Against Doxastic Compatibilism

Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 89 (1):679-702 (2014)
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William Alston has argued that the so-called deontological conception of epistemic justification, on which epistemic justification is to be spelled out in terms of blame, responsibility, and obligations, is untenable. The basic idea of the argument is that this conception is untenable because we lack voluntary control over our beliefs and, therefore, cannot have any obligations to hold certain beliefs. If this is convincing, however, the argument threatens the very idea of doxastic responsibility. For, how can we ever be responsible for our beliefs if we lack control over them? Several philosophers have argued that the idea that we bear responsibility for our beliefs can be saved, because absence of voluntary control over our beliefs is perfectly compatible with having obligations to hold particular beliefs. With others, I call this view ‘doxastic compatibilism’. It comes in two varieties. On the first variety, doxastic obligations do not require any kind of doxastic control whatsoever. I argue that this variety of doxastic compatibilism fails because it confuses doxastic responsibility with other closely related phenomena. On the second variety, doxastic obligations do not require voluntary doxastic control, but only compatibilist doxastic control (roughly, reason-responsiveness) and we do in fact have such control. I grant that we have such control, but also argue that having such control is insufficient for bearing doxastic responsibility. The plausibility of the examples put forward by doxastic compatibilists in support of the claim that it is sufficient for doxastic responsibility derives from the fact that in these examples, the subjects have control over factors that influence what they believe rather than control over those beliefs themselves

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Rik Peels
VU University Amsterdam


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