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Doxastic involuntarism

April 24, 2013

Today I learned a new phrase, and it’s a good one. I was having a meeting with my PhD supervisor, and we were discussing the question of to what extent membership of a cultural group is a matter of choice, rather than chance. I said that having been born into the group was a matter of chance, but deciding to leave it was a matter of choice. But that depends, he said, because if membership of the group entails certain beliefs, and if you’re a doxastic involuntarist…


A doxastic involuntarist.

Isn’t that a great phrase? It means someone who holds that beliefs are involuntary: you can’t choose what to believe. So if, for instance, I decided to leave my cultural group of liberal atheists and join a group of born-again Christians – well, I couldn’t do that, because I just don’t believe the things that they believe and I couldn’t make myself do so.

This isn’t to say that beliefs never change, of course: they can be altered by new arguments or experiences. But whatever beliefs you hold at a particular time are ones you can’t help holding.

This is all assuming that doxastic involuntarism is correct, of course, and I believe that it is. I can’t help believing that it is. So I’m a doxastic involuntarist about doxastic involuntarism.

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