Hume’s Doxastic Involuntarism

Mind 126 (501):53-92 (2017)
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In this paper, I examine three mutually inconsistent claims that are commonly attributed to Hume: all beliefs are involuntary; some beliefs are subject to normative appraisal; and that ‘Ought implies Can’. I examine the textual support for such ascription, and the options for dealing with the puzzle posed by their inconsistency. In what follows I will put forward some evidence that Hume maintains each of the three positions outlined above. I then examine what I call the ‘prior voluntary action’ solution. I argue that this position in any form fails to account for synchronic rationality. I then raise more specific objections depending on how we disambiguate the position, which can be read as either granting beliefs derivative voluntariness, or as denying their normative significance; the former version is inconsistent with Hume’s treatment of natural abilities, while the latter falls to a regress given Hume’s thesis regarding the inability of actions and passions to be subject to epistemic normativity. I then propose to reject instead for two reasons: first, the weakness of textual support for such an ascription; secondly, Hume’s explicit recognition of the irrelevance of involuntariness to normative evaluation in the moral case.
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Archival date: 2021-01-27
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