Richard Holton Cambridge University
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  • Faculty, Cambridge University
  • PhD, Princeton University, 1995.

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About me
I'm a professor of philosophy at the University of Cambridge and a fellow of Peterhouse. I work mainly in moral psychology, ethics, philosophy of law and philosophy of language.
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  1. Richard Holton, Facts, Factives and Contra-Factives.
    Frege begins his discussion of factives in 'On Sense and Reference' with an example of a purported contra-factive, i.e. a verb that entails the falsity of the complement sentence. But the verb he cites, 'waehnen', is now obsolete, and native speakers are sceptical about whether it really was a contra-factive. Despite the profusion of factive verbs, there are no clear examples of contra-factive propositional attitude verbs in English, French or German (or indeed any other Indo-European languages). This paper attempts to (...)
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  2. Richard Holton (forthcoming). Intention as a Model for Belief. In Manuel Vargas & Gideon Yaffe (eds.), Rational and Social Agency: Essays on the Philosophy of Michael Bratman. Oxford University Press.
    This paper argues that a popular account of intentions can be extended to beliefs. Beliefs are stable all-out states that allow for planning and coordination in a way that is tractable for cognitively limited creatures like human beings. Scepticism is expressed that there is really anything like credences as standardly understood.
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  3. Richard Holton (forthcoming). Primitive Self-Ascription: Lewis on the De Se. In Barry Loewer & Jonathan Schaffer (eds.), The Blackwell Companion to David Lewis. Blackwell.
    There are two parts to Lewis's account of the de se. First there is the idea that the objects of de se thought (and, by extension of de dicto thought too) are properties, not propositions. This is the idea that is center-stage in Lewis's discussion. Second there is the idea that the relation that thinkers bear to these properties is that of self-ascription. It is crucial to LewisÕs account that this is understood as a fundamental, unanalyzable, notion: self-ascription of a (...)
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  4. Richard Holton & Kent Berridge (forthcoming). Addiction Between Compulsion and Choice. In Neil Levy (ed.), Addiction and Self-Control. Oxford University Press.
    We aim to find a middle path between disease models of addiction, and those that treat addictive choices as choices like any other. We develop an account of the disease element by focussing on the idea that dopamine works primarily to lay down dispositional intrinsic desires. Addictive substances artifically boost the dopamine signal, and thereby lay down intrinsic desires for the substances that persist through withdrawal, and in the face of beliefs that they are worthless. The result is cravings that (...)
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  5. Brendan Dill & Richard Holton (2014). The Addict in Us All. Frontiers in Psychiatry 5 (139):01-20.
    In this paper, we contend that the psychology of addiction is similar to the psychology of ordinary, non-addictive temptation in important respects, and explore the ways in which these parallels can illuminate both addiction and ordinary action. The incentive salience account of addiction proposed by Robinson and Berridge (1993; 2001; 2008) entails that addictive desires are not in their nature different from many of the desires had by non-addicts; what is different is rather the way that addictive desires are acquired, (...)
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  6. Richard Holton (2013). From Determinism to Resignation, and How to Stop It. In Andy Clark, Julian Kiverstein & Tillman Vierkant (eds.), Decomposing the Will. Oxford University Press.
    A few philosophers have held that determinism should lead to an attitude of resignation: since what will be will be, there is no point trying to influence the future. That argument has rightly been seen as mistaken. But a plausible parallel argument leads from the thesis of predictability---the thesis that it can be known what will happen---to an attitude of resignation. So if predictability is true, our normal practical attitudes may well be deeply mistaken. Fortunately, whilst determinism is a plausible (...)
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  7. K. Hawley, H. Hertz, D. Hilbert, R. Holton, F. Jackson, D. Kaplan, Y. Kirsch, W. Kneale, M. Lange & S. McCall (2012). Quine, VV. vo, 34, 43. Oxford Studies in Metaphysics 7:315.
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  8. Joshua May & Richard Holton (2012). What in the World is Weakness of Will? Philosophical Studies 157 (3):341–360.
    At least since the middle of the twentieth century, philosophers have tended to identify weakness of will with akrasia—i.e. acting, or having a disposition to act, contrary to one‘s judgments about what is best for one to do. However, there has been some recent debate about whether this captures the ordinary notion of weakness of will. Richard Holton (1999, 2009) claims that it doesn’t, while Alfred Mele (2010) argues that, to a certain extent, it does. As Mele recognizes, the question (...)
