speaker may not know what the constitution of states of belief is, so
that S will not literally assign T to '(BSp)is present in my brain' in asserting
'I believe that p'. Our point is unaffected by this presumption of ignorance
on the part of most people who can say what they believe. Any theory that
proposes a real constitution for states of belief implies that ordinary speakers
already do report such states in their assertions of the form 'I believe that p',
although they are unable to give a perspicuous description of what is in fact
a neural reality. They report states of belief under an opaque description
that uses only the content of the belief to pick out the state of belief, but the
truth or falsehood of the assertion made by such a report, according to such
a theory, does not have the truth-conditions of p, and making the assertion
cannot be thought of as assigning T to p. To think that a theory proposing a
real constitution for the state of belief that p might be true is to think that
ordinary speakers already report the inner reality (BSp)in asserting 'I believe
that p' although they do not know that that is the real nature of the state
they report.
Thus if (BSp) were something real in believers, Moore's conjunctions
would not be paradoxical. Jane Heal has reached a broadly similar
conclusion with respect to functionalist identifications of states of belief:
'any functionalist approach ... must fail to account for the idea that there is
something contradictory about [Moore's paradoxical conjunctions]'.' Furthermore, she quite properly traces the incompatibility between standard
philosophical theories and the deviance of the conjunctions to which Moore
drew attention to a widely accepted metaphysical view, namely, the idea
'Moore's Paradox: a Wittgensteinian Approach', Mind, I03 (1994), pp. 5-24, at p. 17.
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315

that beliefs are 'phenomena which people may come across' either 'introspectively' or in the course of framing explanations of behaviour. The 'Wittgensteinian approach' involves setting aside this metaphysical presumption.
It seems to me that, in spite of this promising beginning, Heal does not
reach a convincing explanation of Moore's paradox only because she does
not go far enough in what is clearly the right direction. She proposes a
complex combination of collectively belief-constituting devices, including
training in the expression and ascription of belief, a performative element in
judging that one believes, and more or less infallible second-order beliefs.
These ideas are supposed to help us move away from the seductively natural
philosophical presumption that beliefs are things we (might) come across in
ourselves. In my opinion, the defective metaphysical view is the idea that
believing has any constitution at all. If this is right, the defect will not be
removed by Heal's well-intended sophistications.
In sum, 'I believe that p, and -p' would not express a self-contradictory
assignment of both T and F to p, if belief-states had a real constitution in
believers. In fact, Moore's conjunctions would have to be unobjectionable
assertions of two compatible matters of fact, if (BSp)were an acceptable constitution for the state of belief that p. But to assert such a conjunction is to
contradict oneself, as I have shown above. The considerations that reveal
this are too simple and too clear for us to imagine that they conceal a total
misunderstanding. Of course, a person asserting 'I believe that p' is letting us
know that he assigns T to p, and this is contradicted if he goes on to assign F
to p by asserting -p. Moore put too much confidence in the fact that 'I believe that p, and -p' is not, as a sentence, a formal contradiction. That
is simply an inadequate test of whether a speaker is contradicting himself.
To assert such a conjunction would be to contradict oneself. There is no
mistake in that thought. The mistake lies in theories that ascribe a real constitution of states of belief.
VII. CONFUSING COMPLICATIONS
It is very easy to lose one's focus on the subject-matter of S's statements
when S expresses a belief. We do well to remind ourselves that mere assertion ofp is by far the most common linguistic vehicle for expression of belief.
The prefacing words 'I believe that' are almost always selected in order to
convey some qualification or insecurity about p, and not to identify one's
speech act as an expression of belief. If a subject is entirely secure about the
truth of p, the words 'I believe that p' would be misleading, because they
would convey uncertainty that is not present. So the boss's petulant sarcasm
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ARTHUR W. COLLINS

