Reasonable-ness, by what standard?
By request (or at least approval), I have produced a post on reasonable-ness. Note that this has nothing to do with certain kinds of legal standards
People often say that something is reasonable to believe, or surely that reasonable people can disagree. But often when saying this, people fail to specify what their standards of reasonability are. Of course, we know what the highest epistemic standards require. The very highest of standards require nothing short of sound arguments. i.e. arguments in which the conclusions necessarily follow from the premises and in which the premises are true. But by that route requires us to reserve judgement on a great many issues including for example, the existence of other minds, or the external world or even about whether or not we should have high epistemic standards in the first place.
Once we jettison claims about epistemic normativity, there is a question of how to make sense of epistemic reasonableness and justification. Roughly, when we talk about the justification or reasonableness of a belief, we are talking about whether there are reasons for a belief. However, what would count as a reason for belief? Given that we are asking for epistemic reasons*, we can simplify the issue greatly. Without making any claim about whether we should care about the truth, we can simply say that some Y counts as an epistemic reason for believing in X iff Y being true makes X more likely to be true than if Y were false. Formally stated, Y is epistemic reason for believing that X iff
P(X|Y) > P (X|~Y) ……… (1) and
P(Y) = 1 ……… (2)
The above says nothing about whether to take the probabilities as objective or subjective. In addition, it is analytic that when one lacks epistemic reasons for a belief X, one lacks epistemic reason for believing X to be more likely than ~X.
P(X|no reasons) = P(~X|no reasons) ……… (3)
P(X|Y) + P (~X|Y) = 1 ……… (4), therefore
P(X|no reasons) = 0.5 ……… (5)
Up till now, I have not as yet specified any epistemic standard. To say that someone has high epistemic standards is just to say that the person accepts a proposition X iff the all things considered epistemic reasons for X are very strong. However, even the most permissive standards require a proposition to at least be infinitesimally more likely to be true than not in order for it to be considered reasonable to believe. So, a person would be unreasonable under any standard if she believed something which she believed the balance of reasons were against.
This still leaves open exactly what does in fact count as a reason for belief. One way to rule out things that may count as reasons for belief is to look at how often things of that type lead to true beliefs. If things of a certain kind are as likely to reach true beliefs as otherwise, then it cannot count as a reason for belief. Consider our pre-theoretical intuitions. Different people have different intuitions about things (e.g. morality). However, they all cannot be right. i.e. any person relying on his moral intuitions is just as likely as not to get things correct. That means that intuitions cannot count as a reason for belief. Similarly any kind of argument in which we could just as easily do a few simple word substitutions to arrive at the opposite conclusion would not count as a reason in favour of the conclusion as well.
Let’s go back to the initial question that prompted all of this. Is Black Nationalism reasonable? I don’t know enough about Black Nationalism to make that judgement. However, that doesn’t stop me from making a few points. What we are evaluating are the arguments for Black Nationalism. We are not evaluating whether Black Nationalism is good for Black people, or evaluating what kinds of sentiments and social milieu Black Nationalism springs out of separate from the arguments for Black Nationalism. Insofar as arguments for Black Nationalism are equally serviceable for White Nationalism and Black Nationalism cannot coexist with White Nationalism**, the arguments for Black Nationalism don’t count as reasons to think Black Nationalism is true.
*There could be non-epistemic reasons for belief. Believing something may have good consequences. For example, we may have moral reasons to believe grass is purple if an evil demon threatens to kill all of us if we don’t. I do think that non-epistemic reasons face a wrong type of reasons kind of argument. Belief is inextricably linked up with truth. This would at least in part, be because truth vindicates belief in a way good consequences don’t. Also, to say that one believes X just is to say that one thinks X to be true. Therefore reasons for belief just amount to reasons to think that X may be true. Stated this way, looking for epistemic reasons seems more natural.
**Some White Nationalists (I believe) are perfectly fine with Black Nationalists. They think that everyone should be chauvinistic towards people of their own race. Also, Klansmen can vote for Obama. I really don’t know what to make of such a belief system. It’s a strange world out there!