Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Neil Levy's "Bad Beliefs"

Neil Levy is Professor of Philosophy at Macquarie University, Sydney, and a Senior Research Fellow at the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics. He was previously a Research Council Future Fellow at the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health. He works on the philosophy of agency and ethical issues in neuroscience, as well as related areas, and has published extensively on these topics. He is the author of Consciousness and Moral Responsibility (2014) and Hard Luck (2011), among other books.

Levy applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Bad Beliefs: Why They Happen to Good People, and reported the following:
I think it would be pretty hard to get a good idea of what the book's up to from page 99. Bad Beliefs as a whole argues that these kinds of beliefs - say, the belief that vaccinations cause autism - actually have the same kind of source as good beliefs. I believe climate change is real and serious because people I trust tell me so, and those who deny the reality of anthropogenic climate change do so because people they trust tell them so. The book argues that we should focus on these kinds of trust relations, and on making sure that they're justified, to bring people to believe better. Page 99 mentions none of that.

Instead, page 99 is in the middle of addressing a common alternative view: don't trust anyone (scientists or talking heads on Fox); instead, assess the evidence for yourself. I'm in the middle of arguing that that's a lot harder to do than people usually realize. Without genuine expertise in climate science (I argue), it's a hopeless task. It goes on to argue that when we take ourselves to doing this kind of thinking for ourselves, we're still actually following the lead of those we trust. At best, 'doing your own research' isn't an alternative to trusting well; at worst, it does a lot worse than trusting well would.

So page 99 doesn't help tell the browser what the book's about. Maybe it reveals "the quality of the whole" as Ford Madox Ford said, but it doesn't reveal its subject. It's too far in the weeds. But hey! It's a philosophy book. Expect weeds.
Learn more about Bad Beliefs at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue