Volume 2, Issue 3, 2002
Theories of Rationality
Volitionism and Voluntarism about Belief
This paper attempts to clarify some issues about what is usually called “doxastic voluntarism”. This phrase often hides a confusion between two separate (although connected) issues: whether beliefis or can be, as a matter of psychological fact, under the control of the will, on the one hand, and whether we can have practical reasons to believe something, or whether our beliefs are subject to any sort of “ought”, on the other hand. The first issue -- which I prefer to call the issue of volitionism about belief -- is psychological, and I take the answer to be negative, along the lines of the conceptual arguments against believing at will adduced by writers such as Bernard Williams. The second issue -- which I call voluntarism proper -- is normative, and the answer that I give is a qualified yes. Belief is not a matter of the will, although there are certain things that we ought to believe.