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  9. Richard Holton (2011). Modeling Legal Rules. In Andrei Marmor & Scott Soames (eds.), Philosophical Foundations of Language in the Law. Oxford University Press.
    Building on earlier work, this paper develops a model of legal rules that admit of exceptions but are nonetheless governed by classical logic. The account is defended against alternative accounts that construe legal rules as generics, or as default rules.
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  10. Richard Holton (2011). Response to 'Free Will as Advanced Action Control for Human Social Life and Culture' by Roy F. Baumeister, A. William Crescioni and Jessica L. Alquist. [REVIEW] Neuroethics 4 (1):13-16.
  11. Richard Holton (2010). Comments on Ralph Wedgwood's "The Nature of Normativity". Philosophical Studies 151 (3):449 - 457.
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  12. Richard Holton (2010). Disentangling the Will. In Al Mele, Kathleen Vohs & Roy Baumeister (eds.), Free Will and Consciousness: How Might They Work? OUP. 82.
    It is argued that there are at least three things bundled up in the idea of free will: the capacity manifested by agents whenever they act freely; the property possessed by those actions for which an agent in morally responsible; and the ability to do otherwise. This paper attempts some disentangling.
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  13. Richard Holton (2010). Norms and the Knobe Effect. Analysis 70 (3):1-8.
  14. Richard Holton (2010). The Exception Proves the Rule. Journal of Political Philosophy 18 (4):369-388.
    When faced with a rule that they take to be true, and a recalcitrant example, people are apt to say: “The exception proves the rule”. When pressed on what they mean by this though, things are often less than clear. A common response is to dredge up some once-heard etymology: ‘proves’ here, it is often said, means ‘tests’. But this response—its frequent appearance even in some reference works notwithstanding1—makes no sense of the way in which the expression is used. To (...)
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  15. Richard Holton (2009). Determinism, Self-Efficacy, and the Phenomenology of Free Will. Inquiry 52 (4):412-428.
    Some recent studies have suggested that belief in determinism tends to undermine moral motivation: subjects who are given determinist texts to read become more likely to cheat or engage in vindictive behaviour. One possible explanation is that people are natural incompatibilists, so that convincing them of determinism undermines their belief that they are morally responsible. I suggest a different explanation, and in doing so try to shed some light on the phenomenology of free will. I contend that one aspect of (...)
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  16. Richard Holton (2009). Willing, Wanting, Waiting. Oxford University Press.
    Richard Holton provides a unified account of intention, choice, weakness of will, strength of will, temptation, addiction, and freedom of the will.
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  17. Richard Holton (2008). Partial Belief, Partial Intention. Mind 117 (465):27-58.
    Is a belief that one will succeed necessary for an intention? It is argued that the question has traditionally been badly posed, framed as it is in terms of all-out belief. We need instead to ask about the relation between intention and partial belief. An account of partial belief that is more psychologically realistic than the standard credence account is developed. A notion of partial intention is then developed, standing to all-out intention much as partial belief stands to all-out belief. (...)
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  18. Richard Holton (2007). Freedom, Coercion and Discursive Control. In Michael Smith, Robert Goodin & Geoffrey Geoffrey (eds.), Common Minds. Oxford. 104.
    If moral and political philosophy is to be of any use, it had better be concerned with real people. The focus need not be exclusively on people as they are; but it should surely not extend beyond how they would be under laws as they might be. It is one of the strengths of Philip Pettit’s work that it is concerned with real people and the ways that they think: with the commonplace mind. In this paper I examine Pettit’s recent (...)
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  19. Richard Holton & Stephen Shute (2007). Self-Control in the Modern Provocation Defence. Oxford Journal of Legal Studies 27 (1):49-73.
    Most recent discussion of the provocation defence has focused on the objective test, and little attention has been paid to the subjective test. However, the subjective test provides a substantial constraint: the killing must result from a provocation that undermines the defendant's self-control. The idea of loss of self-control has been developed in both the philosophical and psychological literatures. Understanding the subjective test in the light of the conception developed there makes for a far more coherent interpretation of the provocation (...)