316

'I believe that I am in charge of this office' manages to convey exasperation


by falsely implying less than certainty about p in the light of the behaviour of
subordinates. 'I believe that' functions as a means for weakening the claim
that p, and not as a device for changing the subject. Furthermore, if S does
assert 'I believe that p' and is challenged and asked to back up what he
has asserted, both the challenger and S himself will take it for granted that S
will defend the proposition p, just as he would had he asserted merely p.
Replies to 'How so?', or 'What makes you say so?', will be things like 'I can
see it from here, unless that's just a sweater on the mat', or 'The cat always
dozes away the afternoon on that mat'. No one expects S to defend the
claim to possess a certain state present in him, yet this, and not p, would be
the claim S has made if the theory were right. Again, the thought that assertion of the belief should be the most common and natural means for expressing belief fits well with the idea of epistemic risk. Assertion ofp makes it
clear that it is p about which one stands to be mistaken or right. Expression
of belief conveys epistemic risk, and the two linguistic devices, assertion ofp
and assertion of'I believe that p', are alternative means for making the same
conversational move.
Now I have pointed out that the provision of an explicit subject-matter
(BSp), on which the truth of S's 'I believe that p' is supposed to turn, is
incompatible with the function of those words in conveying epistemic risk
relative to p. On just this point, it is especially easy to accept the idea that
'I believe that p' oughtto begivena subject-matter of its own other than p. This
is because it is so very clear that assertions ofp are necessarily false assertions
when p is false, whereas assertions of 'I believe that p' are not necessarily
false when p is false. In particular, 'I believe that p' says something about the
speaker, while 'p'does not.
One cannot move straight from the fact that an auditor will ordinarily get
information about the speaker from an assertion to the claim that the
assertion itself is aboutthe speaker who makes it. We can remove some of the
uncertainty surrounding this issue by substituting an artificiallyexplicit form
of expression. In the case of the non-idiomatic but otherwise clear
formulation
I assign the truth-value T to p,
no one will doubt that these words convey to auditors the idea that the
speaker assigns the truth-value T to p and is therefore mistaken about p if p
is false. The speaker is letting others know about that liability, and is not informing his auditors concerning another matter of fact about which he is
right whether or not p is the case. None the less the words 'I assign the truthvalue T to p' are not false because p is false, but only where the speaker does
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not risk error ifp is false. 'I assign T to p' is, for all intents and purposes, just
a variant of'I believe that p'.
Do these words not explicitly state something about the speaker S? That
they do is indisputable. In contrast, by assertingp, S does not assert anything
about himself, but rather tells us where the cat is. From this circumstance
philosophical theorists are encouraged to conclude that the two assertions
oughtto haveseparate subject-matters. Let us see how such a subject-matter
could function here. Suppose we come to follow this practice: upon finding
that p is the case, or upon finding evidence for p, we generally mark a
physical sentence-token of p with a 'T'. Suppose further that to say 'I assign
the truth-value T to p' literally means that I have made the appropriate
mark on an appropriate token. As soon as we flesh out 'assign the truthvalue T to p'in this realistic way, the conjunction
I assign T to p, and -p
becomes a natural and non-deviant sentence. The words cannot possibly
express a self-contradiction and cannot be read so as to sound absurd
The words cease to be an expression of
or paradoxical, on this understanding.
belief that p. They now assert something else, something that is customarily
true if and only if I believe that p, but something that cannot possibly
express belief that p precisely because it has its own subject-matter, which is
compatible with any stand on the truth-value of p. Of course, given the
practice as described, others will accept a report of token-marking as an
indication of S's epistemic risk vis a visp. But the marking behaviour cannot
S's epistemic risk, and this is reflected in the straightforward
possibly constitute
'I
that
meaning
assign T to p, and -p' will have. Of course, 'I assign T to p'
is not ordinarily used to describe a token-marking ceremony, and would
much more easily be used as an oddly elaborate way of expressing belief. As
such, it can express no subject-matter other than S's risk concerning p.

VIII. WHY THIS HAS GONE UNDETECTED


We can get a deeper understanding of the issues here without leaving the
matter of truth-value assignments. I have suggested that the strongest and
therefore the most misleading source of support for the idea of inner states
of belief is the fact that, like 'S believes that p', the assertion 'I believe that p'
is not accounted false on the grounds that p is false. 'I believe that p' says
something about the believer, while 'p' does not. In consequence, we are not
surprised to find philosophers looking elsewhere for the content of 'I believe
that p', and making substantive conjectures concerning just what it is about
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ARTHUR W. COLLINS

