, Volume 194, Issue 8, pp 2695–2720 | Cite as

Negative Doxastic Voluntarism and the concept of belief

  • Hans RottEmail author
S.I.: Doxastic Agency


Pragmatists have argued that doxastic or epistemic norms do not apply to beliefs, but to changes of beliefs; thus not to the holding or not-holding, but to the acquisition or removal of beliefs. Doxastic voluntarism generally claims that humans (sometimes or usually) acquire beliefs in a deliberate and controlled way. This paper introduces Negative Doxastic Voluntarism according to which there is a fundamental asymmetry in belief change: (i) humans tend to acquire beliefs more or less automatically and unreflectively, but (ii) they tend to withdraw beliefs in a controlled and deliberate way. I first present a variety of philosophical, empirical and logical arguments for Negative Doxastic Voluntarism. Then I raise two objections against it. First, the apparent asymmetry may result from a confusion of belief with other doxastic attitudes like assumption, supposition, hypothesis or opinion. Second, the apparent asymmetry seems to vanish if we focus on doxastic states rather than just beliefs. Some rejoinders and their consequences for the vague concept of belief are sketched.


Doxastic voluntarism Belief Belief state Belief change Suspension of disbelief 



I have been entertaining, with much sympathy, the idea of Negative Doxastic Voluntarism for 15 years, and I have been grateful to many people along the way. My more recent thanks go to Georg Brun, Eva-Maria Konrad, Tim Kraft, Andrea Kruse, Rik Peels, Jaroslav Peregrin, Vladimír Svoboda, Verena Wagner, Heinrich Wansing, Frank Zipfel, and the participants of the Bochum Workshop on “Doxastic Agency and Epistemic Responsibility” held in June 2014 for their friendly criticism of some of my intermediate attempts to come to grips with this topic. Last but not least, I am very grateful to three anonymous referees of this journal for numerous perceptive critical comments.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of RegensburgRegensburgGermany

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