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  20. Richard Holton (2006). The Act of Choice. Philosophers' Imprint 6 (3):1-15.
    Choice is one of the central elements in the experience of free will, but it has not received a good account from either compatibilists or libertarians. This paper develops an account of choice based around three features: (i) choice is an action; (ii) choice is not determined by one's prior beliefs and desires; (iii) once the question of what to do has arisen, choice is typically both necessary and sufficient for moving to action. These features might appear to support a (...)
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  21. R. Holton (2004). Review: The Illusion of Conscious Will. [REVIEW] Mind 113 (449):218-221.
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  22. Richard Holton (2004). Review of Wegner 2002. [REVIEW] Mind 113:218-221.
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  23. Richard Holton (2004). Rational Resolve. Philosophical Review 113 (4):507-535.
    Empirical findings suggest that temptation causes agents not only to change their desires, but also to revise their beliefs, in ways that are not necessarily irrational. But if this is so, how can it be rational to maintain a resolution to resist? For in maintaining a resolution it appears that one will be acting against what one now believes to be best. This paper proposes a two-tier account according to which it can be rational neither to reconsider the question of (...)
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  24. Richard Holton (2004). Review of Daniel Wegner, The Illusion of Conscious Will. [REVIEW] Mind 113 (449):218-221.
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  25. Richard Holton (2004). The Illusion of Conscious Will. Mind 113 (449):218-221.
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  26. Richard Holton (2003). David Lewis's Philosophy of Language. Mind and Language 18 (3):286–295.
    Lewis never saw philosophy of language as foundational in the way that many have. One of the most distinctive features of his work is the robust confidence that questions in metaphysics or mind can be addressed head on, and not through the lens of language.
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  27. Richard Holton (2003). How is Strength of Will Possible? In Christine Tappolet & Sarah Stroud (eds.), Weakness of Will and Practical Irrationality. Oxford. 39-67.
    Most recent accounts of will-power have tried to explain it as reducible to the operation of beliefs and desires. In opposition to such accounts, this paper argues for a distinct faculty of will-power. Considerations from philosophy and from social psychology are used in support.
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  28. Richard Holton & Huw Price (2003). Ramsey on Saying and Whistling: A Discordant Note. Noûs 37 (2):325–341.
    In 'General Propositions and Causality' Ramsey rejects his earlier view that universal generalizations are infinite conjunctions, arguing that they are not genuine propositions at all. We argue that his new position is unstable. The issues about infinity that lead Ramsey to the new view are essentially those underlying Wittgenstein's rule-following considerations. If they show that generalizations are not genuine propositions, they show that there are no genuine propositions. The connection raises interesting historical questions about the direction of influence between Ramsey (...)
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  29. Garrett Cullity & Richard Holton (2002). Particularism and Moral Theory. Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 76:169 - 209.
    [Garrett Cullity] Weak particularism about reasons is the view that the normative valency of some descriptive considerations varies, while others have an invariant normative valency. A defence of this view needs to respond to arguments that a consideration cannot count in favour of any action unless it counts in favour of every action. But it cannot resort to a global holism about reasons, if it claims that there are some examples of invariant valency. This paper argues for weak particularism, and (...)
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  30. Richard Holton (2002). Principles and Particularisms. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 67 (1):191-209.
    Should particularists about ethics claim that moral principles are never true? Or should they rather claim that any finite set of principles will not be sufficient to capture ethics? This paper explores and defends the possibility of embracing the second of these claims whilst rejecting the first, a position termed principled particularism. The main argument that particularists present for their position - the argument that holds that any moral conclusion can be superceded by further considerations - is quite compatible with (...)
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  31. Richard Holton (2001). What is the Role of the Self in Self-Deception? Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 101 (1):53-69.
    The orthodox answer to my question is this: in a case of self-deception, the self acts to deceive itself. That is, the self is the author of its own deception. I want to explore an opposing idea here: that the self is rather the subject matter of the deception. That is, I want to explore the idea that self-deception is more concerned with the self’s deception about the self, than with the self’s deception by the self. The expression would thus (...)
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  32. Richard Holton (2000). Minimalism and Truth-Value Gaps. Philosophical Studies 97 (2):135-165.
