Hume’s Doxastic Involuntarism

Mind 126 (501):53-92 (2017)
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In this paper, I examine three mutually inconsistent claims that are commonly attributed to Hume: all beliefs are involuntary; some beliefs are subject to normative appraisal; and that ‘Ought implies Can’. I examine the textual support for such ascription, and the options for dealing with the puzzle posed by their inconsistency. In what follows I will put forward some evidence that Hume maintains each of the three positions outlined above. I then examine what I call the ‘prior voluntary action’ solution. I argue that this position in any form fails to account for synchronic rationality. I then raise more specific objections depending on how we disambiguate the position, which can be read as either granting beliefs derivative voluntariness, or as denying their normative significance; the former version is inconsistent with Hume’s treatment of natural abilities, while the latter falls to a regress given Hume’s thesis regarding the inability of actions and passions to be subject to epistemic normativity. I then propose to reject instead for two reasons: first, the weakness of textual support for such an ascription; secondly, Hume’s explicit recognition of the irrelevance of involuntariness to normative evaluation in the moral case.

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Hsueh Qu
National University of Singapore

Citations of this work

Hume’s practically epistemic conclusions?Hsueh Qu - 2014 - Philosophical Studies 170 (3):501-524.
Laying Down Hume's Law.Hsueh Qu - 2018 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 100 (1):24-46.
Hume's Epistemology: The State of the Question.Hsueh M. Qu - 2019 - Southern Journal of Philosophy 57 (3):301-323.
I Ought, Therefore I Can Obey.Peter B. M. Vranas - 2018 - Philosophers' Imprint 18.
Hume and reliabilism.Qu Hsueh - 2021 - Belgrade Philosophical Annual 1 (34):27-51.

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References found in this work

A treatise of human nature.David Hume & A. D. Lindsay - 1969 - Harmondsworth,: Penguin Books. Edited by Ernest Campbell Mossner.
Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man.Thomas Reid - 1785 - University Park, Pa.: Cambridge University Press. Edited by Derek R. Brookes & Knud Haakonssen.
A Treatise of Human Nature (1739-40).David Hume - 1969 - Mineola, N.Y.: Oxford University Press. Edited by Ernest Campbell Mossner.
A Treatise of Human Nature.David Hume & A. D. Lindsay - 1958 - Philosophical Quarterly 8 (33):379-380.

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