Journal of Logic, Language and Information

, Volume 8, Issue 4, pp 401-420

First online:

Belief Revision: A Critique

  • Nir FriedmanAffiliated withComputer Science Division, University of California
  • , Joseph Y. HalpernAffiliated withComputer Science Department, Cornell University

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We examine carefully the rationale underlying the approaches to belief change taken in the literature, and highlight what we view as methodological problems. We argue that to study belief change carefully, we must be quite explicit about the “ontology” or scenario underlying the belief change process. This is something that has been missing in previous work, with its focus on postulates. Our analysis shows that we must pay particular attention to two issues that have often been taken for granted: the first is how we model the agent's epistemic state. (Do we use a set of beliefs, or a richer structure, such as an ordering on worlds? And if we use a set of beliefs, in what language are these beliefs are expressed?) We show that even postulates that have been called “beyond controversy” are unreasonable when the agent's beliefs include beliefs about her own epistemic state as well as the external world. The second is the status of observations. (Are observations known to be true, or just believed? In the latter case, how firm is the belief?) Issues regarding the status of observations arise particularly when we consider iterated belief revision, and we must confront the possibility of revising by φ and then by ¬ φ.

AGM postulates belief revision iterated revision