Belief and the Will

Is belief an act of volition? Can I simply choose to believe some proposition freely?

Suppose I say that I am a married bachelor. This is a self-evidently false proposition – but if belief is an act of the will, is it possible to believe it in spite of its self-evident falsity? The question here becomes a different one, however – can a self-evidently false proposition be believed?

Warrant is the key, here – I suppose anyone could belief anything if they truly wanted to – though we would be inclined to call such belief delusion. There has to be warrant for belief. Perhaps I need to read up on Alvin Plantinga.

Consider a slightly different case: self-deception, or deception of any kind, or a circumstance in which someone becomes convinced, either through self-deception or outside deception, that a false proposition is true. These cases are such that there appears, at least to the believer, sufficient warrant for belief. But whence cometh warrant? Is warrant strictly external evidence that P is true? If I am deceived into believing a false proposition, perhaps someone else isn’t – there is warrant for me but not for them. Is warrant then purely subjective? Perhaps an either-or dictotomy is unwarranted. Warrant can be both external-objective (say, an experiment) as well as internal-subjective (say, my gut feeling). But which really counts? A fervent believer will believe P in the face of any and all external-objective evidence (EOE) to the contrary – so does EOE even matter? Is belief strictly an internal affair? There appear to be some things that I believe without making any conscious choice to believe, and with no warrant, either of the external or internal variety. These would fall under the banner of properly basic beliefs (more Plantinga) – things that we simply take as basic, like the existence of a past, the world, other people, other minds, etc.

Consider fideism – holding something by brute animal faith, in the teeth of all evidence. Believing what you know ain’t so. A leap in the dark, or a poorly thought out wager. Does fideism hold up to scrutiny? One would hold P by faith because there is no reason or evidence that warrants it – but is not the fact there is no evidence serve as evidence that one needs to hold it by faith? This seems self-refuting – fideism holds things by faith because there is no evidence for it – and that is the evidence that one needs to take it on faith! Note that this kind of faith is not the kind of faith that historical Christianity, or myself, holds – which is a personal trust in a covenant God who has revealed and proved Himself worthy of that trust.

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