“Believing at will is possible”−or is it? Some remarks on Peels’s “truth depends on belief” cases and voluntariness

Manuscrito 46 (2):1-39 (2023)
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This article discusses Rik Peels's response to Williams's argument against voluntary belief. Williams argues that voluntary beliefs must be acquired independently of truth-considerations, so they cannot count as beliefs after all, since beliefs aim at truth. Peels attempted to reply by showing that in cases of self-fulfilling beliefs, a belief can indeed be voluntarily acquired in conditions which retain the necessary truth-orientation. But even if we make two crucial concessions to Peels’s proposal, his argument ultimately fails. The first concession is that beliefs can be weakly voluntary-namely, we can acquire them at will though we do not preserve them at will but on the basis of evidence. Conceding this, however, only lands us in the “acquisition problem”: how a belief can be acquired qua belief when we still do not think we have justification for it. This leads us to the second concession: that knowing in advance that a certain belief is self-fulfilling provides us with such a justification. However, this concession lands us in the ultimate obstacle: that, precisely because such a justification is available both before and at the moment of forming the belief, the cognitive perspective of the subject is identical at both moments, which obscures what it even means to say that at a certain moment she started to have a belief.

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