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Doxastic voluntarism

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Doxastic voluntarism is the philosophical position that one has voluntary control over one's beliefs. That is, one can change one's beliefs by will and thought alone, implying that we can freely choose to believe or disbelieve anything at will. Note that this isn't about the ability to change a belief — as changing attitudes, maturity or new evidence can lead to a change of mind — but that such an action can be done wilfully at any arbitrary point. Doxastic voluntarism implies that one could change which god one believed in just by walking into a different church, or become a Muslim simply because one tripped on a piece of bacon.

Indirect and direct doxastic voluntarism[edit]

An important distinction that should be made when discussing doxastic voluntarism is between direct and indirect kinds.

Indirect doxastic voluntarism holds that we have indirect control over some of our beliefs. This means that we can take some intermediary actions to change our beliefs. An example of this would be one's ability to change one's belief that the lights are on by turning them off. Here, switching the lights off was the intermediary step.

Direct doxastic voluntarism makes the more contentious claim, that we have direct control over at least some of our beliefs and (ostensibly) no intermediary steps needed to change beliefs. For example a juror may choose whether to believe a witness' testimony is truthful or not.

Pascal's wager[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Pascal's wager

A form of doxastic voluntarism is presumed by Pascal's Wager, which states that it is preferable to believe in God because of the potential outcomes. The wager presumes that God rewards belief just for the sake of belief, but it also requires one to have free rein to control whether one accepts the Christian God or not. In practice, many people don't find this to be the case. For example, an atheist can no more willingly and arbitrarily start believing in God than than they could believe that grass is a funny shade of orange. Similarly, committed believers cannot force themselves to disbelieve something. Because of the lack of perfect free will in this situation, Pascal's attempt to coax people into belief through his wager falls at the first hurdle — someone could, at best, only "fake" his or her belief in God and not truly feel it.

See also[edit]