    The question is asked whether one can consistently both be a minimalist about truth, and hold that some meaningful assertoric sentences fail to be either true or false. It is shown that one can, but the issues are delicate, and the price is high: one must either refrain from saying that the sentences lack truth values, or else one must invoke a novel non-contraposing three-valued conditional. Finally it is shown that this does not help in reconciling minimalism with emotivism, where (...)
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  33. Richard Holton (2000). Reviews of Meaning, Knowledge and Reality, and Mind, Value and Reality by John McDowell. [REVIEW] Times Literary Supplement.
    In a characteristic passage John McDowell says: [T]his is one of those set-ups that are familiar in philosophy, in which a supposedly exhaustive choice confers a spurious plausibility on a philosophical position. The apparent plausibility is not intrinsic to the position, but reflects an assumed framework; when one looks at the position on its own, the plausibility crumbles away ... In such a situation, the thing to do is to query the assumption that seems to force the choice.
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  34. Richard Holton (1999). Dispositions All the Way Round. Analysis 59 (1):9-14.
    Simon Blackburn has argued that science finds only dispositional properties. If true, this is surprising: we think of the world as containing categorical properties too. But Blackburn thinks that our difficulties go further than this: that the idea of a world containing just dispositional properties is not simply surprising, but incoherent. The problem is made clear, he argues, when we have a counterfactual analysis of dispositions, and then understand counterfactuals in terms of possible worlds.
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  35. Richard Holton (1999). Intention and Weakness of Will. Journal of Philosophy 96 (5):241-262.
    Philosophical orthodoxy identifies weakness of will with akrasia: the weak willed person is someone who intentionally acts against their better judgement. It is argued that this is a mistake. Weakness of will consists in a quite different failing, namely an over-ready revision of one's intentions. Building on the work of Bratman, an account of such over-ready revision is given. A number of examples are then adduced showing how weakness of will, so understood, differs from akrasia.
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  36. Richard Holton (1999). Intention and Weakness of Will. Journal of Philosophy 96 (5):241-262.
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  37. Richard Holton (1998). Positivism and the Internal Point of View. Law and Philosophy 17 (s 5-6):597-625.
    Can one consistently (i) be a positivist, and (ii) think that the internal attitude to the law is a moral attitude? Two objections are raised in the literature. The first is that the combination is straight-out contradictory. The second is that if the internal attitude is a moral attitude, those who take it cannot be positivists. Arguments from Shiner, Goldsworthy and Raz are examined. It is concluded that neither objection works. The arguments are based on scope errors, conflations of what (...)
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  38. Richard Holton & Rae Langton (1998). Empathy and Animal Ethics. In Dale Jamieson (ed.), Singer and His Critics. Oxford.
    In responding to the challenge that we cannot know that animals feel pain, Peter Singer says: We can never directly experience the pain of another being, whether that being is human or not. When I see my daughter fall and scrape her knee, I know that she feels pain because of the way she behaves—she cries, she tells me her knee hurts, she rubs the sore spot, and so on. I know that I myself behave in a somewhat similar—if more (...)
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  39. R. Holton (1997). Peacocke, C.(Ed.)-Objectivity, Simulation and the Unity of Consciousness. Philosophical Books 38:125-127.
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  40. Richard Holton (1997). Some Telling Examples: A Reply to Tsohatzidis. Journal of Pragmatics 28:625-628.
    In a recent paper Savas Tsohatzidis has provided a number of putative counterexamples to the well-attested Kartunnen-Vendler (K-V) thesis that the use of 'tell' with a wh-complement requires that the speaker spoke truthfully. His counterexamples are sentences like: (1) Old John told us who he saw in the fog, but it turned out that he was mistaken. I argue that such examples do not serve to refute the K-V thesis. Rather, they are examples of a more general phenomenon that I (...)
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  41. Richard Holton (1996). Davidson, Mcfetridge, and the Counting Problem. Analysis 56 (1):46–50.
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  42. Richard Holton (1996). Reason, Value and the Muggletonians. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 74 (3):484 – 487.
    Michael Smith has argued that to value an action is to believe that if one were fully rational one would desire that one perform it. I offer the Muggletonians as a counter-example. The Muggletonians, a 17th century English sect, believed that reason was the path of the Devil. They believed that their fully rational selves - rational in just Smith's sense - would have blasphemed against God; and that their rational selves would have wanted their actual selves to do likewise. (...)
