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Charity, principle of

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-P006-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 24, 2024, from

Article Summary

The principle of charity governs the interpretation of the beliefs and utterances of others. It urges charitable interpretation, meaning interpretation that maximizes the truth or rationality of what others think and say. Some formulations of the principle concern primarily rationality, recommending attributions of rational belief or assertion. Others concern primarily truth, recommending attributions of true belief or assertion. Versions of the principle differ in strength. The weakest urge charity as one consideration among many. The strongest hold that interpretation is impossible without the assumption of rationality or truth.

The principle has been put to various philosophical uses. Students are typically instructed to follow the principle when interpreting passages and formulating the arguments they contain. The principle also plays a role in philosophy of mind and language and in epistemology. Philosophers have argued that the principle of charity plays an essential role in characterizing the nature of belief and intentionality, with some philosophers contending that beliefs must be mostly true. A version of the principle has even served as a key premise in a widely discussed argument against epistemological scepticism.

Citing this article:
Feldman, Richard. Charity, principle of, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-P006-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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