What Can We Not Do at Will and Why?

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Abstract

Recently it has been argued that we cannot intend at will. Since intentions cannot be true or false, our involuntariness cannot be traced to “the characteristic of beliefs that they aim at truth”, as Bernard Williams convincingly argues. The alternative explanation is that the source of involuntariness is the shared normative nature of beliefs and intentions. Three analogies may assimilate intentions to beliefs vis-à-vis our involuntariness: first, beliefs and intentions aim at something; second, beliefs and intentions are transparent to the true and the good respectively; third, beliefs and intentions are answers to questions other than that of whether to endorse them. The purpose of this paper is to argue that attempts to ground involuntariness in normativity rather than truth imply that we cannot act at will. I assume that actions are the paradigm case of doing something at will, and utilize this assumption as a restriction on any account of our inability to believe at will: it should not be possible to generalize it to actions. Any account of doxastic involuntarism that implies that we cannot act at will is false—if we cannot act at will, what can we do at will? I close by offering a notion of doing something at will that is based on Williams’ insight that truth—rather than reason—matters to our inability to believe at will.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1941-1961
Number of pages21
JournalPhilosophical Studies
Volume173
Issue number7
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Jul 2016

Keywords

  • Action
  • At will
  • Belief
  • Believing
  • Bernard Williams
  • Hieronymi
  • Intending
  • Intention
  • Involuntariness
  • Reason
  • Toxin
  • Truth
  • Wrong kind of reasons

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