Can we Trust what we Believe, with Miriam Schoenfield

This week, Turi speaks to epistemologist Miriam Schoenfield, to understand where our beliefs come from, and whether there’s any grounds for believing them to be true.

S1 E10: Can we Trust what we Believe?

“A lot of beliefs that are fundamental to who we are and to how we think about the world are influenced by things that appear to be arbitrary and irrelevant to the truth of the matter.”

Turi talks with Professor Miriam Schoenfield, of the University of Texas at Austin, to understand whether we can have any kind of certainty about the truth of our beliefs.

Miriam’s work focuses on the influences that shape our beliefs and opinions. A great deal of our thinking is impacted by influences that are “epistemologically unreliable”. The fundamental philosophical premises of our most cherished beliefs are flawed: we’re conditioned to believe them.

The children of Jews tend to be Jews, the children of Jains tend to be Jain, those brought up in the liberal agnostic West tend to be liberal agnostics… Much as the children of Liverpool FC supporters tend to support Liverpool.

We are epistemologically stranded. Either we decide we just lucked out and that the belief system we happened to land up in also just happens to be the right one, or we give up any certainty of belief.

Understanding the arbitrariness of your own beliefs seems like a good starting point for listening to others.

Together, Miriam and Turi discuss:

  • Doubt: “something that simply happens to us, without explanation, fluid and wordless”
  • the Gestalt Shift, and how it’s different from just ‘changing your mind’
  • Whether Rationalism is itself a belief system
  • Whether emotional or spiritual experiences might get us closer to the truth than ‘thought’
  • Why agnostics take smaller risks in politics
  • And whether we ‘learn’ our feelings, in the same way as we ‘learn’ our beliefs

Miriam Schoenfield

Miriam Schoenfield is Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy at The University of Texas at Austin.

Her primary research interests are in epistemology, as well as ethics and normativity more broadly.

Transcript: Can we trust what we believe?

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This page was last edited on Wednesday, 30 Sep 2020 at 09:43 UTC