by Sarah K. Paul
The thesis that we have direct voluntary control over the content of our beliefs is held by some, but not many. Let us assume that we do not have such control, and that our conscious belief acquisition is hostage to what we take to be true. Is there still a sense in which we can be autonomous with respect to our beliefs?
To be autonomous is to be self-governed, as opposed to being determined by forces extrinsic to the self. If a person is autonomous with respect to an attitude or an action, that attitude or action is correctly attributed to the person herself rather than to subpersonal or alien mechanisms. Doxastic autonomy would require that one does not passively find oneself believing certain things; autonomous beliefs must be in some sense self-determined. But self-determination and person-level activity are agential notions, and would seem to demand that an autonomous thinker exert control over what she believes. The possibility of doxastic autonomy is thus apparently in tension with the assumption that we have no such direct voluntary control.