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Friday, May 02, 2008

Openmindedness and doxastic control

Alston and Michael Lynch put it nicely when they point out that, in the face of our lacking direct control over our beliefs, we nonetheless have in some important sense "indirect control." Lynch says that you can control how you go about pursuing the truth." This also seems right. For example, Sherlock Holmes will choose to go about pursuing the truth of a murder case in a certain way, and when (perhaps) he is at home and can't find a certain pair of socks, he might choose to pursue the truth of the matter (of where the socks are) with less tenacity than he chooses to exhibit on the murder trail.

Intellectual tenacity seems like a trait we can choose to exhibit in pursuit of the truth. But what about the intellectual virtue of openmindedness. Can we choose to be openminded in our pursuit of the truth? I think we should be careful before saying "yes."

Indeed, we talk as though we can choose to be openminded. For example, a juror can promise the judge that, if selected to the jury, she will be sure to go about the testimony openmindedly. Whether she can choose to do this though is another matter.

Here's a reason to think we might not be able to choose to be openminded in pursuing the truth.

Consider first the platitude that doxastic voluntarism is false. We can't choose what we believe. Indeed, this is the same claim Alston and Lynch make when pointing out that we don't have direct control over our beliefs. Why don't we have direct control over our beliefs? Plausibly, this is because our beliefs are "passive" responses to the world and the evidence it gives us. Relatedly, it is argued that beliefs are formed involuntarily. These platitudes seem to be at a tension with the thought that we could choose to be openminded. Presumably, if we could choose to be openminded, then we could choose to respond differently than we otherwise would to the world and the evidence it gives us. But this is precisely what doxastic involuntarism implies that we can't do.

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