An Essay on Doxastic Agency

Dissertation, University of Rochester (2005)
Abstract
The problem of doxastic agency concerns what sort of agency humans can exercise with regard to forming doxastic attitudes such as belief. In this essay I defend a version of what James Montmarquet calls "The Asymmetry Thesis": Coming to believe and action are asymmetrical with respect to direct voluntary control. I argue that normal adult human agents cannot exercise direct voluntary control over the acquisition of any of their doxastic attitudes in the same way that they exercise such control over their actions, particularly basic actions. I argue, however, that normal adult human agents can exercise indirect voluntary control over coming to have some of their doxastic attitudes just as they can exercise indirect voluntary control over the outcomes of actions. Furthermore, coming to believe as the outcome of some agency performed with the goal of acquiring a particular doxastic attitude towards a specific proposition can be the intentional outcome of some doxastic agency. So if an agent intends to come to believe that p, under some circumstances she can bring it about that she comes to believe that p as the outcome of her exercise of agency. In critiquing the thesis that agents can exercise direct voluntary control over forming their doxastic attitudes, I argue that some ways of exercising such control are conceptually impossible. But even if other ways of exercising direct voluntary control over the formation of doxastic attitudes are not conceptually impossible, I argue that it is psychologically impossible to exercise direct voluntary control over the acquisition of any doxastic attitudes. I consider proposals offered in defense of the claim that normal adult human agents can exercise direct voluntary control over acquiring doxastic attitudes by Carl Ginet, Mark Heller, Sharon Ryan, and Matthias Steup. I argue that none of the theories of doxastic agency defended by these authors is tenable. So while I argue that the variety of doxastic agency normal adult humans can exercise is fairly robust, the most we can hope for is indirect voluntary control over our doxastic attitudes.
Keywords Doxastic Voluntarism  Belief  Mental Action  Acceptance
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