318

the speaker that is conveyed by the words 'I believe that p'. The problem is,
one might say, that the conjectures go toofarafield.Since 'I believe that p' can
be true when p is false, philosophers look for another empirical matter of
fact on which the truth of the assertion 'I believe that p' may turn. Then it
will be the case that 'I believe that p' is true because it expresses something
about which the speaker is right.
Nearer to hand, we can account for the surviving truth-value of 'I believe
that p', when p is false, by simply recognizing that it expresses a mistake that
S is in fact making, and not a claim about something else about which S is
not mistaken. The formulae derived from the idea of epistemic risk help to
bring this out. The words 'p, or I am much mistaken' express belief that p,
and they will be true when p is false, not because they make a claim about
something else, but because they expressly allude to the possibility of error
which is an ineliminable part of the concept of belief. If p is false, my assertion 'p, or I am much mistaken' is true, for the unspectacular reason that I
am mistaken and my disjunctive assertion has canvassed that possibility in
advance. It is precisely because I express the assignment of T to p, and do
not express some other factual claim about myself, that I reveal to others
that I am mistaken if p is not the case. The assertion 'p, or I am mistaken'
plainly means 'p, or (-p and) I am mistaken (about p)'. In view of the
conceptual interdependence of liability for error and the prospect of being
right, we are also able to add the tacitly expressed 'and I am right about p'
to the first disjunct, arriving at
ER'. p and I am right about p, or -p and I am mistaken about p,
which is simply the concept of belief expressed in terms of epistemic risk.
This formulation is truth-functionallyequivalent to (ER) on p. 309 above. As
an expression of belief that p, (ER') too may be true when p is false, but this
is because it considers that possibility in advance, and not because it contains dependable news about another matter that may involve a neural
reality in the speaker's brain. The circumstance under which (ER') is false is
that the speaker is neither mistaken nor right about p, and that means, as it
should, that the speaker does not believe that p. So the state of belief has a
logical character with respect to the proposition p.
Any attempt to trade this merely logical character for an inner state with
a real constitution has the effect of eliminating the logical character without
which belief does not get expressed at all. As soon as we put in a reality for a
state of belief, 'I believe that p' will be true if it correctly reports that reality.
We shall not be able to capture the idea that, where p is false, 'I believe that
p' expresses S's mistake, and our understanding of discourse about belief will
be a shambles.
? The Editorsol 77e Phfllo.ophicalQuml'terl,
1996

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MOORE'S PARADOX AND EPISTEMIC RISK

319

The formula (ER') and the parallel third-person version provide an


understanding of ordinary discourse that should not be given up lightly.
These expressions explain why 'I believe that p' can be true when p is false,
they give us a univocal sense for the concept of belief in first-person and
third-person belief-statements, they explain all of the natural phenomena of
truth-value distributions to 'S believes that p' 'I believe that p' and p itself,
they explain how it is that the assertion of p and the assertion of 'I believe
that p' can both do the job of expressing belief that p, and they dissolve
Moore's paradox in a natural and unforced manner. The measure of the
cost of this understanding depends upon one's commitments to one form or
another of the popular speculative quasi-scientificphilosophies of mind that
have flourished recently. I find this price easy to pay.
We could say that the very idea of a state of belief with a real constitution
is wholly theoretical.Ordinary discourse and ordinary experience do not
somehowor other.We are able to
license the idea of innerstatesof beliefconstituted
state our beliefs. This ability does not come with any conception at all of
what a state of belief might be. 'S is in the state of belief that p' carries no
implications that are not carried by 'S believes that p'. The claim that a
common-sense 'folk psychology' posits inner explanatory realities which are
the referents of the expressions 'belief', 'desire', and so on, is itself a theoretical pronouncement which reads the erroneous assumptions of speculative
philosophers who imagine that they are being 'scientific' back into the perspective of the ordinary speaker. The one thing that we are sure about, the
thing that is beyond dispute, is that a speaker telling us 'I believe that p' is
expressing the fact that he assigns T to the proposition p. Ironically, the
theories which posit a constitution for states of belief, and thus a reportable
reality (BSp),compromise this one truly clear feature of the concept of belief.
The idea that ordinary speakers make a 'pre-scientific'posit of inner realities
of some kind improperly implicates ordinary thought about belief in the
conceptual confusions and paradoxes that are actually generated by theorists. If 'I believe that p' expressed an explanatory posit an ordinary speaker
makes, it would not express assignment of T to p. The patronizing atmosphere of claims about a 'folk psychology' is quite out of place when we
appreciate that ordinary thought and discourse about belief is free of the
errors and incoherences introduced by pseudo-scientific posits.
CityUniversity
ofNew York

? The Editorsof 77hePhilosophical


Quarterlr,
1996

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