“Freedom and (Theoretical) Reason,” Synthese (2015) 192: 25-41.




Discretion in Acting, Intending, and Believing

I examine a popular view of practical knowledge alongside two other plausible and widely-accepted theses: first, the thesis that intentional action is the paradigm of voluntary control; and second, the thesis that belief formation is not voluntary. I argue that the so-called ‘Cogntivist’ view of practical knowledge, along with a commitment to the voluntariness of intentional action, entails doxastic voluntarism. In other words, I argue that Cognitivism about practical knowledge, intentional action voluntarism (i.e. the view that intentional action is, at least sometimes, voluntary), and doxastic involuntarism (i.e. the view that believing is never voluntary) are jointly inconsistent. I then consider ways out of the inconsistency and argue that rejecting Cognitivism is the best alternative.


Freely Responding to (Theoretical and Practical) Reasons

Some philosophers have suggested that, given a reasons-responsive conception of freedom, we can be said to exercise freedom in forming our beliefs. I argue that reasons-responsiveness involves an overlooked feature, which involves the ability to recognize reasons that count in favor of something (some action, or, possibly, some belief) and then experience (a sense of) openness in how one responds to those reasons. Having highlighted this overlooked feature and shown the important role it plays in accounts of reasons-responsiveness, I argue that this feature doesn’t apply to theoretical reason. In which case, if we take reasons-responsiveness as our guiding conception of freedom, we cannot be said to exercise freedom when forming beliefs (at least not immediately in forming beliefs— of course, we might still freely manage our beliefs indirectly). 


Understanding the Activity of Reason

I criticize a recent, quasi-Kantian trend of portraying rationality as a capacity to ‘make up one’s mind,’ where this gets spelled out in terms of an ability to ‘count something as a reason.’ To begin, I suggest that the phrase ‘count something as a reason’ is ambiguous between two readings. I then argue that the two readings present a dilemma to proponents of this quasi-Kantian conception of rationality. On the first reading, rational ‘activity’ is involuntary and rationality thereby unable to constitute the locus of human agency and responsibility in the way proponents of this view suggest. On the second reading, rational activity is voluntary in a way that makes this account of rationality implausible with respect to cognitive states such as belief. In the conclusion, after having highlighted the symptoms that something’s gone wrong in this account of rationality, I propose a diagnosis of the underlying problem.