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Abstract

We arrive at most of our beliefs unreflectively. As we navigate the world, beliefs about our surroundings are, inevitably, simply produced in us. Similarly, the vast majority of our actions are unreflective. We don’t have to think about every little thing we do; we simply act. But we also, at times, stop to reflect: Is this what I should believe? Is this what I should do?

What does such reflective activity achieve? Some philosophers have suggested that reflecting about what we should believe is necessary if our beliefs are to be justified. In the case of action, some philosophers have suggested that reflecting about what one should do is necessary for freedom of the will. One might think that there are more humble benefits as well. Beliefs which are the product of reflective activity are more likely to be true than beliefs unreflectively arrived at; actions reflectively produced are more likely to be successful in achieving their goals than unreflective actions. This is just, it seems, good common sense.

This paper challenges both common sense views about the benefits of reflection as well as a good deal of recent philosophical thinking. It would be silly to think that reflection is never valuable, but I will argue that both common sense, and much philosophical thought about the nature and importance of reflection, have vastly overestimated its value.

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