dissertation abstract

Responsible Believing, Stephen Joel Garver. Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree Doctor of Philosophy in the Graduate School of Syracuse University, May 1996.

On one hand people are, by and large, responsible for what they believe (there are epistemic obligations), and yet, it seems clear that we have no immediate voluntary control over belief. I argue that it is only psychologically impossible for us to believe things at will. We do, however, have indirect voluntary influence over belief which is sufficient to ground our responsibility for what we believe. Moreover, while we cannot analyze epistemic justification in terms of deontological notions, these notions do underlie our practice of justifying beliefs to one another.

In order further to explicate my account I lay out a doxastic practice approach to belief-formation, further exploring this approach through specific areas of believing: perception, trust, interpersonal knowledge. I also explore the connections between belief-formation, power, desire, teleology, value systems, and the emotions. In this discussion I draw especially on the writings of William P. Alston, Alan Millar, Michel Foucault, Friedrich Nietzsche, Harry Frankfurt, Michael Stocker, and Robert C. Roberts.

We can conclude from the discussion that not only are we responsible, by and large, for what we believe, but also that some traditional epistemological traditions are open to question. Particularly we can question criticisms of foundationalism, the unity of the concept of justification, and the separability of ethical realism/anti-realism from realism/anti-realism regarding knowledge.