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  43. Richard Holton (1995). Leapfrogging and Scope: Reply to Pickles. Mind 104 (415):583-584.
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  44. Richard Holton (1995). Sources and Leapfrogging: Reply to Pickles. Mind 104 (415):583 - 584.
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  45. Richard Holton (1994). Attitude Ascriptions and Intermediate Scope. Mind 103 (410):123-130.
    Quantification into a belief ascription has often been taken to indicate that the believer knows who (or what) their belief is about. Here it is shown, by means of some iterated ascriptions, that this cannot be the correct interpretation of such quantification. In conclusion it is suggested that it should rather be interpreted as indicating that the belief has its source in the object denoted by the quantifier.
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  46. Richard Holton (1994). Deciding to Trust, Coming to Believe. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 72 (1):63 – 76.
    Can we decide to trust? Sometimes, yes. And when we do, we need not believe that our trust will be vindicated. This paper is motivated by the need to incorporate these facts into an account of trust. Trust involves reliance; and in addition it requires the taking of a reactive attitude to that reliance. I explain how the states involved here differ from belief. And I explore the limits of our ability to trust. I then turn to the idea of (...)
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  47. Richard Holton (1993). Intention Detecting. Philosophical Quarterly 44 (172):298-318.
    Crispin Wright has argued that our concept of intention is extension-determining, and that this explains why we are so good at knowing our intentions: it does so by subverting the idea that we detect them. This paper has two aims. The first is to make sense of Wright's claim that intention is extension-determining; this is achieved by comparing his position to that of analytic functionalism. The second is to show that it doesn't follow from this that we do not detect (...)
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  48. Richard Holton (1993). Minimalism About Truth. In B. Garrett & K. Mulligan (eds.), Themes from Wittgenstein. ANU Working Papers in Philosophy 4.
    My main task here is first to distinguish, and then to map out possibilities. I won’t be concerned to argue for a certain position as much as to argue that various combinations of positions are consistent. In particular, I want to argue that a commitment to minimalism about truth does not bring an automatic commitment to what has been called a minimalist theory of truth-aptitude: the claim that every assertoric sentence which is used in a systematic way will be either (...)
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  49. Richard Holton (1992). Response-Dependence and Infallibility. Analysis 52 (3):180 - 184.
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  50. Richard Holton (1991). Intentions, Response-Dependence, and Immunity From Error. In P. Menzies (ed.), Response Dependent Concepts. ANU Working Papers in Philosophy 1.
    You are, I suspect, exceedingly good at knowing what you intend to do. In saying this I pay you no special compliment. Knowing what one intends is the normal state to be in. And this cries out for some explanation. How is it that we are so authoritative about our own intentions? There are two different approaches that one can take in answering this question. The first credits us with special perceptual powers which we use when we examine our own (...)
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  51. Richard Holton, Inverse Akrasia and Weakness of Will.
    The standard account of weakness of will identifies it with akrasia, that is, with action against one's best judgment. Elsewhere I have argued that weakness of will is better understood as over-readily giving up on one's resolutions. Many cases of weak willed action will not be akratic: in over-readily abandoning a resolution an agent may well do something that they judge at the time to be best. Indeed, in so far as temptation typically gives rise to judgment shift -- to (...)
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  52. Richard Holton, Smith and Bigelow on the Muggletonians.
    In (Holton 1996) I argued that the account of value that Michael Smith has offered was vulnerable to a counter-example in the person of the Muggletonians. Smith argued, roughly, that what one values is what one would desire if one were fully rational. I objected that the Muggletonians held the path of Reason to be the path to evil. According to them, a fully rational person would have their desires so corrupted that they would become, quite literally, Satan. Thus they (...)
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  53. Richard Holton, Bibliography.
    We aim to find a middle path between disease models of addiction, and those that treat addictive choices as choices like any other. We develop an account of the disease element by focussing on the idea that dopamine works primarily to lay down dispositional intrinsic desires. Addictive substances artifically boost the dopamine signal, and thereby lay down intrinsic desires for the substances that persist through withdrawal, and in the face of beliefs that they are worthless. The result is cravings that (...)
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