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Why 'believes' is not a vague predicate

Archer, Sophie 2018. Why 'believes' is not a vague predicate. Philosophical Studies 175 , pp. 3029-3048. 10.1007/s11098-017-0993-3

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According to what I call the ‘Vagueness Thesis’ (‘VT’) about belief, ‘believes’ is a vague predicate. On this view, our concept of belief admits of borderline cases: one can ‘half-believe’ something (Price in Belief, George Allen & Unwin, London, 1969) or be ‘in-between believing’ it (Schwitzgebel in Philos Q 51:76–82, 2001, Noûs 36:249–275, 2002, Pac Philos Q 91:531–553, 2010). In this article, I argue that VT is false and present an alternative picture of belief. I begin by considering a case—held up as a central example of vague belief—in which someone sincerely claims something to be true and yet behaves in a variety of other ways as if she believes that it is not. I argue that, even from the third-person perspective prioritised by proponents of VT, the case does not motivate VT. I present an alternative understanding of the case according to which the person in question believes as they say they do yet also has a belief-discordant implicit attitude otherwise. Moreover, I argue that, independently of the interpretation of any particular case, VT fails to accommodate the first-person perspective on belief. Belief is not only an item of one’s psychology that helps explain one’s behaviour; it is what one takes to be true. This fact about belief manifests itself in the nature of deliberation concerning whether to believe something and that of introspection regarding whether one believes something. Attending to these phenomena reveals that VT is not merely unmotivated, but untenable.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: English, Communication and Philosophy
Additional Information: This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.
Publisher: Springer Verlag (Germany)
ISSN: 0031-8116
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 18 October 2019
Date of Acceptance: 1 October 2017
Last Modified: 01 Jul 2020 09:50

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