Sunday, November 24, 2013

Involuntary Belief Doesn't Absolve Others of Responsibility

From guest blogger, Joshua.

In Pojman’s paper, Faith, Hope, and Doubt, he claims that belief is involuntary. From his paper Pojman draws “ If ought implies can, and we cannot acquire beliefs by choosing them then we cannot be judged according to our beliefs”. He says that since belief is involuntary clearly they can't be held responsible for their actions; this is something I will try to refute through examples.

For belief to be involuntary its’ components would also need to be involuntary. In this paper the components of belief are the values people place on certain things. For example there is a person walking down the road on the way to work, when they see someone who drops a ton of bags. This person might be compelled to go and help another because they have a belief that helping others is the right thing to do. When looked at closer it is clear that they value helping others. More so it also shows they value helping others more than they value getting to work when they otherwise would have. It is also just as easy to see that while someone is helping another person pick things up they realize what time it is and need to get to work, so they rush off without really helping the person. Here they now have valued getting to work more than helping people. Their belief has now changed; from it is the right thing to help people to helping people when you have time. It seems that values are able to change on a whim when you think about it. In another example say you are going out to dinner and look at the menu. You place value in eating healthy organic food and as a result you have a belief that fried chicken is bad for you. Now it can be thought one time when you go out you are looking at the menu and see the fried chicken. You decide to order it and have it because you know the chicken is delicious. You have now placed more value in the taste of your food than the healthiness. This causes your belief to change that fried chicken is actually good. Beliefs in these instances are still involuntary; they are just drawn from your values and the world around you. However, the values people place on things is voluntary, as they can change it at will, and this makes people responsible for their beliefs, since they do have the power to influence them. Let me know what you all think and anyways I could possibly help to strengthen this argument.


Natalie N said...

I think the problem with your examples here is that you are not referring to things that are indeed beliefs. They seem more like what Pojman would classify as acceptances, which are propositions that we may decide to act on in certain contexts. In these examples, the people would have to believe that helping others is good or that fried chicken is bad for you, but they must not have had the belief that helping others is the greatest good or that eating things that are bad for them is not offset by other factors such as taste. If they had the belief that “we ought to help others” or “we ought not to eat foods that are bad for us”, then they would not be able to do otherwise. Although, we must remember that “ought” implies “can.” It could be said that the person in the first example was unable to help the person because they had to be at work on time. Pojman says that beliefs are simply knowledge of what actually exists outside of us. They are forced upon us and we cannot help but to believe them. We cannot act against our logic, even if we want to.

Zach Wrublewski said...

I think it might be worth talking more about how it is that beliefs change or how people act on conflicting beliefs. It seems that folks arguing against you might simply be able to posit that if a person doesn't have control over the cause of belief change (or whatever deciding factor is used when beliefs conflict), she would also not be responsible for the new (changed) belief (or the decision to act on one of two conflicting beliefs).

Andrea Manthei said...

I think there is something to say about the hierarchy of beliefs when it comes to actions. And placing them in a certain hierarchy is voluntary.
I can believe that it is good to help people. And I can also believe that it is good to be to work on time. When you put these thoughts against each other, they don’t change, they’re just not on the same level of importance or relevance in the situation. You’re going to hold the belief of “higherness” when deciding how to act.
If you accept that beliefs are involuntary, then you could accept that you shouldn’t be judged by them. But you can be judged by the way you place them in a personal hierarchy. I think this is what you are arguing, and I agree with it.
Somewhere in my thought process, I like to think that those beliefs are different from “beliefs” that are along the lines of “It is better to do action A than action B”. then they start to get complex. “I think it is better to do Action A than Action B in circumstance X vs Circumstance Y.” But this just might be where my idea faces issue. Or maybe there is a reason for action that is more at a core of a person’s belief system and all surrounding “beliefs” are just these acceptances.

Maybe a core and really only belief a person has is “I value myself more than anything.” And lets say its involuntary, I think it is because its innate to care about yourself. And everything will boil down to self interested actions. All the reasons surrounding the action, are voluntary. Why did I help this person?
“Because its the right thing do to”→ you don’t want yourself to do the wrong thing because of how you would feel about yourself or how others would perceive you, or how it would affect your life after death, etc
“Beliefs” like “because it’s the right thing to do” could be simply supports for the core belief, and are voluntary, and subject for judgment. And I think judgment is not on the core belief, because everyone shares it, but more about the secondary beliefs and their consequences affecting other people.

This last part could be a stretch, and I apologize if it’s a rambling, but maybe itll spark an idea or two.

Aviva said...

My biggest problem with your argument is that in the examples you provided, I think the words "value" and "belief" are being misused. In the first example, it seems wrong to say that one of my values is getting to work on time. A value requires a certain permanence in one's psyche (e.g. cultural respect, social justice, ethical practices, to be vague). I wouldn't say it is a "value" to help someone pick up their groceries or to get to work. Your argument might be strengthened if you argued that the individual chooses to act on {or prioritize} the value of helping those in need over punctuality, than to be as hyper specific as you are.
The second aspect missing here is alluded to in my last statement; to act on or prioritize one value over another does not imply a change in one's beliefs. I may believe that it is wrong to eat factory farmed meat, and that I eat it anyway does not discount that belief.

Alexander Laird said...

I think that what you are referring to as “values” must still be based on beliefs. Why does a person value one thing over another? In order to evaluate something, a person must believe that the thing in question or its components have certain qualities upon which it can be judged. Otherwise, our placement of value on things would be completely arbitrary (and not the voluntary type of arbitrary). Our perception of the qualities of things, and the beliefs we form based on these perceptions, are involuntary. We don't choose to believe that pain is better than pleasure. So when we evaluate one object as causing pain and another as causing pleasure, we believe that the pleasurable object is better. This is not a voluntary placement of value, but rather an involuntary reaction to stimuli.

Caitlin C said...

I had the same thought when I was reading this paper too. I find it hard to understand that beliefs could be involuntary. You have to think about something to be able to believe it. I don’t exactly understand the example of the person dropping their bags. It seems to make sense but I think it could be strengthened by adding more to it. I like that you made the connection between beliefs and actions and how our beliefs shape our actions. I think that it is an important concept to not look over. A few of these papers seem to just talk about theory or beliefs alone and leave out the fact that we act on our beliefs.