[maverickphilosopher] William F. Vallicella: A Pieperian Argument for Doxastic Voluntarism
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Wed Dec 19 13:38:30 EST 2007
Posted by William F. Vallicella:
A Pieperian Argument for Doxastic Voluntarism
Josef Pieper (1904-1997) was a 20th century German Thomist. I read
his Belief and Faith as an undergraduate and am now re-reading it
very carefully. It is an excellent counterbalance to a lot of the
current analytic stuff on belief and doxastic voluntarism. What
follows is my reconstruction of Pieper's argument for doxastic
voluntarism in Belief and Faith. His thesis, to be found in Augustine
and Aquinas, is that "Belief rests upon volition." (p. 27. Augustine,
De praedestinatione Sanctorum, cap. 5, 10: [Fides] quae in voluntate
est . . . .) I shall first present the argument in outline, and then
comment on the premises and inferences.
1. Belief and knowledge are mutually exclusive. He who knows does not
believe, and he who believes does not know.
2. It is not the self-evident truth of the proposition believed that
motivates the believer's acceptance of it.
3. The believer's acceptance is motivated by the insight that "it is
good to regard the subject matter as true and real on the strength of
someone else's testimony." (p. 27)
4. "It is the will, not cognition, that acknowledges the good." (p.
5. Wherever there is belief, the will is operative. "We believe not
because we see, perceive, deduce, something true, but because we
desire something good." (p. 27)
Interpretive gloss: We desire contact with the truth, as with
something good. But in some cases we are not in a position to know the
truth; so we must believe it on the basis of the testimony of a
credible witness. We will our acceptance of the testimony of the
witness. Our acceptance of the testimony is voluntary. One's coming to
believe is thus subject to voluntary control.
Ad (1). Most philosophers nowadays think of knowledge as including
belief. Thus, on their use of 'believes' and 'knows,' if S knows that
p, then S believes that p, though not conversely. Accordingly, if I
know that the sun is shining, by seeing that it is, then I believe
that the sun is shining. But Pieper, basing himself on Aquinas,
doesn't view the matter in this way. For Pieper, if S believes that p,
S unconditionally accepts p as true without knowing whether or not p
is true. Accordingly, I do not believe that the sun is shining; I know
that it is. This corresponds to ordinary usage. One can imagine Ron
Radosh saying, "I don't believe that the Rosenbergs were guilty of
espionage for the Soviets; I know they were!" Pieper quotes Aquinas
(p.10): "Belief cannot refer to something that one sees. . .; and what
can be proved likewise does not pertain to belief." Thus he who knows
does not believe, and he who believes does not know.
Ad (2). This is supposed to follow from (1) and it does.
Ad (3). Since I did not see O. J. Simpson kill his ex-wife Nicole, I
do not know that he killed her. But I believe he killed her on the
basis of a massive amount of mutually supportive facts and testimony.
Now what motivates (Aquinas would say 'causes') my unconditional
acceptance of the proposition that O.J. killed Nicole? I want contact
with the truth because the truth is good. Now I cannot in a case like
this achieve contact via knowledge. So if I am to achieve truth- and
reality-contact, it must be through belief, which is subordinate to
knowledge in value though not included in knowledge.
There is a sort of value-judgment here that needs to be treated fully
in a separate post: it is better to achieve reality-contact via belief
despite the epistemic risk involved, than to stick to what can
strictly be known thereby foregoing reality-contact. We must of course
try to avoid error. But the acquisition of truth is also an epistemic
desideratum. I would argue that it is a mistake to let one's fear of
error deprive one of second-rate reality-contact, i.e.,
reality-content via belief. Believing a proposition on the basis of
credible testimony is admittedly of less value than knowing it; but
second-rate reality-contact is better than no reality-contact.
Ad (4). This is a premise and it seems true. Good and evil are not
'visible' except to conative/desiderative beings. If we were merely
intellectual beings, mere cognizers, without wish, will, need, desire,
appetite, then good and evil would be 'invisible.' This is not to be
confused with the presumably false claim that good and evil would not
exist in a world without conative/desiderative beings.
Ad (5). To believe that p is to give my unconditional assent to the
truth of p. I commit myself to p's truth despite my lack of knowledge
of the subject matter. Thus my believing that O.J. killed Nicole is my
unconditional acceptance of that proposition on the basis of
inconclusive, but adequate, evidence. What motivates my acceptance is
my will-to-truth. I am free to believe, to disbelieve, and to suspend
jusdgment. How then can anyone deny that belief, disbelief, and
suspension of belief are under the control of the will?
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