Moral Agency in Believing

Philosophical Topics 46 (1):53-74 (2018)
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Abstract

Ordinary moral practice suggests that our beliefs, themselves, can wrong. But when one moral subject wrongs another, it must be something that the first subject, herself, does or brings about which constitutes the wronging: wronging involves exercising moral agency. So, if we can wrong others simply by believing, then believing involves an exercise or expression of moral agency. Unfortunately, it is not at all obvious how our beliefs could manifest our moral agency. After all, we are not capable of believing at will, and belief generally seems to be nonvoluntary. Indeed, believing is often nondeliberative, automatic, and reflexive. Belief is a kind of spontaneous and unchosen cognitive response to one’s circumstances; it is the doxastic output of cognitive processing that is often wholly unreflective and subconscious. This paper develops and defends a two-part explanation of how beliefs that are nonvoluntary, automatic, and reflexive can nevertheless manifest our moral agency in a way that can help vindicate the intuitively attractive idea that our beliefs, themselves, can wrong.

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Kate Nolfi
University of Vermont

Citations of this work

There is no such thing as doxastic wrongdoing.David Enoch & Levi Spectre - forthcoming - Philosophical Perspectives.
Epistemic redress.George Hull - 2022 - Synthese 200 (3):1-21.

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References found in this work

On the epistemic costs of implicit bias.Tamar Szabó Gendler - 2011 - Philosophical Studies 156 (1):33-63.
Epistemic partiality in friendship.Sarah Stroud - 2006 - Ethics 116 (3):498-524.
Agency of belief and intention.A. K. Flowerree - 2017 - Synthese 194 (8):2763-2784.

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