Volume 95, Issue 4, October 2018
Robert Holcot on Doxastic Voluntarism and the Ethics of Belief
In the Middle Ages, the view that agents are able to exercise direct voluntary control over their beliefs—doxastic voluntarism—was pervasive. It was held by Augustine, Aquinas, Scotus, Ockham, and Buridan, among many others. Herein, I show that the somewhat neglected Oxford Dominican, Robert Holcot (†1349), rejected doxastic voluntarism with a coherence and plausibility that reflects and anticipates much contemporary thought on the issue. I, further, suggest that Holcot’s rejection of the idea that agents can voluntarily control their beliefs is intimately connected to his, likewise, aberrant views regarding the nature of belief, evidence, and faith. Finally, I examine Holcot’s attempt to show how involuntarism and doxastic responsibility are compatible. The issue of faith figures prominently throughout, given that an act of faith was conceived to be a voluntary operation whereby one believes religious propositions, and a paradigm case of belief for which we are responsible.