July 9, 2006 3:42 PM Subscribe
Can we believe at will in the same way that we can raise our arms at will?
posted by Eiwalker to religion & philosophy (64 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I can raise my right arm pretty much whenever I want to, simply by trying to make it go up. I can do it without trying to do anything else as a means to that end. For instance, I do not try to act upon my brain in a certain way, nor do I know which muscles I'd have to flex. I just want it to go up, and, somehow, I execute the action.
Are there any cases where a person can acquire a belief in the same way?
By "belief" I shall mean a high probability of being true that one ascribes to a proposition. E.g., I take there to be a 97% chance that it will rain in Argentina in the next three days.
Some things that might help in thinking about the question:
1. Could I go from 97% to 96% at will? In this case I'd be modifying what I take to be the likelihood by only one percentage point. If the modification is small, should this make the task easier?
2. Be careful to distinguish between really taking there to be a so-and-so likelihood versus merely supposing so for the sake of argument. We can merely suppose anything; really believing is a different matter.
3. If believing at will is possible, should we expect that smart people are more likely to be able to do it than dumb people? If so, this suggests that believing at will is a kind of talent. Or would dumb people be more likely to be able to pull it off? If so, this suggests that believing at will, though it may be an ability, is not a talent, and is more likely a result of intellectual vice: stupidity or irrationality of some kind.